Attempting to execute a perfect soufflé dish conjures up images of Lucille Ball tripping through the kitchen desperately (and unsuccessfully) trying to keep her soufflé inflated. One of the biggest myths of this airy creation is that it’s so delicate that the tiniest noise or vibration will cause it to cave in and be ruined. Not true! Soufflés are actually quite sturdy — the real trick is getting them to rise in the first place — and they’re supposed to fall as they cool. A successful soufflé is all about technique and egg whites and we’ve got you covered with all the 411.
Must-have equipment includes a rubber spatula, an egg beater and a soufflé dish to give it the proper structure. The single most important detail for getting your egg whites to fluff properly is that they must be completely pristine and free of yolk or any oily residue. The egg white is protein and the yolk is fat. According to NPR, “When you beat egg whites, you’re basically mixing air into them. The protein in the egg whites forms a kind of skin around the bubbles of air. But if there’s any fat present, the skin can’t form and the air leaks away. Even a trace of fat is ruinous.”
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Whip the egg whites into medium/stiff peaks that will stand at a 45° angle. Cream of tartar helps if you’re having trouble getting them to peak. You must fold the whites quickly but gently into the rest of the mixture to retain as much air as possible. Keep in mind that the base mixture should have a strong flavor because the egg whites will dilute it.
Before you put the mixture in a soufflé dish line it with something crunchy like breadcrumbs for savory soufflés and sugar for sweet ones. This keeps them from sticking to the sides which will prevent them from rising as high. Bake on the bottom rack and start pulling your soufflé out and lightly shaking it a few minutes before the recipe says it will be done. If it jiggles, it needs more time.
Your soufflé must be served immediately out of the oven; it will fall in about five minutes as it cools. But here’s the best tip yet: If it cools too much before you serve it, just take it out of the dish, pop it back in the oven and it’ll puff right back up again! You can also use this technique if you want to make your soufflé ahead of time. Simply bake, refrigerate and reheat.