Please don’t say ‘peauf’, little souffle

March 31st, 2011 § 0 comments

‘Have you ever made a souffle?’ my friend asked on one of the first chilly nights of autumn. I had a vague recollection of something rising in my distant youth and replied in the affirmative. ‘OK well let’s make a souffle. Otherwise we’re just going to drink tequila and gooi naam weg at the local again.’

Said friend has a gorgeous house in Napier with an exceptionally beautiful garden. The place oozes country charm and idiosyncratic sophisticat flair. All in all, a perfect place to commit kitchen vixenage.

Simply mahvellous dahlin

You basically have to point and shoot, it’s vignette heaven.

Bespoke artichoke blues

But, at the tender age of 3, the garden truly is the hero. Flowers, herbs, fruit trees and vegetables tumble down the hill in carefully orchestrated chaos.

So a cheese souffle with garden herb salad it was going to be. I found a classic souffle recipe in an old French cookbook, but we didn’t have a conversion table or scale at hand to change the oz to grams etc. Donna Hay provided another recipe and although more slap-up, it had quantities that made sense. A quick shopping trip around town yielded room temperature eggs and some pricey Gruyere from the deli behind Renaissance restaurant. I got a block of pecorino in case the Gruyere wasn’t sufficient. And we stopped off at Theresa’s to borrow a souffle dish.

Souffles are intimidating. Most people never attempt them. Even experienced chefs cast a nervous eye at the oven door while Madame Souffle is doing her thing in there…or not! My friend (who did a Silwood course in his day) was panicky, reading the recipe again and again, mumbling questions and prepping little bowls of grated cheese like the Food Channel was going to arrive any minute. As if I’d let Gordon Ramsay through the door. My gung-ho attitude was partly due to the fact that I’d ‘mastered’ the tricky art of whisking egg whites not too long ago, and also because I still half fancied a pizza and tequila at the local, so what’s the worst that could happen?

The Nerve Centre

We made a standard white sauce (about two tablespoons flour, two tablespoons butter, two cups milk plus seasoning and two cups of cheese towards the end), separated five eggs and whisked the whites. The sauce was left to cool before the yolks were incorporated, one by one, and whisked through. Our souffle dish was prepped (butter the bottom and sides and loosely coat with grated cheese) and then the stiff egg whites were folded into the mixture. Pour in the dish, put on a tray and pop into a hot hot oven. For 15 – 20 minutes, depending on the size of the souffle.

Only our dish was too small so we made a second, smaller souffle in a metal bowl. The only thing everyone knows about souffles is that you never EVER open the oven door. The souffle will say ‘peauf’ like an indignant Parisienne cleaning lady and fall flat. Never to get up again. So now we’re hopping around in front of the oven… is it? Or isn’t it? Will it? Aah, she’s coming, she’s coming! All of a sudden she reared her bouffant head. Excitement levels were off the chart. At one stage I thought the cap was too dark and committed the cardinal sin – I opened the door, only to find that the centre was still loose and sloshing about – but still our little souffle held her head high (heavy hand with the baking powder’s maybe not a bad thing). I still took it out of the oven too soon. It looked successful enough given our low expectations, but wasn’t cooked all the way through. The smaller souffle made from leftover sauce in a metal bowl was the better option in the end.

Voila, mon petit

But it was delicous, light, airy and at the same time rich and decadent. Not surprising as I used all the cheese in the sauce. We retired to the lounge with red cheeks and a feeling of accomplishment. ‘That wasn’t so bad, hey,’ he said. ‘Uh-huh,’ said I, ‘don’t know what the fuss is about.’

But we fussed, boy did we fuss!

This Saturday marks the end of my incredible 20-part, ten-month food journey with Liam Tomlin at Chefs Warehouse. And, we’re finishing off with a Cheese class, how else? I’ve been told a Gruyere souffle is on the cards so I’ll get to see the real deal. And taste it. I can’t wait. Am going to miss cookery school every other week, but am sure this won’t be the end of the line for me and Chefs Warehouse. Let’s face it – there’s still too much to learn.

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