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How to make the best soufflé (it’s much easier than you think)


Chocolate soufflés, in New York on Oct. 3, 2022. Delicate and sensitive soufflés are absolutely worth the effort.

By Claire Saffitz


When it comes to making soufflés, there’s a lot of fear-mongering: “Don’t overmix the batter, or they won’t rise.” “Don’t open or slam the oven door, or they’ll fall.” “Don’t overbake, or they’ll be dry.” “Eat them right away, or they’ll be ruined!”


All of it could make a home baker shy away from soufflés, but that would be a shame. Lofty, voluminous soufflés are one of the most elegant, high-reward desserts, and they’re actually quicker and less complicated than those warnings would have you believe.


Stabilize your egg whites


A flavored base lightened with beaten egg whites and baked into a cloudlike consistency, soufflés require a certain amount of technical knowledge, starting with an understanding of egg whites.


When egg whites are whipped, the proteins in them, called albumin, denature (meaning that the bonds that hold them together break down). These denatured proteins trap air bubbles and retain water, creating a foam. That foam is then folded into the soufflé base, and, in the oven, the tiny air bubbles expand from the heat and cause the batter to rise.


Since egg white foam is inherently unstable and will start to collapse almost immediately, so much of soufflé-making revolves around preserving as much air as possible.


For a more stable foam, start with older eggs — preferably from the supermarket and not the farmers’ market — as very fresh egg whites won’t whip up as easily. While the eggs are still cold, separate the whites from their yolks. (Cold yolks are less likely to rupture and leave behind traces of fat in the whites, which will interfere with the formation of the foam.) Then, let the whites come to room temperature before whipping them in a very clean bowl. Just make sure to avoid any plastic bowls, as the plastic can retain fat residue.


Once the whites are opaque and foamy — waiting until this point helps them achieve their maximum volume — gradually add the sugar while still beating the whites. This helps stabilize them and reduces the chance of overbeating. Then, keep whipping them until they’re glossy and form stiff peaks. Any less may leave the whites droopy and formless, resulting in denser soufflés that collapse quickly, while any more may produce clumpy whites that are difficult to incorporate, yielding dry soufflés.


Build a better base


If stiffly beaten egg whites give a soufflé its hallmark lightness, the flavored base, which is often yolk-enriched, provides structure and support. Sweet soufflés commonly use pastry cream, and savory ones often employ béchamel.


While some chocolate soufflés are gluten-free, relying only on melted chocolate for structure, this recipe calls for a thin pastry cream thickened with a bit of flour and flavored with chocolate and cocoa powder. The gluten from the flour adds just enough structure to support the soufflés without muting any of the chocolate flavor. The fat from the yolks, chocolate and milk will speed the collapse of the egg foam, so fold the batter gently and try to work quickly once it’s assembled.


Then, pull out your ramekins. Compared with one larger vessel, they cumulatively offer more surface area, which leads to more even, consistent cooking.


Ready your ramekins


Because egg white foam is sticky, the ramekins should be thoroughly greased and coated with sugar to prevent the batter from anchoring to the sides during baking, which could lead to domed and cracked soufflés. Apply a generous coating of room-temperature butter all over the vessels, using upward strokes along the sides to encourage the batter’s rise. Make sure to butter along the rims as well, as this is where the batter is most likely to stick. A final dusting of sugar also aids the batter’s rise, as the crystals act like grips.


Taking a few careful steps during assembly will help produce soufflés with flat tops and tall, straight sides, making them as impressive-looking as anything you can order in a fancy French restaurant. Fill the ramekins completely with batter, then scrape off any excess with a straightedge for a smooth, level finish. (Ramekins filled to the very top with a well-made batter should double in height in the oven.) Then, after sprinkling the tops with sugar, run a finger along the inner rims, wiping away the batter. This last trick is just one more way to prevent sticking and help the soufflés rise straight upward. After an initial blast of heat from a hot oven kick-starts their rise, they cook at a lower temperature to allow time for the centers to cook before the sides dry out.


Know when you’re done


Determining doneness can be tricky, as the window when the batter is neither undercooked and runny nor overcooked and dry is brief. The best test is to press the centers of the soufflés gently with a fingertip and feel for a subtle springiness, an indication that the eggs are barely set. Serve the soufflés straight from the oven, but know that proper whipping of the egg whites and the small amount of flour in the base give them good staying power, so while collapse is inevitable, it isn’t imminent.


The process of making soufflés is undoubtedly finicky, but don’t let this be a deterrent. A technically imperfect chocolate soufflé is still delicious, and your friends and family are unlikely to notice if you underbeat the egg whites or left the soufflés in the oven a minute too long.


