Simple Suppers: Cheese soufflé

This is the classic French soufflé, the simplest and the easiest since the cheese blends smoothly with the egg and does not inhibit the rise. The shape and volume of the cooking dish matters. For this recipe you need a soufflé mould (a straight sided, round ovenproof china or Pyrex dish), diameter 20-22cm (8-9in). Size is important as are straight sides that allow the soufflé to rise evenly about the edge.

Cooks note:

I had neither greaseproof paper nor whisk, so my arm got a work out and the dish needed a good soak, but the soufflé was delicious all the same.

Serves 4

50g (2oz) butter
50g (2oz) plain flour
275ml (9fl oz) milk
100g (4oz) mature cheese, such as Cantal or Gruyere, grated
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
5 eggs, separated

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First make a béchamel (white) sauce, the basis for all savoury soufflés. Over a low heat, melt the butter in a small heavy based saucepan, sprinkle in the flour and cook gently for 2-3 minutes until the mixture looks sandy. Whisk in the milk using a wire whisk or beat with a wooden spoon until the sauce is smooth and thick.

Beat in the mature cheese. Season with the nutmeg, salt and pepper and leave to cool.

Meanwhile, prepare a double-thick collar of greaseproof paper about the width of your hand, and tie it firmly around the outside of the soufflé mould with string. Butter the inside of both the dish and the collar, and dust with the Parmesan.

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C, gas 6). As soon as the béchamel has cooled, beat in the egg yolks. Whisk the egg whites until stiff but do not over-whisk them or they will become dry and grainy. Fold the whites lightly into the béchamel mixture with a metal spoon. Do not be scared to mix thoroughly, just use light strokes and lift the spoon to make sure you incorporate air.

Tip the mixture into the soufflé mould and run a knife around the edge just inside the rim to encourage rising. Bake for 30 minutes without opening the oven door. Remove from the oven as soon as the soufflé is beautifully puffed. Snip the string to release the paper collar and serve without delay.

Variations – Other flavourings that can replace or augment the cheese are finely chopped spinach or ham, flaked crab, chopped shrimp or mushrooms sautéed in butter.