All the tips for making a soufflé you’ll ever need. Contrary to popular belief they’re really very easy and quite impressive if you get them right. All you need is some ramekins, a whisk, an oven and two bowls.
At the restaurant their dessert speciality was the soufflé. Over my time there I was taught all of the tricks that you need to know to make the perfect soufflé. With these even the most incompetent cook can make a professional standard soufflé. I’ll be focusing on dessert soufflés but these tips can be applied to savoury soufflés as well but I don’t see why you’d bother really (I suppose if you were going for a 1970s themed dinner that wasn’t particularly impressive then you could make a cheese soufflé).
First let’s go over a little soufflé theory. There will be three basic parts to your soufflé:
1. The base – flavour country this will be where you put your rhubarb/peach/chocolate or whatever. It’s effectively intense compote.
2. The egg whites – you need to whisk these to stiff peaks to make the soufflé.
If you have a recipe then follow it but as a general rule you need to whisk your eggs with your sugar until stiff peaks form. If you have 100g of egg white then I recommend 40g of sugar as a guideline. Once you’ve done this you can add your base and mix them together. If you’re using 100g of egg white then you can afford almost 100g of base – you can add as much as you want depending on taste really. People will make a big fuss about being exact and while I’d say the novice needs to do this it’s not really important when it comes to quantity of base (within reasonable levels).
Once you’ve done that you can bake. Other cooks will tell you that you need a super-hot oven but in my experience an oven at 170°C does the trick and higher temperatures will yield a grainy soufflé. The soufflé will rise gradually and then brown at the top. Once the top is brown it’s generally a good indication that it’s done.
I’ve separated these out into the order that you’ll be making the soufflé. You don’t have to use them all, pick whichever you want but hopefully this will be a comprehensive guide on how to cook great soufflés.
The flavour of the base needs to be strong as it’s going to be diluted. Bear in mind that if you use sugar to make your base (many bases are very close to coulis) your soufflé will be quite sweet as it will combine with the sugar used with the egg whites. Consider something sour to balance it out a bit like lemon juice in the base or a less sweet ice cream or coulis when you serve it.
The consistency should be roughly that of a coulis or compote. It should be about as thick as ketchup (but denser). There’s no shame in using cornflour to thicken your base, it’ll make the soufflé more stable. If you’re cooking your base then it’ll be much runnier before it cools so allow for that. I cook my fruit in stock syrup (equal parts water and sugar) then blend them with a bit of cornflour until they have a consistency like that of yoghurt. Once they’ve cooled then they’re ready to use, reserve for later.
N.B. Cornflour thickens when heated so don’t add loads then stick it on the heat. Add it gradually. Cornflour also has a tendency to create lumps especially when added to something hot so in a separate cup or bowl mix the quantity of cornflour you want to add with some of the liquid (with a ratio of about three parts liquid to one part cornflour) then add it to the rest. This is a great tip for gravy or other sauces too.
All of this can be done prior to cooking to make your life easier. You can separate the eggs beforehand, sugar’s not so important and I highly recommend you make your base ahead of time.
In order to get airier whites follow one of the three following options before whisking:
1. Use week old (or older) eggs.
2. Add some of acid such as cream of tartar or lemon juice. Just a few drops will do.
3. Whisk the eggs in a copper bowl.
Don’t combine these options as they all counteract each other’s effects, just pick one.
Your eggs should also be at room temperature.
Grease kills bubbles and will prevent you from having fluffy whites so make sure everything is clean.
If you want professional looking soufflés this next step is important. Whisk some butter in a bowl then liberally (using a brush or kitchen towel) coat the inside of the ramekins with it. Next get some sugar (icing sugar works too) or bread crumbs (we used spiced bread crumbs at the restaurant) and pour them into the buttery ramekin. Take this ramekin and rotate it as you pour your crumbs/sugar into the next ramekin. This will mean that the inside of your ramekin is now coated. Repeat with all of the ramekins and then tap them out onto a hard surface (this is messy without kitchen towel) to dislodge any extra crumbs or sugar.
Mix your sugar and egg whites. Whisk (electric is fine) until they form stiff peaks. This takes ages if you do it by hand.
Mixing the Base and the Whites:
Take a maurice (a.k.a. “the rubber spatula” pictured right) and scoop 1/3rd of your whites into the base (doesn’t have to be exact). By running the Maurice around the outside of the bowl and tilting the bowl towards you you’ll gradually mix the two without getting rid of the air. Resist the temptation to mix. Once that’s done pour it back into the remaining whites and do the same until it’s homogeneous. Taste it, that’s fairly close to how your soufflé will taste.
Note that if you lack a Maurice then a large metal spoon is also fine.
Make sure you pre-heat your oven.
Pour your mix into the pre-prepared ramekins and overfill them so that the mixture piles up over the brim. Take a long object with a flat side – card or the back of a knife or a palette knife would be perfect – place the flat side on the ramekin rim and scrape across knocking the extra mix back into the bowl with the rest. Do this in both directions and you should have a perfectly level soufflé top.
Now grab a piece of kitchen towel run it around the rim so that you can see the rim and it’s clean. This will allow your soufflé to rise into a perfect cylinder.
Once it’s brown on the top and risen an inch and a half you’re done. Only the top will be brown unless you’re using bread crumbs, the sides will still be pale.
You can open and close the oven door without them collapsing and you can make loud noises. There’s a small risk of them deflating but i’ve never seen it happen before.
Be quick, soufflés wait for no man.
Don’t just serve them plain. I like to have a scoop of ice cream on a spoon, thrust it into the top of the soufflé and then serve it like that. Coulis or custard is quite common but really you can add anything at this point. Dusting with icing sugar is also a nice cosmetic touch.
Post your successes and failures in the comments section and feel free to ask for any additional advice.