The Kitchn's Baking School Day 5: All about dessert soufflés.
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Soufflés tend to get a bad rap for being fussy and finicky — so why bother making them, you ask? Are they worth all the trouble? The answer is a resounding yes, and as you'll learn in today's lesson, they are not nearly as difficult as you might think.
Made from eggs yolks, whipped egg whites, and just a bit of oven magic, there's really no reason why we shouldn't all be making soufflés on a regular basis.
What Is a Soufflé?
They're known for their incredible "puff" as they're taken from the hot oven — seeming to nearly defy gravity before either being devoured, or if we don't eat them fast enough, collapsing in front of our eyes. The base provides the flavor (vanilla, chocolate, or even cheese!), while the whites give the dish its lift.
Soufflés Can Be Sweet or Savory
Souffles are quite versatile. You can serve one big cheesy pouf for dinner or make individual sweet soufflés for dessert. There's a soufflé out there for every appetite and occasion.
- How to make a savory soufflé: How To Make a Cheese Soufflé
A savory soufflé is a great option for a cozy dinner on a cold night, or to serve with a simple salad or soup. They do not usually rise as high as their sweet counterparts since they usually contain heavier ingredients, like diced onions or cheese, but still make for an equally impressive and casual dish for nearly any meal.
Special Equipment for Making Soufflés
You don't necessarily need to buy an actual soufflé dish in order to make a soufflé. You can use any baking dish with tall, straight sides and no corners — use a round dish over a square or rectangular one. The interior walls should also be completely smooth — nothing to stop the batter from climbing nice and high! Dishes that are deeper than they are wide are also best.
If you don't have a soufflé dish or another deep casserole dish, try making your soufflé in a straight-sided saucepan. For individual soufflés, bake them in ramekins — you can divide the batter from a larger batch between each dish.
The Role of Eggs in a Soufflé
Whipped egg whites and a hot oven are the keys to a successful souffle. The egg whites are whipped into a billowy foam, then folded into the base. In the oven, the pockets of air trapped in the whipped egg whites expand and leaven the souffle. Essentially, the proteins in the egg whites straighten out when whipped, then expand when heated, making the batter rise in the oven. Adding a bit of cream of tartar or lemon juice when whipping the whites can help strengthen the structure of the egg whites and maximize their volume.
The role of the yolk is primarily to add richness, flavor, and substance to this otherwise airy dish. The yolks also help hold the base together in an emulsion, helping create a smooth, even consistency throughout the baked dish.
Unfortunately, whipped egg whites wait for no one. After you whip them to stiff peaks, be sure to use them right away. As soon as you stop whipping, they begin to break down and the air bubbles you just whipped into the whites begin to deflate. Be sure to have your equipment ready and oven heated before getting started. You can, however, help stabilize them by adding a pinch of cream of tartar.
The Magic Moment: Folding in the Egg Whites
Since this dish is all about making sure the eggs are whipped and foamy enough to puff the soufflé in the oven, they need to be handled carefully when incorporating them into the base. Instead of just stirring them in like mixing pancake batter, they need to be gently "folded." The goal is to gradually combine two things that are vastly different densities — the base and egg whites — without deflating the structure and air whipped into the whites. We do this in three separate additions, so the base gets gradually lightened with the egg whites.
To start, have your base ready to go in a large mixing bowl. Once the whites are whipped, add in about a third of them to the prepared base. Use a large, wide rubber spatula and move it down the side of the mixing bowl. Then turn or "fold" the batter over onto itself, scooping from the bottom of the bowl up to the top. Give the bowl a quarter turn and repeat.
Once the first egg whites begin to incorporate, add the remaining whites in two batches. Make large, deliberate folds and be mindful not to stir, crush, or deflate the egg whites.
How to Fold in Egg Whites
Why Do Soufflés Collapse?
For all their grandeur and beauty, soufflés actually have a fairly weak internal structure. As soon as a soufflé is removed from the hot oven, the air pockets responsible for making the soufflé puff begin to contract and shrink. Unlike cakes and other baked goods that have enough structure from other ingredients to hold their structure after baking, soufflés will slowly collapse and shrink back into the baking dish in the span of about 10 minutes.
For this reason, be prepared to serve your soufflé as soon as it comes out of the oven. But if your soufflé does fall before you get a chance to dig in, the night is far from ruined — a collapsed soufflé might not look as impressive, but it still tastes incredible!
How To Make a Sweet or Savory Soufflé
Sure we've been talking about how soufflés aren't that difficult to make, but they still need a bit of explanation. Let's get a little bit more comfortable with the process, talk about which steps are extra important, and what to do if your soufflé does end up collapsing.
At the end of this general overview you'll find two baking lessons, one with instructions for making a cheese soufflé, and another with a step-by-step guide to make a chocolate version. Pick one and try it — either way, I think your mind will be blown.
