French chef Jacques Pépin, whose massive Essential Pepin: More Than 700 All-Time Favorites from My Life in Food comes out this month, admits there's a mystique to the quintessential, touch-it-and-it-deflates, heavenly egg creation. But soufflés aren't as difficult to make or fragile to handle as people think, he says. First, and this is key, you need to avoid over- or underbeating the egg whites. They should be firm but still soft, and have just lost their shine. Second, have all the other components ready (i.e., the soufflé's sweet or savory element) because if the beaten egg whites sit, their air bubbles will start to deflate. Third, bake the soufflé until a knife inserted in the center is still slightly wet, which will indicate that the center is just a bit undercooked (a good thing) and the outer edges won't be overcooked. And finally, serve it right away. Soufflés tend to deflate quickly (even just five minutes out of the oven). If you want to eke out a few more minutes of puffiness while your guests ooh and aah, bake the soufflé in a gratin dish. It won't be quite as high as it would be in a classic soufflé dish (which has taller sides), but it won't fall in on itself when you serve it either.
Get the recipe: Cheese Soufflé