At its core, a soufflé is a type of light cake baked with eggs. Of course you can't just take any cake with eggs in the batter and call it a soufflé. As with many gourmet treats, what makes a soufflé special is all in how its ingredients are prepared.
What's in a Soufflé
A soufflé may be a savory main course or a sweet dessert. There are all kinds of soufflé,s but what they all share in common is their two constituent parts: a base made of flavored cream sauce or puree and a soft meringue made of beaten egg whites. The base of a soufflé gives it its flavor, while the meringue gives it its texture.
Types of Soufflés
Soufflé bases are made of all different ingredients, depending of course on the desired flavor. They may contain jam, fruit or chocolate. Or they may contain meat or fish in a cream sauce, or one or more kinds of cheese.
Preparing the Eggs
The first and most critical element in making a soufflé is properly separating the egg whites and egg yolks in the recipe. The egg whites are the protein component of the dish and the yolks are the fats. Ideally, ne'er the twain should meet. Any yolk in your whites will prevent them from whipping properly.
Oil can also impair beating, which is why you should always use the cleanest possible bowl and utensils for whipping the egg whites. Whip slowly and evenly for best results. And avoid over-whipping the egg whites, which could make them too hard to fold into your base.
Once the egg whites are beaten into an airy foam, quickly whip up the egg yolks so you can fold the two together before that foam collapses, as it is wont to do. Unless you are making a plain "omelet" soufflé, it is in this stage – beating the egg yolks prior to folding in the whipped egg whites – that you would add your spices and other ingredients for flavoring.
When folding the egg whites and yolks together, don't over mix them. Stop as soon as the whites have disappeared into the beaten yolks.
Baking the Soufflé
Transfer the resulting egg mixture to a baking dish and stick it in an oven preheated to 350-400 degrees, depending on the recipe and the size of the soufflé. Always place the baking dish on the floor of the oven or a hearth, never on a middle or upper rack (you can remove from these the oven before preheating if you like).
Watch the cooking time carefully and keep a constant eye on soufflés in the oven. Besides improperly whipping the egg whites, the other most common cause of failed soufflés is under- or over-cooking. An undercooked soufflé can come out runny, an overcooked one can come out dry, and both can fall flat.
If a soufflé has been cooked properly, a kitchen needle or tester through the center should come out clean.
Soufflés are traditionally served in small round, white-glazed, flat-bottomed porcelain containers called ramekins.
Dessert soufflés may be served with a scoop of ice cream and hot fruit or chocolate sauce dripped over it. Or they may be served on a plate with cocoa powder sprinkled on it as a sort of garnish. A savory soufflé could be served with a butter sauce or truffle oil poured over it.
Precision is everything in making a successful soufflé – in timing, temperature and preparation. With practice, anyone can master this art!
Get Started with These Soufflé Recipes