soufflé okery urse | House & Garden

A well risen cheese soufflé

If you want to learn to cook like a professional, Leiths School of Food and Wine is not a bad place to start. Co-founded in 1975 by Prue Leith (of The Great British Bake Off) and Caroline Waldegrave, the school (now owned by Jennie Bland) is still a prestigious centre for the training of would-be chefs. If six or nine months of full-time study is not for you, there is also the option of donning an apron for a few hours in one of Leiths’ amateur classes. I chose the latter option – specifically a half-day course on soufflés, for what Prue would no doubt call ‘a technical challenge’.

soufflé okery urse | House & Garden

The base of many soufflés is a white sauce, to which you can add your choice of ingredients

Soufflés are notoriously difficult to make. Whisking the egg whites into pristine peaks is just one part of the process, and even a soufflé that rises promisingly in the oven can sink before you can get it to the table. I was prepared for my best efforts to fall flat, but our teacher Hannah Maclennan soon set our minds at ease. It turns out that soufflés are not impossible after all - you just have to follow the rules.

soufflé okery urse | House & Garden

To help your soufflés rise evenly, run a knife around the top of each ramekin before putting them in the oven

The four-and-a-half-hour class covers three types of soufflé, each with a slight variation on the same basic method. A soufflé, Hannah explained, is just a strongly flavoured sauce – often a white sauce, creme patissiere or fruit puree – lightened with egg white. We began with the simplest of the three: twice-baked crab and chive soufflés, which could be made in advance and reheated for a dinner party. The secret is to begin with a thicker roux than usual. The soufflés will rise in the oven and sink at room temperature, but if you remove them from their moulds, turn them upside down and bake them again, they will rise again as if by magic.

Next we moved on to sweet soufflés, which benefit from the stabilising effect that sugar has on egg whites. The concept was again surprisingly straightforward: make an apple purée and fold in egg whites whisked with sugar. The only unusual ingredient was a small amount of vivid green parsley purée, which acted as a natural food dye.

soufflé okery urse | House & Garden

You can make sweet soufflés using fruit purée instead of a white sauce - these ones were made with raspberries

Once filled, the ramekins were placed in the freezer while we made a batch of cheese soufflés for lunch. These would only be baked once, so the pressure was on, but by this time I had found the rhythm of making the sauce, whisking the whites and folding them in. In spite of a Bake-Off-worthy mishap (involving an oven that turned out to be switched off), my soufflés rose beautifully and tasted delicious. The apple soufflés, baked from frozen, were just as impressive – in fact, I could hardly believe they were mine.

The next Soufflés course at Leiths School of Food and Wine, W12, is on Saturday July 20 at 10am-2.30pm and costs £155. Visit leiths.com/classes/souffles