A soufflé is simply a sauce folded into whisked egg whites, which is then baked in a hot oven. The mixture will expand but because it can only go in one direction, will rise upwards almost disproportionately, resulting in a light and delicate mousse like affair.
A soufflé’s reputation for collapsing is down to chemistry and is inevitable once you remove the soufflé from the oven; however a twice baked soufflé is more robust and although it doesn’t rise as dramatically second time around, neither will it collapse as much.
Twice baking also negates the rigmarole of making paper collars for the dishes, a classic technique which serves to channel the upward rise of the soufflé; in this case the soufflés will be turned out of their ramekins and be served upside down.
Being twice baked also means you can prepare the soufflés in advance: all they’ll need for their second outing is 10 minutes in a hot oven with a little extra cream and a scattering of grated cheese. They also freeze well, but personally I wouldn’t bother, left-over cheese soufflés make a delightful breakfast alternative.
1 onion, peeled and quartered
2 sticks of celery
1 small bunch of thyme
1 bay leaf
6 whole black peppercorns
300ml full fat milk
75g plain flour
175g full flavoured hard cheese such as Comté or Cheddar, grated
½ teaspoon of table salt
1 heaped teaspoon of English mustard powder
Extra cream for serving, extra grated cheese.
Place the onion, celery, bay, black peppercorns and thyme in a saucepan and infuse the milk: bring it up to just below boiling point, turn the heat off and leave it to steep for at least half an hour, preferably an hour.
Preheat the oven to 190 ⁰C and grease the insides of 8 small ramekins with butter.
Fill the kettle and put it on to boil.
Separate the eggs: break the whites into a large bowl, one that is big enough to whisk them comfortably and accommodate all the other ingredients eventually. Keep the yolks to one side for now.
Melt the butter in a medium sized saucepan over a low heat, add the flour and make a roux, cook briefly for 2 – 3 minutes without colouring.
Meanwhile, strain the milk through a sieve and discard the vegetables etc. Pour the milk in a steady stream onto the roux, whisking constantly as you do. Don’t be surprised if the ‘sauce’ becomes so thick you need to ditch the whisk and use a spatula. Cook this for a minute or two, stirring frequently so it doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan. Add the grated cheese and continue to cook until fully incorporated, then add the mustard powder, salt, and then add the egg yolks beating them in quickly. Season generously with ground black pepper.
Turn the heat off, but leave the pan on the warm hob whilst you whisk the egg whites into stiff peaks. Fold a good dollop of the cheese sauce into the egg whites; use an exaggerated sweeping technique to carefully fold and turn the soufflé mix, it will take a while to incorporate the first batch of sauce, but the rest will be much easier once you’ve slackened it a little.
Continue to add the sauce, folding each batch in thoroughly, then divide the mix equally between the ramekins and place them in a roasting tin.
Fill the roasting tin with recently boiled water to come roughly half way up the sides of the ramekins, then slide onto the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 20 mins. (You can get away with opening the oven door during cooking, so long as the soufflés don’t notice a change in temperature, so peeping is OK, but flinging the door wide open and wafting past at high speed is not.)
Remove the soufflés after 20 mins and lift them out of the water bath. Ease the tops back into position as they contract – remember the tops will be on the bottom for their second bake.
Allow the soufflé to cool entirely before running a knife around the inside of the ramekin and turning them out.
For their second baking, place them in individual heat proof dishes in which they fit comfortably (rather than snuggly). Heat the double cream until steaming and pour around the base of each soufflé to form a moat. Sprinkle extra grated cheese over the tops and a good grind of black pepper. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 200⁰C for 10 mins or until the cream is bubbling and the cheese turns golden brown.