You’re not risking much in the way of time or ingredients, and, though the potential for mistakes may be high, the potential for greatness is even higher.


Chocolate Soufflés


While soufflés are delicate and sensitive creations, they’re also fundamentally simple, consisting of a flavored base that’s lightened with beaten egg whites. The keys to success are beating the egg whites properly so they’re stable and voluminous, working quickly to prevent their collapse, and thoroughly greasing the ramekins so the mixture can rise unencumbered in the oven.


Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 45 minutes



Ingredients:


Unsalted butter, at room temperature, for ramekins

7 tablespoons/87 grams granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling and for ramekins

3 large egg yolks

1/3 cup/80 grams whole milk

2 tablespoons brewed coffee

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa powder, sifted if lumpy

4 ounces/113 grams bittersweet chocolate (70% cacao), coarsely chopped

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

5 large egg whites, at room temperature

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt



Preparation:


1. Arrange an oven rack in the center position and heat the oven to 425 degrees. Brush the bottoms and sides of 4 (6-ounce) ramekins with room-temperature butter, using straight, upward strokes along the sides and brushing all the way to the rim. Sprinkle the ramekins with sugar and shake to coat, then tap out the excess. (The upward strokes and sugar give the batter something to cling to as it rises.) Set aside ramekins.


2. Fill a medium saucepan with about 1 inch of water and bring to a simmer over medium heat, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. In a medium heatproof bowl, whisk together 3 tablespoons/37 grams of the sugar and 2 of the egg yolks until combined, then whisk more vigorously until the mixture is pale, light and thick, about 1 minute. Slowly stream in the milk, whisking constantly, followed by the coffee. Add the flour and cocoa powder, and whisk until the mixture is smooth and lump-free, then set the bowl over the saucepan, taking care that the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Cook the mixture over the double boiler, whisking constantly, until it’s the consistency of thin pancake batter, faintly holds the marks of the whisk and any foam has subsided, about 5 minutes. Remove the bowl from the saucepan (careful: It’s hot).


3. Add the chopped chocolate to the bowl and whisk briefly to incorporate it, then set aside the bowl for a few minutes to allow the chocolate to melt. Slowly whisk the mixture until smooth, then whisk in the remaining egg yolk and the vanilla extract. Set aside the bowl to cool slightly. (Don’t let it cool completely, or the chocolate will harden.)


4. In a large metal or glass bowl — avoid plastic, as it can hold on to fat residue — combine the egg whites and salt, and use a hand mixer to beat on medium-low speed until the whites are broken up and frothy, about 20 seconds. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue to beat until the whites are foamy and opaque, about 30 seconds, then gradually add the remaining 4 tablespoons/50 grams sugar in a slow, steady stream, beating constantly. Once all the sugar is added, continue to beat just until you have dense, glossy egg whites that hold a stiff peak. Try not to overbeat, or the whites will take on a dry, grainy texture and be difficult to incorporate into the chocolate base.


5. Scrape about one-third of the beaten egg whites into the bowl with the chocolate mixture, and whisk quickly and briefly to combine. Using a large flexible spatula and broad, decisive strokes, fold in the remaining beaten egg whites in 2 additions, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl and rotating the bowl as you work, until the mixture is almost entirely streak-free.


6. Gently scrape the batter into the prepared ramekins, dividing it evenly and using all of it. (The ramekins should be filled to the very top.) Tap the ramekins delicately on the work surface to help settle the batter, then, working one ramekin at a time, use a small offset spatula or a butter knife to smooth the surface and, working over the batter bowl, scrape off any excess batter so that it’s level and flush with the very top of the ramekin. If necessary, transfer any excess batter from one ramekin to another to ensure they’re all filled to the very top. Repeat until all the ramekins are leveled. (At this point you could have a small amount of batter left over — if so, discard it.)


7. Lightly sprinkle the surfaces of the batter with a thin, even layer of sugar, then, working with one ramekin at a time, run a clean thumb around the inside of the rims to wipe away a ring of batter and expose †the inner lip of the ramekins all the way around. (Use the natural indentation inside the ramekins as a guide for how deep to make the ring.) This will ensure that your soufflés rise straight upward and maintain level tops. Wipe away any streaks of batter from the rim and outsides of the ramekins.


8. Place the ramekins on a sheet pan, spacing them evenly. Transfer the sheet pan to the oven, immediately reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees and bake until the soufflés are risen, firm and springy to the touch across the surfaces, and have a slight wobble, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the soufflés from the oven and serve immediately.

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