A soufflé is a light, fluffy, baked cake made with egg yolks and beaten egg whites combined with various other ingredients and served as a savory main dish or sweetened as a dessert. The word soufflé is the past participle of the French verb souffler which means “to blow up” or more loosely “puff up” — an apt description of what happens to this combination of custard and egg whites.
Every soufflé is made from 2 basic components:
- a French Creme patissiere base/flavored cream sauce or purée
- egg whites beaten to a soft peak meringue
The base provides the flavour and the whites provide the “lift”. Foods commonly used for the base in a soufflé include jam, fruits, berries, chocolate, banana and lemon (the last three are used for desserts, often with a good deal of sugar). When it comes out of the oven, a soufflé should be puffed up and fluffy, and will generally fall after 5 or 10 minutes (as risen dough does).
Soufflés can be made in containers of all shapes and sizes but it is traditional to make soufflé in ramekins. These containers vary greatly in size, but are typically glazed white, flat-bottomed, round porcelain containers with unglazed bottoms and fluted exterior borders.
There are a number of variations on the soufflé theme. One is an ice cream soufflé, which combines a soufflé with ice cream and either a fruit or a hot sauce.
Another kind of dish entirely is souflé potatoes, which are puffed-up sauté potato slices, traditionally served with a chateaubriand steak.
Because of its tendency to fall rather quickly, the soufflé has been displayed in many forms of media, especially cartoons and children’s programs, as very difficult to survive outside the oven for more than a short time. Some jest that a poke or a loud noise will make a soufflé collapse (and with it, the pretentions of the cook).