Text and recipes by Zoë François
Soufflés have a bad reputation that goes something like this: They’re temperamental. You can’t walk or talk near where one is baking lest it fall in the oven. In short, it’s a difficult dessert to make if you’re not a pastry chef.
I’m happy to say that none of that is true. Any home cook with a good recipe can make a successful soufflé. In fact, my recipe produces soufflés that are so stable, you can make the batter a couple of hours ahead and chill it until you're ready to bake—a big plus when company is coming for dinner.
Get the recipe:
Chocolate Soufflés with Blood Orange Sauce
Pastry cream provides a rich, flavorful base
The base of a sweet soufflé—the pastry cream—is a type of custard, a cooked combination of milk and egg yolks that’s thickened with flour or cornstarch. The starch gives the pastry cream body and helps keep the egg yolks from curdling as you cook them. I like using cornstarch because it quickly thickens the pastry cream, and since it’s a pure starch, you can use less of it than you would flour. It’s also gluten free, which is nice if you or your guests have a gluten allergy.
The pastry cream is what gives the soufflé its flavor. And if you want to vary that flavor (say, from chocolate to lemon or caramel), all you have to do is change the flavor of the pastry cream.
Get the recipes:
Lemon Soufflés with Raspberry Compote
Caramel Soufflés with Ginger Crème Anglaise
Meringue adds lift
The co-star of a soufflé is a meringue, or egg whites whipped with sugar. It contributes both strength and delicacy to the dessert. As you beat the egg whites, their proteins trap air in little bubbles that expand in the heat of the oven, causing your soufflé to rise. Adding cream of tartar to the whites helps stabilize them, and mixing in a bit of sugar once the whites have reached soft peaks helps the proteins stiffen and set, stabilizing the bubbles further. I like using confectioners’ sugar in my meringue because it dissolves so readily.
After folding together the pastry cream and the meringue, all that’s left to do is transfer the batter to ramekins (small, individual soufflés are more stable than large ones) and bake them to airy perfection. Bring the soufflés to the table as soon as they come out of the oven so your guests can be as impressed with your soufflé skills as you now are.
12 Secrets to Soufflé Success
A properly heated oven is crucial. It has to be good and hot before the soufflés go in or they won't rise well, so start heating it at least 30 minutes before you plan to bake the soufflés. Setting the rack in the lower third of the oven positions the soufflés in just the right spot to prevent their tops from overcoloring before their interiors are set.
Soufflés must be baked in straight-sided dishes—in this case, ramekins—to help them rise. Coating the inside of the ramekins with butter and sugar also aids with rising, as the butter prevents the soufflés from sticking and the sugar gives the batter traction so it can climb up the sides of the ramekins.
Separate the eggs while they're cold; the yolks are less prone to breaking when chilled. Once separated, let the whites sit out at room temperature for making the meringue later.
Let the pastry cream simmer for a couple of minutes to ensure that the cornstarch in it is fully cooked. Otherwise, the pastry cream can break down as it cools, turning to soup. (If that happens, start over.)
Use eggs that aren’t too fresh. Egg whites thin out as they age, which makes them easier to whip. Supermarket eggs are fine for soufflés because they're not as fresh as farmers' market eggs. For the latter, age them in your refrigerator for 2 or 3 days before using.
Be sure the whites are completely yolk free. Any yolk (or fat) in the whites will keep them from whipping up to their full potential, so the bowl you beat them in has to be clean, too.
Bring the whites to room temperature before making the meringue. Warm whites have stretchier proteins that will quickly create more volume as they’re beaten.
Make a necessary sacrifice. The overall goal when folding the meringue into the pastry cream is to incorporate it with as little loss of air from the meringue as possible. To do this, you’ll sacrifice a bit of that volume as you stir the first third of the meringue into the pastry cream, but this lightens and loosens the cream so it can more readily accept the remaining meringue.
Use a gentle hand and a large silicone spatula to fold the remaining meringue into the pastry cream in two additions. Try to do this with as few turns of the spatula as possible so most of the air stays in the meringue, but make sure no streaks of white remain because they'll be visible in the finished soufflés.
Run your index finger around the edges of the ramekins after you've filled them with the batter. This cleans the sides and creates a trench in the batter that encourages it to rise up rather than out and over the sides.
Don’t be afraid to open the oven door to check the soufflés—they won’t collapse until the steam inside begins to cool, and that only happens once they’re out of the oven.
Check for doneness with a wooden skewer or toothpick. When it comes out mostly clean but the tip is still wet, the soufflés are ready. Removing them from the oven at this point will give you soufflés with moist, luscious, set interiors.