Note: This is a professional formula so it is measured entirely by weight. For more on that, visit my post on Weight vs Volume.
Continuing with dishes from my recent pastry class, I thought I’d share what was probably the most successfully executed dessert of the entire class: chocolate soufflé. It kind of surprised me that the students had so much success with it because soufflé has a reputation for being tricky, to say the least. Just like my last post on cheesecakes, this dessert turns out perfect every time if you know the rules.
Most restaurants won’t even bother offering soufflé on the menu because it must be made to order. If you happen to find a restaurant which offers it for dessert, you usually have to order it before you order your entrée to give the kitchen plenty of time to prep it. That’s because soufflés don’t hold, meaning they can’t be prepped in big batches and heated to order (as is done with most restaurant food). While you can’t make the whole thing ahead of time, you can get most of the prep work done in advance so you have minimal work to do right before baking.
There are endless variations of soufflé you can try. This recipe is chocolate but I also love lemon, pumpkin, and sweet potato. There are even savory versions made with seafood, cheese, or mushroom. You really can’t go wrong with any of them.
If you’ve never tried a soufflé, believe the hype and plan on making some as soon as you finish reading the recipe. It takes very few ingredients, most of which you likely have on-hand, and the sense of accomplishment you’ll feel as you peek through the window in the oven door to watch your soufflés rise over the top of the baking dishes is worth all the details in the preparation process. And, oh my, the taste. I may or may not have had two all to myself the day they were baked off in class.
How to Bake the Perfect Soufflé
1. Plan Ahead
There are three separate components you have to make for this soufflé (don’t run away yet) but two can be made in advance. Up to three days in advance, if you like. You have to make a pastry cream, which must be cooled to at least room temp before you make the final soufflé. You’ll also want some Crème Anglaise on hand to pour into the hot soufflé (it’s optional but you definitely want it). If nothing else, get the Crème Anglaise done earlier in the day and stick it in the fridge so it’s ready to go when you pull the soufflés out of the oven.
Some recipes don’t require a separate pastry cream and soufflé base but this really is the best preparation method I’ve used. It’s worth it.
2. Respect the Process
If you look at the recipe below, there is no leavener used in soufflés. Instead, they get their rise from whipped egg whites. Specifically, egg whites whipped to medium peaks. That means they’ll hold their shape when you lift them with a whisk but they’re not yet glossy. In this case, it’s best to err on the side of “underwhipped” egg whites so when in doubt, stop beating. Just make sure those whites hold their shape and you’ll be alright.
It’s pretty easy to deflate whipped egg whites when incorporating them into rich batters so you have to be delicate when mixing, otherwise your soufflé won’t rise. For this process, don’t use a whisk. You’ll start by folding 1/3 of your whipped egg whites into your soufflé batter with a rubber spatula. You’re basically sacrificing those egg whites but it’s necessary: this step will lighten your soufflé batter so there’s minimal deflation when you add the rest of the whipped egg whites.
Also, don’t open the oven once they go in. Not even to sneak a peek. Soufflés rarely (I would say “never” but you know the adage) need more baking time than this recipe suggests so leave that oven door closed until the timer buzzes.
3. Butter and Sugar The Baking Dishes Well
Slather those ceramic baking dishes with plenty of softened butter and sprinkle plain ol’ granulated sugar over the entire surface, including the rim. For those of you who think refined sugar is the enemy, you’ll have to get over it for soufflé’s sake. Beet sugar or stevia will not do. If you absolutely refuse to use white sugar, try turbinado instead (but keep in mind: turbinado has a higher moisture content than white sugar so results may vary).
4. Make Individual Portions
You can absolutely make a large soufflé and share it with loved ones but to keep the peace, I recommend baking off individual portions. I’m pretty sure a dispute over a shared soufflé is what led to the War of the Second Coalition. Okay, that’s not even a little bit true but trust me… don’t test your friends’/family’s politeness by forcing them to share a soufflé.
5. Make a Big Deal About It
I mean, it’s soufflé. It’s not a ho-hum dessert and it deserves a little pomp and circumstance. Since you want to serve it straight out of the oven, make sure everyone is set and ready for it when you parade it into the dining room (of if you’re like me… to the coffee table).
If I remember Soufflé Day correctly, every single student nailed it the first time. I’m confident that if you follow the procedures, you’ll wow some folks with this show-stopping dessert. And while it’s a little time-consuming, nobody has to know how easy it really is. That’ll be our little secret.