Fear-mongering abounds when it comes to creating soufflés: “Don’t overmix the batter, or they won’t rise.” “If you open or smash the oven door, the items will tumble out.” “If you overbake them, they will get dry.” “Eat them immediately, or they will spoil!”
All of this may discourage a home baker from making soufflés, which would be unfortunate. Soufflés are one of the most exquisite and high-reward sweets, yet they are really less time-consuming and simpler to prepare than those cautions would have you assume.
Soufflés, which consist of a flavorful foundation lightened with beaten egg whites and baked to a consistency like a cloud, need a certain level of technical expertise, beginning with a grasp of egg whites.
When egg whites are beaten, the albumin proteins inside them denature (meaning that the bonds that hold them together break down). These denatured proteins capture air bubbles and hold water, resulting in the formation of foam. This foam is then folded into the soufflé foundation, and the expansion of the small air bubbles in the oven causes the batter to rise.
Since egg white froth is naturally unstable and begins to collapse nearly instantly, soufflé preparation focuses heavily on keeping as much air as possible.
For a more stable foam, begin with older eggs, ideally from a supermarket rather than a farmer’s market, since extremely fresh egg whites are more difficult to whip. While the egg yolks and whites are still cool, separate them. (Cold yolks are less likely to break and leave traces of fat in the whites, which will inhibit foam development.) Then, let the egg whites to reach room temperature before beating them in a pristine bowl. Avoid plastic dishes, since the material might retain fatty residue.
Once the egg whites are opaque and frothy – waiting until this stage allows them to reach their maximum volume – gently incorporate the sugar while continuing to beat the whites. This assists in stabilisation and lowers the possibility of over-beating. Then, continue beating until the egg whites are glossy and form firm peaks. Any less may leave the whites drooping and formless, resulting in thick soufflés that collapse fast, while any more may result in clumpy whites that are difficult to integrate, resulting in dry soufflés.
If stiffly beaten egg whites give a soufflé its characteristic lightness, the flavorful foundation, which is often yolk-enriched, gives it structure and stability. Typically, pastry cream is used in sweet soufflés, whereas béchamel is used in savoury ones.
While other gluten-free chocolate soufflés depend only on melted chocolate for structure, this recipe asks for a thin pastry cream thickened with a little of flour and flavoured with chocolate and cocoa powder. The gluten in the wheat provides the soufflés with just enough structure to sustain them without masking the chocolate taste. The fat from the egg yolks, chocolate, and milk will hasten the decomposition of the egg foam, so carefully fold the batter and work swiftly after it has been constructed.
Then, remove the ramekins. Compared to a single bigger pot, their combined surface area is greater, resulting in more even and consistent cooking.
Because egg white foam is sticky, the ramekins must be well-greased and sugar-coated to avoid the batter from adhering to the edges during baking, which might result in soufflés with domes and cracks. Apply a liberal layer of butter at room temperature to the inside and outside of the baking vessels, making upward strokes along the edges to promote the batter’s rise. Additionally, butter the rims, since this is where the batter is most likely to adhere. A last sprinkling of sugar helps the batter rise because the crystals serve as grips.
Taking a few precautions during construction will result in soufflés with flat tops and tall, straight edges, making them as aesthetically pleasing as anything you might get at an exclusive French restaurant. Completely fill the ramekins with batter, then scrape off any extra with a straightedge to create a flat surface. In the oven, ramekins packed to the brim with a properly produced batter should double in height. Then, after sugaring the tops, run your finger over the inside rims to remove the batter. This last technique prevents sticking and helps the soufflés rise in a straight line. After an initial burst of heat from a hot oven stimulates their rise, they are cooked at a reduced temperature to enable the cores to cook before the sides get too dry.
Determining doneness may be difficult since the gap between undercooked and runny and overdone and dry is narrow. The best test is to lightly push the cores of the soufflés with a finger and feel for a little springiness, which indicates that the eggs are just about to set. Serve the soufflés immediately after removing them from the oven, but keep in mind that correct whipping of the egg whites and a modest quantity of flour in the foundation give them excellent stability, so collapse is inevitable but not imminent.
Soufflé preparation is unquestionably fussy, but don’t let this dissuade you. A technically flawed chocolate soufflé is nevertheless delicious, and your guests are unlikely to notice if you underbeat the egg whites or leave the soufflés in the oven for an extra minute.
You’re not risking anything in terms of time or materials, and although the possibility for errors is significant, so is the potential for success.