No other dessert besides the souffle can make a dining experience more memorable. The French cook Vincent de la Chapelle is first credited with inventing this dish while the famous French chef Marie-Antoine Careme is responsible for making the souffle famous after the French Revolution.
A traditional French souffle– the French verb souffler means to puff or breathe air — is a baked egg dish made with egg yolks and beaten egg whites. It can be served savory as a main dish, or sweetened and served as a dessert.
A souffle is basically prepared from two components: a creme patissiere, cream sauce or bechamel, or puree base; and egg whites beaten to soft peaks. When folded together, the two items create a light, airy souffle.
The base will give the souffle its basic flavor and the egg whites provide the lift. For savory souffles, the addition of herbs, cheese and vegetables are commonly used. For dessert souffles, the addition of jams, fruit, chocolate or other sweets are added. Typically, each is served with a sauce.
About 5-10 minutes after it has risen for the full length of time in the oven, a souffle will deflate. What goes up, must come down. But several factors can play a part as to why the souffle may not even rise at all. It is plain chemistry and physics.
- The yolks have protein and fat in them, and the whites are pure protein. If you get some of the fat in the protein (some yolk in the whites), that will hinder the aeration of the whites. No amount of yolk can be present when beating egg whites.
- The egg whites must be room temperature. Don’t let them sit out for hours in a hot kitchen. Thirty minutes is enough time for them to come to room temperature.
- The whites won’t whip as high if the bowl is even slightly dirty. Some chefs use lemon juice to clean a bowl completely. If they are even slightly cold, the volume won’t be there either.
- Whip to a firm peak, but not Denali mountain peaks. If they are too hard, the whipped whites will have a hard time folding into the base. The key to getting a souffle to rise is to get the whites just past the not-glossy stage.
Now comes the physics. The protein in the egg whites form a shield around the air bubbles. Remember blowing bubbles as a kid? This is exactly what is happening. The protein protects the bubbles, which are fragile. Not enough beating and they deflate quickly or you find liquid in the bottom of the bowl. (Nothing worse than that.) Over beating and you end up with a hard, over-worked meringue.
When beating the whites, try to have a continuous beating motion. Stopping and starting an electric beater is not the ideal way to beat egg whites; keep the motion continuous.
Once fully expanded, fold the whipped whites into the egg-yolk base with a spatula. (Don’t mix with a whip or you will deflate it.) Fold with lots of air by lifting the mixture straight up, higher than the meringue in the bowl, then over and under to incorporate into the base.
Now pan and bake. When it bakes the tiny air bubbles will expand, creating the risen effect you want in a souffle.
If you follow all the rules of the road for a souffle and it still does not rise, check the age of the eggs, verify the temperature of the oven is consistent, and always inspect the whites for any traces of yolk that might have mistakenly made their way into the egg whites.
Serve immediately after removing from the oven. Bon appetite.
Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years. Contact her through www.the-triton.com/author/chefmarybethlawtonjohnson.