Comté is my home, my village, my county; it gives me a sense of place. Maman Blanc would not cook her soufflé in individual soufflé moulds, but in a large shallow earthenware dish. She would place the dish on the table for all of us to help ourselves or sometimes the soufflé mixture would fill a flaky pastry tart. Of course, only comté (see note 1) would be used, never gruyère or emmenthal! Everyone assumes that soufflés behave like prima donnas, but I will show you here how uncomplicated they can be. They are also generally lower cost.
Level of difficulty: medium
Special equipment: 21 cm x 2.5 cm tart ring; wooden baker’s peel or heavy baking tray
Planning ahead: The soufflé base can be made up to 1 day in advance, covered with buttered baking paper to prevent crusting. The pastry must be prepared at least 2 hours in advance and refrigerated.
For the pastry
200 g plain flour
1 g salt (see note 2)
100 g unsalted butter, diced
1 x 55 g egg (see note 3), plus 1 egg yolk extra, beaten, to brush
15 ml cold water (see note 4)
For the soufflé base
25 g unsalted butter
25 g plain flour
225 ml full-cream milk, warmed
80 g grated young comté cheese
10 g Dijon mustard
2 egg yolks
pinch sea salt
pinch white pepper
For the soufflé mix
4 eggwhites (from 4 x 55 g eggs)
juice from â…› lemon
pinch sea salt
pinch cayenne pepper
To cook the soufflé
40 g finely grated comté cheese
For the garnish
2 stalks (400 g) swiss chard, cut into 4 cm batons
30 g unsalted butter
60 ml water
pinch sea salt
pinch black pepper
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
1. To make pastry using a food processor (see note 5), pulse flour, salt, butter, egg and the water for 20–30 seconds, until dough is a sandy texture. Turn out dough onto a clean work surface, and knead into a ball for 10 seconds, until dough comes together (see note 6).
2. Alternatively, to make pastry by hand, mix together flour and salt in a large bowl. Add butter and using your fingertips, lightly rub and lift until mixture is a sandy texture. Make a well in centre and add egg and the water. Using your fingertips and small concentric circles, work egg and water into mixture until combined and clumping together. Using your hands, press dough together (see note 6).
3. Pinch off 20–30 g of dough, tightly wrap in plastic wrap and reserve for patching up if needed. Roll remaining dough into a cylinder, cut in half and roll each portion into a 2 cm-thick disc (see note 7). Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate.
4. Preheat oven to 170°C. Place a baking stone or heavy baking tray in the middle rack of oven. Place dough between two 40 cm square pieces of plastic wrap and roll out to a 3 mm-thick circle (see note 8).
5. Place tart ring on a wooden baker’s peel or heavy baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. Discard top piece of plastic wrap, then lift plastic wrap underneath, holding two corners closest to you (dough will cling to it). Lay dough over tart ring. Lift edges and push into ring, then press over base of tart. Ensure dough is neatly compressed and moulded into shape of ring, to minimise shrinkage or collapse of dough. Remove plastic wrap and use rolling pin to trim edges.
6. Using a thumb and index finger, push rim of tart case so dough extends 2 mm above rim of ring (see note 9). Use a fork to prick base of tart (see note 10). Chill for 1 hour, until firm (see note 11).
7. Place tart ring prepared baking stone or baking tray and bake for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and brush inside of tart with extra beaten egg yolk. Bake for a further 2 minutes, to cook egg and seal pastry. Remove from oven and cool.
8. To make soufflé base, preheat oven to 175°C. Place a baking tray on middle rack of oven. Melt butter in a small saucepan on medium heat. Whisk in flour until a smooth consistency, then cook until a blond colour (see note 12). Reduce heat and gradually add milk little by little, whisking until a smooth consistency. Add cheese and mustard and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3–5 minutes (see note 13). Remove from the heat and allow to cool a little. Add egg yolks and stir until mixture is silky and smooth. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm.
9. To make soufflé mix, whisk eggwhites and lemon juice until soft peaks form (see note 14). Add sea salt and cayenne pepper and whisk until firm peaks form.
