The first time I made a twice baked soufflés, I served them elegantly on individual gratin dishes with my best china and silver as sophisticated ladies’ luncheon. I developed this version for another ladies’ luncheon (where the ladies were of course just as elegant) hosted not at my house. But it was so easy to make these soufflés ahead and turn them out onto a rimmed ceramic baking dish. I asked the hostess to preheat the oven, then simply poured the cream and sprinkled the cheese on top when I arrived and baked them while we chatted. They were a huge hit. Served with salads brought by other guests, it was a perfect meal. So that is what I suggest here, a surprising and delightful wintery meal of soufflé and salad. This poached pear and walnut version would be perfect. The magic of make-ahead souffles will amaze your guests!
The rich, caramelized onions and nutty gruyere cheese give these soufflés the taste of a classic French onion soup, but with the classic light and airy texture. I make these in 8-ounce ramekins and fit them into the roasting pan that came with my oven. Any roasting pan that fits the ramekins will do, just make sure there is room for the water to come about halfway up the sides. As I said above, I love to make these sort of rustic and casual by turning them out into a ceramic baking dish, but you can just as easily put them each in a shallow ceramic individual baking dish, as I do in my Stilton and Leek version. Don’t worry when the soufflés collapse after the first cooking, they will puff back up the second time around. I have successfully doubled this recipe.
Twice Baked French Onion Soufflés
4 Tablespoons butter
1 ¼ pounds yellow onion (about 2 medium), very finely diced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 Tablespoon brandy
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups whole milk
4 egg yolks
5 egg whites
7 ounces gruyere cheese, grated
1 ¼ cup heavy cream
2 garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- Melt the butter in a large, deep Dutch oven (4 to 5-quarts) over medium heat. Add the onions, very finely diced, and sprinkle over the salt and pepper and stir to coat. Cook, stirring frequently until the onions are soft and beginning to brown and caramelize. This can take 20 minutes or more. Stir to avoid the onions scorching or burning. When the onions are evenly, lightly browned, sprinkle over the sugar and stir. Cook until the sugar is melted, the add the balsamic and brandy. Cook, stirring, for a further 5 – 6 minutes until the onions are soft and caramelized. There will be quite a bit of liquid, which is good. Sprinkle over the flour and stir to combine. Everything will come together in a lump. Cook, stirring for about 3 minutes to cook out the raw flour taste. Add half of the milk and stir to break up the lumps of onion. You may want to switch to a whisk to smooth everything out. Add the remaining milk and bring to a bubble, stirring until the mixture is thick. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in about 1/3 of the grated gruyere until melted and incorporated. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time, incorporating well after each addition. Cover the pot with a tea towel and cool the mixture to room temperature, about one hour.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray six 8-ounce ramekins with baking spray, such as Bakers Joy and set in a deep roasting pan into which you can pour water.
- Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until very stiff peaks form. When you lift up the beater, the peak in the whites should not flop over. Scoop 1/3 of the whites into the pot with the onion base and stir it in until incorporated and the mixture has loosened up a bit. Gently fold in the next third of the whites, being careful not to deflate the whites too much. Make sure you reach the mixture at the bottom of the pot. Fold in the last of the whites in the same way.
- Bring a kettle of water to the boil while you proceed. Divide the souffle mixture between the prepared ramekins (I find a ladle a great tool for this), then lightly smooth the tops with the back of a spoon. Run your finger around the edge of each souffle leaving a little channel, wiping your finger well between dishes. This will help the soufflé rise evenly. Put the roasting dish in the oven, then pour the boiling water into the dish to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake until the soufflés are browned and risen and set inside, about 25 minutes. Remove them from the oven, the remove the individual ramekins from the water to a wire rack to cool. You can use tongs and a spatula to help with this.
- While the soufflés are baking, put the heavy cream, garlic cloves (lightly smash them), bay leaves and nutmeg in a small saucepan. Bring to a bubble, not a boil, then remove from the heat and leave to infuse until cooled. Strain the infused cream into a bowl or a jar, cover and refrigerate until ready for the second baking.
- Now comes the scary part. Your souffles with deflate completely when they cool and it will look like you’ve completely failed, but you have only just begun. When the soufflés are cool, run a knife around the edges and turn them out onto individual shallow dishes or one large baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.
- When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Pour the reserved cream over the soufflés, either dividing it evenly between individuals or over the top of them all in the baking dish. Sprinkle the remining grated gruyere evenly over the top. Bake for 10 – 15 minutes until they have magically puffed up and heated through. Serve immediately.