It's Souffle-Making Time
Don't you want this big puffy soufflé in your life? Click through the slideshow to find out how to make it.
Prepare the soufflé dishes
You don’t have to use the classic soufflé dishes. A small 4-to 5-cup oven-proof casserole dish will do fine. For individual soufflés, use four 1 1/2 cup ramekins.
It’s a good idea to butter your dish and then coat it lightly with finely grated parmesan or fine bread crumbs. It makes eating the soufflé more pleasant when it doesn’t stick to the sides, but the soufflé will rise just as well and taste fine if you skip this step.
You will get a more dramatic-looking soufflé with a collar, but the au natural look of the collarless soufflés can be very attractive, too. I usually make my work a little easier and skip this step.
To make a collar: Cut out enough parchment paper to cover the ramekin and add a couple inches of height above it. Brush butter and sprinkle cheese or bread crumbs on the part that will be exposed to the soufflé. Wrap the parchment around the dish and secure it with a staple or paperclip. You can also use aluminum foil and just fold the foil over itself so that it holds its shape.
Make the béchamel
To serve four, melt 3 tablespoons butter over medium heat in a saucier or large saucepan and whisk in 3 tablespoons flour. After a minute or two, once some of the flour's rawness has cooked off, add 3/4 cup milk and bring to a simmer to thicken it, whisking to prevent lumps. After a few minutes, you should end up with a thick, heavy white sauce.
You can already begin layering in flavor here by softening some shallots in the butter along with finely chopped herbs like sage or thyme.
Add the egg yolks
Allow the béchamel to cool slightly to avoid curdling the eggs.
Figure about 1 yolk per person. For a lighter and cholesterol-reduced version, you can decrease the yolks or eliminate them entirely. Beat the yolks lightly and then stir them into the béchamel until the mixture is smooth.
Pack the flavor in
The base is what will give your soufflé flavor. It’s important to season it generously – once it is folded into the egg whites, the flavor becomes less concentrated. Think salt, pepper, spices, herbs, citrus zests, reductions, aromatics, liqueurs. It doesn’t have to be complicated, just very flavorful.
To serve four, add up to about 1 cup of grated cheese, pureed and drained veggies, or small flakes of cooked meat or seafood.
You can refrigerate the base and do the remaining steps close to serving time. Let the base return to room temperature before folding them in with the egg whites.
Beat the egg whites
Separate the eggs while they are cold and then let the whites come to room temperature before beating them. Add a pinch of salt and whisk by hand or electric mixer in a very clean bowl until it starts to get frothy. Sprinkle in a pinch of cream of tartar (not necessary if you can a copper mixing bowl) and beat the egg whites until they are shiny and hold stiff peaks.
Lighten the base
Take about a quarter of the egg whites and gently stir it into the base. This will lighten the texture of the base and make it easier to fold in the rest of the egg whites.
Fold in the egg whites
You may need to transfer your base out of the saucepan and into a large mixing bowl to have enough room for the folding. Add the remaining egg whites on top of the base. Using a rubber spatula and gentle scooping motions, bring the base up and over the egg whites. Slice through the mixture with the side of the spatula and continue “folding” the base over the whites rotating your slicing and scooping motions around the bowl. Your goal is to blend the the base and the egg whites together well without deflating the whites.
Take your time here and also remember that it’s better to under-fold slightly and leave a few small clumps of egg whites than over-mix and lose volume.
Fill ramekins and bake
Gently spoon the mixture into the prepared ramekins. If you are adding in finely diced vegetables or small bits of meat, layer them in between spoonfuls of batter.
Smooth off the top with an offset spatula or, if you like more of a muffin-top look, simply leave it as-is, filled almost to the top.
At this point, you can freeze the filled ramekins and bake them another day. You can also refrigerate them; I’ve had best results if I bake them within an hour of sticking them in the fridge.
Place the ramekin(s) in the lower part of your oven and bake at 375 to 400°F. Use the higher temperature for smaller dishes or if you like the outer part to be a little brown and the very middle to be slightly moist (as I do). A lower temperature will give you a more evenly cooked soufflé that is a little drier and less prone to sinking.
Bake and serve immediately
Consider your comfort with the risks of eating eggs that are not fully cooked when you determine a soufflé’s doneness. It will continue to cook a little bit after you take it out of the oven, but ideally the soufflé will be eaten pretty much right away. I consider a soufflé to be ready when has puffed up to double its original volume and just the center jiggles a little bit under the surface. That takes about 18 minutes for individual soufflés, 23 minutes for large soufflés. Plan on doubling the cooking time for soufflés that had been frozen.
Use the oven light if you want to watch it as it cooks. But to check if it’s done, go ahead – it’s OK to open the oven and touch it.