Saturday, January 22, 2011

The unbearable lightness of the soufflé

Whenever I hear the word soufflé, I'm imagining fat French chefs with white, tall, pleated hats running around in a busy restaurant kitchen, shouting to each other while trying to cautiously carry a soufflé dish that has just been taken out of the oven.

Or other times, I'm imagining an elegant French woman in a Parisian apartment kitchen, waiting patiently right next to her oven for the soufflé to rise while reading French Vogue, with a cigarette dangling from her red colored lips.

Well, that's just me; I like to visualize and make up stories about the people who might cook and eat certain types of food or dishes. Admittedly, some of those images are stereotypical but hey, when I think of souvlaki, I can't imagine anything other than a handsome Greek, virile man standing outside a souvlaki joint, getting all greasy while devouring a couple of them.

Or, when a dish of paella comes to mind, I can't help but visualize a raven-haired Spanish woman with a colorful apron wrapped around her waist, standing over a huge, steaming paella pan, adding to it yet another type of fresh seafood.

I enjoy these images but having said that, they are the ones I want to break down. I don't have to be Italian to make a mean spaghetti Bolognese or Brazilian to make a good feijoada. I don't like to be intimidated by food or dishes. That's not what cooking is about and I'm a firm believer that anyone can cook anything.
And on that notion, my soufflé baking adventure began.

The first time I've ever made a soufflé was about a year and a half ago when I took some classes in Amsterdam on French regional cooking. It was during one of those classes that I was confronted with the task of making a soufflé. A hot vanilla soufflé with lavender and candied violets or as the chef called it "Soufflé chaud vanille et lavande avec violettes confittes". It all sounded very French, very difficult and very complicated but it actually wasn't. With the help of my fellow aspiring soufflé makers and the chef in charge of the class, we accomplished a pretty good dish but I couldn't take the credit for it. I haven't done it all by myself.

So I had to attempt making a soufflé on my own, from start to finish, and the one I've always wanted to try was the classic savory soufflé—the cheese soufflé. I don't know why I've waited this long to attempt it but a few days ago, I thought it was time. I gathered my ingredients, my equipment and my courage and started making the roux, boiling the milk, beating the egg yolks and cheese into my sauce and then whipping the egg whites into a fluffy meringue and incorporating it into the cheesy mixture.

I put my creation in the oven and after thirty minutes I had a soufflé, or did I? My first attempt was somewhat of a failure since it didn't live up to its name, it didn't puff up, but the taste was excellent. Disappointed as I was, I wasn't going to give up that easily. The next day I was going to try again. I did some research on the internet and my cookbooks, figured out what I did wrong the previous day and tried it once more.

This time it was perfect. It puffed up beautifully—even though it took me some time to photograph it so what you see in the photos is a slightly collapsed version of it—and the taste was glorious. Light, fluffy, cheesy, soft, everything a soufflé should be. My very own cheese soufflé!
And then, after I spooned some of it onto a plate, it showed its truly ephemeral nature. Ah, the soufflé...

Three-Cheese Soufflé
Slightly adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking

The secret of a good soufflé is in the whipping of the egg whites. They need to be just right in order to make the soufflé rise. What actually makes the soufflé rise are all the tiny air bubbles that are trapped inside the beaten egg white foam. Those air bubbles expand as the soufflé bakes in the oven, causing it to increase in volume. When you take it out of the oven, the change in temperature causes these bubbles to contract thus making the soufflé collapse. Simple physics.

Some Helpful Tips
—Egg whites that are at room temperature can incorporate more air thus producing a fluffier and more puffed up soufflé. But, it is easier to separate eggs that are cold. So, before you start making the soufflé, take the eggs out of the fridge, separate them, and let them come to room temperature before handling them.
—The bowl you use to beat the egg whites in must be very clean and dry.
—You must not drop any egg yolk (fat) in with the egg whites because it will prevent them from firming.
—You must beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks and are shiny.
—Do not overbeat the egg whites because they will become grainy.
—The sauce (base) you make for the soufflé must not be stodgy and pasty but creamy otherwise, once you incorporate the egg whites, the whole mixture will become too dense, thick and heavy and the soufflé will not rise properly.
—You must incorporate first 1/3 of the egg whites into the sauce in order to lighten the mixture up and then fold in the rest carefully, quickly and just until there are no large, unblended patches of egg whites. Do not overfold, otherwise you are going to deflate the egg whites and your soufflé will not puff up.
—Butter generously the sides of the dish before you add the soufflé mixture and use upward strokes when you apply the butter with the pastry brush.
—Once your soufflé is in the oven, do not open the oven door. Any fluctuation in temperature will cause your soufflé to deflate. You haven't done all this work for nothing, right?
—You need a specific type of mold/dish to bake your soufflé in. This must be a porcelain or pyrex round mold that is high sided. If you use a wide and shallow dish, your soufflé will not cook properly and will not rise.

