Jacques Pépin's Foolproof Bowl Tip For Perfect Soufflés

Anytime you picture an elegant French kitchen, one image comes to mind — copper. Pots, pans, bowls, and molds made from copper in various sizes and shapes often hang from a rack or are proudly displayed on the walls. As it turns out, these classic French tools are not only beautiful but also functional.

According to Jacques Pépin, copper cookware is a staple for professional chefs for a reason, and he only uses a copper bowl when making soufflés. The iconic French dish can be difficult to master, but this one tool can go a long way to preparing the perfect soufflé every time. Like so many things in cooking, the reason is part artistry and technique, along with a bit of science. As one of the food world's living legends — and one of the premier educators of French cuisine, when Jacques Pépin offers a cooking tip (to the famous Julia Child no less), it is important to listen: whisk your egg whites in a copper bowl.

The science behind copper

The key to the lofty height of a perfect soufflé comes down to one ingredient — egg whites. In an episode of "Julia Child: Cooking With Master Chefs," Pepin guest stars to make his famous lobster souffle. He explains why he always uses a copper bowl for whisking egg whites. These egg whites must be whisked with fervor in order for a finicky soufflé to emerge from the oven tall and proud every time. Chef Pépin always reaches for a copper bowl when it is time to whisk egg whites for a soufflé because the metallic properties of the copper work with the conalbumin protein in the egg whites to make them more stable as they take on air during the whisking process.

According to Science Notes, "When you whisk egg whites, a few copper ions migrate from the bowl into the whites. These copper ions form a golden-yellow conalbumin-copper complex. This conalbumin-copper complex is more stable than conalbumin on its own, so the egg whites are less reactive to temperature." This means that the beautiful peaks that are formed when whisking egg whites will hold their light and airy structure rather than collapse if over-whisked. This is something French chefs have known for hundreds of years, without knowing why copper was so stabilizing.

Other tips for a perfect soufflé

Besides reaching for a copper bowl, Jacques Pépin offers other tips for the perfect soufflé. He tells Child that it's important to add cheese to the egg whites rather than the sauce (such as a béchamel) to prevent it from getting stringy. He also whisks by hand rather than using a mixer, which gives him more control over the motion and speed while whipping.

Timing is also key when it comes to using whipped egg whites in a soufflé recipe. They should be used right away before the air you worked so hard to incorporate begins to deflate. Of course, that is also why the copper bowl is so important as it buys you valuable time with more stable egg whites. Finally, be sure to allow the eggs to come to room temperature before whisking, rather than using them cold, straight from the refrigerator. Cold eggs won't achieve the same peaks as warmer eggs. However, Child gives the best tip of all, when she says, "The best way to prepare a meal is to be in the kitchen with friends."