Lockdown lunches: how to make a soufflé fit for a 1970s dinner party
The FT's Daniel Garrahan always fancied making a cheese soufflé for friends but has never been brave enough to try. FT food writer Tim Hayward shows him how to make this classic French dish, fit for a 1970s-style dinner party
Filmed by Lauren Juliff and Liberty Wright. Produced by Daniel Garrahan and Tim Hayward. Edited by Daniel Garrahan
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Hey, it's lockdown. People will watch anything, particularly two idiot blokes cocking up a souffle.
A souffle is one of those things I always wanted to make and I've probably been a bit too scared. It seems very technical and the kind of thing that always goes wrong on those cooking contest TV shows. But you seem to think otherwise. It can be quite a simple thing to do.
I'm old enough to remember my mum worrying about souffles at dinner parties. It's that kind of period, a sort of Fanny Cradock world. The science is really kind of easy.
The real key to it is these ramekin things that your mum loved so much. So when you put this foamy mixture, kind of like a foamy omelet mixture you put in it, and you put it in the oven. It's going to blow up like you wouldn't believe from all the air inside the foam expanding, and it's going to set.
And as long as you make the sides of the ramekin so that they're not going to stick, it'll literally erect itself out of the ramekin and come up tall and thick and stiff. And if it goes wrong, it is profoundly humiliating in so many sort of psychotherapeutic ways.
Why does it go wrong? What causes a souffle to lose its erection?
Probably the thing that destroyed it for all of our mums was neurotically peaking in the top, and all the heat comes flying out the oven, steams up your glasses, and it wilts.
First thing, a little saucepan. Put 40 grammes of butter in it. Vigorously butter the inside of all our ramekins. And I'm then going to put my butter on the heat. Have you got some white bread crumbs?
Shall I blitz my stale white bread?
So the bread crumbs, if you can call them that. Mine are more like bread lumps.
You do actually own a blender? I thought you did it with a lawnmower, frankly, but that's great.
These go onto the bottom of the buttered ramekins?
And make sure you get it right up the sides as well. It's got to be really properly and neatly coated.
And what do they do?
You've got your straight-sided ramekins so there's nothing to stop the souffle rising. You want plenty of grease on it, an extra sort of anti-stick measure. You breadcrumb it too. How does that look?
Not brilliant. This one's going a bit better.
Butter, heat it up, and then add 40 grammes of plain flour to make the roux, the base for the bechamel, yeah? The butter and the flour should combine. Remember you are going for kind of a biscuity smell, yeah?
The thing that made me think of this dish is that I ate at Michel Roux's restaurant a few years back. And he's got this creamy, cheesy souffle which is just like nothing else I've ever tasted. It's just absolutely divine.
You're putting me up against Michel?
Yeah. I expect to be impressed, yeah?
He's French for Christ's sake. He's got souffle in his blood.
You've got chip fat in your blood, right?
Once you've got that cooked take it off the heat, add a little bit of milk. We're going to end up putting in 300,000 mil of milk. We just add it a little bit at a time off the heat. Whisk it till the lumps disappear, then add a bit more. Once you've got about 100 mil in and it's good and smooth, I then put it back on the heat. Keep whisking so it goes smoother knicker. Stir it one more time and leave it off the heat because you want it to drop its temperature now.
Do you remember how to separate eggs?
I'll give it a go.
Yolks into one small bowl, whites into a larger bowl for whisking later.
So the secret here is to kind of juggle them from one side of the shell to the other, I think.
You can do it by pouring it into your hand as well, which is kind of cool. You don't keep your eggs in the fridge, do you?
We do sometimes. Sorry to admit that. Is that a terrible thing to confess to?
Just a total amateur mistake.
Why is that? Why should we not be keeping eggs in the fridge?
You can't really make a meringue, which is what we'll be making in a minute, with cold eggs. They won't work. You'll never get the meringue to set. If you're the kind of person who uses one egg every two months, then keep them in the fridge. But otherwise, keep your eggs outside. They're always ready to use.
50 grammes of Parmesan. Break that, and beat it into a bechamel. About 100 grammes of Gruyére to go in as well. Don't put it on the heat. Throw it in cold there.
So this is forming a kind of a lumpy, claggy paste.
Yep. Add the egg yolks and stir those in too.
This is all off the heat.
You certainly don't want the heat now because you'd be basically just making scrambled eggs. This point you can also season it.
Salt and pepper?
A little bit of salt. Not too much because the Parmesan's salty and the Gruyére's salty. Pepper, yeah, good idea.
So what should the consistency be like? Because mine's quite lumpy.
Well, a kind of sloppy scrambled eggs. Now this is the bit which is going to really separate the men from the boys, taking the egg whites and beating them up into a meringue. I'm going to use one of these. They're terribly 1970s retro.
I'm starting again a bit of a sweat on here.
I never said it was going to be easy, man.
My eggs have been confiscated off me and are now being beaten by the director of photography. That's stiff, isn't it?
Perhaps you should ask your wife.
Take a spoonful of your meringue, into your custard. Gently fold it in. It doesn't mix completely. All you're doing is using the foam to lighten the custard, and then by the third or fourth spoonful, you'll see you're getting a very, very lightened mixture.
So the key here is a sort of a light touch?
A very light touch.
You want to move your spatula through the stuff as little as you can.
You've got it. You've got it. What I like about this is, I mean, you can talk about this all you like, and you can read as many instructions as you want. But when you actually have the tools in your hand, and you can see what it's doing, the science kind of dictates it for you. You can see you're trying to keep the air trapped in there, but you do want to combine it. But not so much that it's going to be a problem.
Shallow baking tray, and I've put all my ramekins inside it. Carefully spoon the mixture until they're about three-quarters full. Pour boiling water in around the pots into the baking tray, creating something called a bain-marie to stop the heat aggressively overcooking. Put it into the oven, and start a timer. All those trapped bubbles that you carefully preserved are now going to expand.
The worst thing we could possibly do right now is crack and peak. We let the air out, and the whole thing will flop.
What's really been exposed is how little we clean our oven door. It's not a great view in there.
You know, I wonder if we're discovering something interesting here about the 1970s cook looking through the window of that thing. I mean, about now, if I had a dinner party full of people outside, I'd be bloody terrified and want to take a peek.
But this is exactly why I've never cooked it for a dinner party because I just know it's one of those things that would fail. And already I'm feeling the pressure. I'd be like one of those classic and chocolate fondants or something where, you know, the chocolate doesn't run in the middle.
Hey, it's lockdown. People will watch anything. Particularly two idiot blokes cocking up a souffle.
Is this the kind of thing that you cook often, a souffle?
I haven't done a souffle in years, but it has a massive emotional connection. Because I just remember how important things like that were to my mum.
I can imagine what the menu would be like at that dinner party. It would start with a prawn cocktail, then you have a cheese souffle, and it would probably end with a Black Forest gateau.
Oh, almost certainly. Yes, yes.
Now, will they collapse?
They won't collapse. Oh blimey, that is good.
I'm happy with that. I think the extra height would have been a more impressive visual treat for your 1970s dinner party, but there's certainly nothing wrong with that to eat. That's absolutely delicious.
As in all things, size isn't everything.