Koffmann’s in Knightsbridge is sadly no more. Due to the redevelopment of The Berkeley Hotel the restaurant had to close its doors after 6 years, prior to that Pierre Koffmann had won three Michelin stars at his La Tante Claire restaurant in Chelsea (and later The Berkeley) and had hosted a pop-up restaurant on the roof of Selfridges serving the classic dishes from back in the day such as the pig’s trotter and today’s dessert.
When Koffmann announced that the updated book of his recipes from his latest venture was to become reality, I was overjoyed. I was lucky enough to dine at Koffmann’s a short while before the restaurant closed. The food that Koffmann turned out that day was mesmerising yet simple. A tortellini of lobster with a bisque sauce was packed with flavour and expertly made, the famous pigs trotter was everything you could want in a dish – melt in the mouth skin, crispy sweetbreads and deep morel flavour served with an indulgent spoonful of pomme puree.
The dessert was something else – the pistachio souffle. A mainstay dish from the days of La Tante Claire yet frustratingly it’s omitted from Pierre’s first book back in 1994. When I turned the page in Koffmann’s new book to reveal the mountain of pistachio flavoured air, I smiled. I just had to have a go at making this myself.
The composition of the dessert is deceptively simple. I say deceptively because if you’re not adept at pastry skills such as making ice cream or folding in the egg whites to create a light texture then it can be a challenge. While on a trip to London recently at Fortnum and Mason I managed to pick up a pot of pistachio paste for half price, a real find.
Koffmann suggests that you start off by making the ice cream and I happen to agree with him. Especially when you take into account that you need to make the base, chill the base and then churn the base to form ice cream – this can take a fair few hours. An incredible 12 egg yolks go into this ice cream mix along with half a litre of double cream so prepare for a rich finish!
I brought the milk, cream, pistachio paste and a little liquid glucose to the boil, seriously underestimating the size of my pan along the way. After narrowly avoiding the inevitable boiling over of the liquid onto the egg yolks and sugar it went, whisk again to combine and place the whole lot back into the pan, or in my case, a larger pan.
The mixture then gets brought up to 82C, a task that requires a decent thermometer and a gradual increase of the heat. Do focus on stirring the mixture to avoid anything catching on the base of the pan. It can be a juggling act with thermometer in one hand and whisk in the other, add a camera into that and you get the picture of my struggle.
Once the base has reached its required temperature just sieve the contents of the pan into a fresh bowl and allow to cool before refrigerating. With that done I was off to crack some more egg’s for the pistachio creme patissiere. This is of course the base to the souffle which is going to give that vibrant green colour. Eggs, sugar and flour get whisked together while pistachio paste and milk are boiled together to make a deep green liquid, like a blended up ninja turtle.
In similar technique as the ice cream, the green stuff is poured onto the egg mixture, whisked and then placed back into the pan to thicken over a low heat, as Koffmann recommends, but that takes ages. So being the rebel that I am, I whacked the heat up and had creme patissiere in no time.
A top tip here is to lay clingfilm directly over the top of the creme patissiere to avoid a skin forming on the top while it cools. Once cool just place into the fridge and put your feet up while the ice cream base and the creme patissiere chillax. At this point I realised that the molds that I had weren’t exactly Koffmann-esque so off to the shops I went in a bid for photographic authenticity.
Brand new molds purchased (£3.75 each in case you’re interested) I was ready to churn the ice cream and line my new purchases with butter and chocolate. I am the owner of a Sage by Heston Blumenthal ice cream maker, one of those jugganauts with a built in freezer. Heston, famed for his accuracy, champions this machine for its auto function and ability to make ice cream in under 20 minutes. Wanna know how long mine took? An hour and a half. Up yours Blumenthal.
Lining the molds is a much quicker task thankfully, unless of course your butter is still hard. Allow the butter to come to room temperature and then apply all around the inside of the mold. I found the professional technique of doing long brush strokes up the sides with a pastry brush worked a treat but don’t worry if you haven’t got one – just rub it around with your fingers.
74% Chocolate grated on the fine part of my box grater then joined the party. A neat trick is to tip the grated chocolate into one of the molds, rotate the mold in order to cover evenly and then tip the excess into the next mold, repeat until done and you’ll be finished in no time. I placed the molds into the fridge in order to keep the butter firm.
Turning the oven up as high as it would go was a bit scary. Normally if i’m cooking a souffle i’ll stick around the 180C mark but Koffmann likes to go with more of an inferno. Grabbing those egg whites that I saved from earlier they then got added to my kitchen aid and whisked up until soft peaks along with a little sugar.
Here comes the delicate bit – folding the mix. To begin with you can be as rough as you please, whisk the living daylights out of the creme pat with one third of the egg whites to lighten the texture but revert to the touch of a fairy when folding in the remaining whites until there’s no trace of egg whites and you end up with a pale green cloud.
A little trick that’s not that well known, unless you watch Gordon Ramsay’s old videos of souffle making, is that by filling half the mold, tapping the base on the work surface, then topping it off prevents an uneven rise. Levelling the top with a pallet knife left only one thing left to do before placing the souffle in the oven – to run my thumb around the edge creating a ridge for that even rise and beautiful finish.
Except the finish wasn’t beautiful…in fact it was plain awful. The souffle spewed liquid out of the side and the top darkened far too quickly. This makes me think that this was down to the ridiculously high oven temperature. The ice cream was decent but the souffle was underdone in the centre and virtually scrambled egg around the side.
Avoid this recipe at all costs, if Koffmann can’t supply the correct method of cooking then it makes me seriously question trying any other pastry dishes in the book. Hopefully it’s just a one off but this really left me angry after investing serious time and effort into this dish. I would like to try it again at a more sensible temperature and hopefully it’ll result in a better finish.
Pierre Koffmann: 50 Years A Chef is available to buy from Amazon