Soufflé. French for “breathed” or “puffed,” this classic, notoriously difficult dish can send shivers through a chef’s spine. As our friend over at Bunny Eats Design puts it, it is the home cook’s nemesis.
I’ve always wanted to make a soufflé. After watching countless movies and TV shows, I wanted to be that person pulling a beautifully risen soufflé out of the oven. Not going to lie, the “Asylum of the Daleks” episode of Doctor Who with Jenna-Louise Coleman as Souffle Girl played a pretty big part in influencing that desire. So I set to work, combing the internet for recipes and diligently reading up on the eggs chapter of McGee’s On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. Coincidentally, Martin requested a soufflé for his birthday, so that was the deciding factor for me to pick up my whisk and carpe soufflé (hm, that combination of Latin and French worked better in my head…).
Martin has a huge sweet tooth so it was an easy choice to make a chocolate soufflé. I also prepared a vanilla crème anglaise to accompany it. It was certainly ambitious, especially since, for want of a stand mixer, I did everything by hand. A lot of love went into whipping up those egg whites. But in that moment when I pulled the soufflés out of the oven and saw how tall they had risen, I felt so very proud of my accomplishment! (Martin enjoyed it too – he endearingly nicknamed it the Girlfriend Soufflé.)
Though I consulted On Food and Cooking for most of the technique, I have to credit Food Network Kitchens for providing a starting point for figuring out the proportions of ingredients (although I did end up making some adjustments). Our kitchen just happened to be perfectly prepared to handle this daunting task, so read carefully, plan well, and take inventory of your equipment. This is going to be a long post, so please bear with me.
Soufflé Ingredients (listed in order of usage):
Butter and white sugar for prepping ramekins
3 1/2 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used most of a Ghirardelli 60% cacao baking bar)
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 egg yolks
1 1/2 tablespoons warm water
1 tablespoon white granulated sugar
6 egg whites, brought to room temperature
1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup white granulated sugar
Crème Anglaise Ingredients:
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons white granulated sugar
Using these proportions, I was able to fill 2 smaller (4 oz-ish) ramekins and 2 standard 6 oz ramekins.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. According to On Food and Cooking, this will yield the quickest and most dramatic rise, but also a faster collapse. I opted for this because I prefer my soufflés lighter and more airy; low and slow will yield more of a lava cake consistency and a less dramatic rise.
1) Prepare the ramekins by buttering the base of the ramekin all the way up the sides. I used a scrap of paper towel and some softened butter that had been sitting on the counter. Coat the buttered ramekins with sugar. I read a trick online to minimize mess: add a spoonful or two of sugar to the ramekin. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and shake to get all of the sides evenly coated. Shake out the excess into the next ramekin and continue the process. Some recipes say to freeze or refrigerate these prepped ramekins. I left them out on the counter and achieved fine results.
2) Create a double-boiler by bringing about 1 inch of water to a simmer in a small saucepan. Place a heat resistant bowl (like a Pyrex) inside, making sure the bottom does not touch the water. Melt the chopped chocolate with the butter.A silicon spatula is helpful to stir and scrape down the sides of the bowl, ensuring the mixture blends smoothly.
When the mixture is completely smooth, take off the heat and stir in the vanilla. Set aside for later.
3) Whisk the egg yolks with the warm water in a small bowl until frothy and pale yellow. Sprinkle in the 1 tablespoon of sugar and continue whisking until it reaches the “ribbon stage,” so named because a lifted whisk will cause the mixture to cascade down in a ribbon-like pattern. This will take about 5 minutes from the time you add in the sugar.
4) Fold the egg yolk mixture into the melted chocolate, mixing gently. I drizzled the egg mixture into the chocolate rather than dumping it in all at once.
I think this helped to keep some of the yolk froth.
5) Time to foam! Take out your largest Pyrex (or other non-reactive) bowl; add the egg whites and lemon juice. Grab a NEW whisk or wash the first one very well. Any trace of egg yolk and the whites will not whisk up properly. Whisk away to get it started; then add in the sugar and continue whisking. I did this by hand, and it took about 10-15 minutes of vigorous whisking to get the stiff but glossy peaks that you’re looking for. Phew! What a workout.
6) Now it’s time for more folding. Some people say to work quickly but I heeded the advice of On Food and Cooking and worked gently instead. Spoon about 1/4 to 1/3 of the foam onto the chocolate mixture and gently fold to lighten. Add about half of the remaining foam and continue to fold, using as few strokes as possible. Then finish up the foam and fold. I’ve read that if you have to make the choice between white streaks and over-mixing, it’s OK to have white streaks. Too much or too vigorous mixing will lose a lot of your hard-earned voluminous foam.
7) Spoon the soufflé mixture into your prepared ramekins. Apparently, the cocoa strengthens the bubble walls so this souffle mixture, while it seems delicate, is actually quite resilient and could keep in the fridge for a few days or in the freezer indefinitely before its bubbly integrity deteriorates. I personally didn’t chance it. Place the ramekins onto a baking sheet and slide them onto a rack situated in the bottom 1/3 of the oven.
8) Bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes or just as the tops start to brown. Contrary to popular belief, you CAN open the oven without ruining the soufflé. It is the heat that causes the air bubbles to expand and loss of heat that causes the collapse. Still, I left well enough alone and was grateful for my glass doors through which I could keep a watchful eye.
9) If preparing a crème anglaise, you’ll have just enough time to do this now. Bring the cream and vanilla to a simmer. (If you have vanilla bean pods, this would be a great opportunity to use them instead of extract!) In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until silky and not grainy. Add a bit of the cream to temper the yolks, whisking constantly or you may end up with scrambled eggs. Return the mixture to the pot and continue cooking until the consistency is substantial enough to cling to the back of a spoon. Set aside.
10) Serve immediately after removing from the oven. Like I mentioned earlier, this method yields a beautiful rise but also a very quick collapse. Break open the soufflé and drizzle in the crème anglaise.
The soufflé has always been a bucket list item of mine, and in the kitchen, it happened to be a wonderful example of my own growing edge – the part of me that yearns to keep learning and trying new things and meeting new challenges. Just as I was basking in the glow of my soufflé accomplishment, I serendipitously received an email from Bunny Eats Design inviting us to participate in the monthly blogging event for Our Growing Edge. So I sat myself down and composed this post. I assure you this will not be my last soufflé, and I hope my post inspires you to try your first (Valentine’s day is just a few days away… hint hint)! Believe me, it can be done and oh, is it satisfying!
If you’re feeling apprehensive, I’m no expert but will gladly try to answer any questions you may have – just drop me a line. :3