Ignore the pomp and puff - soufflés are a lot less frail than they look

They strike fear into the hearts of even seasoned cooks. But the rising towers of baking accomplishment are within your reach, says Samuel Muston.

There is a conspiracy surrounding the soufflé. I lay the blame on a man named Marie-Antoine Carême for this. This uneven-tempered chef of the 18th century, with his penchant for the most grandiose of Grande Cuisine food, almost single-handled made the tower of egg flour, sugar, and butter seem a thing of the gods. Maybe it was a sop to his own brilliance, maybe to keep other chefs' tanks off the lawn – either way in his 1841 book, Patissier Royal Parisien, he made them sound bloody difficult to make. A double affront, as it wasn't even he who invented them.

According to the invaluable Penguin Companion to Food, that laurel probably belongs to Antoine Beauvilliers or Louis Ude. The latter's book, The French Cook (1813), a homely work, promised "a new method of giving good and extremely cheap fashionable suppers…", which sounds much more like it. For although the dish takes its name from the French for "whispered" or "breathed", the little rising towers are not of reach-for-the-smelling-salts frailty; nor are they beyond the range and faculty of us cooking at home.

These are myths in need of quashing. "In fact, they are easy-to-make, resilient things," says Antony Ely, avuncular executive chef at the Chequers Pub in Oxfordshire and a former sous chef at Michelin-starred The Square. As more of a "restaurantie" than a "foodie", I haven't made a soufflé since secondary school. So today Antony is going to dispel the dread and teach me.

I had taken the Oxford train to the Cotswold village of Churchill and the Chequers pub, where Antony spends a third of his week (he also looks after sister restaurant The Wheatsheaf Inn, and Cheltenham's The Tavern). Here, amid the clutter of exposed beams, more dogs than I can count, and well-worn button-back leather chairs, they specialise in a double-baked cheese version. "We prepare them in advance, cook them partially in the oven and then refridgerate them. We finish them off and melt the cheese on top when we get the orders," says Antony. "People come from all around for them," adds bar manager Frank Wildman.

Today, though, what I'll be making is the real deal – a once-baked, no second chances, raspberry soufflé. The first words Antony has for me when we get into his kitchen are the most salient. "The thing about a soufflé is that they are all hot air," he says, leaning against the range cooker, "everything else is delusions of grandeur." Whether you are making a chocolate soufflé for a Valentine's knee-trembler, a cheese one for Sunday supper or one with grits (they do that in the US – The New Yorker referred to this as "like putting a hat on a donkey"), the key remains that hot, undisturbed air.

The physical law that animates the soufflé was discovered by a French balloonist by the name of JAC Charles. It runs like this: all other things being equal, the volume occupied by a given weight of gas is proportional to its temperature. Or to translate: put a soufflé in a hot oven and its many bubbles of air swell and push the mix skyward. A further fillip, according to Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking, comes from the mix reaching boiling point: even more liquid becomes vapour at this point, pushing it higher.

These principles under my belt, we get going. The soufflé base comes first. This gives the dish flavour (in this case raspberries) and starch to strengthen Monsieur Charles' bubble walls. Antony has me heat the milk first, then I separate yolks from whites. "Make sure there is no cross-over or the whites won't rise properly later," he cautions. This carefully done, I mix the yolks with flour and sugar until smooth, which makes my arms ache like hell. I add the milk, now hot, and then transfer to another clean pan on the heat, constantly mixing away the lumps as we go.

It goes off to cool in the fridge and we purée the raspberries. Now we turn to the ramekins – which are surprisingly important. They need to be clean, fridge cool and you must butter them in a special way. "My second best tip is to butter the ramekins with an up and down, vertical motion – this helps them rise properly," Antony adds, miming a vertical wax-on wax-off action. We swirl some sugar around them.

The next bit must be done quite soon before cooking and is the most fun. We need to whisk the egg whites with the remaining sugar until they form snow-white peaks. You can do this by hand if you are a madman or a body-builder. But best to use a machine. A note of caution though: "Whatever you use, make sure it is spotlessly clean," says Antony. "Just a smear of fat or yolk on a whisk will cause the whites not to peak." We now mix the base and the fruit mix gently together. Then the egg whites are folded in. All of which are now added to a ramekin and into the 180C oven. "Now for god's sake, don't open the door," says Antony with an air of command I imagine Marie-Antoine Carême used in his kitchen. Opening the door might disturb the level temperature. We wait 10 pensive minutes.

