Sunday, 26 February 2012

Soufflé Suissesse: When it's okay to ask for help

Last year I acquired a copy of Michel Roux Jr's Cooking With The Master Chef. I was thrilled to flick through it and find the recipe for the famous Soufflé Suissesse - the signature dish at Le Gavroche. It's the dish and the restaurant Michel inherited from his father, Albert.

Soufflé Suissesse - double baked soufflé sitting in double cream and covered in cheese -  is the stuff of legend. It's supposed to have a thousand calories per plate, but I don't believe that. Even if I did, I'd still eat it. I made it a few times last year, having never made a soufflé before. Gorgeous as the flavours were, I always got the feeling it wasn't quite as it should be. But then, if Michelin-starred cooking was that easy, they'd be handing stars out like eggs at Easter.

I'm not fortunate enough to have eaten at Le Gavroche yet, and I'd only ever seen pictures of how it's supposed to look online. The book doesn't include a picture. When you've been cooking a while, you tend not to need incredibly detailed instructions and step-by-step photos or illustrations. The vocabulary of the kitchen becomes familiar. One of my favourite books, The Geometry of Pasta, includes only basic black illustrations of pasta shapes and very uncomplicated recipe instructions. It is a thing of beauty.

Sometimes though, you need someone to show you exactly how something's done. Especially if the person who created that recipe is Albert Roux. By chance, I ended up watching The Roux Legacy on the Good Food Channel one night. During one of the two episodes I watched, Albert and Michel Sr. made Soufflé Suissesse and I watched intently, noting all the things I'd been doing wrong.

Not having even thought about it for months, I was consumed with making it again with all this new knowledge. Albert mentioned during the show that this isn't really a dish you make for just one person. It's one you make for a few people. He's completely right, of course. The amounts you need to make just one are so small, it feels more fiddly than it should be. But as nobody else wanted one, I went about it the hard way.

The first thing my TV taught me, was that I was being far too delicate with the egg whites. That was easy to fix. I made them firmer than I had before and wasn't too precious about mixing them into the milk, butter and flour.

I poured the mixture into a greased ramekin. Albert did not use a ramekin. He used individual, shallow pie dishes. There's a reason for this. Have you ever taken a molten hot ramekin from the oven and tried tipping it out? Don't! It is practically impossible. Still, this was my choice of vessel and I had to persevere.

While the soufflé cooks for the first time, salted double cream is warmed through and poured into an ovenproof dish. Once it's cooked, the soufflé is carefully (hah!) tipped into the cream, cheese is added (cheddar and emmental in my case) and it's returned to the oven for its second baking. Once the cheese has melted into the cream, it's ready to be devoured.

Did it look perfect? Absolutely not. The ramekin debacle broke it slightly on tipping. I'll know for next time. The flavours and texture, however, were amazing. For something so small, it's strange how stomach-achingly immobilised you feel afterwards. Worth every tiny calorie.

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