The Real Reason Soufflé Is So Difficult To Make

In the final episode of the first season of the HBO Max series "Julia," a fictionalized origin story of Julia Child's public television cooking show, Julia wraps up her first season of "The French Chef" by cooking a chocolate soufflé. The Kitchn points out that in the episode, she makes the soufflé a metaphor for life: Even though something might be intimidating, you just have to jump right in.

As inspiring as that sounds, making a soufflé is indeed intimidating and fussy. MasterClass calls this dish the cooking equivalent of painting a Picasso. The website explains that a soufflé is a baked dish made with eggs that can be made either sweet with fruits and chocolate or savory with cheese and meats. While this sounds simple enough, what you do with the eggs and the precision needed makes the recipe so daunting.

Because soufflés get their impressive poof from egg whites, you must separate those from the yolks with absolutely no cross-contamination. Chef Jeffrey Buben, the owner of the Washington, D.C. restaurant Vidalia, explains to NPR that when you separate the eggs, you are separating fats (yolk) from protein (whites). When the egg whites are whipped, air gets into them; the protein in the whites forms bubbles around that air, which is what keeps the soufflé light and fluffy. If fat is introduced (by a stray bit of yolk, for example), the bubbles don't form properly, causing the dish to fall limp.

Why soufflé is tricky to make

Buben recommends hand-mixing the whites, beginning in a figure eight to break them up before whisking them in a circular motion. It takes about four minutes at 180 beats per minute until the whites form stiff peaks, being careful not to overdo it (via NPR). The Washington Post explains that the protein in egg whites can only expand so much; if you over-whip them, they won't have the elasticity needed to continue to expand in the oven heat, which causes the soufflé to collapse.

After achieving peak egg white peaks, fold those into the yolk mixture. Since the fatty yolks are heavy and the whites are still delicate, folding in only about 1/3 of the whites to start will help keep the soufflé from crumbling under the weight of the yolks. However, over-mixing remains a concern, so fold until the yolks are lightly incorporated.

Even if you handle the whites flawlessly, soufflés still naturally deflate when they exit the oven. The hot air from the oven gets trapped inside the soufflé, and when it hits room temperature, that air escapes. So gather the crowd around the oven to ooh and ahh at the magic before serving.