Each month I am cooking a recipe from my Great Great Grandpa's cookbook.
For this month’s recipe I decided to have a go at the ‘Petits Soufflés au Parmesan’, because when else am I going to attempt to master soufflés if not during a national lockdown? And also because Parmesan is one of Victor’s favourite ingredients - it appears everywhere both as a central ingredient - his macaroni cheese uses only parmesan - or as a garnish to enhance the flavours of a soup, or simply cut ‘into very thin strips’ as the cheese course (always, always, served before the sweet, in his opinion).
I found his love of parmesan interesting and unusual - but a discussion with the esteemed food historian Dr Annie Gray (I am a Kitchen Cabinet - BBC R4 devotee) shows that it really was fairly normal back in Victorian times. Parmesan was in fact used quite widely from at least the 16th centre - Henry VIII received a gift of one once, and - quite wonderfully - Samuel Pepys buried one in his garden to save it from the Great Fire. I can appreciate the obsession…
And so to the soufflés, the cookery of which takes up quite a few full pages in the book. The key he says is knowing the temperature of your oven, which nowadays should be fairly easy to grasp (although we have an old Aga so it’s pot luck for us). They are to be served in the tins or dish in which they are cooked, with a napkin pinned around for presentation purposes, although he poetically mentions that - ‘like time and tide, soufflés wait for no man’, for ‘once a soufflé ceases to go up it begins to go down’. For this reason the soufflé is ‘not a safe dish’, Victor asserts, for a dinner party - even the best of cooks will at times fail in a soufflé. He even suggests having a back-up at the ready if you really must serve them.
This is great! And it went down wonderfully with the kids, although I don’t think I’ll be baking them soufflés too regularly (depending on the length of lockdown…). It was pretty straightforward, although having mentioned how precise the oven temperatures should be there are of course no guidelines as to how hot it should actually be. So we winged it - probably approximately 180 degrees - and within ten minutes it was risen and golden brown on top so I sneaked a photo and then the kids ate two. Each. Cheesy eggy custard, what more can you ask for on a grey January day...