Okay, how the heck is it that out of 44 different classic French desserts they could have chosen (3 of which are all some form of profiterole, 5 or more are different Tarts, and 2 of those tarts are some kinda plum), there’s not a single damn Soufflé!? Oh, well I guess they already have a souffle in the savory side… but wait, they also have a Savory Crepe paired with a Crepe Suzette, so that logic is thrown out the window! Well I say screw them, I’m changing it! This is now the “French 45,” and we shall have Soufflé!!
The development of soufflé is likely long-lived but shortly-documented, its transition from fried egg to pastry most likely kicking off in Medieval Times, when Whisked Egg Whites started being incorporated into a variety of dishes. Though it wasn’t until the development of Meringue techniques in the 1600’s that the true potential in soufflé could be seen, but not yet realized.
Finally, new Ovens, heated by air drafts instead of coal, made their appearance in the early 1800’s, flagging in the first “true” soufflés (certain chefs such as Beauvilliers and Louis Ude had supposedly made very similar kinds of pastries less than 20-40 years prior, but they would be either unpublished or labeled), providing an even temperature for the pastry to cook properly. The first to make notable use and publication of the technique, and thus credited with its creation, is a certain Antoine Careme, the King of Chefs and the Chef of Kings, aka one of our personal Gods in the Kitchen. There’s much I could go into recounting about Careme, but that’s a post in and of itself.
Besides perfecting the recipe, which he soon used to make hundreds more including the grand and famous Soufflé Rothschild (made with gold flecked liqueur-macerated-crystallized fruit), he also provided the inspiration for traditional Straight-sided cooking dish, using a similarly shaped Stiff Pastry Casing (as many oven-cooked things at the time were cooked in barely edible breads, pastries, and other handmade pots, it’s actually quite an interesting talking point, especially “chicken pot pie”).
And from there it’s history. Long years of refining old recipes and experimenting with new has lead to soufflés both precise and imaginative, along with a strong guidebook and understanding of the true “dos and don’ts,” and what we can get away with. There is of course much more to say about this and the soufflé’s history, of course, but I gotta save some material for the Cheese Soufflé whenever I get to it.
Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner
Here’s the thing about soufflé: it’s a lot easier than people think it is. It’s not this super-long, extensive recipe based off exact measurements, extremely delicate poofy little pastry that’ll break at the slightest vibration. In fact, this weird little cliché of soufflés deflating for who knows what unseen force is just plain weird and unfounded. Any simply, properly made soufflé is very durable and stubborn; it’ll of course “shrink” a bit after it’s taken out of the oven (as it’s the warm air that causes it to rise up, so it’ll of course shrink down as it cools). But unless you actually stab it while cooking, its stability is guaranteed.
And it’s all based off of only Two components: Whipped Egg Whites, and a Flavorful Base/Batter. That’s it.
Again, simple. Before cooking, whip your egg whites to a very firm “stiff peak” stage; when you pull the mixer from the whites, there will be little horns that stand straight up when turned upside down (and stay that way if you tap it). You can use this as-is, or sometimes I’ll add in a small amount of sugar around “soft peak” stage and re-whip it to stiff peaks, sorta making a “light meringue” for a bit of stability (and it can make a fun crusty bake). Fold this into the base until it looks like foamy mousse batter thing, you be the judge of what looks right, and that’s it.
Of course, that’s not where people usually have issue grasping the concept, is it? Probably most of the caution and uncertainty comes through making this actual base, how to get in that flavor you want. What recipe do I use, what proportions of individual ingredients do I need to make sure it rises properly?
Well STOP. None of that stuff matters. The only things you need to know for making your base is that A: it’s Intensely Flavorful, and B: getting the right thickness is important. That’s it, it should be strong and distinct enough to survive the “thinning” of all the egg whites we fold in, much like when you make a mousse (which is basically what soufflé is, a baked mousse). And I like to think it should be somewhere in the range of “pan/cake batter” consistency, so long as its thick enough to hold flavor and stability, but thin enough “flow” and ribbon easily when lifting a spoon. There’s of course a general range here, it doesn’t have to be exact; can have something a little loose or a little thick. We just don’t want a firm, thick, cement batter that you can’t even fold egg whites in or a barely watery one where the foam will dissolve.
