After last week’s post about making flourless chocolate cake, I’ve had a couple requests for a souffle how-to. So here is my list of tips for making the perfect souffle. I could also call this my list of everything I’ve ever done wrong to make a not-perfect souffle. Hopefully my mistakes are your gain.
Don’t be scared that there is a list. If your oven is the right temp (buy an inexpensive oven thermometer if you need to check) and you know what to look for as you go (read through my list once), you can pull off a beautiful souffle with dramatic height that will make everyone at your table think you are a culinary master. Doesn’t that sound worth it? I’ve included my killer chocolate souffle recipe at the end, and I promise, if you try it once or twice you’ll be ready to make it for anyone.
A good souffle is all about the drama. Make sure everyone is at the table, ready for presentation of the souffle right from the oven, while it is light and airy and heavenly.
You can prep your souffle in advance. As long as your kitchen is not too warm, the souffle can sit at room temp for up to half hour before you bake. You can also prep most souffles a day in advance and leave them in the fridge, just invert a bowl over the top. When you’re ready to bake, put it straight in the oven.
I’m told you can also freeze a souffle dish full of batter, and put the souffle straight from the freezer to the oven. How fun would it be to have a row of ramekin-size souffles in the freezer, waiting to be popped in the oven any day you need a pick me up?
Ingredient and Equipment Prep
No farm fresh eggs. Eggs that are too fresh will not hold air as well as those that have been around for a while.
Eggs need to be at room temperature. Take your eggs out of the fridge at least an hour and up to a day in advance. Eggs are easier to separate when cold, so separate them into bowls first, then cover with plastic wrap so the wrap touches the surface of the egg. Leave the bowls on the counter until you’re ready to cook.
I have a little secret. I almost always add an extra egg white. I’m telling you, I’m all about getting that dramatic height.
Once you’ve buttered your souffle dish and sprinkled it with flour, sugar, or crumbs, put the dish in the fridge while you make the batter.
The bowl you beat your whites in must be clean. The smallest streak of grease will ruin any chance your eggs had of whipping up properly. Use glass or metal, not plastic, which can hold onto grease.
You can add a collar to your souffle if you’re concerned about too much height and your souffle going lopsided, or if you want to fill past the brim. Take a piece of parchment paper long enough to wrap all the way around your dish, fold it in half lengthwise so it is stiffer, and tie it around the outside of the dish with bakers twine so it rises about two inches above the rim.
Mise en place. Make sure you have every ingredient measured and ready before you start. You need to work quickly from the moment you start beating those eggs. No time for digging through the drawer for a measuring spoon.
Making the souffle
Know your peaks. Soft peaks flop over from the base and are a little foamy (see pic below). Stiff peaks are glossy stand so only the tips fall over. But they still look moist, and will usually slip a little if you tilt the bowl. If your whites are dull instead of shiny, they’re overbeaten. Err on the side of under whipping. Over whipped whites are inflexible and cannot inflate as your souffle bakes.
To check for stiff peaks, I use the old fashioned trick of setting a new egg right on top of my whites as soon I think they’re stiff. If the whites can hold the weight of the egg, at it sinks no further than half the height of the egg, I stop whipping. If the egg sinks to the bottom, I whip another 30 seconds, rinse and dry my egg, and try again.
Be certain your base is cooled to room temp or close before you fold it into the egg whites. A base that is too warm will deflate egg whites.
Your base needs to be loose enough so it can easily fold into your whites. If it looks like putty, take a glance at your recipe and see what you can add to dilute it just enough to make it foldable.
Always fold a quarter of your whites into your base first to loosen it up, before you go folding in the rest of the whites.
Don’t over fold. It will deflate your whites. No need to fold until everything is perfectly combined. Streaks are okay. Just make sure there are not big lumps of base that have not been folded in.
I fill my souffle dishes to the brim or one inch below. Like I said, I like a nice, tall souffle.
To help your souffle to rise evenly, run your thumb along the outer edge of the dish, about a half inch deep or so, before you bake.
If you have a convection option on your oven, turn it off. Your souffle will start out looking great, but then will deflate after a few minutes.
I preheat my oven to 25 degrees higher than the suggested baking temperature. Then I drop to the suggested temp as I put the souffle in the oven. It helps the crust puff at the beginning and gives the batter on the inside something to climb.
Do not open the oven for the first 3/4 of baking time. And when you open to check for doneness after that, be quick about it.
Your soufflé is done when the top crust is golden and firm, but the souffle jiggles just a bit when you give it a gentle shake.
