Soufflé à la Len Deighton

In my last post I mentioned the book Ou Est Le Garlic by well-known thriller writer Len Deighton as an example of the sub-genre of cookbooks for men—particularly as it was reprinted as French Cooking for Men.

Curiosity got to me and I decided to find one for myself, securing this very nice copy of the original:

Once I started reading it, I was suprised by how little it fits in with the other manly cookbooks I talked about or their style. There’s none of the overt sexism of A Man’s Cookbook, for example. I’m not sure what makes it a cookbook for men other than its simplicity, inclusiveness and the “cook-strips” themselves. The only conclusion I can draw is that it’s a cookbook for men because Len Deighton wrote it, and maybe the assumption is men need pictures to follow. And I’m comfortable with that given how good the cook-strips are.

In short, Ou Est Le Garlic is a great little cookbook. The text around the cook-strips is conversational, yet informative. The cook-strips themselves are clear and concise but detailed enough to provide a basic understanding of fifty classic French preparations. What Deighton tried to do is something similar to Mark Bittman’s approach (on an obviously much smaller scale) in How to Cook Everything. Deighton selected what he belived to be fifty foundational recipes for French cuisine that could be varied in small ways to produce numerous other dishes. I appreciate this kind of cookbook as the assumption they start with is that the reader-cook has their own personal tastes that they’d like to apply in their cooking. It’s the difference between following a recipe and learning a style of cooking. Ou Est Le Garlic may be an unassuming little paperback of what are essentially comic-strips with annotations, but Deighton really wants the reader to learn the basics of good French cuisine—a noble aspiration.

So, the question is, does the book work? I decided to try it and see—selecting this strip on the classic French soufflé:

Click to enlarge

The task I set for myself was to follow Deighton’s instructions closely and see how the proposed dish came out and what I learned from the experience. I chose the soufflé because—for some unknown reason—I’ve never really tried to cook a classic soufflé before. I’ve cooked a number of similar dishes: flan, popovers, crust-less quiches, meringues—but never really the soufflé itself. There’s a popular image of the soufflé as a very challenging, uncompromising dish, but I’m a skeptic by nature. I’ve cooked a lot of weird, difficult things with the wrong equipment* under bad conditions. A few eggs, some flour and dairy products are not daunting to me.

Michelle provided some welcome assistance on this one: whipping the egg-whites in her brand new KitchenAid stand mixer—which she will be writing about in a future post—and conducting the all-important folding step, once I had completed the “creamy sauce” Deighton refers to in his strip.

The soufflé came together quite easily, and as per the process outlined in the strip, but the results were a little disappointing:

The flavour was excellent—light, airy, but with the richness of cheese (good gruyere)—but I expected more loft. The only drawback I can see to Deighton’s strip is that he doesn’t specify either the size of the dish [See: update below] or how much height to expect from his recipe. I used a very traditional Emile Henry soufflé dish—and there was only one size in the store—that certainly looks like the picture in Deighton’s strip. But he neglected to provide a picture of the finished product. I expected it to puff up above the rim of the dish.

We have some thoughts around trying to achieve more loft the next time: cream of tartar in the egg whites, flouring the buttered dish and no cheese on top—we’ll see next time if we get to a picture-perfect end product. Obviously that popular image of the soufflé as a challenging dish is not entirely urban myth.

So, maybe not an unqualified success, but the flavour was excellent. We’ll definitely use this recipe again and I’m still pleased with Len Deighton’s cookbook in general.


*On this occasion, I did go out and buy a soufflé dish, but please, we’re civilized people here, n’est-ce pas?


Update: This is a perfect example of why doing cooking projects at night after a scotch & soda is not always the best strategy. Mr. Deighton clearly specified the size of the soufflé dish—it’s right there in black-and-white above—five and a half inches across. So, later I will measure the one we actually used and provide another update—stay tuned. Management apologizes for the apparent stupidity of our testers…meaning, you know, me.

18 Jan 2012, 5:32pm
by Edward Milward-Oliver

Len Deighton created his cookstrips for The Observer newspaper, to be read by men and women readers alike! The first one was published in The Observer on Sunday 18 March 1962. They became one of the paper’s most popular features, with readers demanding that the strips be printed on tea towels, laid in plastic tabletops, and turned into wallpaper for kitchen walls. Deighton produced a total of 189 cookstrips. The series ran until August 1966 and formed the basis for several best-selling books.

Thanks for the additional colour. I can certainly understand if they were that popular—the strips are really charming. It seems odd that if Deighton originally meant them for a general audience that “Ou Est Le Garlic” would be reprinted in 2009 as “French Cooking for Men.” []

[...] our previous post on testing a recipe from Len Deighton’s Ou Est Le Garlic, we reported on some limited [...]


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