This soufflé, served with a green salad, makes a wonderful main-course dish but you can also serve it as a side or first dish.

Yield: 4 main-course or 6 first/side-dish servings

55 g unsalted butter plus 10 g (softened) for buttering the dish
35 g all-purpose flour
240 ml milk, full-fat
½ tsp salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
A pinch of cayenne pepper
A pinch of nutmeg
4 large egg yolks
5 large egg whites
90 g Gruyère cheese, coarsely grated
20 g mature Cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
10 g Parmesan cheese, finely grated

Special equipment: 6-cup soufflé dish (18 cm in diameter, 8.5 cm height), hand-held mixer

Butter generously (with the 10 g of butter) the bottom and sides of the soufflé dish using upward strokes. Sprinkle half of the Parmesan cheese inside the dish to lightly cover it and then tap out the excess. Gather the excess cheese and put it with the rest of the Parmesan.

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius and position the rack in the middle of the oven.

In a small saucepan, add the milk and bring it to the boil.
In a medium saucepan, add the butter (the 55 g) and melt over medium heat. When it starts to foam, add the flour and stir continuously with a wooden spoon. This mixture is called a "roux". When the roux starts to foam, after about 1 ½ minutes, remove the saucepan from the heat. Be careful not to burn the roux. It should not brown at all.
Let it stand for 1 minute, then add the boiling milk and, using a wire whisk, beat vigorously until blended. There shouldn't be any lumps. Add the salt, the black and cayenne pepper and the nutmeg and beat again.
Return the saucepan to the heat (medium-high heat) and continue to whisk the sauce until it comes to the boil. You will now have a very thick sauce.
Remove from the heat and start adding one egg yolk at a time, whisking continuously after each addition. After you have beaten in all four egg yolks, put saucepan aside. This is now the base of your soufflé.

In a large stainless steel bowl, add all the egg whites with a pinch of salt and start beating them with the hand-held mixer. Start by beating at low speed until the egg whites start to foam and then continue to beat at high speed until you have stiff peaks and the egg whites are shiny.

Empty the sauce (which must be lukewarm by now) in a large bowl and add 1/3 of the whipped egg whites to lighten the soufflé base. Using a wire whisk, blend the egg whites into the sauce. Add the Gruyère and Cheddar cheese to the mixture and whisk gently. Empty the rest of the egg whites into the mixture and, using a rubber spatula, fold them in carefully but quickly so that they don't lose the incorporated air. It's ok if there are small patches of unblended egg whites in there. The point is not to overmix thus deflating the egg whites.

Transfer the batter to the prepared soufflé dish and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese. Place the dish in the middle rack of the oven and turn the temperature of the oven immediately down to 190 degrees Celsius. Let the soufflé bake for 25-30 minutes until it puffs up and becomes golden brown on top. Do not open the oven door before that.

Once ready, take it out of the oven and serve immediately because it will soon collapse.


  1. SHHHHHHH!! this turned beautifully!! Tres bien!

  2. I haven't made a cheese souffle for ages - thanks for the reminder about simple good food. I like the idea about imagining the people who make the dishes...especially the handsome souvlaki man!

  3. Beautiful Magda! You just made me real hungry. Cool new header too by the way.

  4. My mother used to make us a cheese soufflé so it's such a special dish for me. I must admit to being to scared at attempting it but yours looks so magnificent that I'm going to take the plunge. Absolutely wonderful and super photos too. Love your idea of having stories about related to the names of dishes.

  5. Lately I had been dreaming about making a soufflé; a cheese one to be exact. I have had the sweet ones, but I much prefer the classic cheese one. Thanks to you I am now more motivated to make it again; it is pure enjoyment to eat one of those with a salad and a glass of good wine, isn'it?

