Thursday, November 30, 2006

Cold caramel souffles

Margaret Costa's Four Seasons Cookery Book is an inspiring work. In 1970, when the book first appeared, Costa's seasonal structure was unusual; now, of course, everyone uses it. She arranges the recipes thematically: you get dozens of pear and apple dishes in the autumn chapter, for example. There is nothing fancy about the descriptions, and there are no pictures; but the abundance of appealing ideas makes you want to get into the kitchen right away.

The language of the recipes is straightforward; but some of them do require a little experience to negotiate safely. Perhaps that's my excuse for a couple of not entirely successful ventures.

Making the cold caramel souffles, I should have done a little research into gelatine, or at least read the packet instructions, first.

You start by making a caramel with 300 ml water and 115 g sugar.

For the souffle: 15 g powdered gelatine; juice of 1 lemon; 2 eggs; 1 egg yolk; 2 tbsp caster sugar; 90 ml softly whipped cream; 2 egg whites.

My first mistake, I think, was with the caramel. You put the water and the sugar into a saucepan on a low heat until the sugar dissolves, then turn up the heat and cook until the syrup is golden brown. I used golden caster sugar, so I had a golden liquid already -- I was not confident that I could distinguish between this colour and caramel. I was too timid, and arrested the cooking early. Then I added, as Costa suggested, 4 tbsp hot water.

I had leaf gelatine. I assumed that one leaf would be about the equivalent of the powdered gelatine specified.

The recipe continues: beat the whole eggs and the yolk with the sugar in a bowl suspended above hot water, until the mixture increases in volume and thickens. Remove from the heat. At this point, I stirred in the gelatine, which I had softened for 4 minutes in cold water, and stirred until I was sure that it had dissolved. I added the (thin) caramel and the lemon juice. I covered the bowl, and put it in the fridge.

You're supposed to wait until the mixture begins to thicken. Two hours later, it was showing no inclination to do so. I decided that it needed another leaf of gelatine, which I softened in water, then melted in a pan on a low heat. I added my runny mousse to this pan, stirred thoroughly, and poured the mixture back into my bowl.

Time was moving on. Instead of waiting, I beat the egg whites, and folded them and the whipped cream into the eggy lemon. I poured the mousse into four glasses, covered them in clingfilm, and put them in the fridge.

Two and a half hours later, when we came to eat our puddings, they were still not set, although they had thickened slightly. There were two layers: a foamy mousse, and a lemony jelly.

Two hours after that, the single mousse left in the fridge had at last reached the right consistency. I ate it for lunch the next day. Perfectly pleasant; but it offered too weak a hint of caramel.

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