Sunday, December 19, 2010

An Empty Nester Christmas Idea

Greetings again.  I am contemplating what to do for Christmas this year.  Thought it would be a good time to revisit last year's Christmas.  Read to the end, it really was a wonderful day, spent with cooking, memories and a great time to be with Jackie.  Especially now, fondest of memories...

The set up, 12 hours, a different menu item or drink that brought back memories of a meal or vacation we shared.  Jackie filed the photos and did the taste testing.  I got to recreate as best I could.  this is the dessert, but if it interests you, there are links to the other memories at the end...


It's the twelfth hour of a very fun, exciting, memorable... and the most exhausting day in my cooking career. So, instead of something simple like chocolate dipped strawberries, I decided to make something that demands nearly an hour of non-stop whisking... My arm is still sore.

The mystique of a souffle is daunting. Nothing says delicate and impossible for a home cook to do like these little beauties. I am not going to blow smoke up your aprons, this was very difficult to do, lots of elements, LOTS of whisking... But when it turned out... Very satisfying!

Here's what I did...

As always, assemble the ingredients first. Believe it or not, this recipe is evolved from one published in COOKING LIGHT. Not sure why they ever published it, as there is almost nothing light about it... I changed just a few ingredients... Here's what I did...
  • Vanilla Sauce:
  • 2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Dash of salt

  • Soufflé:
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 4 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 3 tablespoons Grand Marnier (orange-flavored liqueur)
    Actually, I only had Cointreau on hand,
    but that is also an orange-flavored liqueur,
    and worked just fine.
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 6 large egg whites
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
Before I get to the recipe, I want to pass on a tip... When separating eggs, use your fingers. Cup your fingers and let the whites droop into a bowl. Works much better than the switch back and forth between the shells method.

But I digress...

Here's how to make the vanilla sauce...

Place 2 egg yolks in a bowl. Separately, place 1 cup whole milk and 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar in a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat; heat to 180° or until tiny bubbles form around edge (do not boil).
Gradually add 1/4 cup of the hot milk mixture to the 2 egg yolks, stirring constantly with a whisk. Add another 1/4 cup of the milk mixture at a time, til it is mixed, without cooking the eggs. Whisking is your friend to prevent cooking the yolks.
Return mixture to pan; cook over medium heat until thick and bubbly (about 3 minutes), stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla and dash of salt. Pour into a glass bowl; cover and chill. While you assemble and cook the Souffle'.
Preheat oven to 375° (although honestly, you are at least a half hour away from actually cooking. Instead of preheating the oven, it is better that you shack out your arm, trying to increase blood flow... You are going to need it.
To prepare soufflé, coat a medium sized soufflé dish with cooking spray; sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sugar. Be sure to roll the sugar around the sides to coat up to the lip of the bowl. This gives the egg mix something to grip as it climbs the bowl.
Place 3 egg yolks in a medium bowl; set aside. Place flour in a small, heavy saucepan; gradually add 2/3rds cup of whole milk, stirring with a whisk. Stir in 1/4 cup sugar; add butter. Cook over medium heat until thick (about 5 minutes), stirring constantly. Gradually add hot milk mixture to 3 egg yolks, stirring constantly with a whisk Use the same method as you did with the vanilla sauce to make sure the eggs do not cook. Return mixture to pan; cook over medium heat until thick and bubbly (about 3 minutes), stirring constantly. Stir in liqueur and 2 teaspoons vanilla; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, and try to get more circulation in your arm.
Place egg whites, cream of tartar, and 1/8 teaspoon salt in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until stiff peaks form. Gently stir one-fourth of egg white mixture into milk mixture; gently fold in remaining egg white mixture. As you can see from the photo, I used my kitchenaid mixer to achieve the peaks. I could have done it by hand whisking, but I was tired... so tired.
Folding the whites together with the yolk mixture is just a little tough, and needs to be explained. Add a small amount (1/4 of the total) to the yolk mixture first, and go ahead and mix that well. But the remaining 3/4, JUST fold into the mix with as few strokes as possible. It is OK to have visible streaks of white and yellow in the mix.
Spoon into prepared soufflé dish. Place soufflé dish in a 9-inch square baking pan; add hot water to pan to a depth of 1 inch. Bake at 375° for 30 minutes or until puffy and set. Spoon about 3 tablespoons sauce over each serving.
Serve immediately.
I saw this presentation once, and wanted to see if I could replicate... I spooned just 2 heaping tablespoons of the souffle mix into a standard 8 ounce coffee cup. I had prepared the cup same as my souffle bowl, with a bit of cooking spray, and enough sugar rolled around to coat the bottom and sides. I cooked this the same amount of time, and it came out great. If I were making this for more than just two people, I do think i would make individual souffles in coffee cups instead of in a special souffle pan. First, I only have a medium sized one, but also, I like the looks of this. It says casual home cooking, but it also maintains that illusion of something special. Be sure your cups are oven proof.

