Several folks wrote in yesterday to ask whether anything can be done to stop or at east inhibit the fall of a soufflé once it’s taken out of the oven. Indeed there is quite a lot that can be done, though every added bit of insurance against a fall has an impact on the soufflé’s texture.
The soufflé we know today evolved from the simpler, yet profoundly more delicate omelette soufflée (essentially “puffed omelet”), which is essentially just whipped egg whites folded back into egg yolks. The technique produces a foam of ethereal lightness, yet one that’s prone to collapse since it’s held up by nothing but coagulated egg proteins. This style of omelet became popular in the mid-17th Century (what I call the Century of Foams). Eventually, court cooks learned that an omelette soufflée could be reinforced with a host of other ingredients. Among these were of course starches like flour, but also sugar, firm fats (cheeses), vegetable and fruit pectins and meat proteins.
An entire world of soufflées was thus born. None, of course, were as light as the original omelette soufflée. Some contained so much starch they entered into the realm of cakes. And in fact I think quite of lot of today’s “fall proof” soufflées are of that ilk: really ultra-light sweet or savory cakes. It doesn’t make them bad, mind you, just not soufflées as the Almighty (by which I mean Antonin Carême) intended.