It's Souffle-Making Time
Prepare the soufflé dishes
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.
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
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
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
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
Lighten the base
Fold in the egg 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
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
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.