Some dishes are bogey dishes, while others seem to come right every time. My mother, a very good cook, was hopeless at making chips. I, as I've recorded on this blog, have a hit-and-miss record with crackling. But my record with souffle - a dish with a scary reputation - is good.
Yesterday, I pushed my luck by cooking a souffle without referring to any recipes, and guessing on the quantities. It worked.
About 30g butter
2dstsp plain flour
About 175ml milk
100g Cheddar (or Gruyere, or similar), grated
A few scrapings of nutmeg
Ground black pepper, or cayenne (optional)
3 eggs, separated
Melt the butter above a low heat in a small saucepan. Stir in the flour. Adjust the butter/flour ratio if necessary to get a roux of the consistency of wet sand. Allow the roux to cook for a minute, without browning. Turn up the heat, and add the milk in stages, beating it into the mixture before pouring in more. Keep adding milk until you have a very thick, pasty sauce. Allow the sauce to bubble for a minute, stirring all the while. Turn off the heat. Stir in the cheese, and add your preferred seasonings. (Remember, if adding salt, that the cheese is salty.)
Beat the egg yolks. When you're sure the sauce is cool enough not to curdle them, stir them in.
A drop or two of vinegar or lemon juice in the egg whites will help them to set. Whisk them (I always do it by hand) until, when you lift the whisk from the egg, it forms soft peaks.
Pour the cheese mixture into the egg white, and fold it in without beating (which would drive out the air). I use a turning and lifting motion, until the mixture is amalgamated.
Tip the mixture into an oven dish. In my experience, the shape of the dish does not matter. Bake at gas mark 5/190C for about 30 minutes, until set. (The dish in the photo is not particular efficient at conducting heat. After 25 minutes, my souffle was not making much progress, so I turned up the dial to 7/220C for a further 10 minutes.)