When in doubt, check with a knife or skewer. No use going to all that trouble and then serving a souffle that is half batter. Insert a skewer or knife into the center and make sure it comes out clean, with no wet batter clinging on.
You can make almost any souffle in individual ramekins instead of a larger dish. Just reduce baking time by about 8 minutes and be vigilant.
When you serve your souffle, make a big deal about it. Seriously. It’s a souffle. Serving it and eating it should feel important. Carry it carefully to the table, and use two spoons to break a slit open in the top. Watch as the steam escapes and your guests anticipate the first bite. If you have a sauce, pour it right in that slit. As you serve, dig down and give each serving a piece of the crisp crust and a piece of the creamy inside.
Once you’ve made your souffle, take a moment to think about what you might improve for next time. If your crust was too tough, your oven was probably too hot. If your souffle did not rise, your oven was probably not hot enough. Take a moment to jot down notes for next time.
eggs are easier to separate while they’re still cold from the fridge, but need to be at room temp before you begin
I like to fill my souffle dish to the brim. you can also add a collar and fill it even higher
this is a souffle I baked with a collar, I usually opt to go without, just because I like the rough, organic edges when the souffle rises without a collar
soft peaks will flop over at the top, these whites are just a little stiffer than I like mine for soft peaks
stiff peaks will be glossy and just the top of the peak will fall over, if your whites become flakey or dry looking, they are over whipped
I like to check my stiff peaks by gently setting an egg on top, if the whites support the weight of the egg, they are ready
My favorite way to fold is to gently plunge my spatula (use a large rubber/silicone spatula) into the middle of the batter, then come up scraping the side of the bowl and lifting the batter. Then I give the bowl a quarter turn and repeat until I’m satisfied. I always prefer to leave a few streaks rather than over fold
24-26 min at 375 F
Here is the chocolate souffle recipe I’ve tweaked over the years. I’ve tried a lot of chocolate souffle recipes I didn’t love. This one I love. I like to use semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, 64% or higher, usually Scharffen Berger or Valrhona if I’m trying to impress anyone.
Mixer and beating attachment
Clean rubber spatula
Souffle dish or ramekins (any oven safe dish with sides that go straight up)
7 large egg whites, room temperature
3 large egg yolks, room temperature
5 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 tbsp butter, room temperature, plus more for prepping souffle dish
1/8 tsp salt
1/3 cup sugar, plus extra for prepping souffle dish
1. At least an hour and up to a day before, remove eggs from fridge and separate (they separate easier while they’re still cold). Cover with plastic wrap that is touching the surface of the egg. Allow eggs to come to room temperature.
2. When you’re ready to bake, preheat oven to 400 F.
3. Prepare souffle dish or ramekins. Generously butter then sprinkle with sugar. Knock out excess. Place dishes in the fridge until you’re ready to fill them.
4. Beat yolks on medium until thick and pale yellow (I like to do this with my hand mixer in a small bowl. I just feel better using a different beater than I use for my whites, so I am sure I don’t have any yolk on the beater when I whip my whites. But just cleaning your beater and bowl well will work too.)
5. Melt your chocolate over a double boiler or in the microwave (see more details than you will ever need about melting chocolate right here). I always melt in the microwave for simple baking. Dump chocolate into a microwavable bowl, preferably not glass because that conducts too much heat. Cook one minute on half power. Remove and stir. Continue cooking for 30 seconds at a time on half power, stirring between, until chocolate is melted. Stir until melted. Add butter and salt and stir until fully combined. If butter will not fully melt, it’s okay to put everything back in the microwave for 15 seconds longer (at half power again).
6. Fold yolks into chocolate until fully combined.
7. Are you ready to whip those whites? Make sure you have a perfectly clean, dry mixing bowl. Whip on medium-high until the whites form soft peaks.
8. Add the sugar half at a time, beating for a few seconds after each addition. Beat until whites are shiny and form stiff peaks. Do not over beat. If you over beat, your whites will become rigid and won’t be able to expand in the oven and rise to form the perfect, ethereal souffle.
9. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold about a quarter of the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture until fully combined. Spoon the remaining whites on top and fold until mostly combined. Don’t over fold here. It’s okay to leave a few streaks.
10. Spoon the batter into the prepared souffle dish and smooth the top. I also run my thumb along the outer edge of the dish, about a half inch deep or so, to allow the souffle to rise evenly.
11. Reduce the oven temp to 375.
12. Bake until the crust is browned, but the middle jiggles slightly when you gently shake, about 24 to 26 minutes (about 16 minutes for individual-sized ramekins).
13. Serve immediately to your table full of admiring guests.