To conclude February, my food bucket list of 2022 begins, commencing with these light, creamy crab soufflés, an easy yet outrageously decadent lunch for you to treat yourself! In case you missed it, I’ve chosen 10 delicious recipes to make this year – a hopefully easy-to-achieve number, especially as I’ve waited until 27th February to get started.
A couple of years ago, I re-watched the whole of The Great British Bake Off. Maybe I didn’t have enough to do with my life at the time, but if you’re in need of good evening TV, I can’t recommend it enough. My mental health was at its peak all thanks to Mel and Sue and some iced buns.
I was highly inspired and couldn’t stay out of the kitchen, rustling up whatever the contestants faced in the challenges. One week, they each made a big dish of chocolate soufflé which I immediately craved. (This is what will be my ultimate downfall, dear reader. My crippling impatience.) Even though I didn’t have a soufflé dish, I couldn’t wait and used a random Pyrex bowl. However, the dessert that came out of the oven was not a soufflé. It was chewy. It was crumbly. It was horrific. To this day, I still don’t know exactly what went wrong but I think it was the Pyrex bowl?
It took a while to restore my confidence in soufflés – say around four years? – when last spring, in the wilderness of a long lockdown, I had nothing to lose and only experience to gain. I whipped up a mixed berry meringue in vibrant hot pink, much like a lipstick I could only dream to possess, piled it into ramekins (not a bowl this time) and baked tall pearly berry soufflés. They were melt-in-the-mouth soft, sharp from the berries, and I was proud of myself.
Now, I’m in France, the country of soufflés. That said, my French food intake has been remarkably poor. We eat the chalet-staple tartiflette, crêpes, and hundreds of croque madames, but we also devour gyozas, lasagne, and slap-up English breakfasts on Sundays. A high proportion of the French food I eat is made by myself, an English woman who is improvising most of the time. However, thanks to my new found confidence in soufflé-making, and to the ramekins in my cupboard, my kitchen was the stage for the French food pièce de résistance that was about to be produced.
The enigma that is a crab soufflé
Believe me when I say I know a soufflé, especially a twice-baked soufflé, can be daunting. You’re preaching to the choir. Nonetheless, when I read the twice-baked crab soufflé recipe from Australian Good Food Guide, I realised that all it was, at its core, was an embellished béchamel.
We all know béchamel – so comforting and velvety and, my favourite, cheesy. I make it a lot (see the lasagne mentioned above which, in fact, I’m making for dinner tonight). Now, take that silky sauce and add some of the best seasonings – cheese, lemon, chilli, herbs, mustard, and of course, crab. I used mixed crab from a can, and nothing could have been easier than just scraping it all out into the bowl. Plop in your egg yolks for richer flavour, stir everything together and it’s so smooth and glossy, and perfectly ok to lick off a finger. Whisk your egg whites until they look like snowy mountains, then carefully fold them into the crab béchamel mixture. Gently spoon the filling into your ramekins (no Pyrex bowls please) and bake.
Just to add a bit more fun to the recipe, these crab soufflés are twice-baked. Once nicely risen and firm, slide them out of the oven and top with a dollop of herby, cheesy crème fraiche. Back into the oven they go, and 10 minutes later, they look like oozy golden top hats, each one standing to attention. The crème fraiche has melted and formed a herby crust on top and you need to eat them quickly before they deflate.
So, join me on my food bucket list adventure and bake some crab soufflés. Not only that but twice-baked sounds so fancy, doesn’t it? This recipe makes four soufflés, so heads up, they are delicious to eat cold as a snack later the same day. Which is always a win in my book. My crumbly first attempt is now a distant memory.
Twice-baked crab soufflés
- 35 g unsalted butter
- 35 g flour
- 170 ml milk
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- Zest of ¼-½ lemon see notes!
- ½ tsp chilli flakes
- 80 g grated Emmental or Gruyere depending on your cheese preferences
- 100 g canned crabmeat
- 3 eggs separated
- 2 tbsp mixed fresh herbs chives, dill, coriander, anything you fancy
- 4 tbsp crème fraiche
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Brush four ramekins with melted butter in an upwards motion then pop them in the fridge until you need them. Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/350°F.
- Add the flour and butter into a saucepan and gently heat until the butter has melted. Stir together to make a paste and cook for two minutes. Gradually add the milk in big splashes and stir continuously with a whisk after each addition. Once all the milk is in there, and it’s smooth and silky, turn up the heat and bring to the boil for 2 minutes until thickened.
- Tip the béchamel into a bowl and leave to cool slightly. Add the Dijon mustard, lemon zest, chilli flakes, 55g of cheese, the crabmeat, egg yolks (no whites) and 1 tbsp chopped herbs, and stir everything together.
- Tip the egg whites into a large clean bowl and whisk to form stiff peaks. Fold through a third of the egg whites into the crab mixture and repeat twice more until all the egg white is incorporated and the mixture is smooth and moussey. Now, boil the kettle.
- Spoon the mixture to the brim of the ramekins, then run your finger around the inside edge to it rises straight up. Put the ramekins in a high-sided baking dish and pour boiling water around it to half of the ramekins' height. Carefully slide the dish into the oven and bake for 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, mix together the leftover cheese and herbs with the crème fraiche. Once the soufflés are risen and golden, remove them from the oven and tip out the water. Increase the temperature to 220°C/200°C fan/430°F.
- Top each soufflé with a tbsp crème fraiche then put them all back in the oven to cook for another 10 minutes. They should shoot up like skyscrapers, light, fluffy and golden. Eat immediately with lots of enthusiasm.