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What the heck is a souffle?

A souffle is a baked egg-based dish that originated in early 18th century France. It is made with egg yolks, egg whites, and a flavor base. The egg whites are whipped into a fluffy meringue which gives souffles their characteristic light and airy texture.

What are the origins of souffle?

The earliest known recipe for souffle came from French master chef Vincent La Chapelle in the 1730s. He published a recipe for “pets de nonne à la Vanille” which translates to “nun’s farts with vanilla.” This crude name refers to the puffed up shape and the fart-like noise souffles make when deflating. Over time, the name was changed to the more elegant “souffle” which means “puffed up” or “blown up” in French.

Souffles became popular in French haute cuisine in the 19th century as a showpiece dish requiring skill to prepare. The invention of the gas oven and whisk in the late 1800s further advanced souffle technique. By whisking egg whites to stiff peaks, chefs could achieve extreme height and lightness in their souffle creations.

Escoffier and French haute cuisine

Famed chef Auguste Escoffier advanced the art of souffle making and popularized sweet souffles for dessert in the early 20th century. His recipes and cooking techniques were highly influential in fine dining. Some of Escoffier’s classic souffle flavors include chocolate, Grand Marnier, chestnut, and raspberry.

How are souffles made?

Making a proper souffle requires skill, but the basics are combining a flavored base or batter with whipped egg whites. The base provides the main flavor while the egg whites provide lift and structure when baked.

The base

The base of a souffle provides moisture and flavor. Common bases include:

  • Pastry cream
  • Chocolate
  • Fruit purées
  • Cheese
  • Vegetables

The base should be flavorful but thick enough to support the egg whites. Béchamel sauce is often used as a base for savory souffles.

The egg whites

Egg whites are whipped into soft or stiff peaks to give souffles their lift. The air beaten into the whites expands when baked, puffing up the souffle. Stiff peaks provide more lift while soft peaks create a creamier, more delicate texture.

Folding and baking

The base and whipped whites are carefully folded together to incorporate air while minimizing deflation. Souffles are baked in ramekins or decorative molds in a hot oven until puffed and golden brown. The high heat sets the egg whites to hold the souffle’s rise.

What happens when souffles are baked?

Some interesting physics and chemistry happens when souffle batter goes into the oven.


As a souffle bakes, the egg white proteins begin to coagulate while the air bubbles trapped within the egg foam expand. This causes the souffle to dramatically puff up, sometimes rising over the top of the dish.


The heat from the oven causes the proteins in the eggs to denature and set into a semi-solid foam structure. The oven spring from the rising air bubbles combined with the set egg whites gives the souffle its characteristic puffiness.


As the souffle cools after baking, the air bubbles begin to deflate causing the souffle to sink down. The egg white proteins can only hold the structure for so long. Luckily, a fallen souffle still tastes delicious!

Tips for making the perfect souffle

Here are some tips for ensuring souffle success:

  • Whip the egg whites properly – they need to hold stiff, glossy peaks
  • Fold the base and egg whites gently to maintain volume
  • Use a straight-sided souffle dish or ramekin so the souffle can rise high
  • Create a “chimney” in the center of the batter to help hot air rise and flow
  • Bake in a hot oven – 375-400°F
  • Serve immediately before it falls

Common souffle failures

Here are some common problems and solutions:

Problem Solution
Souffle sinks in the middle Use a smaller ramekin or souffle dish
Souffle rises then sinks quickly Whip whites to stiffer peaks and fold more gently
Souffle overflows ramekin Don’t overfill dish and create a central chimney
Souffle is too dense and eggy Whip whites to stiff peaks and don’t overmix

Popular flavor combinations

Both sweet and savory souffles are possible. Here are some classic flavor pairings:


  • Chocolate – uses melted chocolate as the base
  • Grand Marnier – flavored with the orange liqueur
  • Lemon – combines lemon curd and zest
  • Raspberry – swirls in raspberry jam or fruit sauce
  • Banana – incorporates mashed ripe bananas


  • Cheese – uses grated hard cheese like cheddar or Gruyere
  • Seafood – combines pureed fish or shellfish
  • Vegetable – spinach, tomato, or wild mushroom varieties
  • Ham and cheese – uses diced ham and Swiss cheese

Serving suggestions

Souffles are delicate and best served hot straight from the oven. Here are some serving tips:

  • Have diners seated and ready with dishes in place before souffles come out of the oven
  • Transfer souffles quickly from oven to table for serving
  • Serve with a dressing or sauce on the side to pour into the center while eating
  • Offer a spoon and fork for eating the souffle walls and sauce
  • Enjoy the souffle immediately before it sinks down

Sauce pairings

Sweet and savory sauces complement the light souffle texture:

  • Sweet – chocolate sauce, fruit compotes, whipped cream
  • Savory – Béchamel, velouté, brown butter, cheese fondue

The history and evolution of souffle

Souffles have a long and storied history in French cuisine. Let’s look at some key moments:

Origin stories

While Vincent La Chapelle published the first known souffle recipe in the 1730s, legends credit Prince Conti’s chef in the late 1600s with the original concept for souffle. Other origin stories point to the legendary French chef Marie-Antoine Carême inventing souffle in the early 1800s.

