What is it with me and involuntary deletions? I managed it the other day when I wrote an article on dialogue creation for my arts site, Everyday Alchemy. Idiotically, I managed to lose the whole thing and I have no idea how. In a similar vein, this is now my second attempt at the story and recipe to accompany once or twice baked cheese souffles. Curses. I know who to blame though. *dark look*.
I’ve been making souffles for many years but its taken me until really recently to get it right. It’s very easy to stumble in a number of different ways, but the most common ones are: collapse; lack of flavour (even though it seems fine in the pan) and not enough density. Perfect souffles are both robust and light. Strange, but true.
My recipe here is a take on a dish which is served at our favourite foodie pub, the Red House at Marsh Benham. It was a particular pleasure to find souffle on the menu as so many places shy away from it. I am guessing that’s because of the perceived likelihood of disaster – but that’s where twice baking comes in. Basically, you can prepare these up to a week in advance and then do the final assembly and bake just when you need it. I came to the conclusion that the Red House ones must be made in round silicone moulds, due to their delightful shape. As a result, the first time I scoffed one of Laurent’s delicious delicacies, I nicknamed them the ‘hemispherical domes of pleasure’ much to the amusement of all around. So much so, in fact, that no-one noticed the tautology 🙂
My own souffle recipe finally came together on a recent trip to Northumberland, when Katie and I were on a visit to Fiona. I made them then and this photo is from that occasion. I should tell you that this is when they’re once-baked, because although the twice-baked finished dish is divine to eat, they just look so good when straight out of the oven the first time. The recipe was a success with the girls so off the back of that I’ve practised a couple of times and decided its one to share with you here. If you decide to go for once-baked, just stop at the appropriate moment!
- Pre-heat the oven to 200C
- Butter 4-6 ramekins and line the bottom of each with baking paper
- 1/2 a pint of full cream milk, plus a little more for topping up
- 1 chopped onion
- 1 bayleaf
- 40g butter
- 40g plain flour
- 100g cheddar cheese, grated
- 50g parmesan cheese, grated – and more for the second baking, also grated (get the idea?)
- 1-2 tablespoons mustard – either English or whole grain
- Grated nutmeg to taste
- Black pepper
- Double cream for the second baking
- Fresh baby spinach leaves, ditto
- A little butter for wilting the spinach
- 3 eggs, separated
- Put the milk in a saucepan together with the onion and the bayleaf. Heat gently and simmer for 5 minutes or so to let the flavours infuse
- In the mean time, melt the butter and add the flour to make a roux.
- When the milk is ready, add it a little at a time, stirring constantly, to make a thick, smooth paste. If you taste it at this point, you’ll really see why it’s worth the extra minutes to prepare and flavour the milk.
- Add both cheeses, stirring gently to make sure it all melts. Keep the heat low and remove if necessary
- Add the mustard, pepper and nutmeg and taste regularly till you have the ideal balance. You’re looking for quite a powerful flavour at this stage and personally I like quite a heavy hand with the mustard
- Remove the seasoned cheese sauce from the heat and leave to cool. It should be perfectly smooth and even.
- Whisk your egg whites to stiff peaks and set aside
- When the cheese sauce is cold or almost cold, add the yolks one at a time, stirring constantly. Apologies if I am teaching grandmothers to suck eggs, as it were, but its really important that the sauce is cool. If it isn’t, the eggs will cook and curdle the whole mixture. Its not good. I tell you this as I personally find it really annoying (or ‘noying!’ as my cousin’s son used to say when he was small) when you get an instruction without the reasoning. To know why is to understand.
- With your yolks beaten it, fold in the stiffened whites a little at a time, taking care to keep the mixture really light. This is key.
- Transfer to ramekins. Whether you use 3,4,5 or 6 ramekins will depend on their size, but make sure they’re reasonably well filled.
- Bake the souffles for about 15-20 minutes. Keep an eye on them but don’t open the oven in the first 10 minutes as this is what causes collapsage. They are done when very well risen and golden brown on top. Usually the surface tension breaks to enable further rising, as mine have done in the picture above.
- At this stage, you can get eating, should you wish. If not, read on.
- Let the souffles cool in their ramekins. They will at this point sink, so don’t worry. When they’re cold, run a knife round the inside and carefully turn them out, removing the paper from the bottom. Place them upside down on a plate where they will keep for a week if in the fridge and covered.
- When you’re ready to bake the second time, re-heat the oven again.
- Melt a little butter in a frying pan and add the spinach leaves, stirring constantly until they are wilted down and shiny. As you generally do with spinach, you’ll need a fair bit as it reduces so much. Think of all the vitamin B!
- Make little beds of the spinach, either in individual shallow dishes or several in a larger one
- Place a souffle (still upside down) on each, pour cream over until it runs down the sides and put the parmesan on top. You could also or instead use gruyere here. Up to you.
- Bake for ten minutes until golden brown