Tag Archives: soufflés

apple and cheese soufflés, and cheat’s ratatouille

10 Mar

apple cheese souffles 1

There is a magnificent sunset outside, swathes of pink on a clear, blue sky. From the bridge at the end of my road, it is criss-crossed with black wires hung over the train lines. I like the contrast. Walking back home, along a route I never take, I look up and see a classic silhouette behind a skyscraper, the dome and tower of the Sacré-Coeur. Normally I never go that way, normally I go inwards to the centre of Paris’ clock-face. But Paris extra-muros is being steadily smartened and I had been to visit the new Ciné-Cité on the outskirts, pristine and echoing still. I shouldn’t be surprised that there is more to discover, that a different road will yield such different results. The day before a long run took me past a British telephone box stranded in the Paris suburbs, fully functional with a dial tone and everything. It is a tiny city sometimes, and sometimes even after three and a half years I don’t know it at all.

Talk about leaving my comfort zone in increments. I curl up on the sofa with a pile of cookbooks the afternoon of the dinner party with the will to make something new… And what really leaps out out at me are the soufflés. The way I open a menu and instantly know I must have that  or I will be disappointed. But I already wrote about soufflés three posts ago. And I will make them with goat’s cheese, which has been so over-done the Guardian has been panicking about a desperate shortage of the stuff. What’s more, the recipe comes from my mother’s cookbook.

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What can I say? Everyone has food phases, cravings, repetitive habits – see also, the Croutons for Breakfast period circa 1998 – and though they may be a la mode, I can’t resist making more soufflés. Their craggy puff, their splendour as they arrive at the table – and above all, their relative ease. Granted, I can only make four at a time because of my little oven, but I only need ingredients lying around the kitchen – cheese, milk, butter, eggs and in this case, an apple – and a good whisk. As simple as an omelette, but more spectacular.

A couple of hours before dinner, I fried an apple in butter, then made a simple béchamel sauce. When it was thick and creamy, I added egg yolks, goat’s cheese and apple. That was it. The egg whites waited on one side for the last minute.

cheat's ratatouille 2

Meanwhile, the oven did all the work for the laziest (best) ratatouille I have ever tried. One large aubergine, one courgette and one red pepper were roasted whole until blackened and collapsing in on themselves. (The aubergine gave up the ghost first, the courgette was made of tougher stuff.) Once baked soft, they need all of ten seconds to chop roughly – can be done with kitchen scissors, even. All I had to do was gently saute a clove or two of garlic in some olive oil, add a tomato and done. Stir them all together, season. Best of all, no squeaky aubergine: too often ratatouille has cubes of polystyrene eggplant swimming in watery sauce because it takes so long to cook each vegetable to the proper consistency. This oven-roasted version was silky, meltingly tender and took less effort than reading this paragraph.

So after half an hour’s actual work, I was done. Wash up, go back to the sofa for more tea. Pretend to be the consummate hostess when my guests arrive. When they do, when they begin to look hungry despite the crisps and crackers, all that needs doing is preheating the oven, whisking the egg whites and gently folding in the rich béchamel. The soufflés were over enthusiastic, bursting from their dishes. Even better. Brown around the edges, fluffy in the middle, with the subtle tang of apple balancing the goat’s cheese: they were comforting and ever-so-slightly out of the ordinary. Just right for a Wednesday.

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Apple and cheese soufflés

from Victoria O’Neill’s Seasonal Secrets –  she suggests using blue cheese (in which case omit the salt). Her version is also twice baked, which means you bake them, let them cool for 20 minutes then turn them out of the ramekins onto a baking tray and reheat for 10 minutes when needed. This reduces last minute preparation, and leads to a slightly more crisp texture – but I like the pomp of a freshly baked soufflé. Serve with salad and toasted walnuts for a starter, or with ratatouille, some steamed potatoes and bread for a filling main course.

makes 8 starter size or 4 main course size

100g butter, divided into 30/70g

1 large apple (160g)

50g plain flour

300ml milk

100g cheese – mild goat’s cheese or strong blue, according to taste

(3/4 tsp salt – omit if using blue cheese!)

pepper

4 eggs, separated into yolks and whites

You will need some ramekins or little straight-sided dishes so that the soufflés rise properly. For the small, starter size they should be about 8cm across, for the larger 11-12cm.

Melt 30g butter in a small saucepan; peel and finely chop the apple. Cook the apple in butter, covered, for 5 minutes or until soft and golden. Tip into a bowl. In the same saucepan, melt the rest of the butter. Using a pastry brush, thoroughly coat the inside of your ramekins with butter. Dust them with a little flour, rolling them around so the flour covers the sides and bottom. Set aside.

