TOAST Magazine

THE SOUFFLÉ

FOOD & DRINK

Let’s consider the soufflé.

Why?

It’s an obsession of mine, albeit a minor one, along with Forgotten Town by The Christians, and our marvellous women’s hockey team: the chemical properties of eggs, and their ability to make extraordinary transformations – the soufflé, the cake, the egg liaison, the hollandaise sauce. In fact I’ve harboured an idea to write a book about the egg – the egg in cookery, the egg in culture, the philosophical egg, the religious egg, etc. But it’s overkill I think, and potentially pretentious overkill at that, although I’m a great fan of an equivalent book about the testicle: Testicles (Balls in Cooking and Culture) by Blandine Vié, described by Fergus Henderson as ‘a load of bollocks, wonderful!’ 

Still, I think the soufflé is a marvel; and it’s becoming an endangered species, an example of a kind of traditional French cookery that is going out of fashion - too many dairy products, too much bother, no guarantee of success.

Anyway, stop me if you know all this already.

Here’s an old-school savoury soufflé, in which the main ingredient is carried by a béchamel sauce.

Cheese Soufflé (serves 4, generously)

Cheese is the perfect main ingredient of a soufflé – strong tasting but light. Try using Gruyère instead of Cheddar.

Spinach works well. So do mushrooms. So do Jerusalem artichokes (with the help of hazelnuts and parsley). So does smoked haddock. So, surprisingly, does crab (with a lot of help from parmesan).

40g butter

2 tbsp plain flour

300ml hot milk

100g grated Cheddar

50g grated Parmesan

pinch cayenne pepper

a scraping of grated nutmeg

salt and pepper

4 egg yolks

5 egg whites

a little extra grated Cheddar

 

Heat the oven to 190°C.

The soufflé dish should hold about a litre. Thin china works better than thick.

Make a béchamel sauce: melt the butter over a gentle heat, and cook the flour in it for a couple of minutes without letting it colour. Gradually add the milk, stirring continuously, and simmer for about five minutes until the sauce is smooth and thick. Add most of the cheese, the cayenne, the nutmeg and the salt and pepper, and stir well.

Beat the egg yolks into the sauce, and let the mixture cool to lukewarm. Add a pinch of salt to the whites and beat with a balloon whisk until they stand up in soft peaks that hold their shape. Stir a couple of tablespoons of the whisked whites into the cheese mixture to loosen it up, and then, using a rubber spatula, very lightly fold in the rest of the whites.

Butter a soufflé dish and sprinkle in the rest of the cheese. Pour in the mixture. Make a deep groove in the surface about 2cm from the rim – the idea being to make the soufflé rise like a cottage loaf. Bake for 25 minutes, or if you’re feeling brave, slightly less. The middle should be slightly runny.

Here’s an old-school sweet soufflé, which has no béchamel sauce carrier. In fact it has no carrier at all. It is simply a mechanism for inflating the main ingredient, or rather a purée of the main ingredient.

Apricot Soufflé (serves 6) 

175g dried apricots

50g caster sugar

½ vanilla pod

2 tbsp brandy

the grated ring of half an orange

4 egg yolks

6 beaten egg whites

 

Heat the oven to 190°C.

Put the apricots in a baking dish with the sugar and the half vanilla pod, cover with water, and bake for 40 minutes. (Alternatively, poach them in a saucepan on top of the stove – but I think they retain more of their taste in the oven.) Remove the half vanilla pod, drain and liquidise. Put this purée into a large bowl, add the brandy and the grated orange rind. Mix in the egg yolks. Fold in the egg whites. Pour into a buttered soufflé dish, make a deep groove in the surface about 2cm from the rim and bake (still at 190°C) for 20 minutes. The middle should be slightly runny. Serve with crème fraîche.

Beautifully simple. Works well with prunes too.

It’s tempting to apply Ockham’s Razor, and try making a savoury soufflé without a béchamel sauce. The yoghurt simply loosens up the mixture – you could use ricotta cheese.

Ockam’s Cheese Soufflé (serves 4, modestly)

100g grated Cheddar

50g grated Parmesan

2 tbsp yoghurt

generous pinch cayenne pepper

generous scraping of grated nutmeg

salt and pepper

4 egg yolks

6 beaten egg whites

a little extra grated Cheddar

 

Heat the oven to 190°C.

Whizz together the cheeses, yoghurt, cayenne pepper, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Put the mixture in a large bowl. Mix in the egg yolks. Fold in the egg whites.

Butter a soufflé dish and sprinkle in a little grated cheddar. Pour in the mixture, make a deep groove in the surface about 2cm from the rim, and bake for 20 minutes.

Gloriously simple!

Though not as gloriously simple as

Posh Cheese On Toast (serves one)

which is basically a cheese soufflé on toast.

Make a piece of toast. Meanwhile mix 50g grated cheddar, a beaten egg and half a teaspoon of Dijon mustard. Spread the mixture on the toast and put under the grill till brown. Some people add beer to the mixture. No! – apply Ockam’s Razor.

Words by Orlando Gough 

Images by Tessa Huff

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