Soufflé’s reputation of “French restaurant sophistication” often intimidates most people not to make it at home. When I serve it (whether savory or sweet) I’m always greeted with a very impressed crowd at the table. It is indeed a special dish, due to its delicate texture and time-sensitive presentation. However, what most people don’t know is that soufflé is quite simple to make; the only challenge (if any) is timing, as it needs to be served immediately to fully enjoy the presentation and reason it got its name. Soufflé comes from the French verb souffler (which can be translated as “to puff up”) and is best enjoyed right out of the oven, while it retains its shape for a somewhat short moment (in fact, it barely lasted for this post’s photo session).
Perhaps the most daunting factor of attempting to make soufflé at home is the thought that it is a time-sensitive, temperamental and often unpredictable dish that may or may not rise. That, in fact, is relative depending on ingredients used, temperature cooked, and amount made. Some soufflés rise well above the dish for a beautiful display; while others have a more modest rise depending also on how much mixture is poured into the dish before baking.
There are many versions of soufflé recipes; which adds an additional component of confusion for someone making it for the first time. Most recipes call for the traditional “base” (or roux) of flour and butter with the addition of hot milk before adding the eggs and flavoring ingredient(s); some use more egg whites than egg yolks; and others use equal amounts of whites to yolks. Soufflé should be baked at high heat though given temperatures of “high heat” often vary per recipe. Some recipes are also inconsistent with how to prepare the mold/ramekin dish prior to baking. So which recipe to try? Which works best? The short answer is: they all work, that is the beauty of making soufflé; it’s more fail-proof than people know.
The science behind the soufflé
The reason a soufflé rises is due to water molecules evaporating from the mixture while cooking in high heat and causing the soufflé to puff up. The egg whites play an important role in this process since they are beaten to stiff peaks and carefully incorporated into the mixture providing more isolated water molecules than if beaten with the egg yolks.
Adding cream of tartar (potassium bitartrate; a byproduct of winemaking) to the egg whites changes their pH and helps stabilize the egg whites while beating them to form stiff peaks -making them more tolerant to high temperatures and maintaining volume while cooking. This process also simulates the chemical reaction of egg whites beaten in a copper bowl; the gold standard method.
More detailed scientific description of this process can be found in the article by Hervé This on the history of soufflé (article in French): Chimie des aliments et du gout: Histoire de soufflés.
About this recipe
Despite having a light and delicate texture, most soufflé recipes are anything but light in terms of calories and fat. I looked through many french recipes and experimented with different versions to achieve my final result. What I discovered is that soufflé is a little more flexible than I had previsoulsy given it credit. Most chocolate soufflé recipes call for the roux base; others omit this base and add butter and milk to the chocolate; while some use only cocoa powder or chocolate with milk; and yet others use a combination of all the above. I wanted to simplify the method of making souffé by using few ingredients as possible; that way I could also make the recipe a little lighter without much sacrifice on substitutions. This recipe is also gluten-free if using gluten-free chocolate.
I experimented with different proportions of egg yolks to egg whites: more egg whites than yolk, equal amount of whites to yolk and even using just eggs whites. Some recipes call for as many as 10 eggs! So I decided to experiment with my own proportion of egg yolks to whites, and add as much chocolate as I thought could work. I did not add any butter or sugar to the mixture, only to the dish/ramekin to help the soufflé rise. You can add a bit of liquor (rum, cognac or Grand Marnier would be wonderful), or use semisweet/milk chocolate instead of bittersweet/dark chocolate. Likewise you can use bittersweet/dark chocolate and add some sugar to sweeten it. I wanted my souffé to be light, low in sugar and have an intense chocolate flavor. I provide some additional suggestions below.
Easy Chocolate Soufflé (Low fat)
Serves 6 medium (1/3 cup) or 8 small (1/4 cup) ramekin servings
Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Cook time: 6-8 minutes
Cooking temperature: 400°F (200°C)
- 4 eggs, separated (use 4 egg whites and 3 egg yolks)
- 4 oz (115g) good quality chocolate (bittersweet/dark or semisweet/milk chocolate)
- 7 Tablespoons (100ml) milk
- 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar (see above “the science behind the soufflé”)
- Powdered (confectioner’s) sugar for decoration
Additional ingredients (optional) all tested and approved:
- 1 Tablespoon of sugar (if you use bittersweet chocolate and prefer a sweeter soufflé)
- ½ teaspoon of orange zest
- ½ teaspoon of unsweetened cocoa powder (for an extra intense chocolate flavor)
- Substitute 1 tablespoon of milk for rum, cognac, or Grand Marnier
For the mold/ramekin:
- ¼ Tablespoon butter
- 2 Tablespoons sugar (the sugar helps the soufflé not stick to the ramekin and rise, but this can be omitted if you prefer a sugar-free soufflé)
- Preheat oven at 400°F (200°C).
- Melt the butter and brush it on the inside of ramekins. Place sugar in ramekin and swirl to coat the inside; transfer the leftover sugar to another ramekin and repeat until all ramekins are buttered and sugar coated.
- Melt the chocolate and milk over a double boiler (place chocolate and milk in bowl over a pot of steaming water; do not let bowl touch the water). Stir until smooth and melted.
- Once chocolate is melted add one egg yolk at a time and mix well. Set aside.
- Beat egg whites and cream of tartar until egg whites form stiff peaks.
- Carefully add 1/3 of the beaten egg whites to the chocolate mixture. Fold in the rest of the egg whites carefully mixing it with the chocolate mixture until well combined; do not over mix.
- Bake at the lower rack of the oven for 6-8 minutes or until the soufflé rises and is cooked at the top. Watch it carefully the first time you make this recipe so you do not burn or overcook the soufflé.
- Sprinkle powdered sugar on top and serve immediately.
You can make this recipe ahead of time and store it covered in the refrigerator until ready to bake. Enjoy!