Add the flour to the melted butter and stir well to make a roux. Let it cook for a minute or two until it smells slightly nutty, so that the flour loses its raw taste. Off the heat, add the milk a little at a time, whisking in between to remove lumps. Return to the heat and cook until thick and creamy and just starts to bubble. Decant into the bowl with the apples. Crumble in the cheese, add salt (if using) and pepper and finally the egg yolks. Stir. Clingfilm the surface so it doesn’t form a skin. Have the egg whites in a separate, large, clean bowl – also with clingfilm over it to stop any contamination. Whites whisk best at room temperature.

(All of the above can be prepared in advance. If it is more than a couple of hours beforehand, refrigerate the béchamel and whites and bring to room temperature before using. Alternatively, bake the soufflés straightaway as below. Then when they have cooled – 20 minutes or so – ease them out of their ramekins with a palette knife and turn onto a baking tray. Reheat when needed.)

Preheat the oven to 200C and whisk the whites to stiff peaks. Stir a quarter into the béchamel sauce to lighten it, then tip it all into the whites and fold together, careful not to lose the air. Fill ramekins to the brim, smooth the tops. Run a knife around the edge to help them rise up evenly. Turn the oven down to 180C and bake for 25 minutes, until they have puffed up, turned golden-brown and feel reasonably firm to the touch.

Serve immediately.

apple cheese souffles 2

Cheat’s Ratatouille

serves 4 as a side dish

1 large aubergine

1 large red pepper

1 large or 2 small courgettes

1 large or 2 small tomatoes

2 cloves garlic

2 tbsp olive oil

salt and pepper

Heat oven to 250C. Line a baking tray with foil. Stab the aubergine and pepper several times with a fork. If using a large courgette, slice in half, otherwise leave everything whole. Bake for 20 minutes or so until the vegetables have collapsed and, for the pepper, blackened around the edges. Remove any vegetables that cook quicker – my courgette needed an extra ten minutes to really soften. Meanwhile, peel and smash the garlic cloves with the back of a knife; cook in the olive oil until soft but not brown. Roughly chop the tomato and sauté for a couple of minutes until it breaks down. Chop the roasted vegetables with knife or kitchen scissors (remove stalk and seeds from pepper) and pour away any liquid that seeps out. Add to tomato, garlic, and heat through. Season with plenty of salt and pepper. Serve.

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blueberry, chocolate and coconut soufflés

23 Jan

souffle 3

(The day I remembered I loved Paris, for future reference when the city seems cold and shrill once again.)

Woken by the sun and the commotion of traffic, earlier than a holiday, already three hours later than my workday, I pulled on a blue dress to walk to the corner bakery for breakfast. On the way back I snapped off the point of the baguette to test; at home I knocked over the clothes rack and woke you. We had our croissants dipped in coffee and apricots plump with juice.

Late as ever we caught the metro to the Opera Garnier, to be tourists for the morning. The guide asked the children in our tour group who might have designed the palatial structure: not a trick question. Charles Garnier was not long left the Beaux Arts, winner of the prestigious Prix de Rome when he was asked to design a new opera house for Napoleon III. A rainbow of marble, intricate Italian mosaics and real gold leaf plastered everywhere lead into the main auditorium where we tipped our heads back to admire the scandalously modern Chagall ceiling, seven tonne chandelier and ring of soft globe lights, Garnier’s “pearl necklace.” We laughed to hear that the best seats had been designed to be seen, not to see the stage. On the roof there are beehives (honey sold at Fauchon down the street), while underneath in the reservoir that served for fire safety as well as acoustics, firemen fish for carp. We looked out over the main avenue, marvelled at the sheer scale and detail of the building. I learned things, for even after three years living here my list of sights is still unfinished. We worked up an appetite for our next eating, a short walk away.

On the menu were soufflés, savoury and sweet. An unassuming restaurant behind the fancy hotels that flank the Tuileries that offers a lunchtime menu of soufflé and green salad followed by soufflé and coffee. Brought with due pomp and circumstance, they did not risk falling; they were very stable but still light and airy inside. Rich with cheese and egg, really just an omelette dolled up for the opera in a hoop skirt, they are extremely satisfying to eat. Their colours decorated the plain dining room: craggy mountain green for spinach and goat’s cheese, tutu pink for raspberry. Chocolate has its own sauceboat. The Grand Marnier comes with a whole bottle to souse as liberally as you wish. Though some of the flavours veered on artificial (peach and apricot was too much like perfumed soap for me) overall the airy creatures were delicious, they were fun.

