I’ve always been a bit scared of soufflés. I adore eating them, but would sooner leave the manufacture to someone else. The process always seems to me way too fraught to be a satisfying one, with that mad sprint finish over the last yards from the degree-perfect oven to the table. Scoping out options for supper last week and finding two rashers of bacon, a few eggs and two lumps of cheese left I suggested to the BSG that I might try making one and he said ‘why not?’ Why not, indeed? So I did.
I love nothing more than cruising the pages of all our beautiful cookbooks, but when I am all at sea and in need of the recipe equivalent of a stern lecture (or that fun instructive part of Blue Peter) I go to the most unsightly of the lot: Leith’s Cookery Bible. Stripped of its dust-jacket, its pages stuck together and occasionally brittle with goodness-knows-what, the spine and boards rebound with parcel tape of the muddiest brown, this beloved manual has been with the BSG for 12 years, since he did a course at Leith’s. Aside from a few breaks of colour photos (and BSG biro-scribblings), it is nearly 700 pages of pure instruction, and has been so relied upon and loved over the years that if it were a toy it would be the Velveteen Rabbit.
So, with Prue’s expert help, I made my first soufflé*. And it felt a lot like a magic spell; it never ceases to delight me how the lowly egg creates such towering spectacle.
*(I don’t think I have ever followed a recipe to the letter and this was no exception; I put chopped fried bacon bits into the bottom of the dishes).
Serves 2 apparently (but easily 6 as a starter)
Dried white breadcrumbs
30g plain flour
½ teaspoon dry English mustard
a pinch of Cayenne pepper
3 oz sharp Cheddar or Gruyere cheese, grated (I used both)
4 eggs, separated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 200ºC/400º F gas mark 6.
Melt a knob of the butter and brush a 15cm/6in soufflé dish (or 6 ramekins) with it. Dust lightly with the breadcrumbs.
Melt the remaining butter in a saucepan and stir in the flour, mustard and cayenne with a wooden spoon. Cook for 45 seconds. Add the milk and cook, stirring vigorously, for 2 minutes. The mixture will get very thick and leave the sides of the pan. Remove from the heat.
Cool slightly and add the cheese, egg yolks, salt and pepper. Taste; the mixture should be well seasoned.
Whisk the egg whites until stiff but not dry, mix a spoonful into the cheese mixture. Then fold in the remainder until just combined. Pour into the dish(es), which should be two-thirds full. Run your finger around the top of the mixture. This gives a ‘top hat’ appearance to the cooked soufflé.
Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes (13-20 minutes for small versions) and serve immediately. (Do not test to see if the soufflé is done for at least 20 minutes - less for smaller dishes. Then open the oven just wide enough to get your hand in and give the soufflé a slight shove. If it wobbles alarmingly, cook for a further 5 minutes.)