Tuesday, December 18, 2007

My life as a souffle

The souffle has been part of my life ever since a memorable day in Hong Kong in 1991. I went to see Henry and June, the film version loosely based on the book by Anais Nin. The scene that caught my imagination was the one where at a lunch chez the soon to be cuckolded Hugo, the female French cook refuses to place a soufflé on the table until Miller removes his hat. You can see some stills from the film here. In the top left still, Miller still has his hat on. After the film I went out for lunch to Gaddi’s, in the Peninsula Hotel. I’d just ordered when a beautiful cheese soufflé was carried past me to the next table. The smell was indescribable. I tried to change my order but I was too late.

After that, the soufflé became almost an obsession and I taught myself to cook them in all their wonderful variety. The soufflé became a metaphor for life itself: a few puffs of hot air, the ingredients all rise, and then as quickly fall. Unless eaten. It interested me that even quite experienced cooks, those much more experienced than me, were frightened to tackle the soufflé.

Elizabeth David’s recipes include some interesting and quite simple soufflés, such as the one which I first tried. It hasn’t got any flour which makes it very light. It cooks easily and quickly. It’s a lemon soufflé. Try it tonight. This is what you do: beat the yolks of four eggs with 3 tablespoons of caster sugar, the grated rind of a lemon and the juice of the lemon. You need to do this for several minutes. Whip the whites until you get ‘soft peaks’ and then fold the whites into the egg mixture. Pour into a buttered soufflé dish and put into an oven at 200C/400F. I find it’s a good idea to have a metal plate on the shelf in the oven, so that the heat is transmitted into the soufflé more evenly. About 12 minutes is right. Resist the temptation to open the oven door too early. You’ll lose the soufflé.

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