The mere mention of the word "souffle" can make even the most competent chef feel a bit anxious, let alone the untrained masses who are creating meals every day. Many people steer away from even trying to make a souffle for this reason. The positive of this is that if you deliver a good souffle to the table, people are amazed and impressed, and their response will make you feel like you should be taking a bow on the stage of the Opera House. This recipe is easy, although there are quite a few steps, but the real joy of it is that the souffles are cooked ahead of time and then reheated just before serving. There is no need to feel any pressure about whether or not they will fall, (and you can also get away with owning only half a dozen moulds but cooking for a much larger group by doing the baking in batches). It also looks and tastes elegant, an adjective that applies all too rarely to my cooking! In other words, it is a fantastic dinner party dish.
I made these souffles during the week because I was planning to enter the Foodie Blog Roll Joust. Each month, three ingredients are selected and it is up to the entrants to create a meal that marries the three. This month, the ingredients are fennel, dairy and parsley, and I immediately thought of making a fennel and goats cheese souffle, with either a parsley emulsion or parsley crackers (hadn't really worked that bit out). Having made the souffles, I was looking at the entries for the joust so far, and found (to my horror!!!!) that someone had entered a fennel and goats cheese souffle the day before. Check out Foodycat's beautiful souffle here. While I haven't been watching these jousts for long, I am pretty sure that entering the same meal as someone else would be a little against the spirit of the competition. So here is my non-competition fennel and goats cheese souffle. If you don't like fennel, substitute onion to infuse the milk (although the fennel is a very mild flavour in this souffle).
Fennel and Goats Cheese Souffles (Makes 4)
adapted from "Feedback" by Michele Scamps
150 ml milk
1 fennel bulb chopped, plus reserve the leafy fronds and finely chop
200g goats cheese, chopped
3 eggs, separated, whites stiffly beaten
2 tbls shallots (green onions chopped)
Preheat oven to 220C. Butter the moulds well. Place the milk and chopped fennel bulb in a small saucepan and heat gently for 10 mins. Melt the butter in another saucepan and add the flour, stir until it is a smooth paste and cook for 1 minute. Take off the heat, then strain the milk mixture into the butter and flour, and discard the fennel. Whisk quickly to get rid of lumps - the consistency you want is smooth and thick. Once it is smooth, add the goats cheese and stir in well. Add the yolks, shallots, chopped fennel fronds and season to taste. Allow the mixture to cool, then add the stiffly beaten egg whites, folding them in as gently as possible.
Spoon the mixture into moulds, filling them up to about 3/4 full. Place the moulds in a baking dish, then pour hot water into the baking dish to make a bain marie. Place carefully in the oven. Bake for 15-20 mins - until the souffles feel puffed and golden. Remove from the oven, and allow to cool a little. Once the moulds are cool enough to be handled, run a knife around the edge of each souffle and gently ease them out of their moulds onto a tray. If the bottom stays stuck in the mould, scoop it out with a spoon and pop it back on top. The souffles can be made to this point a day ahead, and kept in the fridge in an airtight container.
To serve, heat the oven to 220C. Spoon a little cream over each souffle and sprinkle with some parmesan. Cook for 10 minutes until puffed and golden. Serve immediately.
In the picture I have served it on some sauteed fennel and parsley. (Slice two large fennel bulbs thinly, then sautee in 2 tbls olive oil for 15 minutes over medium heat until soft and starting to go golden at the edges. Stir in 2 tbls chopped continental parsely and serve).