I learned to make a soufflé when I was seven years old. Since then, I’ve picked up a few tricks, but one lesson that hasn’t changed over the years is what my mother taught me: even an imperfect soufflé is still delicious. Of course, you shouldn’t set out to fail, but if your soufflé doesn’t rise proudly (or suffers some other minor imperfection), all hope is not lost. You’ll still have a great dinner.
That said, there are a few things that will increase your chances of making a perfect soufflé. First and foremost is properly whisking the egg whites. I am a huge advocate of whisking by hand, at least until you have the technique committed to memory. When you’re in touch with the process, you’re a better cook because you learn to look for changes that you might completely miss if using a machine.
To create the fluffy, voluminous egg whites that lead to a tall soufflé, it’s imperative that no egg yolk or other fat, such as oil, finds its way into the whites. So be very careful when separating eggs and keep all of your equipment clean and dry.
To further help a soufflé stand tall, butter the inside of the soufflé dish and line it with fine bread crumbs, creating a wall for the soufflé to crawl up so it can puff higher. Once the soufflé is in the oven, you must not open the oven door to check on things. To avoid the temptation, invest in an oven thermometer to figure out whether your oven runs hot or cold, and then adjust the temperature according to what you learn.
Soufflés start to deflate as soon as they come out of the oven, but they’ll stay hot for about twenty minutes and taste just as good even after they deflate, so don’t stress too much about timing everything perfectly. I think of soufflés as rustic, everyday fare, but if you want your presentation to make a big splash, have the table fully set before the soufflé is ready, so you can present it in its full glory the moment it is ready to emerge from the oven.
Use this base recipe as the foundation for any kind of soufflé. You can try one of the variations that follow, or you can get creative with the produce and cheese you have in your refrigerator. All of my soufflés here, with the exception of the corn variation, use the same base; the variations have ingredients added to the base just before the egg yolks are whisked in.
- Yield: 6 to 8 Servings
- 2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature, plus 5
- tablespoons butter
- ¼ cup fine bread crumbs
- 3 tablespoons very finely minced shallot
- 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1½ cups whole milk (see exception for Corn Soufflé)
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 0.175 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (omit for Corn Soufflé )
- 6 egg yolks
- 7 egg whites
- ¾ teaspoon cream of tartar, if not using a copper bowl
- Preheat the oven to 375°F and place the rack in the middle position. Brush a 2-quart soufflé mold with the 2 tablespoons room-temperature butter. Add the bread crumbs, shaking and turning the mold so the sides and bottom are evenly coated. Pour out any excess crumbs and set the mold aside.
- In a small saucepan, melt the 5 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook until translucent, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the flour and whisk vigorously to combine, allowing the mixture (the roux) to take on just the slightest bit of blond color, 2 to 3 minutes.
- Gradually whisk in the milk and cream to make a béchamel, working slowly to avoid lumps. When they have both been added, whisk vigorously until smooth, then immediately turn down the heat to medium-low and simmer, whisking frequently to prevent scorching. When the mixture is slightly thickened, after 5 to 6 minutes, remove the pan from the heat and scrape the mixture into a shallow metal mixing bowl. Add the salt, pepper, cayenne, and nutmeg and whisk briefly; let the mixture cool for 15 minutes.
- When the mixture is just slightly warm to the touch, whisk in the spinach, salmon–cream cheese mixture, ham, or sautéed corn (depending on the variation you are making), then whisk in the egg yolks one at a time, whisking rapidly after each addition. If your variation calls for the addition of cheeses and/or herbs, fold them in now.
- See instructions on how to whip the egg whites and when to add the cream of tartar.
- Scoop approximately one-third of the whipped egg whites into the egg yolk mixture. Using a rubber spatula and a light hand to retain as much air as possible, mix everything together until fully incorporated. This lightens the thick base significantly so that the two mixtures are more evenly matched when you add the remaining whites. Carefully fold in the remaining egg whites.
- Pour the batter into the prepared soufflé mold. Bake undisturbed (do not open the oven door!) in the middle of the oven until a thermometer inserted into the center of the soufflé reads 180°F (as you gain experience with this recipe, you’ll be able to tell when your soufflé is done by how high it rises, and then you can retire the thermometer), about 50 minutes. Serve immediately.