A little Grand Marnier goes a long way.
Mousse au chocolat, macarons, meringue—the French have a way of making these desserts seem effortlessly chic. Attend a dinner party in Paris and you’re sure to end the evening with a picture-perfect chocolate confection crafted by the host. In How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are, the stylish ladies behind the book joke that “there are as many recipes for chocolate cake as there are Parisiennes in Paris.” The trick to perfecting French pastries isn’t finding a recipe, though; it’s getting it right.
With a history stemming back to the 18th century, soufflé stands as one of the country’s quintessential desserts—as well as one of the most complicated. This pastry can quickly fall flat, doing just the opposite of what its name suggests and crumbling like a sinkholerather than delicately rising from a ramekin like a mushroom-shaped cloud. To discover the art of crafting a soufflé that’s sure to keep its signature shape as you take it from pan to plate, we caught up with one of France’s experts in the field, Cédric Grolet, crowned World’s Best Pastry Chef by Les Grandes Tables du Monde in 2017, as well as 2018’s Best Pastry Chef by the Gault & Millau guide.
Grolet earned his pastry prowess in Paris at FAUCHON, a gourmet maison that’s as synonymous with France as fromage and baguettes, before rising the ranks to pastry chef at the Dorchester Collection’s Parisian Palace hotel, Le Meurice. At newly opened Le Meurice’s Pastry Boutique by Cédric Grolet, the chef is looking to give the everyday baker the same savoir-faire to create soufflés back home that are just as pretty as the ones gracing Paris’ patisseries, offering cooking demos that reveal the secret ingredients—and techniques—behind some of France’s most famous desserts.
We polled the prized pastry chef on how to avoid a few common faux pas that are instant soufflé sabotage for five quick tips that’ll have you whipping up this quintessential French pastry like a pro in no time.
Age your eggs
Eggs are one of the main determining factors when it comes to soufflés quickly crumbling in the oven. Of course you want fresh eggs, but they shouldn’t be straight-from-the-chicken fresh. Grolet recommends aging egg whites before beating them with an electric whip so they’re stronger in taste. “We cover the eggs with food film and leave them outside for 24 hours at room temperature,” he says. “This way, the egg white is much less fragile and it prevents from falling.”
Never start with sugar
“Every time I eat a soufflé I come across the same problem—it’s always too sweet,” the chef says. One quick adjustment: Avoid adding sugar at the beginning of the baking process. “You have to finish with sugar at the end, so you should never put sugar at the beginning,” he advises. If you’re making a savory soufflé, the idea of less is always more also comes into play here. A strong cheese will overpower your soufflé and cause it to crumble. Two of Grolet’s go-tos: Parmesan and Gruyère.
Master the the art of buttering
“Always butter the cake mold in the same direction, from bottom up, which will make it easier to take the soufflé out of the mold,” the chef advises.
Skip standard pastry cream
Instead of using pastry cream as the base for his soufflés, Grolet uses cornstarch and orange juice, combining these ingredients with sugar and Grand Marnier before folding in the egg whites. “Soufflé was originally made with alcohol and citrus, so I find that soufflé works very well with Grand Marnier, which has a slight taste of citrus,” the chef explains, adding that it reminds him of his grandparents, who used to serve him a small glass of Grand Marnier after a Christmas meal.
Balance timing and temperature.
The trick to mastering both sweetness and temperature? It’s all in the timing. Temperature depends on the size of the mold, so if you’re using a larger ramekin, you’ll want to go with a slightly lower temperature. At Le Meurice, the chef says they bake soufflés in four-inch molds at around 320 degrees for seven or eight minutes before browning them in a four à sole, or baking oven, at 430 degrees to achieve a slight crust while still maintaining a soft interior.
“What I like is that it is slightly half cooked in the middle so that it’s still a bit elastic, but on top it is barely browned,” he says. Since most of us non-pastry pros probably don’t have a four à sole sitting in the kitchen, a ventilated oven is the next best thing to achieving that crispy finishing touch on top. “A good soufflé has a perfect temperature and is light and not too sweet,” Grolet says. “After eating a soufflé, it should never feel too heavy.” Perhaps soufflé is part of the secret to the French Paradox after all.