1.Heat butter in a large saucepan over medium heat, cook onion, fennel and thyme, covered, 20 minutes or until very soft. Add sugar, cook, stirring occasionally, 20 minutes or until onion and fennel are caramelised
2.Stir stock and the water into onion mixture, bring to the boil. Reduce heat, simmer, covered, 5 minutes. Season to taste.
3.Meanwhile, make cheese soufflés. Preheat oven to 180ºC (160ºC fan forced). Grease six ²/³ cup (160ml) metal dariole moulds or soufflé dishes, line bases with baking paper. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, add flour, cook, stirring, 1 minute. Gradually stir in milk, stir until mixture boils and thickens. Transfer mixture to a medium heatproof bowl. Stir in ¾ cup of the cheddar, then egg yolks. Season to taste. Beat egg whites in a small bowl with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Fold egg white into cheese mixture, in two batches. Spoon mixture into dishes. Place dishes in a small baking dish, add enough boiling water to the baking dish to come halfway up side of the dishes.
4.Bake soufflés 15 minutes or until firm. Cool soufflés 5 minutes, turn soufflés out onto a baking-paper-lined ovenproof dish. Cool. Spoon cream over soufflés, top with remaining cheddar. Bake a further 15 minutes or until puffed and browned.
5.Place soufflés in serving bowls, pour soup around soufflés. Sprinkle with extra thyme.
The soup can be made a day ahead. The soufflés can be baked the first time 8 hours ahead. Bake for the second time just before servingNote