Now all you have to do is pick your flavor and find a simple way to make it taste good. Vanilla Soufflés are basically just made with Pastry Cream or a thick Anglaise; a Chocolate often made by melting the delicious goodies with a bit of milk and adding it to some egg yolks, sugar, and flour (similar to lava cake batter). If you wanted a Citrus soufflé, just make a Curd (lemon, lime, blood orange, whatever); Fruits you can just puree whole, maybe mix it with something (very classic recipes have you adding sieved fruit to sugar cooked to the “hard crack” stage). I’ve even read an article about a chef who just ignores any fats (egg, milk, whatever) and just thickens Juices and Flavored Water with Corn Starch.
There’s no real rules so long as it’s, again, flavorful and has a good, foldable thickness. Of course many chefs try and dissuade from the use of Fats (as just stated); which I do agree with, and I usually try and use only a little of those, the idea being that the fat will slide between the delicate network of the long protein strands in the whipped whites, thus taking it apart. But I just love the richness it’s able to add, along with the ability to make an ideal “batter” simply (most of the things I mentioned earlier are basic custards or cake batters), and so far hasn’t actually affected the soufflés I’ve made to any noticeable degree. Besides, the very classic soufflés are basically egg whites folded with the yolks, only flavored.
Just don’t use Butter. For the love of god, NO BUTTER; you’ll have enough on the baking dish as is. You can stick with milk and yolks, they’re a little more of an indirect lipid source. You’ll have enough on the baking dish as is.
Now we just have to fold in the egg whites. You can do this with the batter at room temp, or some recipes do it soon after MAKING a Hot base; though I don’t like the idea of folding egg whites into something HOT (too much risk for destroying the delicate air bubbles), having it “warm” wouldn’t be an issue, and can help in the rising qualities. Just don’t use the batter while cold, it will weigh things down (in a sense).
As far as cooking vessel goes, any bakeproof ceramic/porcelain/whatever (NON-METAL) thing works. Little ramekins are classic, or you could use a casserole (I saw Jacques Pepin make one in a long rectangle one). All it has to be is WELL BUTTERED, very thoroughly; get the rim too. After which, you can choose whether or not you want to “dust it with sugar,” giving a fine coating on the bottom and sides. People say this “helps it climb,” but really it’s just to get a little crunchy coating around the sides.
Oh, and fill it to or very near the top; there’s no reason to leave room for overflow, we want to give our soufflés the best chance to grow Straight Up. Actually, one of the ways to help this, so it doesn’t sort of mushroom out over the sides, is to wrap a chimney of parchment paper around the dish.
Final thing, concerning cooking temperatures and time. Usually sticking to 350-375 is a good bet, I’m liking this one thing I’ve found of starting the oven at 425 and turning it down to 375 as soon as the soufflé goes in. Of course smaller ramekins will cook faster than the large ones; about 12-15 minutes, with 25-30-ish for large casseroles. Feel free to open the oven and give the dish a little prod to see if it’s set or jiggles; again, they’re sturdier than what we’ve been told.
Quite a lot of recipes also have one cooking it in a hot water bath, like custards… which I just don’t like. There doesn’t seem to be a NEED for it, and it just prevents it from any chance of getting a nice little texture on the crust.
There we go, Soufflé. With all I wrote you’d think it was difficult (I know, I tend to ramble incoherently and ongoing at times, my apologies), but if you look at the individual points made I promise it’ll now look a lot more approachable than it did before. So let’s bake one shall we!?
2-3 Egg Yolks
2 Tb Flour
1 Tb Salt
1 Tb Allspice
1 tsp Cinnamon
2-3 Tb Sugar, plus extra
½ cup Brown Sugar
1/3 cup Rum
1-2 Overripe Bananas (depending on size)
5-6 Egg Whites
Butter, as needed
- Thoroughly whisk egg Yolks, Salt, Flour, Spices, 2 Tb of Sugar and Half of the Brown Sugar until pale and fluffy.
