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I have tried in vain to discover how the Soufflé Vendôme got its name. It could have originated in the boring, bourgeois town of Vendôme, near Paris. But though it is made with modest ingredients, the soufflé is aspirational, more in keeping with the grand if austere Place Vendôme, home to the Paris Ritz.
Soufflé Vendôme first caught my eye when I was teaching myself to cook with the guidance of Julia Child. A brief paragraph refers to the Vendôme as a variation on a cheese soufflé.
The didactic Child offers no digressive guff – unlike in this column – about how the dish got its name. Her instruction is exemplary: place a cold poached egg in the soufflé mixture halfway up and bake as normal. This is better advice than that of the French “prince of gastronomes”, Curnonsky (aka Maurice Edmond Sailland), who advises lifting the lid of the soufflé and slipping the hot poached egg under the surface.
Two of London’s most enduring restaurants – Le Gavroche and Langan’s – have always served soufflés but they are not popular with restaurants these days. Soufflés cannot, of course, be cooked in a water bath or squirted through a foam gun. This puts the home cook who eschews such devices at something of an advantage.
Rowley Leigh is the chef at Le Café Anglais.
Once in the moulds, the soufflés can be chilled for up to an hour before cooking. Serves six.
2 bay leaves
1 sprig of thyme
A pinch of nutmeg
40g Gruyère or Emmenthal cheese
50ml double cream
6 anchovy fillets
200g tomato passata
White wine vinegar
● Pour the milk into a saucepan and add the bay leaves, thyme, cloves, nutmeg, some white pepper and a good pinch of salt and bring to a boil before taking off the heat and leaving to infuse for 30 minutes. Grate the Gruyère coarsely and the Parmesan very finely. Separate five of the eggs and mix the yolks in a bowl with the double cream. Place six soufflé moulds in the freezer for half an hour.
● Melt 45g of the butter in a second saucepan and add the flour. Cook this roux on a gentle heat for a couple of minutes until it acquires a sandy texture. Add a small ladleful of the cooled milk and work it together, on the heat, to form a stiff paste. Strain the remainder of the milk into the paste and bring to the boil, whisking constantly. Simmer this white sauce on a very low heat, whisking occasionally, for 10 minutes. Pour in the cream and egg yolk mixture, simmer for a minute before adding all the Gruyère and half the Parmesan and then removing from the heat. Whisk the sauce to ensure the cheese melts before pouring into a large bowl and covering with cling film laid across the surface.
● Melt the remaining butter and brush the interiors of the soufflé moulds very thoroughly with the butter. Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan in the moulds and rotate them in order to ensure an even coating. Place the moulds in a fridge. Preheat oven to 190C.
● Slice the shallot thinly and stew for a couple of minutes in a tablespoon of olive oil before adding the anchovy fillets. Stew until they disintegrate. Add the passata, a pinch of sugar and some pepper and simmer for five minutes. Blend in a liquidiser, adding a spoonful of cold water and one of olive oil to ensure a smooth texture. Keep warm.
● Bring a medium saucepan two-thirds full of salted water to the boil and add two tablespoons of white wine vinegar. Take six fresh eggs and, one by one, break into a cup and add to the boiling water, waiting for it to return to the boil each time. Reduce the heat and simmer the eggs until the whites are set but the yolks are still very undercooked. Very carefully lift them out into a bowl of iced water. Once cold, lift them out again and trim off any trailing edges. Dry the poached eggs on kitchen paper.
● Add a squeeze of lemon juice to the five egg whites with a pinch of salt. Whisk the egg whites – preferably with an electric mixer – until they form stiff shiny peaks. Remove the film from the cheese mixture and whisk in a small amount of egg white, whisking vigorously until smooth. Add the rest of the whites and gently cut and fold the mixtures together, making the mixture as homogenous as possible without losing volume. Spoon the mixture a third of the way up the soufflé moulds. Place a poached egg on each one then spoon the remaining mixture up to the top of the moulds. Smooth the surface with a palette knife before running a knife around the inside perimeter of the top of the moulds to prevent the mixture sticking to the sides as it rises. Chill the soufflés for up to an hour.
● Pour some boiling water into an oven tray. Place the soufflés, well spaced apart, on the tray and then bake for 11-13 minutes by which time they should be well risen and firm to the touch while being soft and the egg still runny. Serve immediately with the warm sauce alongside.