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The soufflé is a classic French dish of whipped egg whites combined with a base and then baked. Once cooked, its top is browned and high, but it quickly loses its height when cut and served. A soufflé can be either sweet or savory, and often have an undeserved reputation for their difficulty of preparation. They frequently present a great challenge to otherwise excellent cooks.
Many have attempted and failed the perfect soufflé. Achieving the “rise” of the finished soufflé is easily attained with proper attention to details. Modern cooking apparati and ovens with good temperature regulation have significantly decreased the difficulty of preparing a soufflé.
A good stand or hand mixer can easily beat the egg whites to perfection. The trick in keeping them well puffed is not to mix the other ingredients in too quickly, deflating the trapped air in the whipped eggs. Rather, the technique best used is to gently fold the egg whites into the other ingredients, so the volume of the soufflé increases while cooking. Sometimes, chefs incorporate a small amount of the egg whites into the base first, to prepare the base for the gentle folding of the rest of the egg whites.
Of greatest importance is serving the soufflé just as it comes out of the oven. Waiting will mean serving a flat soufflé, which is pleasing to no one, so time needed to prepare the dish and serve it should be carefully calculated. Even though the finished product cannot be served more than ten or twenty minutes after it leaves the oven, the base can frequently keep in the refrigerator for up to two days.
The savory soufflé is often a combination of eggs whites folded into a béchamel sauce. Other sauces or purees may be chosen, but should be of about the same consistency as a béchamel so the eggs are not weigted down. A thinner sauce can be thickened by the addition of breadcrumbs. Vegetable purees and grated cheese make wonderful additions. For added interest, consider adding small bits of bacon, thinly chopped ham, or nuts and goat cheese.
Essential to achieving the desired rise of the finished soufflé is greasing the soufflé dish well with softened butter. Coating the dish with breadcrumbs can help prevent sticking when one is serving the soufflé. One can also purchase ramekins or individual soufflé dishes that take the guesswork out of serving. In all cases, a soufflé dish should be round with high straight sides, and the added mixture should be an inch (2.54 cm) lower than the top of the dish to prevent spilling over.
For dessert soufflés, chocolate is the most popular flavoring. If using melted chocolate squares as a base, these should be fully cooled before adding the egg whites. Warm chocolate can definitely take the puff out of an otherwise good soufflé.
Proper coating of the soufflé dish follows the same procedure as that for savory soufflés. Instead of breadcrumbs, however, the butter dish may be floured or coated with powdered sugar. Alternatives to chocolate include the very popular Grand Marnier soufflé. One may also wish to consider pureed apricots or other fruits. The fruit chosen should be drained so as not to make the base too thin.
Those who own convection ovens should be careful to turn off the convection option. The circulating warm air will initially cause the soufflé to rise, but it will flatten long before it is properly cooked. With any soufflés, the real trick is getting the dish to the table before its deflation. With good planning however, this delightful, classic egg dish is sure to impress.
A perfect souffle when baked the right amount of time will be fluffy and creamy. If it is over baked it will be dry, while an under baked souffle will be runny.