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Special Occassion Souffle

Whether you love to cook or view it as a necessity, everyone should have one signature dish that they can make with confidence. At best it's something impressive. At a minimum it's edible. Yes, we live in an age where the tap of an app can have a pretty good meal delivered to your door. Yes, you can reserve a table for a really good meal at a restaurant and summon a driver to take you to there - all with the help of your iPhone. Still, like knowing how to change a tire - even through AAA is a phone call away - the ability to cook something for another person marks a rite of passage to being a grown up.

My mom grills us lamb chops with roasted potatoes when we visit her in Miami. She's an excellent cook, but in making this uncomplicated meal, we have time to talk over the grill in her open kitchen. For my dad, it was Duck a'l'Orange, a Mid-Century Modern classic. I remember him making it for my sister and me when my mom was marching on Tallahassee for the Equal Rights Amendment in her role as a board member of the League of Women Voters. And for my husband, Jeff - it's vanilla soufflé with chocolate whipped cream. Half-way through our first dinner date, he "took the liberty of ordering the soufflé," which he casually mentioned after excusing himself and returning to the table. It was a power move in my book, and one that solidified soufflés as the capstone of special occasion meals in our home.

Jeff has always loved souffles. Growing up in New Jersey, Jeff invariably asked his mom for soufflé for his birthday dessert. When he was in high school, she instilled in him the conviction that, if he loved soufflés, he should learn to make them himself. Her reasoning was empowering - he shouldn't wait for someone to make them for him. To that end, they took a cooking class together, and ever since he's been a passionate cook.

A recent Friday night finds us cooking dinner for our good friends Suzanne and Daniel. They've been together for over a decade, but got married in a private ceremony last weekend. They told no one, went down at City Hall, got hitched and posted a pic on FB - modern love. Fun fact - both marriage licenses and gun licenses can be found in the same office in City Hall. Not so fun fact - gun licenses far outnumber marriage licenses by something like ten to one.

Daniel's the cook in their house. Suzanne is amazing in her career, in her role as a stepmom and as a dear friend to me. She has great style, fiery red hair, a petite dancer's body and zero skills in the kitchen. Still, when we first became friends 20 years ago, she made me dinner. It was spaghetti, and the sauce came straight out of a jar. While we have enjoyed countless meals together over the course of our friendship, I knew then that it was one-time deal - the one meal she would make for me. It was her signature dish, and I loved it.

Tonight, I made a few of my favorite things. Suzanne and I are Jewish and both grew up in South Florida, in a time when there were really good Jewish delis like Marshall Major's in South Miami and Woflie Cohen's Rascal House on Miami Beach. In that spirit I made potato latkes with homemade applesauce; my signature dish, braised brisket and aromatic sauce over grits; and a salad of kale, radichio, pears, toasted pecans and blue cheese. For dessert, Jeff made his, a soufflé.

We had a great dinner with even better conversation. We got the play-by-play of the wedding, and I teared up looking at pictures. They weren't my best latkes - a last minute realization that we were short one egg sent me flying to Alon's (yes - they sell eggs) so in my scramble I didn't give the oil enough time to get hot so I stumbled while adjusting the temp. It wasn't my best brisket either - brisket is a tough and unforgiving cut of meat. I could have cooked it a couple of hours longer. And Jeff's soufflé probably could have risen a couple more inches. It didn't help that I kept jiggling it into perfect picture position for this blog - it might have dropped a bit then. But we're all our worst critics, and guests rarely see our mistakes. They just see the effort you put forth to make something special.


1 tablespoon unsalted butter for soufflé dish

1/4 cup granulated sugar for soufflé dish

1 1/3 cups whole milk

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

1/3 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

4 extra-large eggs, separated

Chocolate whipped cream

1 pint heavy whipping cream

1 tablespoon sugar

6 ounces semisweet chocolate

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a seven-cup souffle dish with butter. Put enough sugar inside to coat. Pour out excess sugar. Place the dish in the refrigerator to chill. Put one cup of milk in a large saucepan. Add the vanilla bean and heat to a boil, then turn off the heat and set aside to let the vanilla bean infuse for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the 1/3 cup granulated sugar, the flour and 1/3 cup milk. Add a little of the hot vanilla milk and whisk to combine, then add the flour mixture to the sauce pan and whisk together. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, whisking occasionally. Simmer just until thickened, about one minute. Turn off the heat. Add the butter, stir, cover and set aside. Remove the vanilla bean and whisk in the egg yolks

In a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment (or using a hand mixer), whip the egg whites in a clean dry bowl until soft peaks form. Add the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar and continue whipping until stiff and glossy. Fold into the milk mixture. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish. Bake in the center of the oven until puffed and light golden brown, 40 to 50 minutes. Do not open the oven door unless absolutely necessary.

Chocolate Whipped Cream. Melt the chocolate over low heat. Pour heavy cream into large bowl. Add sugar and melted chocolate. Use mixer or hand mixer to whip the cream until thickened. Place in refrigerator until ready to serve.

Serve immediately after removing from oven with a dollop of chocolate whipped cream.

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