It’s taken me nearly a year to get round to this. Nearly a year because it grew from my holiday in France last summer where deep in the heart of cider and Calvados country we indulged in wonderful Normandy dishes – which often mean apples, cider, Calvados, Camembert cheese and cream. I don’t think any of us actually had a souffle of the kind I cooked last night, but a lovely bottle of Pierre Huet Calvados came home with me and a desire to make souffle with it was born. I remembered often making Souffle au Grand Marnier years ago; a recipe out of my tattered but still used edition of the great Katie’s Stewart’s The Times Cookery Book, published in 1972. Surely it would be as delicious with Calvados rather than Grand Marnier, I thought. I’d brought home some chunky apple jam as well – which I’d also bought at Pierre Huet – and thought about how to incorporate this so it would be a Calvados and apple souffle. In the end I abandoned the jam but stuck with the idea of adding apple.
I didn’t want to add apple chunks to the souffle mixture though; I thought it would spoil it. So I decided to make some apple puree and put a layer at the bottom of the ramekin dishes with the souffle on top. I also played with the idea of a hot sauce to pour into the centre of the cooked souffle and thought I’d make a creme anglaise and flavour it with Calvados. However, as well as a lot of cooking (fun) yesterday, I was also doing a lot of work (the day job) and making a proper custard seemed a step too far as the day went on. I decided instead to warm some single cream and flavour it with a little sugar and Calvados. And wow, that did work well! Souffles are supposed to be last-minute affairs but I didn’t want to be doing all the work after our main course; I wanted to get as far ahead as I could. So I prepared everything up until the whipped egg white stage a couple of hours before eating. First of all I prepared the apple puree. I always use sweet apples like Cox’s when cooking so I don’t need to add much sugar. I cut these into small chunks and boiled up with a little water, leaving on a simmer until the water was pretty much absorbed and the apple could be mashed down easily into a puree.
I sweetened it with a little sugar and toyed with the idea of adding some Calvados but decided against this as I thought the slightly tart apple would cut through a rich souffle topping well – especially with the warm cream added. I don’t like puddings that are very sweet. I buttered 4 individual ramekins (9 cm diameter/150 ml) well and sprinkled with sugar. Katie’s recipe was for a souffle for 4. Even with an accountant on hand in the shape of my son I wasn’t going to divide the recipe into 3. My slight worry about how an extra hot souffle would last – souffles don’t last – was an unneeded worry. Jonathan ate two! I divided the apple puree between the 4 ramekins so there was just a shallow layer – about 5cm – on the bottom of each.
Then I began the souffle mixture. I brought 1/4 pint of milk to the boil with 3oz caster sugar and a couple of slivers of lemon zest in them. I turned off the heat and left for 15 minutes and then removed the lemon. In a medium-sized saucepan (big enough to take the later whipped egg whites), I melted 1oz butter, stirred in 1oz plain flour and mixed to a roux over a gentle heat. Then you slowly add the hot milk, beating well so it’s nice and smooth. It’s quite a thick roux so don’t be put off and think it’s gone wrong.
Leave it to cool for a while until you can safely stand the saucepan on your hand (a good tip also for making choux pastry and judging the right moment to add the egg yolks). Now add 4 beaten egg yolks one at a time and finally 3 tablespoons of Calvados.
Now you should have a smooth sauce that can be left until the last minute when you whip the egg whites. It was only once we’d had the main part of the meal that I went back to the kitchen to finish the souffles. I had left the oven on ready – 180C/160Fan. I then whipped 5 egg whites (N.B. the recipe uses 4 egg yolks but 5 egg whites). When they were stiff I carefully folded them into the sauce – as Jonathan snapped away with my iPhone for action shots!
I then carefully spooned the fluffy mixture on top of the apple puree in the ramekins until they were filled to the top. Then straight into the oven for 20 minutes. I was guessing the time as Katie’s recipe was for one big souffle to be cooked for an hour, so I looked at mine through the glass oven door after 15 minutes and decided to give them another 5 minutes. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted a souffle to rise so much but rise they did. When I pulled them from the oven I dusted over some icing sugar.
I know if I’d been on Masterchef, Gregg and John would have said they’d risen unevenly – a wonky top – but hey, they’d risen!! And they didn’t sink going to the table either. I warmed the Calvados cream through again and poured it into a warmed jug. The souffles went into the garden as we were still sitting outside. We cut a hole with a spoon in the centre and poured in the warm cream.
All I can say is they were a big hit – hence Jonathan ate the spare fourth, with help from Lyndsey! And well … actually there was a small fifth, I have to confess. Jonathan said I couldn’t waste the mixture that was left over in the saucepan when I’d filled the ramekins so I put a small amount into a fifth smaller ramekin. There was no doubt we preferred the ones with the apple puree on the bottom. It really had worked well and I was delighted with it. And the great thing about souffles like this is they are such special treats yet don’t fill you up because of their essential lightness. A perfect end to a lovely evening of good company and good wine and good food.