The soufflé is probably one of the most feared dishes that challenge cooks everywhere. The main problem with this totally unpredictable recipe – one that basically consists of only a thick, creamy white sauce (sweet or savoury) and whisked egg whites – is that when the delicious soufflé is cooked, puffed up majestically with a crispy outside and a gooey scrumptious centre, it is only a matter of seconds, before this culinary masterpiece deflates. It is an unavoidable fact that the diner must wait their soufflé rather than the soufflé wait for them!
Despite this problem it is really quite simple to make a perfect soufflé, even if its beauty does only last for a very short time, by following a few basic instructions.
The first thing that is important is the dish used to bake your soufflé in; so that the soufflé rises evenly the dish should be a round straight sided ovenproof one – they can be large dishes or individual ramekins. Preparing this dish is the next important step; the dish needs to be well greased inside with soft butter or margarine and then dust it with flour, breadcrumbs or parmesan cheese if making a savoury soufflé or caster or icing sugar or cocoa for a sweet soufflé. Next place the dish in a refrigerator and chill until the butter is set; by doing this the soufflé will rise better.
The base of the soufflé is the next element of the dish that needs a little attention; if making a savoury soufflé the base will be a thick roux based sauce with added egg yolks and seasonings, if the soufflé is sweet it will be a custard or fruit compote. Whichever base is used it is important to ensure that this base is well seasoned to give a good flavour, as when the whisked egg whites are added the flavour will be watered down. This base (which can be prepared in advance before making the final soufflé) also needs to be a thick and smooth consistency to help the soufflé to rise well.
To get a really light soufflé much care needs to be taken with the egg whites. It is important to make sure that a large, clean dry bowl is used for preparing the egg whites; the whites should then be whisked until stiff. Use eggs that have been kept at room temperature, and eggs that are around one week old will give better results. When the egg whites are ready beat around a third of the mixture into the base, then with a metal spoon fold the remaining egg whites gently until the mixture is smooth and well combined.
The next tip regards how the mixture is placed in the prepared dish; only fill the dish ¾ way up the dish, running a thumb around the edge of the mixture and the dish will make a channel that will encourage the soufflé to rise up.
It is then important that the oven is preheated to 220C/425F/gas 7 and place the soufflé in it as soon as the mixture is in the dish; then immediately lower the temperature to 190C/375F/gas 5. The oven needs to be hot to enable the air in the whisked egg whites to expand. Try not to open the oven during cooking, but more importantly never slam the oven door.
The finished soufflé should be golden brown and risen well over the top of the dish; it should be crispy on the outside but gooey and fluffy in the middle. One large soufflé should take around 30 minutes to cook and individual ones around 12 minutes.
Finally, the soufflé should be served VERY quickly so that the guests can appreciate its beauty before its inevitable downfall; however the guests really should be a little patient before attempting to eat it as the centre will be extremely hot!