Much like my relationship with my sweet chain-smoking neighbor who occasionally kidnaps my cat when I'm out, my relationship with soufflés is complicated. My first memory of this ethereal dessert-a fond one-took place in a brasserie where my family often went for special occasions. On the restaurant's dessert menu was a soufflé large enough for four people: It had to be ordered 30 minutes in advance, and it arrived billowing over the rim of an eight-inch-wide soufflé dish, lightly dusted with powdered sugar. Soft and pillowy with a hint of vanilla, it was the best thing I'd tasted in the entirety of my eight-year-old life, and I was flabbergasted that my parents had waited this long to share this majestic French dessert with me.
A more recent and terrible memory that I have come to associate soufflés with took place in a restaurant where I was working as a pastry cook a few years ago. One night during dinner service, I'd piped soufflés in a hundred little glass coffee cups waiting to be baked and, klutz that I am, I dropped a glass, and shattered pieces fell all over the soufflés. This resulted in a frantic rush to make a fresh batch of soufflés-whipping egg whites, gently folding the batter, and piping it into yet another hundred teensy glass cups, all within 10 minutes-for the guests in the dining room who were supposed to be enjoying their dessert then and there. Most people dread soufflés because they're finicky and a hassle to make. I dread soufflés because that evening haunts me still.
For years after the incident, I avoided the subject of soufflés. When my husband asked if I could make them for him, I'd mumble vaguely and casually shrug off the request, postponing it forever and ever. That is, until I started seeing soufflé pancakes-tall, wobbly pancakes with the soft, fluffy texture of soufflés-every time I opened Instagram. I was intrigued and curious to see if these fluffy pancakes lived up to their promise. One Sunday, instead of making our regular buttermilk pancakes, I decided to give the soufflé thing a go again.
Now, soufflés and meringues are intimidating for good reason. People tend to steer clear because these delicate foams are prone to deflating, and who wants to whip up soufflé batter-and go the extra mile in buttering and sugaring little ramekins-only to have their dessert (and hopes) collapse before they've even made it into the oven? No one.
But those Instagram-famous pancakes convinced me that there's an easier way to soufflé. Soufflé pancakes are popular in Japan and South Korea, where they are usually individually portioned and poured into small cake rings, which gives the pancakes something to hold on to as they rise. But with that method, knowing when and how to flip the pancakes without deflating them can be tricky and requires practice. On a Sunday morning, I just don't want the challenge. Out of sheer laziness, I thought: Why not just bake all of the batter in a single skillet?
Made in one pan, this soufflé pancake takes less than 20 minutes to whip up. It also relies on the more stable Swiss meringue (which is cooked to 140ÂºF, the temperature at which egg whites begin to coagulate and stabilize) as opposed to the conventional French meringue, which is not cooked before whipping, and better for applications like cookies or pavlova. While soufflé pancakes are typically made with a French meringue, the Swiss version is less prone to deflating, making it a more foolproof-and stress-free-method for soufflés.
I whisked together four egg whites and a quarter-cup of sugar in a bowl, set it over a pot of barely simmering water, and stirred constantly until it reached 140ÂºF. When it had come to temperature, I poured it into the bowl of a stand mixer and whisked until I had stiff, glossy peaks. While my egg whites were whipping, I whisked together egg yolks, whole milk, flour, vanilla, and a touch of lemon zest for brightness. I folded my meringue with the egg yolk mixture, then gently transferred it into a nonstick skillet (be sure to use an oven-safe one!) I'd buttered and sugared. Into a 325ÂºF oven it went. Meanwhile, I was free to make myself a latte and sit down to a game of Scrabble with my husband.
Around 25 minutes later, it was time for the grand reveal. I gingerly opened the oven door, and, sure enough, there was a towering soufflé pancake waiting for me. It was just as delicate as I hoped it'd be, and I was immediately brought back to that first magical soufflé experience in the French bistro, obliterating my tragic memory of breaking glass over soufflés. Yes, I think it's time to start making soufflés again.