Souffles have the reputation of being one of the chanciest and most temperamental of dishes, an operatic diva capable of breaking your heart at any moment for little or no reason. In truth, though they require some care, they’re a lot more forgiving than most cooks imagine. It’s even possible to make them ahead and rebake them when guests arrive to avoid the potential for last-minute drama.
Souffles get their lofty rise — and much of their temperamental reputation — from their use of egg whites. Any souffle consists of a relatively thick and intensely flavored base, lightened by folded-in egg whites. The base can be anything from a chocolate custard to a rich cheese sauce, depending on the recipe. When the souffle is baked, those egg whites expand into a puffy, billowy cloud and then set to a firm texture. The tricky stage is when the souffle is fully expanded but hasn’t yet set. If it’s jostled or punctured at that point, it will collapse into a sort of tasty but disappointingly flat frittata.
Savoury souffles typically use a base that’s thickened with starch, such as Bechamel sauce, which lends itself to baking and reheating. Sweet souffles are usually based on egg-thickened custards, and don’t fare as well when prepared ahead and reheated. Whichever type of souffle you’re preparing, the most important step comes at the end of your baking time. Your souffle is finished when the edges are set and the middle is barely jiggly. Let it cool gently in a warm place — you can even leave it in your oven with the door open and the heat off — until it’s completely set. If it cools too rapidly your souffle will deflate, and might not regain its full height when reheated.
Storing your Souffle
If you’ve baked a full-sized souffle, it should be stored in its dish to prevent damage. Allow it to cool completely, then place it inside a cake dome or other suitable container and refrigerate it. Alternatively, spray the surface lightly with pan spray and cover it with plastic film wrap. Individual souffles, baked in small ramekins, are more versatile. Run a knife around the ramekin and turn out the souffle, then wrap each one individually in plastic wrap. They can be refrigerated or frozen for later use. Individual souffles are especially handy as a dish for unexpected guests.
Rebaking your Souffle
Souffles must be thawed overnight in your refrigerator to ensure they’ll reach their full height when reheated. Microwave thawing is faster, but the souffles will bake unevenly afterwards. Let a full-sized souffle sit out at room temperature for at least 30 minutes, to speed reheating. That isn’t necessary with individual portions. Small souffles can be returned to their ramekins or reheated in a casserole, with a small amount of sauce drizzled over them so they don’t dry out. Full-sized souffles should be reheated in their baking dishes. Reheat small souffles at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 to 12 minutes, until puffy and hot. A full-sized souffle can take 25 to 30 minutes at 350 F.
References and ResourcesOn Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen; Harold McGee
Professional Cooking; Wayne Gisslen