Souffle used to be the piece de resistance at formal dinner parties but its perceived difficulty and the required last minute preparation has seen it drop from favour. Now it's a special treat reserved for special occasions at restaurants.
Guy Grossi thinks soufflé has been on the menu at his Melbourne restaurant Florentino's for at least 25 years. It was already a fixture when Grossi took over the iconic restaurant in 1999 and on most nights restaurant manager Joe Durrant says three quarters of the dining room will choose it for dessert. Why the devotion? As well as being a French classic, Florentino's version is made with fine Valrhona chocolate and served in a charming copper pot with rich chocolate sauce and malt ice-cream on the side. Light as air, yet delightfully rich, it's close to being the perfect dessert.
Grossi Florentino's soufflé rarely changes and the chocolate version remains the most popular, although the staff will make other versions on request if they are able to.
That soufflé is difficult to make is a bit of a myth, especially now that so many home cooks have reliable ovens and mixers. In Michael Ruhlman's The Elements of Cooking he writes "souffles are less fragile and difficult than their reputation suggests" and the technique simply "takes advantage of egg whites ability to trap bubbles of air". If you can make a pavlova or a batch of meringues, soufflé will be easy.
While the basic idea of mixing beaten egg whites with a custard or flavour base and baking in a hot oven until it has risen is quite simple, there are a few key places where the wisdom of an experienced chef can help ensure your soufflé will be a success. Guy Grossi kindly shared his fail-safe tips and a recipe with us.
Always use the best quality ingredients you can find. For a chocolate soufflé this means a really, rich dark cocoa. Guy Grossi recommends Dutch cocoa but any high quality cocoa will do as well. Its important that the cocoa is dark and rich as the chocolate base is diluted by the egg whites – using a light cocoa will result in a very sweet and not very strongly flavoured dessert. When making other flavoured soufflés always make sure your base is strongly flavoured and with savoury soufflés, slightly over-season to compensate for the effect of the eggs.
In Grossi's recipe, egg yolks and egg whites are measured in grams. This is to make sure every soufflé comes out perfectly, every time. One 60g egg will contain about 40g of egg white, so you'll need 5 eggs of this size to make the 200g of white required for this recipe. If you're going by weight alone and have leftover whites, freeze them in ice cube trays to use another time or use them to make a batch of meringues.
Make sure your egg whites are at room temperature before beating and always make sure the bowl and the beaters are clean and dry.
Grossi adds sugar to the egg whites before beating but you can also add the sugar in small batches once the eggs have reached soft peaks. The egg whites need to be beaten until they are stiff and glossy, which takes about 4 to 5 minutes with an electric beater.
Once your eggs whites are ready, fold a couple of spoonfuls into your chocolate base to loosen the mix, then quickly but gently mix the rest of the whites in into the base.
The magic of a soufflé is in its spectacular rise, forming a delightful cap over your dish. There's a trick to getting this just right. The dish needs to be well greased right up to its lip to make sure the soufflé mix is able to easily slide up the side of the dish as it expands. Grossi uses spray oil but you can also grease the dish with butter and dust it with sugar, just make sure it is well greased right up to the very edge.
The perfect soufflé cap
When your soufflé mix is ready, fill it to the brim of the dish, gently pushing the mix down into the dish to make sure there are no gaps. Flatten of the top of the soufflé to the edge of the dish. Then with a clean finger or thumb, create a thin line around the edge of the dish. This separates the mix from the edge of the dish and will help it rise straight. A crooked soufflé cap often means the mix has caught on the edge of the dish as it has risen.
At Florentino's, soufflés are baked for 5 to 7 minutes in a 180c oven, but as each oven is different be prepared to adjust the time and temperature to suit your own kitchen.
Avoid opening the oven door while cooking, as it will lower the temperature of the oven and potentially interrupt the cooking process. Visual clues will tell you if the soufflé is ready – it should have risen two-thirds out of the dish and be lightly coloured.
If you're thinking of making a soufflé for a special occasion, Grossi suggests it might be worth a trial run to test your oven. The soufflé base in the recipe below is enough to make several batches of soufflé.
Guy Grossi's recipe includes the accompanying chocolate sauce, praline and malt ice cream so you can recreate the Florentino experience at home. But Grossi says the simple soufflé recipe with a good quality store-bought ice-cream is a delicious option too.
Once you've mastered this technique, expand your soufflé recipe to a range of flavours. Auguste Escoffier offers over 40 savoury and sweet soufflé recipes in his classic book of French cookery Ma Cuisine, if you're looking for inspiration.
Grossi Florentino chocolate souffle with praline, chocolate sauce and malt ice-cream
1 litre full-cream milk
200g egg whites
8 tbsp sugar
160g soufflé base
4 pinches praline (optional, recipe below)
For the soufflé base
Whisk together 500ml cold milk, cornflour and cocoa. Pour the remaining 500ml of the milk into a medium-sized pot and place on the stove. Bring to the boil and whisk in the milk, cocoa and cornflour mix. Cook on a moderate heat, whisking continuously, until you have a firm mix.
Put the mixture in a free-standing mixer with a paddle attachment, if you have one, and beat until smooth. While mixing, slowly add the brandy until incorporated. Store the soufflé base in the fridge until ready to use.
For the chocolate soufflé
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Spray four 250ml soufflé moulds with vegetable oil. Whisk egg whites and sugar in a mixer until the whites become firm with glossy peaks, about 4-5 minutes. Meanwhile, place 160 grams of the soufflé base into a stainless-steel bowl. Add a spoonful of the whipped egg whites to the soufflé based and whisk to incorporate. Add the rest of the whites and fold in with a rubber spatula. Fill the moulds to the rim with mixture and, using a knife, smooth the mixture to make it flat and even. Run your thumb around the inside of the mould's rim and, if desired, place a pinch of praline in the centre.
Bake soufflés in the preheated oven for 5 to 7 minutes. Dust the soufflés with icing sugar and serve with a scoop of ice cream and some warmed chocolate sauce. Serve immediately.
Chocolate sauce recipe
200g dark chocolate
200ml sugar syrup
50ml full-cream milk
100g castor sugar
For the sugar syrup
Place the sugar and water into a pot and bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer for two minutes.
For the chocolate sauce
In a small pot over low heat melt the chocolate in the sugar syrup. Whisk together the milk, cream and cocoa and add to the pot with the chocolate and sugar syrup, continue to whisk over heat until smooth and runny. Set aside and warm through when ready to use.
Malt ice-cream recipe
900ml full-cream milk
200g malt extract
In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and the sugar until pale and creamy. In a pot, slowly bring the milk and cream to the boil. Take the pot off the heat and add the sugar and yolk mixture, whisking to combine. Place the pot back on the heat and whisk until thickened. Add the malt and cool to room temperature before churning in an ice-cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions.
100 toasted almonds
100g castor sugar
Scatter the almonds on a lightly greased baking sheet. Heat the sugar with a splash of water in a saucepan over medium heat, gently stirring so it doesn't burn. When the mixture is light brown, pour a thin layer over the almonds and allow to cool completely. Wrap the praline in a clean tea towel and crush very finely with a mallet, or break into small pieces and blend in food processor until powdered.