The Art of Soufflé

The Art of Soufflé

a tutorial

Soufflés carry with them a certain mystique. Of all the desserts served in restaurants, there is perhaps none more impressive than a towering soufflé, steaming hot with a melting texture and soft, creamy center. There is also, perhaps, no dessert more daunting for the home cook.

Why are so many people scared of them? Because they fall. The soufflé is capricious; with a lifespan as brief as a breath – perhaps a very long breath, in all its billowing glory, its fall is inevitable. (Souffler, in French, literally means to puff or blow.)

But fear not. Despite its reputation as a temperamental dish, and the assumption that this fragile dish takes immense skill, there is really nothing difficult about making soufflé. It simply comprises a few basic ingredients – butter, sugar, eggs – that come together to create an easy but impressive dessert. The basic formula for a soufflé is more or less the same wherever you go: a flavored base (typically a pastry cream or a fruit purée) and beaten egg whites that lift the base to impressive heights. And there is much to be said for the ability to fashion something truly glorious from practically nothing.

So despite rumors to the contrary, there is really nothing difficult about making soufflés. Thanks to the talents of Jacques Capsouto, owner of Tribeca bistro Capsouto Frères, the secrets to successful soufflés are at hand. And the best secret is that you don’t have to worry about a complicated last-minute dessert – the soufflés can be assembled and then refrigerated or frozen before baking. Or, according to the practices of Mr. Capsouto, the base can be made and the molds prepared in advance, so all you have to do at the last minute is whisk and fold in the egg whites.

In soufflé-making, there are only a couple of essential things to keep in mind:

The flavor of the base must be really intense. If not, the flavor will be diluted by the sheer volume of egg whites rising in the oven. The other important thing about the base is that it provides structure; a soufflé is supported by eggs, but its taste is not compromised by them.

Beating the egg whites properly is key (and is probably the most difficult part of making a soufflé). A soufflé gets its magnificent height from tiny bubbles of hot air trapped in its delicate structure. As the soufflé bakes, the air expands and the soufflé puffs dramatically; and as it cools, the air bubbles contract, making the soufflé deflate. The trick is to know when to stop beating: Under-beaten whites will result in a soufflé that does not rise to its potential, while over-beaten whites result in a tough, cracked soufflé.

Now, how to do it – just follow these simple steps and you will quickly be crowned master of the soufflé. To try it for yourself, see Chef Monica’s Raspberry Soufflé, adapted from Jacques Capsouto’s recipe.

Step 1: Beat the egg whites.

In a pristinely clean bowl, beat the egg whites until they reach soft peaks, which is when the foam has reached the point where the egg whites are droopy, and just barely stand up on the whisk when gently lifted out. Slowly add sugar to the egg whites and continue to beat until they are glossy and just reach stiff peaks. Adding sugar helps stabilize the whites, which causes the finished soufflé to rise evenly. Important Note: Room temperature egg whites will beat more easily and provide more lift than cold eggs.

Step 2: Fold the egg whites into the base.

First, add about a third of the whites to the base to lighten it; there is no need to worry about deflating the foam at this step. Next, gently but thoroughly fold the rest of the whites into the base in two additions, preserving as much of their volume as possible. Just make sure you form a homogenous mixture, otherwise the soufflé will rise unevenly, and you may have large pockets of whites. The folding technique is simple – insert a large rubber spatula into the center of the bowl, cut down through the whites, pull base up from the bottom and spread over the whites. Give the bowl a quarter turn and repeat, turning the bowl after every fold.

Step 3: Fill the soufflé ramekins.

This is not the time to be shy about butter. Using a pastry brush, butter the ramekins, making sure to cover every inch of the mold, in up and down strokes rather than around the cup (this helps the soufflé climb and rise straight up). Next, add a light coating of sugar all around the mold.

Now, pour the batter into the molds. When filling the molds, the batter should be highest in the center and slope down to the sides of the mold. However, some people prefer a flat top and smooth it over with a spatula as with a cake batter. Whatever your preference, the soufflé is now ready, and can be either baked right away or stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 hours, or in the freezer for 3 days.

Step 4: Bake the soufflé.

Bake the soufflé in the center of a 325 °F preheated oven. Freshly prepared soufflés can be baked immediately, but take refrigeratored or frozen soufflés out and allow them to thaw about an hour before you plan to serve them. A soufflé prepared in a larger dish or ramekin will require more time (about 20 minutes) to bake than smaller, individual soufflés (about 10 minutes). When a soufflé is finished, it will have risen about 2-3 inches over the rim of the mold and will be lightly browned on top.

Step 5: Serve immediately in the ramekin.

The recipe you see here is a Raspberry Soufflé adapted by Chef Monica from Jacques Capsouto’s recipe. Perfect for a summer brunch!

Yes, it is just that simple. The secret lies in the gentle technique to ensure the fluffiness of your batter, so keep these tips in mind as you prepare it.

To learn about Capsouto Frères and their Soufflé Bar, as well as to read the article A Bout de Soufflé by the Pastry Princess herself, visit the Capsouto Frères web site.