Cheese soufflé is one of my all-time favourite foods and although the word soufflé seems to provoke fear in many an amateur cook it’s not that difficult. You need to be able to do three things: make a cheese sauce; whisk egg whites and be patient. If you can manage all of those you can make one of these. Although I first ate it in France, and was convinced that the skills to make such a light and fluffy confection were embedded in French DNA, and therefore beyond me, I first made it in Wales, Cardiff to be precise, using a British cookbook from 1970 that used to belong to my (very English) mother.
The most commonly cited rule about soufflé-making is that, if you don’t want it to sink, don’t peek. But without peeking, how can you tell if it’s done? I have two responses to this. One, although the timing of 15-18 minutes for small ones and 35-40 minutes for large ones has never failed me, your own oven will be different so on a first attempt you may have to peek towards the end of the cooking time to check on it. But if you’re fearful of looking too early a few minutes extra won’t hurt it. Two, I think the line about a soufflé sinking if you look is a tad exaggerated. In the picture above mine wasn’t quite done so I put it back for a couple more minutes and it was still just as puffed up when I finally took it out. What’s more, souffles start to sink as soon as they come out of the oven anyway so, although the puffy effect is amazing, the taste is wonderful with or without it.
Ingredients-wise, you barely need a shopping list: flour, butter, milk, eggs and cheese are all that’s required and, though a good French Comté or a Swiss Gruyère will no doubt improve it, I usually use any hard cheese that I have (Cheddar and Parmesan make a good mix). I’ve made this into a one-person recipe but it is very easily doubled or tripled. Finally, it may look and taste light but it’s very rich so I wouldn’t serve it with anything more than a simple green salad.
For each person (with seconds) you will need:
Cupboard (or things you may already have)
Parmesan cheese, 5g (a tiny end bit should be enough; you only need it for the dish)
butter, 15-20g plus a tad more for the dish
plain flour, 15g
milk, 125ml (you may need a little less or more depending on how wet/dry your butter/flour paste is)
sea salt and black pepper
Cheddar/Gruyère cheese, 60g
1 egg and 1 egg white
Green salad, to serve
You will also need a large ramekin or small ovenproof soufflé dish or something equally deep (about 4-5cm deep is best).
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6.
2. Grate the Parmesan for the dish and the Cheddar/other hard cheese. Separate the whole egg and put the two whites into a bowl you can use for whisking, or into a food processor then lightly butter the soufflé dish and sprinkle in the Parmesan.
3. Melt the rest of the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat and, once completely melted, stir in the flour and beat them together until you have a smooth thick paste. Stir this over the heat for a couple of minutes until the flour is cooked. You may need to add a tad more flour if it seems too wet, or a tad more butter if it seems too dry but don’t overdo it because the more you add the more milk you will need and you may end up with far more cheese sauce and soufflé than you wanted.
4. Now take the pan off the heat and gradually add the milk, stirring in each addition before adding more. At first it will be quite thick and lumpy but it will start to thin as the milk is added and, if it remains lumpy, add a drop more milk or use a whisk instead of a spoon to help it along.
5. Once you have a smooth sauce, return the pan to the heat and gently bring the sauce to the boil (it will start to bubble and look a bit like lava), stirring all the time, until it starts to thicken.
6. Beat in the grated cheese with some salt and pepper and add more cheese to taste if it’s not strong enough for you. Take it off the heat and leave it to cool. This is where the patience comes in: it’s important to leave it to cool because the raw egg yolk will be added to it and, if it’s too warm, you’ll end up with scrambled egg cheese sauce not soufflé.
7. Once the sauce is much cooler (I think it’s cool enough when I can taste it without burning my finger) beat in the egg yolk.
8. Finally whisk the egg whites to soft peaks (so thick and foamy but still slightly droopy) and fold them into the sauce. This can be done by hand (good for your biceps) or with an electric whisk/mixer/food processor.
9. Tip the sauce into the prepared dish and bake for about 15-18 minutes. Have a quick peek at 15 if you’re feeling brave and, if still very wobbly, leave it for a few more minutes.
10. Serve with lots of green salad.