Don’t let souffles scare you. Yes, you have to get them in the oven as soon as you add the egg whites, and yes, you only have a few minutes to serve them before they collapse, but those tasks are easy — preheat the oven and don’t trip on the way to the table. Everything else is basic technique, and the technique is more important than the ingredients. A souffle is simply custard or bechamel sauce with egg whites folded into it, and sometimes with egg yolks added for enrichment. Complete the souffle in steps to achieve success.


Sweet

Chocolate is the most prolific sweet souffle — it’s a universally agreeable flavor and as easy to work into a souffle as any other ingredient. Flavor a souffle with any chocolate — dark, semi-sweet or white — if you can melt it you can blend it. Other sweet souffle bases to try include fruit preserves and vanilla.


Savory

Savory souffles are less temperamental than sweet souffles — they’re denser and thus have more stability. Cheese is used as the base ingredient in savory souffles — it holds other ingredients in place and goes with almost anything. You still want to keep the ingredients light and finely chopped so the souffle can rise. Cheese-based savory souffles to try include blue cheese and diced pears, spinach and Parmesan, and chevre and arugula.


Preparation

Butter the dish or dishes and heat the oven before you make the base. You can use any straight-sided dish — large or small. A souffle base made with 1 cup of milk makes enough souffle batter for one 6-cup souffle dish or six 1-cup dishes. Next, heat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.


Making the Base

You use the same technique to make both sweet and savory souffles. To make enough base for 6 cups of souffle, melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add 3 tablespoons of flour and cook for about 3 minutes. Stir in 1 cup of milk; if making a sweet souffle, add 1/2 cup of sugar, too. Bring the milk to a simmer, whisking constantly. Set the heat to low and add the flavorings: For a chocolate souffle, mix in 3/4 cup of chopped chocolate. For a cheese souffle, mix in 3/4 cup of cheese or a mixture of cheeses and a secondary ingredient, such as spinach or finely minced fruit. Transfer the base to a mixing bowl. You can make the base up to 24 hours ahead of baking the souffle.


Beating the Egg Whites

For 6 cups of souffle, you need 7 fresh eggs. Break the egg whites into a deep mixing bowl; you can mix as many as 4 of the reserved yolks into the souffle base to enrich it, if desired. Beat the whites until they are stiff and shiny, and hold a peak when you draw the whisk or electric mixer out of them. Add a teaspoon of lemon juice halfway through mixing to help the whites fluff.


Folding the Egg Whites

Folding — mixing whipped egg whites with the base until incorporated but not deflated — can make or break a souffle. Add one-third of the whites to the base — just drop them on top. Gently fold the whites into the base, turn the bowl a quarter turn to the right, and fold in the next one-third of whites. Repeat until you add all the whites.


Baking

Pour the batter in the prepared dish or cups, and place them in the oven. Turn the oven down to 325 F immediately after you place the souffle in. Bake the souffles for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick poked in the center comes out clean.