There’s a pervasive myth that soufflés are fragile and fraught with disaster, ready to collapse with the slightest disturbance. But here’s the truth: They are neither complicated nor finicky. A soufflé will not collapse from loud noises or sudden movements.
The ideal soufflé has a dramatic rise above its dish, a crusty exterior cloaking an airy but substantial outer layer, and a rich, loose center that is not completely set. It also bursts with the pure flavor of the main ingredient in every bite. To achieve this ideal, we aren’t afraid to play around with the traditional béchamel base, making modifications like dialing back on flour and butter (which can mute flavor) and adding more of the star ingredients (like chocolate or cheese).
Convention insists that you whip egg whites to stiff peaks and incorporate them into the béchamel mixture with kid gloves in order to create maximum volume. But this makes a soufflé that’s too airy. With soft peaks, though, a soufflé turns out dense and squat. In a true Goldilocks moment, we realized that “medium” peaks are perfect. But unfortunately, there’s no good visual indicator for such a stage. So we found another way: beating the egg whites to stiff peaks and then combining them vigorously with the other ingredients, whipping out just enough air from the whites to break down some of their structure. This results in a perfectly risen soufflé with ideal consistency.
To simplify soufflés even more, rather than deal with the typical but fussy step of greasing a parchment collar and securing it around the lip of the dish to prevent oven overflow, simply leave an inch of headspace between the top of the batter and the lip of the dish. For a foolproof way to tell if your soufflé is done, take two large spoons, pull open the top of the soufflé, and peek inside. The center should be barely set. If it still looks soupy, return it to the oven. This in no way harms the soufflé. After all, a soufflé is not a balloon; it’s a matrix of
very fine bubbles. No tool can pop enough of them to cause it to fall.
1 Grease soufflé dish and coat with dusting of sugar or grated Parmesan; this helps batter rise higher by not adhering to side of dish.
2 Make sweet or savory soufflé batter.
3 Using stand mixer, whip egg whites and cream of tartar on medium-low speed until foamy. Increase speed to medium-high and whip until stiff peaks form.
4 Vigorously combine whipped whites (all or a portion, as directed) with batter mixture. If directed, fold in remaining whites.
5 Pour soufflé batter into prepared dish, leaving 1 inch headroom so batter can set before it rises above top of dish.
6 Bake soufflé until fragrant, risen above top of dish, and exterior is set. To check for doneness (just set but not soupy), use two large spoons to pull open the top of the soufflé and check inside.