The kitchen can be witness to some miraculous tricks of cookery alchemy. Any souffle, savoury or sweet is one of those dishes that undergoes a magical process once in the oven. As long as you follow a few basic rules and make sure that there is minimal time from oven to plate you shouldn’t go too far wrong.
Souffles should, ideally rise beautifully straight with a traditional ‘top hat’ effect. If it doesn’t exactly work like that it really doesn’t matter. The important thing is that it rises, is gossamer light and packed with flavour. Be generous with the seasoning and hold your nerve. The oven door must remain firmly shut until the pinger goes off. A lovely clean, clear glass door is an asset here as it is useful to be able to see how your golden miracles are progressing.
I am using a good, mature cheddar cheese here. It works beautifully and is wonderful with the addition of the herbs but you could use gruyere, parmesan or even blue cheese.
Four ramekin dishes
Handful of white breadcrumbs
20g unsalted butter
20g plain flour
150ml whole milk
50g mature cheddar cheese, grated
2 large eggs, separated
1 teaspoon dijon or english mustard
Tablespoon of finely chopped chives
Tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves, stripped from their stalks
Sea salt & black pepper
1 small bulb of fennel
1 small red skinned crisp apple
Fennel fronds (from the fennel bulb)
Flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
Sea salt & black pepper
Pre-heat the oven to 200c and put a baking sheet in it.
Butter the ramekins and toss the breadcrumbs around to stick to the sides.
Make the sauce first. Take a small saucepan and put in the milk, flour and cubed butter. Put on the heat and using a whisk stir constantly until thick and bubbling. Cook for another minute or two and add a good amount of seasoning and the mustard.
Remove from the heat and add in the cheddar cheese and the mustard. Stir until melted and as it all starts to cool add the egg yolks and the herbs, whisking well until you have a very thick and smooth sauce. Transfer this to a bowl and allow to cool.
Whisk the egg whites until the soft peak stage. Once the sauce is not longer hot (it doesn’t have to be very cold). Roughly fold a quarter of the egg whites to loosen it all up and then gently fold in the rest of the egg white. A metal tablespoon is best for this. Once the egg whites are all folded in check the seasoning.
Divide between the ramekin dishes. Run your thumb around the edge to create the ‘top hat’ effect and to help the souffle rise evenly.
Put into the oven and set the timer to 10 minutes.
Make the fennel and apple salad by finely shredding the fennel and slicing the apple very finely and if the pieces are big, cutting in half lengthways. Toss immediately in lemon juice to prevent oxidisation and then add rapeseed or extra virgin olive oil to taste. Season well and add roughly chopped flat leaf parsley and the fennel fronds. Divide between your plates, that you will have ready and waiting.
Once the souffles are well risen and golden brown (they may need an extra couple of minutes but judge through the glass window of the oven) remove from the oven and serve immediately. The will sink fast so speed is of the essence.
If you have some chopped walnuts it would be nice to toast some and add them to the salad.