“I’m afraid I’ll make it and it will deflate.”
I’ve never quite understood the fear and awe people have about and for souffles. One, a souffle is simply an egg bake. It’s a vertical, airy one, but it’s an egg bake nonetheless, which if you think about it, isn’t really all that special. Yes, it looks pretty when it’s puffed, but if I had a dime for the number of times people have eaten a souffle for the first time and been disappointed because it’s just an airy egg bake, I’d be quite wealthy.
Two, somewhere along the line the myth arose and has been perpetuated that only the best of the best can keep a souffle from deflating and that if your souffle deflates, you are somehow a failure as a cook. The factual truth is that a souffle is going to deflate, no matter what you do or how good a cook you are. Julia Child’s souffles deflated. Really, they did. You can’t defy gravity, especially if you’re making an egg bake vertical instead of horizontal. You just can’t.
Why do you think the restaurants always bring souffles out immediately, straight from the oven and make the first cut into it within literal seconds of presenting the dish? Because they know it’s going to deflate, and they only have a few minutes to showcase it! I know, because I worked in restaurants and brought out those souffles!
Honestly, souffles are not difficult to make. They simply require some time and patience. A couple of hints to help with the cooking process, though:
1. Having your ingredients at room temperature: The airy texture of a souffle is achieved through the use of whipped egg whites, and egg whites whipped the best when they are warm, and the whipped eggs incorporate better into the other ingredients when they are warmer as opposed to cold.
2. Use the right baking dish: In order for a souffle to rise, a round, glass casserole dish which has a good depth to it with a straight edge is the best. Your souffle needs to rise upwards, so you don’t want to use a dish that is shallow or too long in diameter; and you want the dish to have a straight edge so the souffle has the support it needs while it rises. If you have a dish which is the right dimensions but doesn’t have a straight edge, you can insert parchment paper into the dish to create the straight edge you need.
I use a casserole dish which is 7 inches in diameter and 3 inches in depth/height to make a souffle which feeds a family of four to five. Often you’ll find that recipes call for you to use individual dishes, 6 or 8 ounces in size, because the smaller the souffle, the easier it is to rise. If you have enough little dishes, then by all means, use them. If you don’t, though, using a dish like the above works well.
3. Be sure to prepare your pan as needed: Because a souffle needs to rise, it is important that you provide something for the souffle to stick to as it rises. Most of the time, your recipe will call for you to grease the pan and then coat it with an ingredient like bread crumbs. This is because the bread crumbs are coarse enough to provide texture for the souffle to cling to as it rises.
4. Keep your ingredients lightweight, small and dry: If you are making a vegetable souffle, it is best to finely chop your ingredients so they can easily incorporate into the eggs without weighing them down. I often make a souffle when I have leftover cooked vegetables and/or meats I want to use up. I simply plop the leftovers into my food processor and chop them into small pieces for use. If your ingredients are excessively wet, squeeze the liquid out, because wet ingredients are heavier than dry.
5. Be creative with your spices and herbs: Souffles are simply eggs mixed with whatever your filling is, so any flavor you want will come from the spices and herbs you add. Sometimes people are hesitant to try something besides salt and pepper with their eggs, but the addition of chives or tarragon or nutmeg or thyme creates a savory taste which complements eggs really well.
6. Use cream of tartar: When whipping egg whites, a little bit of cream of tartar goes a long way. Cream of tartar is an acid which helps your whipped egg whites to hold their proper form and shape as needed. Many times if folks have a problem with their souffles it is because they overwhipped their eggs, and the eggs began to lose their hold. The cream of tartar helps to prevent that loss of hold if you do accidentally overwhip. If cream of tartar isn’t something you have on hand, lemon juice or vinegar will do the same trick.
7. Use equipment properly: When whisking egg whites, you need to make sure your bowl is absolutely clean and dry. Even a tiny amount of water or stuck on food can make a difference in how well your eggs beat up. Also, if your mixer has a special wire whisk attachment for eggs, use that instead of the regular beater. The wire whisk allows for more air to be incorporated into the egg whites.