Blinking at the glare from the sun, we crossed the Tuileries for some lèche-vitrine in St-Germain. Literally “window-licking”, but we were too full even for Pierre Herme macarons. You suggested we see the Chagall expo in the Luxembourg gardens, inspired by the ceiling, a pathway through exile, love and grief all in primary colours. We had time for a swim, the cool water open to the air. You spotted the twins, a pair of identical seventy-year-old sisters in matching cap and costume (later, the same trousers and cardigans) that we had seen at a different Parisian pool years before.

Enough time to traipse home, less sticky and hot, to change for the opera. We were happily over-dressed for an under-done building – it wasn’t the morning’s gilt edifice but the rather more intimate Bouffes du Nord, discovered by Peter Brook in the 70s and left in its charmingly dilapidated state. The paint peels off the rusty-red walls, the front row is directly on the stage. Props comprised only some upright bamboo poles, to serve as palace and jungle and sword.  The whole surroundings left space for the ethereal music, The Magic Flute, sung in German, enough to give you chills; and the quick banter, mostly in French. It was short, an hour and a half of suspended time, breath held. Afterwards it took us a while to shake off the wonder, despite the prosaic metro ride home. You bought some mint from the Indian shop down the road; we sat on the balcony just big enough for two and ate salad. At 11pm, the traffic was still buzzing, the neon-clashing lights of the internet shop below still lit. We gazed at the tree above, talked about nothing and finally went to bed.

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Tours at the Opera Garnier (in English at 11.30am and 2.30pm, Wed/Sat/Sun or every day in holidays and July/August)

Lunch at Le Soufflé, (€26 menu, best to book, tel: +33 142602719)

Swim at Piscine Georges Hermant (outdoor pool only in summer)

Opera, theatre, concerts at Les Bouffes du Nord

…and if we hadn’t been so tired, it would have been supper at the best (vegetarian) Indian in Paris, Krishna Bhavan.

~~

Since then, I thought soufflés a little intimidating to make at home, especially in my small oven. Rowley Leigh rescued me with his detailed and clear instructions that took up more of his column than usual. His soufflé Vendôme – a cheese one with a poached egg in the middle that miraculously stays runny – with tomato sauce is just right, rich and fluffy with the contrasting tang of tomato. Again for emphasis: it has a poached egg suspended in a cloud of cheese. Wondrous. So good in fact that I will do it no justice by paraphrasing, so here is the link: Rowley Leigh’s Soufflé Vendôme. He makes six starters, but for a main course you can make the same amount of mixture, only three poached eggs and bake in larger dishes (10cm).

Here is a dessert instead, one that worked first time and would be infinitely adaptable. It has a fruit base, with little pockets of melted chocolate and coconut for texture, and it rose like a dream. The blueberries did turn the egg whites an alarming shade of grey-blue but were delicious nonetheless. You can use frozen fruit since it is then cooked down into a jammy mixture, to recreate the summer, until it is time for dresses and pools again.

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Blueberry,chocolate and coconut soufflés

From Australian Gourmet Traveller, December 2013

Makes 6 – Works with cherries, raspberries or other soft fruit. Try to find shredded coconut rather than desiccated, it is chunkier and juicier.

Cocoa + soft butter for moulds

200g (frozen) blueberries

110g caster sugar, divided in half

15g cornflour

150g egg whites (5 eggs)

60g dark chocolate (70%)

40g shredded coconut + extra for sprinkling

Grease six small ramekins (or oven-proof coffee cups with straight sides) with the soft butter. Then tip in a teaspoon of cocoa and roll ramekin around until the sides are totally coated. Tip excess into next ramekin, repeat. Refrigerate.

Defrost blueberries and blend them roughly, leaving a few chunky bits. In a small saucepan, heat puree with half the caster sugar (55g) until it dissolves. Pour a little into a small bowl with the cornflour and mix well to remove lumps. Tip it back into the saucepan with the rest and simmer, stirring every now and then, for 10 minutes or so until thick like jam. Let cool.

Measure out the egg whites and remaining 55g caster in separate bowls. Chop the chocolate finely, weigh the coconut. Stop at this point, if you are not ready to eat dessert. Egg whites whip better at room temperature anyway. (Alternatively, make up the soufflés and refrigerate for 1 hour before baking.)

While serving the main course, heat the oven to 190C. When main course is over, boil the kettle. Then beat the egg whites to stiff peaks, adding the sugar gradually as it becomes opaque. Stir a spoonful of whites into the blueberries. Carefully fold everything together without losing the volume. Spoon into the six ramekins and smooth the tops. Run a knife around the edge to help it rise. Sprinkle a little coconut on each. Place in a deep baking tray or roasting tin and fill it with the boiling water, halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 11-12 minutes. The soufflés should have browned and risen a couple of centimetres and feel firm to touch. Insert a skewer to check: it should have a bit of melted chocolate on it but not drippy mixture. Place each ramekin on a small plate and serve immediately.

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