Soufflé essentials

It is so often said that soufflés are challenging, precarious concoctions that will collapse pathetically like your dreams of a place on Masterchef if you so much as look at them funny. They’re not! I’ve never had a problem with them, sweet or savoury. It’s not as though I learned from a pro, or spent weeks perfecting my recipe, I just started doing them. It might have been a Delia book I referred to first time, but it’s so long ago I can’t remember.

So right here, with no formal training and absolutely no reason for you to trust me, I present my essential guide to doing a soufflé

It’s really quite simple
Take three eggs. Separate the whites and yolks. Whisk the whites until the froth forms stiff peaks, then whisk in a dessert spoon of caster sugar for another minute to make them shiny and sweet*. Beat

the yolks together with whatever you’re using for flavour and with enough sugar to make it sweet (maybe 2 dessert spoons). The whites make it rise and be fluffy, the yolks provide richness and flavour. So mix the two halves back together, put them in ramekins, and bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes at 170C. You know when they’re finished because they stop rising and the tops go a nice brown.

That’s it, really. Everything else is just useful tips, and warnings against what might go wrong.

Danger, Will Robinson!
So, what might go wrong? There must be a reason why soufflés are supposed to be scary.

First of all, your mixing bowl has to be clean and free of grease (or any fat) otherwise you won’t be able to whisk your whites into stiff peaks. This is also true if any yolk at all gets into the whites. Start again.

Beware of adding too much stuff to the yolks! In your quest for novelty and flavour (“wouldn’t it be nice if people found pieces of strawberry right through their soufflé?”) you will add too much wetness or acidity to the yolk mix and the whole thing will be a

flop. I’d say no more than 2 tbsp of stuff added to the yolks. You can always put some flavour in the bottom of the ramekin.

The way to recombine the whites and yolks is this: take 1 tbsp of the fluffy whites and mix it fairly well into the yolks. This sacrificial spoonful will lose most of its precious air, but will loosen up the yolk mix. Now add the rest of the whites and fold them in, do not beat or mix vigorously. It is much, much, much better to have a somewhat unmixed soufflé than to lose all the air in the whites by mixing too well.

Don’t disturb them while they rise. There is no need at all to touch the oven for the first 10 minutes. After that, if you suspect they’re done then you could have a quick peek. A nicely nutty brown is fine, especially if half a minute’s observation through the glass doesn’t show any more rising going on.

Ramekin tips
If a soufflé tastes good, I really don’t care if it has a lumpy top and has flopped sideways out of the ramekin. But if you want supermodel-perfect soufflés then I would do as follows:

  • Butter the sides of your ramekin and pour caster sugar in, swirling it around to make a coating. The soufflé will “climb” up this rough texture, and the little bit of sweetness at the edges is also nice when eating.
  • Slightly overfill the ramekin with mixture, then swipe a palette knife across the top. You should get a nice flat-topped soufflé now.
  • Run your little fingertip just around the inside of the ramekin rim, making a little groove. This helps prevent any of the soufflé edge from catching on the ramekin and rising unevenly.

Go forth and soufflé
Apart from a bowl of ice cream, there really are few quicker and easier desserts. We finished dinner the other night. I put the oven on to 170C, split three eggs into two bowls. Into the yolks I grated the zest of a lemon, added 2 dessertspoons of sugar and 2 dessertspoons of limoncello and a splash of lemon juice. I whisked the whites to stiff peaks, then whisked in a dessertspoon of sugar, mixed them back into the yolks, poured the mixture into four ramekins (with sugared sides). Into the oven, 12 minutes, out popped four nice lemony soufflés Probably 20 minutes start to finish. Stick a dollop of vanilla ice cream in the top when you eat ’em.

Your turn.

* – I’ve just read that a good pinch of cream of tartar will help stabilise whisked egg whites, something I must try next time. But, as I say, I’ve never had a flop without any help from tartar.

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