- Heat the oven: First and foremost, turn on the oven! This might be obvious, but you'd be surprised how easy it is to forget. You want the oven to be hot and ready by the time you're finished whipping the egg whites. Those whites won't wait — they start to slowly collapse the minute you stop whipping them. If you're midway through making the soufflé and realize you forgot to warm the oven, stop and wait for it to heat. If you already started whipping your egg whites, just pause and continue whipping once the oven has warmed.
- Prepare your baking dish In addition to turning on the oven, prepare your baking dish before you even start on the soufflé. Whether you are using a traditional soufflé dish, another casserole dish, or individual ramekins, you'll need to rub the inside with butter and coat with a granulated sugar for sweet soufflés, or something like grated cheese or bread crumbs for savory soufflés. This gives the soufflé batter something to cling to as it rises in the oven.
- Make your base: Next, make your base following whatever recipe you are working with — this is usually a sweet or savory sauce with yolks whisked in for added richness. Be sure to let the base cool so it does not cook either the yolks or the whipped whites when you add them.
Make-Ahead Note: The base can also usually be prepared in advance and kept refrigerated until you're ready to make the soufflé.
- Whip the egg whites: Time to get whipping! Go back and review all the things we learned about egg whites in our lesson on meringue, and whip these egg whites to stiff peaks. Pay extra attention when you get close to stiff peaks and be careful not to over-whip! Over-whipped whites will appear grainy and dry and will begin to clump together. You can try to fix this mistake by whisking in another egg white by hand, or carry on knowing your soufflé might not rise as high since the whites more or less exceed their "stretching abilities" when over-mixed.
- Fold the egg whites into the base: Gently, but deliberately, fold about a third of the whipped egg whites into the base, then add the remaining whites in two batches; this will keep the whole dish light and airy. Immediately, fill your soufflé dish(es) with the soufflé batter and clean up any drips.
- Bake the soufflé: For maximum lift, it's best to heat your soufflé from the bottom up — in other words, the direct heat of your oven should ideally be coming from below. Also, place the soufflé on the bottom rack of your oven so it's as close to the heating element as possible. Alternatively, you can preheat a baking sheet in the oven and place the soufflé on top of this to bake; the baking sheet acts like a heat source.
- Don't open the oven! As the soufflé bakes, resist opening the oven. Like with all baking, opening the oven door causes the temperature in the oven to drop dramatically, and the more you open it, the harder it is for the oven to get back up to temperature. With a soufflé, opening the oven too often can make it rise less dramatically.
- Bake until done and serve immediately! When done, a wooden skewer inserted into the center of the soufflé should come out clean — not wet or eggy. The top should be lightly colored. Inside, the soufflé should be light yet firm. Serve it right away!
- But don't worry if it falls; it's part of the fun! What if it falls, you ask? Grab a spoon! As long as it is still baked through, there is no reason you should deprive yourself from enjoying every last bite.
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Tips for Soufflé Success
Sure, soufflés can feel temperamental and require a bit more finesse than a one-bowl cake, but don't let that deter you from making — and loving — them. And no, you don't have to keep your voice to a whisper or tip-toe around your kitchen to keep a soufflé from collapsing, as some old wives tales will caution.
Here are a few basic tips to help you achieve soufflé success:
- Review the tips for whipping egg whites from our lesson on meringues.
- Keep those eggs whites free from any fat or egg yolks, and make sure your bowl and utensils are free of grease; this can prevent the whites from achieving their full, billowy potential.
- To help stabilize the whites, add acid like cream of tartar, even if your recipe doesn't call for it.
- For maximum volume, use room-temperature egg whites.
- Always heat your oven and prepare your dish(es) as your first step, before even cracking your first egg.
- Don't overmix those delicate egg whites when folding them into the base. Fold only to the point that the streaks of white disappear.
- When pouring your batter into the soufflé dish or ramekin, try to prevent drips, and clean any up that you might make. These may cook and harden quickly, causing the souffle to rise unevenly. They also burn in the oven and look messy.
- For a more even, level soufflé, level off the top of the batter with an off-set spatula once it is in the baking dish(es) and clean the rim.
- For maximum rise, bake your soufflé on the bottom rack of the oven or on top of a preheated baking stone or baking sheet.
Serving a Soufflé at a Dinner Party
A soufflé waits for no one, both before heading into the oven and after it comes out. This can make it tricky if you're thinking of making a soufflé for a party — this dish is sure to impress your guests, but how do avoid last-minute scrambles in the kitchen?
Fortunately, most soufflé bases can be made ahead of time. You can prepare them up to a day ahead and keep them refrigerated until you're ready to bake. Set the base out on the counter to warm while you heat the oven and whip the whites.
Whipping the whites will always be a last-minute affair. No way around that, given the delicate structure of the foamy whites. To avoid stress, just make double sure your oven is warmed and your dishes are prepared before you start whipping.
Once the soufflé is in the oven, start ringing the dinner bell. Once it's finished baking, it's time to eat. Enjoy the drama and the old-school impressiveness of a soufflé carried to the table for your guests to admire!
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Brush up on the history of soufflés.
Watch this video to see how to fold egg whites. Mimic the motion with your spatula.