  6. What an amazing souffle and I'm really jealous of your eggs over there. I have never made souffle before, but when I do, I'm linking to you.

  7. What a beautiful souffle Magda and now I am hungry and salivating and trying to cut down on the calories. If only it had less calories :)

  8. Belinda — thanks

    Sally — you're gonna have to visit Greece then ;)

    mykitchendiaries — thank you

    Vanessa — you have to give this a try. It's not that difficult and it surely need not be intimidating.

    tasteofbeirut — it is Joumana, yes. The perfect combination if you ask me :)

    Anna — do try it

    Ivy — if only my dear Ivy, if only :)

  9. Vibrant imagination you have, and lots and lots of patience in the kitchen. I don't think I lack the patience but maybe the time right now.... but one day I'll have it again, or else I'll have little hands to help me whip the egg whites. Beautiful!

  10. I haven't made cheese souffle for such a long time!! Your looks amazing.

  11. thanks for your tips! I am about to improve my souffle skills as well, just because I am attracted by dishes with a bad reputation, and, actually, also because I'm jealous: your souffle looks delicious.

  12. What fabulous tutorials you put together here, fantastic. I haven't made a souffle for ages, but I love the little soft airy beauties to bits, you've inspired me to make one again soon. Thanks for sharing :)

  13. I felt the same way as you about foreign food when I attempted making your saragli. And by the way, I love that you imagine all kinds of beautiful women cooking their national dishes only to imagine a real Greek hunk when it came to your cuisine hehe (oh, except for the chubby French chef, but that doesn't count!). Great job with the souffle.

  14. Nicole — little hands helping in the kitchen are the best :)

    Ahn — thank you

    Caffettiera — I love dishes with bad reputation as well ;)

    Anna Johnston — thank you

    Nuts about food — hehe I imagine the Greek hunk eating the food but not preparing it. A glimpse into my psyche there ;)

  15. Wonderful post, full of great information. In the past I've felt intimidated to try this, but I am feeling a bit inspired now :D
    *kisses* HH

  16. beautiful souffle, Magda. You are sure to inspire many to make this dish,
    which has intimidated people for ages. Like many things in life--easy when you know how!

  17. Food is a very romantic subject-it is only natural that you have visuals.
    Your souffles look divine. Cheers to you! Cheers to the souffle.


  18. What a lovely rise! Like the perfect textures Souffle' of yours.

  19. Lovely souffles and thanks for the great tips!

  20. Cocoa & Lavender — thanks

    Heavenly Housewife — I felt the same way until I tried it. Now I'm thinking why I've waited this long

    Nancy — yes, exactly :)

    Velva — welcome and thanks!

    Sanjeeta — thank you

    A busy nest — thanks for stopping by

  21. Oooh, la la! Looks fantastic ... just as a souffle should. Although, I have never made one here at home.

  22. I love souffle, be it savoury or sweet. Yours look so light and perfect!

  23. Your souffle looks perfect! I made souffle quite a few times but with very little success, maybe only once?

  24. That looks perfectly fluffy and light!

  25. As always, great step - by step instructions. How do you find time for that ?
    We made cheese souffles twice lately, but we've served it with some savory dips and little sauces on side.

  26. I've only just discovered your blog, but I really enjoyed reading through some of your older posts, and can't wait to try a souffle - I need courage!

  27. Dear Magda, I’ve got three forms, each round in shape, 14 cm in diameter, 7 cm in height and 600 ml in volume. I need three such forms to be filled with baked soufflé up to the top (for 3 persons). I guess I need to take 3 times as many products as you state in the recipe? I mean 15 eggs, 165 g of butter, 750 g of milk and so on? Or maybe 2 times?

    I’m preparing the soufflé tomorrow. Hope you’ll see my question today))


    1. Hi Xenia! The recipe for this souffle is for one large one, enough for 4-6 people. I would suggest you make the amount written here and divide it among your three forms. Good luck!!

  28. Dear Magda, thank you for this awesome recipe. The quantity of products you mention in the recipe is absolutely enough for three forms!!! Perfect!

    My soufflé fell a little bit after a few minutes but it didn’t affect the taste, I guess. We are very pleased!

    1. You are very welcome. I'm glad you enjoyed it. All soufflés fall after a few minutes. It looks great!