Nothing brings drama to the dinner table like soufflés. These light and puffy creations never fail to impress, yet they’re actually not difficult to make—once you understand how they work.
Start with a white-sauce base. Nearly all savory soufflés begin with a thick white sauce made of milk, butter, and flour. Whatever flavoring is added to the sauce gives the soufflé its main identity, such as cheese or puréed spinach or other vegetable. Egg yolks are also added to enrich the soufflé.
Raise the volume with egg whites. The loft of a soufflé comes from air whipped into egg whites. In the heat of the oven, the air expands and the soufflé puffs dramatically. As the soufflé cools, it falls again but not completely; the soufflé stays light and airy.
The keys to a stunning soufflé
The way you handle the egg whites will make or break your soufflé. First you’ll need to whip them so they’re nearly stiff. A firm peak with a little curl at the tip means the egg whites are just right (as in the photo below left). If you don’t whip them enough, they won’t have as much air in them, and the soufflé won’t rise as much as it could. But you don’t want to overwhip them, either, or they’ll be too stiff to fold easily into the base. If they’re really overwhipped, they’ll begin to break down before you can start to fold them in.
Folding in the egg whites is another potential pitfall. You want to keep as much air in the whites as possible, but you have to sacrifice some air in order to combine the whites with the base. It’s a trade-off.
To fold, work swiftly but gently. With a rubber spatula held near the edge of the bowl farthest from you, cut down to the bottom of the bowl and drag the spatula toward you. When you reach the near edge of the bowl, pull the spatula up and over in a gentle flipping motion to bring some of what’s at the bottom of the bowl to the top (see the photo below right). Give the bowl a little turn and continue the circular motion of cutting down, dragging, flipping, and turning the bowl until you no longer see large areas of white.
Ideally, the whites will be completely folded in, but it’s fine to leave a few patches of white if you’re losing too much volume. A few spots of unincorporated whites in the soufflé are better than a soufflé that doesn’t rise well.
Finally, don’t peek too soon. If you open the oven door and let the heat out before the egg protein has set, the soufflé may fall. Let it bake for at least 20 minutes before opening the door. Until then, if you’re dying to look, turn on the oven light and peer through the window.