Soufflés are puffy with a fine gossamer texture, and they have a bad rep for being temperamental. But they are actually simple to make.

If baked in a flat dish, they puff up and rise almost as much as those baked in a traditional deep soufflé dish. Better yet, the flat soufflé cooks in much less time — 12 to 15 minutes — compared to the usual 30 to 45 minutes for a deep-dish soufflé.

I encountered my first flat soufflé on a ski trip to Austria, near Salzburg, 25 years ago. There, the signature dish of the city is called Salzburger Nockerl. The fluffy, sweet soufflé mixture is plopped into an oval dish in large oval mounds. When drifted with confectioners' sugar, it looks like a mini-Alpine mountain range. It eats like a cloud.

I've copied the idea with lemon and chocolate classic dessert soufflés. For family, I bake a soufflé as a quick solution when I have good intentions but a bare pantry. A good double-decker version that my kids always liked has a bottom layer of lightly steamed broccoli topped by a Cheddar cheese soufflé.

Separate the eggs when they are cold, and the whites will easily slip away from the yolks. But for best volume, allow the egg whites to reach room temperature before you beat them.

When using a flat pan, beat the egg whites only until soft peaks form. The whipped egg bubbles need room to expand in the oven.

Always fold egg whites into the other ingredients by hand, using an up-and-over motion with a plastic spatula; do not stir or beat. For best results, keep an eye on the soufflé through the oven window.

Soufflés served alone can be boring. Match a savory soufflé with a vegetable or crisp salad. A dessert soufflé goes nicely with shortbread or other crisp, delicate cookies.


NIPPY CHEESE SOUFFLE

6 large eggs

1/4 cup butter

1/4 cup flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground mustard

Dash cayenne pepper

1 1/2 cups hot milk

1 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese (4 ounces)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spritz an oval au gratin or oval sauté pan with nonstick cooking spray. The pan size should be approximately 12 by 8 inches.

Separate eggs, placing the yolks in a small dish and the whites in a large, clean mixing bowl. Set aside.

Melt butter in a large heavy saucepan or top of double-boiler set over boiling water. Blend the flour, salt, mustard and cayenne pepper in a small dish, then stir into the melted butter. Cook and stir for 2 minutes.

Add milk slowly, whisking constantly, to make a smooth and thick white sauce. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add grated cheese and stir until cheese is melted.

Whisk egg yolks to break them up. Then add a few tablespoons of the cheese sauce to them to warm them. Now add the warmed egg yolks back into the cheese sauce and whisk to combine. The sauce may be completed to this point in advance and left at room temperature for an hour.

Beat egg whites with a portable electric mixer until floppy peaks are formed when beater is withdrawn. Whisk 1/3 of the whites into the cheese sauce. When well-mixed, fold the remaining 2/3 of the whites into the sauce.

Pour mixture into the baking dish. Bake about 15 minutes, until the surface of the soufflé is puffy and brown but the middle jiggles when the pan is gently shaken. Serve immediately.

To serve, cut portions from the side so that each serving has some firm soufflé and some of the saucy part. Makes 6 servings.


SALZBURG DESSERT SOUFFLE

Call it by its Austrian name, Salzburger Nockerl. Make three mounds in the baking dish — they will puff into mountains. Dust heavily with confectioners' sugar before serving.

Butter and sugar for the pan

2 large egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 tablespoon flour

4 egg whites

Pinch of salt

2 tablespoons sugar

Confectioners' sugar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Generously butter an oval baking dish or skillet attractive enough to serve from. Use a metal pan approximately 12 by 8 inches or a ceramic one measuring 10 by 8 inches. Both are common sizes for oval baking containers.

In a medium-size mixing bowl, break the egg yolks up with a fork and stir in the vanilla and lemon peel. Sprinkle the flour over the yolk mixture.

In another bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they cling to the beater. Add the sugar and beat until the whites form peaks. With a rubber spatula, stir an overflowing tablespoon of the whites into the yolk-flour mixture, then reverse the process and fold the yolk mixture into the rest of the egg whites, using an over-under cutting motion instead of a mixing motion. Don't overfold. Using the rubber spatula, make 3 mounds of the mixture in the dish.

Bake the soufflé in the middle of the oven 10 to 12 minutes or until it is lightly brown on the outside but still soft on the inside. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar and serve immediately. Makes 6 servings. — "Time Life Foods of the World"