8. Know when to stop: When you begin whisking egg whites, they will be liquidy and clear. As the eggs begin to incorporate air and the protein strands begin to uncoil, your eggs will turn white and foamy, will double in size and will become stiffer. When you can lift your whisk and the egg whites stick out at a 45 degree angle like a little wave, your eggs are done.
9. Be patient with the egg whites: When you incorporate the egg whites into your vegetable mixture, you want to take your time. Add the egg whites a little at a time, and gently fold the whites into the mixture, using a simple S method: You gently run a curved spatula around the sides of the bowl, gathering up a bit of the egg whites and gently scoop down the center to mix the egg whites into the mixture. You repeat this slowly until all the egg whites are incorporated into the mixture.
10. Think lighter: The one thing about souffles is that they often use a lot of eggs, and as we all know, too many yolks are not always the healthiest for us to eat. I usually use just a couple of whole eggs and the rest is liquid egg whites, and the result is still a nice souffle which has less cholesterol and calories and fat.
11. Don’t skip the sauce: Most souffle recipes require that you mix your vegetable and/or meat ingredients into a cream sauce. Folks can be tempted to skip this to save on calories or because of worry about allergies. Don’t. The sauce coats the vegetables and allows it to incorporate more easily into the egg mixture. I have found that you can use any type of milk that works for you and that you can lighten the sauce by omitting the use of oil.
12. Be realistic: If you follow all the tips, your souffle will puff up beautifully while cooking and will come out of the oven nice and tall, but know that within minutes, gravity will take over and slowly the souffle will fall. Just enjoy those few moments and the taste of the dish itself as you eat!
1 cup cooked, finely chopped mixed vegetables, drained or squeezed of any excess liquid (I use leftovers from other meals like spinach, zucchini, mushrooms, etc…)
1 tbsp minced onions
2 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup liquid egg whites, at room temperature
1 cup “milk” (soy, flax, rice, cow: all work)
2 tbsp “flour” (sorghum, oat, garbanzo bean, whole wheat, etc…)
1 tsp mixed herbs and spices (I like to mix tarragon, thyme, black pepper, and nutmeg – 1/4 tsp of each)
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a casserole dish 7 inch in diameter and 3 inch in height with your favorite method (olive oil, vegan butter, etc…) and coat the dish well with bread crumbs. (I use Ian’s gluten free bread crumbs or make my own in the food processor with Udi’s gluten free bread.)
2. Mix the finely chopped vegetables with the minced onions and set aside. (Be sure to squeeze out any excess liquid from the vegetables.)
3. Separate the yolks from the whites of the two whole eggs, and add the yolks to the vegetable mixture. Add the whites to the liquid egg whites. You should have 3/4 cup of egg whites for your use.
4. In a large, shallow pan, mix the milk with the flour and herbs and/or spice choices, whisking well to incorporate the flour and seasonings into the milk.
4. Cook the milk mixture over medium low heat, stirring continually, until the mixture begins to thicken. Should only take about five minutes in a large, shallow pan.
5. Stir the vegetable mixture into the sauce and allow the mixture to cool slightly.
6. Put the liquid egg whites into a clean mixing bowl and stir in the cream of tartar. Using the wire whisk attachment to your mixer, whisk your eggs until the whites double in size, are foamy and white, and when you pick up the whisk, the eggs are stiff, tilting to a 45 degree angle.
7. Slowly add the egg whites to the vegetable mixture, incorporating a little at a time, using a curve spatula and moving gently in an S motion, around the edge, down the center, until all the egg white is mixed into the vegetables.
8. Gently spoon the souffle mixture into your prepared dish, and carefully tap the dish once or time to level it.
9. Bake in the preheated oven for about 40 minutes. The souffle will have risen and be puffed, dry and firm, no longer wet.
10. Remove and serve immediately.