Escoffier’s influence

Auguste Escoffier refined and popularized souffle recipes in the late 1800s and early 1900s. He experimented with both sweet and savory souffles during the height of French haute cuisine. Escoffier’s Le Guide Culinaire cookbook featured souffles.

Nouvelle cuisine

In the 1960s and 70s, nouvelle cuisine chefs like Paul Bocuse streamlined French cooking. Souffles became shorter, lighter, and less dramatic affairs compared to their predecessors.

Modern incarnations

Today, souffles are made in endless flavor combinations while sticking to traditional baking methods. Both restaurants and home cooks experiment with global ingredients and novel interpretations of this classic French dish.

The science behind souffles

There is some interesting science involved in transforming egg whites into lofty souffles through whipping and baking. Here are some key scientific principles at work:

Foam formation

Whipping egg whites denatures the proteins so they unravel and link together to trap air bubbles. This forms a stable, resilient foam structure that puffs up when heated.


Heat from the oven causes the egg white proteins to coagulate and set into a firm but airy matrix around the incorporated air cells.

Volume expansion

As the souffle bakes, the air bubbles trapped within the egg white foam rapidly expand in the heat. This expansion causes the dramatic “rise” of the souffle.

Deflation and collapse

Without the oven’s heat, the egg protein matrix cannot maintain its structure forever. The air bubbles deflate over time, causing the souffle to sink down and collapse.

Unique souffle facts

Here are some interesting facts about the history, science, and cultural roles of souffle:

  • The tallest souffle ever recorded was over 3 feet high. It was made by chef John Shields in 1992 on the Guinness World Records TV show.
  • Sweet souffles were traditionally served as a palate cleanser between savory courses at fancy French meals.
  • The whisk was invented in France in the 1600s, revolutionizing souffle making by aerating egg whites.
  • Baking powder wasn’t invented until the 1840s. Before that, beating egg whites was the only way to leaven souffles.
  • Julia Child was known for making a savory cheese souffle on early episodes of her seminal TV show “The French Chef” in the 1960s.
  • Escoffier often served his elaborate souffles in elaborate containers like turtle shells and decorative china.
  • The science of how egg proteins form foams was not fully understood until the 1930s.

Souffles in pop culture

Souffles have made many memorable appearances in movies, TV, and cartoons over the years. Their tendency to deflate quickly provides comedic fodder.


In Warner Brothers’ classic 1949 cartoon “Mouse Wreckers,” Hubie and Bertie trick Claude the Cat into making a chocolate souffle that collapses on him just as he takes it from the oven.


In Mike Myers’ comedy “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” (1997), Dr. Evil unveils his evil plans and demands a warm chocolate souffle, only to have it collapse right after it’s served.


On “The Simpsons” episode “22 Short Films About Springfield” (1996), Chief Wiggum makes a roast for dinner that turns into a burnt blob. He exclaims “I told the lady at the souffle shop to beat it for five minutes…not five hundred!”

Common questions about souffles

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

Can you make souffles in advance?

No, souffles always need to be baked and served immediately. The airy egg foam structure begins collapsing as soon as it comes out of the oven.

Do you unmold souffles from the ramekin?

Most souffles are served in the ramekin or souffle dish they were baked in. Attempting to unmold them causes rapid deflation.

Can souffles be reheated?

Unfortunately reheating in the oven or microwave would cause a souffle to collapse. Souffles are a now-or-never dish best enjoyed fresh from the oven.

Can you make souffles without eggs?

Traditional French souffles rely on egg whites to leaven the dish and provide structure. However, some vegan versions use aquafaba (the liquid from cooked beans) as an egg white substitute with success.

Do you preheat ramekins for souffles?

Yes, preheating the ramekin or souffle dish is vital for achieving maximum rise. The hot dish helps the souffle puff up quickly in the oven.


From their origins in 18th century France to modern creative interpretations, souffles remain an impressive and delicious feat of culinary science. This light and airy dish relies on the magical transforming powers of whipped egg whites to rise dramatically in the oven, if only for a moment. Souffles may have a reputation for being difficult or temperamental, but with proper technique they can be an impressive addition to any meal.