A sweet whisper of delight: Soufflé au Grand Marnier

In the words of the immortal American food writer, Julia Child, many consider the dessert soufflé to be “the epitome and triumph of the art of French cookery, a glorious and exciting finish to a great meal.” And few of these deliciously airy yet substantial dishes are as celebrated as the Soufflé au Grand Marnier.

But first, a step back in time. Imagine two chefs deep in conversation in a 19th century Parisian kitchen, still talking food long after their elegant patrons have departed and the candles burned down to their nubs. It’s the early 1800s and within their lifetimes kings and aristocrats have lost their heads then partially regained their position, an emperor has come and gone again, and their society has been turned upside down in the midst of horrifying violence. But on this evening their minds are set on nothing but the wondrous powers of the latest ovens and how they allow smooth, even baking which happens to mean they can now reliably serve up the soufflés much loved by King Louis XVIII. Just imagine all the things they could do with these sublime puffs of evanescent flavour.

One of the men is Marie-Antoine Carême, the famous chef and food writer credited for having truly realised the uplifting potentials of egg whites folded into a rich and creamy-thick sweet or savoury base, and very much a favourite of the French King. And it is not beyond the realms of possibility to imagine that the other chef could be none other than an ancestor of Arnaud and Alain Darc, who served as a chef to the very same King.*

Carême, widely hailed as the man who put haute cuisine on its path to greatness, was a confectioner by training who worked his way up from poverty to becoming a pâtissier royal. France’s chefs had long been dogged by the inconsistency of soufflés — a reputation the dessert still unjustly holds. But new ovens heated by air drafts instead of coal gave them much more control over cooking temperatures allowing them to ensure even cooking, and avoid the dreaded collapse, a dismal sight to anyone’s eyes.

With that problem dealt with, Caréme perfected and then took the soufflé to the limits of indulgence, even creating one with gold flakes using Danzig Goldwasser. But it was another Frenchman who came up with the perennial classic, Soufflé au Grand Marnier.

In 1880, Alexandre Marnier-Lapostolle was considered a bit of a weirdo for deciding to blend high quality cognac with Haitian oranges and sugar, but weirdos  and the result has become one of the most instantly recognisable liqueurs in the world. According to one source, every two seconds a bottle of Grand Marnier is being sold somewhere in the world.

He applied it to many desserts, and most famously of all the Soufflé au Grand Marnier. If you’d like to see the redoubtable Child making her version, check out the link here — for a treat guaranteed to impress your friends. Just don’t let them know how easy they really are!

You’ll find our own Soufflé au Grand Marnier on the menu at Topaz. Don’t forget to try it the next time you’re in.

This is why fantasies are fun; no-one can prove them wrong! 

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