- Move rest of brown sugar into sauce pan with Rum, heating to a simmer until melted. Remove to let cool.
- Mash Bananas, whisk into Yolk along with the cooled rum syrup. Taste and adjust alongside consistency with extra flour, sugar, rum, banana, or whatever desired/needed. Reserve until ready to bake.
- Heat oven to 425F.
- Take Ramekin/Casserole dish, thoroughly rub Butter into bottom, sides, corners, rim, etc (I suggest twice). Sprinkle with leftover Tb of sugar, shaking and turning around to evenly coat the bottom and sides.
- In Stand or Hand mixer, whip egg whites to Stiff Peaks. If desired, sprinkle and mix in a couple Tb of sugar on low speed, turning back to high to re-whip towards stiff peak stage.
- Gently fold the beaten whites into your banana base, 1/3 of the eggs at a time.
- Quickly transfer to your cooking dishes, filling to or as near to the top as possible.
- Move to oven, immediately turning the temperature down to 375F. Cook until Browned, lightly Crispy, fully Risen and the center is Set, about 25-30 minutes for larger casseroles and 10-14 for small ramekins.
- Serve immediately alongside Rum Sabayon and Banana Ice Cream.
So easy, so delicious, I really love making these soufflés. I don’t think the one I made turned out perfect, but that’s fine, it’s an easy fix. Which is another great factor to making this classic dessert: when something goes wrong, you know exactly how to fix it (and in an easy way), which is more than what we can say for other baked goods.
If it’s dense and doesn’t rise, you need more egg whites/a thinner batter; if it’s too big and delicate, less; spongy and shrunk, overcooked; still batter-y inside, cook more next time; if it doesn’t rise straight and “tents” instead, more butter on the sides (I think I needed some on the rim); if it seems too moist and tender (hard to describe what I mean, but you’ll know), reduce the liquids in the base, and so on and so forth.
I still have yet to “know” what the proper and classic soufflé is supposed to be like structurally; is it supposed to be cake-like, really moist, egg-white-y… there’s been a lot of results from different recipes I’ve tried out. But as long as it tastes damn good, and hits that comfort spot in your soul, and looks pretty, that’s all that matters.
Which certainly happened with the Banana. It was like everything right with banana bread, and custard, and warm cake… all together. Actually, with the Sabayon and Banana Ice Cream (super easy and tasty, just blend frozen bananas), it sorta reminded me of reconstructed Bananas Foster. Just needed some sea-salt caramel and a crunchy topping to complete the idea.
Despite the various rambles and unclear conjectures, I do hope this post may help encourage a few people to try making their own soufflé. If you do, you’ll have to tell me the results!
It all depends on what kind of soufflé you’re making, but a good “general” choice is Moscato d’Asti, or a Sparkling Demi-sec. Moscato is great with different chocolate dishes, is light in body to not override, and of course why not have bubbly with this air-pocketed pastry?
As far as my Banana one, I’m sort of craving something with botrytis, but I don’t want that thick, heavy syrup that a Sauternes can get. One of the simpler, more affordable St. Croix-du-Mont or Loupiac would be great (two regions near the legendary Sancerre, same style but less concentration), maybe a Coteaux du Layon from Loire, so long as one of them has Botrytis.
Though I don’t consider them on a regular basis, if you can find a dessert wine made from Chardonnay, that would probably be a good drink with the banana. Again just avoid anything heavy. Oh, maybe a Vidal Ice Wine would be good.
A tasty, lighter sweet Rum to pair with the tropical fruit, brown sugary-ness, and of course the Rum Sabayon. Ties into the idea of bananas foster better too.
And in the world of fortifieds, I could totally go for a sweetened Amontillado Cream Sherry, so long as it’s made well. I do love a good sherry, and rarely do the cheaper sweet stuff, but this could work. Port wouldn’t really work, except maybe a “White Port.”