I ask if soufflés have always been on his menus? "Yes, quite often, because they impress the customers and it's nice to give them something they don't have at home." A sous chef adds less diplomatically: "And they are a good money-spinner, too."

At this moment, and before any chasing of the sous chef starts, the timer goes and I retrieve my soufflé from the oven. Airy, wobbling, and as pink as one of Dame Barbara Cartland's frocks, it's a triumph. Or as Antony says, "not too bad".

The soufflé will remain erect for 1-2 minutes and has to get to table and diner in that time. This explains one of the curious hierarchies of the kitchen. When a pastry chef shouts for service, even the fieriest sous must hold his tongue. Because the patissier might be calling for service for his soufflé – and a second too long on the pass and you have some major floppage.

Mine lasts an admirable couple of minutes before succumbing. It tasted as it looked: light, fruity, soft as a kiss and with a touch of molten ooze in the centre – and it took no longer than half an hour to make. "The trick is just not to be afraid," says Antony. So ignore the pomp and puff, don't be put off, the rising towers of baking accomplishment are within your reach.

Raspberry soufflé

Ingredients to make 4

4 eggs, separated
100g caster sugar
55g plain flour
400ml milk
300g raspberries, washed
30g butter
60g sugar

First warm the milk. Whisk the egg yolks with 80g of the sugar, whisk in the plain flour until smooth. Pour the warmed milk over the egg yolk, flour and sugar mix, whisk until smooth and return to heat in a clean pan. Over a gentle heat cook the egg yolk/milk mix. whisking all the time until it thickens. Pour into a container and cool.

Place the raspberries, 20g of the butter and 60g sugar into a pan and simmer gently until fruit is puréed and has no juice left. Remove from heat and pass though a fine sieve to remove seeds. Reserve the reduced fruit pulp and chill. This is the "soufflé base".

Make sure your ramekins are clean and cool. With the remaining, softened, butter, brush from bottom to top of the mould in straight lines. Then add the 10g of the sugar into these moulds and turn until sugar has coated the buttered moulds until all moulds are buttered and sugared.

Preheat your oven to 180C. Lastly, whisk the egg whites with the remaining 20g of sugar until stiff and peaking. You must ensure you have clean whisk and bowl with no trace of egg yolk because this will stop your whites from whisking

Get a large bowl, mix your soufflé base and fruit pulp together until smooth, then fold in your whisked egg whites, gently does it, until combined. Pour into your buttered and sugared moulds, smooth over with a palette knife. Don't be tempted to tap the moulds on the worksurface as this will knock out the air! Run your finger around the lip of the mould. Cook for 10 minutes – and don't open the door during cooking.

Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again say analysts

News
A Brazilian wandering spider
news

World's most lethal spider found under a bunch of bananas

Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually a challenging and nuanced title

News
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
tech

Company decides to go for simply scary after criticising other sites for 'creepy and targeted' advertising

Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in the win over QPR
footballInternet reacts to miss shocker for Liverpool striker
News
news

Footage shot by a passerby shows moment an ill man was carried out of his burning home

Voices
Sol Campbell near his home in Chelsea
voices
News
i100
News
Kimi the fox cub
newsBurberry under fire from animal rights group - and their star, Kimi
Sport
Fans of Palmeiras looks dejected during the match between Palmeiras and Santos
footballPalmeiras fan killed trying to 'ambush' bus full of opposition supporters
News
people
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
filmsIt's nearly a wrap on Star Wars: Episode 7, producer reveals
Travel
travel

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Financial Controller

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful entertainment, even...

    Direct Marketing Executive - Offline - SW London

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A fantastic opportunity h...

    Day In a Page

    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
    Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

    How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

    'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

    Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

    Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
    Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

    Terry Venables column

    Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
    The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

    Michael Calvin's Inside Word

    Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past