There’s a fair amount of mystery behind the souffle or Soufflé. It might be one of the more feared kitchen creations due to its ability to collapse and ruin your hard work. In fact, that’s why I’ve put off trying one for a very long time. I just really didn’t have the confidence to give it a shot and I was kind of waiting for a time when it would be okay to completely fail.
That time came a few weekends ago, but shockingly, my souffle didn’t fail! Did I get lucky? Maybe. But whatever happened, it turned out to be a pretty darn good dish and I think I understand now what all the fuss is about.
Let me start by issuing a warning. This is my one and only souffle ever. I do not pretend to be an expert in the souffle. I mention this because some bloggers have written extremely detailed and long posts on how to do this. And I’m not sure that their method is better or worse than mine (probably better). I’m just going to tell you what I did because it appeared to work and produced a very yummy thing.
1) Make sure to prepare all the ingredients before starting to mix together the souffle. When separating the eggs, do it one egg at a time and make sure not even a single drop of yolk gets in your egg whites.
2) Add butter to a saucepan over medium-high heat until butter is melted and then whisk in your flour. Cook for three or four minutes, whisking constantly.
3) Slowly whisk your milk into the roux (flour and butter). Work slowly so no lumps form in the sauce. It helps if your milk is warm for this so feel free to microwave it quickly.
4) Once your milk is whisked in, continue to cook the sauce so it thickens. Add your grated cheese and spices to the sauce.
5) Whisk about 1 cup of the hot cheese sauce into your whisked egg yolks. Go slowly so your yolks slowly rise in temperature. Once that's done, whisk your yolk mixture back into your cheese mixture.
6) When you start to whisk your egg whites, make sure your bowl and whisk are VERY clean. If you're using the same whisk that you used for your yolks, make sure it's sparkling clean. Even a single drop of fat (yolk) will kill your whites.
7) Beat the whites until they form stiff peaks, about 5 minutes if you're a good whisker.
8) Now the hard part. Take about 1/6 of your whites and stir them into your cheese base. Don't worry about maintaining volume at this point. This will just lighten the base a bit.
9) Now add the rest of your egg whites and gently FOLD the whites into the sauce. Use a flat spatula and gently fold the base over the whites. Don't stir it in or you'll destroy the volume in the egg whites.
10) As soon as the mixture is combined, pour it into a buttered dish (or individual ramekins) and bake for 30 minutes (15-20 with ramekins) at 375 degrees.
11) Test the middle of the souffle to make sure it's cooked through and serve immediately.
Adapted from a Mark Bittman recipe.
There’s really only two parts to any souffle, the base and the egg whites. The important part is once you get the egg whites whipped and mixed in, you want to get the dish in the oven as soon as possible. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with the base.
Any time I’m making a dish for the first time, I make double sure to prepare as much as I can before I start cooking. It sucks to be focused on some part of the recipe and then realize you need to go grate 2 Cups of cheese or something.
The important things to prep in this case are separating all of your eggs. HINT: Do this one egg at a time in a separate bowl. If even one drop of egg yolk gets in with your egg whites, start over. They’ll never whip up correctly if they have any yolk at all in them. So do one egg at a time separately and then add them all together.
Also, you might as well grate your cheese now so that’s done. You can use any kind of cheese you want for this dish. I used pepper jack and Parmesan because they’re very flavorful. I’ve even heard of people using blue cheese for this, but that seems like it might be too much for me.
Making the Base
The base for this dish is basically a béchamel sauce with egg yolks beaten in. If that means nothing to you, have no fear. It’s not that hard.
For starters, add your butter to a metal saucepan over medium-high heat and cook until the butter is melted and has mostly stopped foaming. Then whisk in your flour. This is a roux and will thicken the sauce. Cook this for three or four minutes over medium-high heat. Whisk it frequently so it doesn’t burn.
After a few minutes it should turn a lovely tan-brown color. For this dish, you don’t want to make it any darker than this.
Once it gets to that color, slowly whisk in your warm milk. I heated my milk in the microwave on high for a minute until it was slightly warm to the touch. Once your milk is whisked in, cook over medium heat for another minute or two so the sauce starts to thicken. It should be really smooth.
Then remove the pan from the heat and mix in your cheese and spices. The cheeses should all melt. Next, let this cool for just a minute or two and then whisk in about 1 Cup of the warm sauce into your egg yolks. This is called tempering and will keep your yolks from cooking immediately when they hit the warm sauce.
Then you can whisk your warmed yolk mixture back into the larger pot of béchamel sauce. Lots of whisking people, but it’s worth it.
Eventually you’ll end up with a very cheesy and smooth mixture that looks like this.
Dealing with Egg Whites
The most important thing to remember, by far, about whipping egg whites is that your utensils and bowls have to be very clean. Don’t ever use a plastic bowl or whisk and think you are going to get anywhere because tiny molecules of fat actually stick to plastic and it’ll be impossible to get your egg whites whipped.
Assuming you have a clean bowl and whisk though, you can either whisk like crazy by hand or put all the egg whites in a stand mixer bowl with the whisk attachment. Depending on how good you are at whisking, it could take awhile by hand. In the mixer it’ll take maybe 4 or 5 minutes to get these nice stiff peaks that just bend slightly on the top.
The Tough Part
So let’s just stop and think for a second about what we’re about to do. We’re going to take a big bowl of a substance (egg whites) that absolutely does not agree with two things (fats and heat) and mix it into a big bowl of hot fat basically.
I think you can see how this could go awry very quickly. The goal though, is to get the whites incorporated into the yolks and keep as much of their volume as possible.
To get the best results, mix your egg whites into the base in two batches.
For the first batch, you just want to lighten up the base a bit. So take about quarter to a sixth of your egg whites (just eyeball it) and add that straight to the base. Stir these into the base really well. You’re not trying to maintain volume at this point, you’re just kind of priming the base for the next step.
Step two is the harder one. Add your egg whites and using a big spoon or flat spatula, fold the whites into the base mixture. Keep in mind that your goal is to keep as many little bubbles as possible in the mix. It’s okay if your whites and base aren’t completely thoroughly mixed. In fact, if they are then you probably folded too much. Streaks of white are okay.
Now time is your enemy! As soon as you have your mixture done, pour it into either six, buttered small ramekins or one larger dish. I went the larger route. Buttering the dish is very important if you ever want to get the souffle out…
Cooking the Souffle
This guy will need to cook at 375 for 30 minutes. Be sure your oven is pre-heated for this dish! If you do the smaller versions 15-20 minutes should do the trick. There are tons of rumors and superstitions about making the souffle fall. You’re supposed to step very lightly around the oven, etc. I didn’t really do any of that crap. My oven vibrates constantly due to some faulty circuitry and I have some sort of squirrel living in my attic. Neither seemed to affect my souffle.
I think the most important thing is just to not fuss around with it. Mix in the egg whites, pour it into a prepared dish, and get it in the oven as soon as possible.
You’ll be well-rewarded.
The only real way to know that this thing is done is to stick a metal cake tester right into the center. It should come out pretty clean. I hate dry eggs, so I erred on the side of under-cooked. My came out pretty great though.
The outside of my souffle had a great texture and the inside was light and airy and very cheesy. Was it perfect? Probably not. But it turned out better than I was expecting honestly.
Have you ever tried a souffle? Any tips?