10. Place warm soufflé base in a large mixing bowl. Briskly whisk in one-third of beaten eggwhite mixture (see note 15). Carefully fold in remaining eggwhite. Delicately cut and lift mixture to ensure there is a minimum loss of volume and lightness. Season to taste.
11. To cook soufflé, scatter grated cheese over base of blind-baked pastry case and pour in soufflé mixture. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool for 1 minute.
12. To make garnish, simmer chard stalks, butter, the water, salt and pepper for 10 minutes, until chard is tender.
13. Slice tart into eight pieces and place on serving plates. Garnish with cooked chard and serve.
1. Comté is probably one of the very best cheeses to do this dish. Remember that an older cheese will have more salt than a younger one. It will also be more expensive, so use a young one.
2. Always use the best salt with the least refining. Never use salt with anti-caking additives. The salt does not help the coagulation of the eggwhite, it delays it. The salt helps to lengthen the whipping process. On the other hand, the lemon juice does three things: it helps the coagulation of the eggwhite, prevents graining, and makes the whipping of the eggwhite safe and easy. And as well, it helps the flavour.
3. Always buy organic or free-range eggs. They follow good husbandry practices and good ethical standards. The best-before date sets the shelf life of the egg which is 21 days after it has been laid. Try to use fresh eggs.
4. The water adds moisture so the starch, sugar and egg binds together, allowing you to work the dough more easily and making the dough less prone to cracking.
5. All my life I have tried to establish the closest possible relationship with ingredients. I thought 'by hand" was always better than 'by machine". Having tried this recipe in a food processor, pulsing the mixture together I saved time, but I had a lesser pastry. By hand you will achieve perfect shortbread quality, so I am happy to confirm that by hand is better. The dough made in the machine can be easily over-mixed, making a pastry that is too delicate and powdery.
6. If you knead the dough for too long, the ingredients will be too intimately mixed together and the dough will become elastic and retract during cooking. The pastry will also be less flaky as all the air has been removed.
7. I am sure you have done a recipe where you have balled the dough and it has taken you 10 minutes of bashing the cold dough into a flatter shape. Rolling the dough into two 2 cm discs avoids all these aggravations.
8. Rolling the dough between squares of plastic wrap is a marvellous little technique. You will not need flour, which will make the pastry heavier, and your work top will be cleaner, but mostly it solves the problem of rolling a delicate dough in a warm kitchen, when it is sticking, making a real drama.
9. We do not use any dried beans to blind-bake the dough. By pushing the edge of the tart to 2 mm above the rim, you are minimising the retraction of the pastry during cooking.
10. By pricking the base of the tart case, you allow the steam generated during cooking to escape, helping to keep the case flat and level.
11. Chilling or resting the pastry before you cook it minimises any shrinkage.
12. Here you are making a classic roux for the soufflé base, which will bind and thicken the milk when they are combined and cooked together. Cook the flour and butter to a blond nutty colour. It will do two things, the flour will be much more digestible and also give a wonderful flavour.
13. This 3–5 minutes cooking will ensure that all the starch molecules have burst and are completely cooked and grabbed as much moisture as possible. The base must be hot before folding in the eggwhite. Mixing cold eggwhite into a cold base would be very difficult and you would lose about a third of your lifting power and lightness as the air bubbles would burst. It is better for the base to be wetter rather than dryer. The hot base would give the soufflé a head start and it will rise faster.
14. You are doing two things with the lemon juice. You are heightening the flavour and also preventing the graining of the eggwhite. I add the salt in the middle of the whipping process as salt delays the coagulation of the eggwhite. Add very little as we have our comté cheese, which has its own salt. Do not over whip the eggwhite to hard peaks. Doing so, the bubbles of air would be smaller and smaller and the foam tighter, resulting in a firmer texture, losing a little bit of its magic.
15. This must be done briskly to lighten the base. This will ease the remaining eggwhite to be gently folded into the base, ensuring that the maximum lightness is kept. It is better to slightly under-mix than over-mix the two together. By over-mixing you may undermine the lightness of the soufflé "¦ I told you it was easy!
SBS Cook’s Notes
This recipe has been reproduced with minor SBS recipe style changes. | Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20°C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55–60 g, unless specified.