Guests are always wildly impressed by a well risen soufflé and, believe me, it’s not rocket science so don’t imagine for one moment that you can’t do it.
A soufflé is simply a well flavoured sauce enriched with egg yolks and lightened with stiffly beaten egg. Soufflés are much more good humoured than you think and can even be frozen when they are ready for the oven. The French do infinite variations on the theme, both sweet and savoury. I love to make this recipe with some of the best farmhouse cheese — eg, Desmond or Gabriel or a mature Coolea.
For the moulds: Melted butter
15g (½ oz) Parmesan cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano is best) — optional
45g (1½ oz) butter 30g
300ml (½ pint) milk
4 eggs, preferably free-range and organic
55g (2 oz) Gruyere cheese, finely grated
55g (2 oz) freshly grated Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano)
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground pepper
8 individual soufflé dishes, 7cm (2¾ inch) diameter x (4cm)1½ inch high or one large dish 15cm (6 inch) diameter x 6.5cm (2½inch) high.
First, prepare the soufflé dish or dishes: brush evenly with melted butter and, if you like, dust with a little freshly grated Parmesan.
Preheat the oven to 200 C/400F/gas mark 6 and warm a baking sheet. Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, stir in the flour and cook over a gentle heat for 1-2 minutes. Draw off the heat and whisk in the milk, return to the heat, whisk as it comes to the boil, cover and simmer gently for 3-4 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Separate the eggs and put the whites into a large copper, glass or stainless steel bowl, making sure it’s spotlessly clean and dry. Whisk the yolks one by one into the white sauce, add the cheese, season with salt, pepper, cayenne and a little freshly ground nutmeg. It should taste hugely seasoned at this time — the egg whites will dull the seasoning. Stir over a gentle heat for just a few seconds until the cheese melts. Remove from the heat (can be made ahead up to this point).
Whisk egg whites with a little pinch of salt, slowly at first and then faster until they are light and voluminous and hold a stiff peak when you lift the whisk. Stir a few tablespoons into the cheese mixture to lighten it and then carefully fold in the rest with a spatula or tablespoon. Put mixture into the prepared soufflé dish or dishes (if ¾-full you’ll get about 10 but if you smooth the tops, you will have about 8).
Bake in a preheated oven for 8-9 minutes for the individual soufflés or 20-25 minutes. For the large one, you will need to reduce the temperature to moderate, 180C/350 F/gas mark 4, after 15 minutes and a bain marie is a good idea.
Top tip: If you fill the soufflé dishes to the top, smooth off with a palette knife then run a washed thumb around the edge of the dishes before they go into the oven to help to get the ‘top hat’ effect when the soufflé is well risen.
Individual frozen soufflés can be baked from frozen but they will take a few minutes longer to cook.
Cheese soufflés with salad leaves:
Just before the soufflés are cooling, toss a mixture of salad leaves and divide between the plates.
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