If I were serving in the cups, I would serve them without the sauce, getting them to the table as quickly as possible (yes, they will fall a bit just sitting there, the more you move them around, the more likely they are to fall... but that's OK). When everyone has one in front of them, take a spoon, break the surface at the center and spoon in a couple TBS's of the vanilla sauce.

If you are making multiple servings in one larger souffle bowl (as I did), plate the souffle', and then add the sauce. It looses that presentation factor, unless you do this table side (which is another good reason to make in individual bowls). It is just a little prettier if you sprinkle a bit of powdered sugar over the top!

And the result... Perfect in EVERY way. The dessert was light and airy. The taste was filled with custard and orange. The sauce was equally filled with the vanilla flavor and sweet, without overpowering the souffle'. Would I make this again... probably. For a very special occasion. It is time consuming, difficult... BUT, ultimately among the most satisfying cooking experiences i have ever had!

Every post so far has come with a story, and this one is no exception. Well, there is a small exception. So far, I have been posting stories that made us happy. Good times and the good eats that reminded us of them. This is not one of those stories...

My lovely and talented wife wanted to surprise me with a night of fine dining as a birthday gift. This happened long ago, while we were still dating, and before we got married. She wanted the night to be special, and made reservations at arguably (you bet I'll argue) the best restaurant in Kansas City... The American Restaurant. No arguments about it being among the most expensive restaurants in town... It is, and we expected better.

I do not remember the details of the meal, I do remember very small portions, which is... OK... to a point. we left full, but no doggy bags. But, what i do remember is the dessert. Now, i have been fine dining for awhile, When given an option, I do enjoy ordering a souffle'. It is something you are not likely to get at home, and they are very very tasty. But not this one. And in fact, it came with an insult...

My first clue was that the dessert did not need to be ordered in advance. Every other souffle I have ever ordered needed at least a 30 minute notice to the kitchen. These are not desserts that can be pre-cooked and warmed up. they must be made to order and served ASAP. But, in my excitement and my naivety, when my meal was finished, I did not consider why I could have a souffle' delivered in just a few minutes after ordering.

What arrived was a cookie. It was a very good cookie, it indeed tasted of eggs and vanilla and orange liqueur, but it did not have the texture, the look nor the beauty of a souffle'. it was a cookie.

I did not let the wait staff leave without pointing out that it was not what I ordered. There response... tough. This is the way we serve a souffle' here, this in fact is the way European souffle's are served (really... I may live in Kansas, but I am not fresh from the farm any more... I have had souffle's in Paris, and I know what they serve in Europe). It was suggested that I eat my cookie (although they continued to call it a souffle'), and expand my knowledge of how food is prepared. When I suggested they take it away, and bring a different dessert that i would enjoy more... that offer was rejected.

Words mean things. A souffle' is a souffle', and has a certain look and texture. Changing the look and texture does not make it a bad dish, it just makes it a different dish. If you are going to call a dish a souffle', you should expect problems if you serve a cookie.

Well, at the time this upset Jackie a great deal. She had wanted to have a special night, and it did... color the evening. Since then, we always laugh about the cookie souffle'. It does make us smile, so I included this in our special day. But I have never gone back to The American Restaurant. I also have gone as far out of my way as possible to discourage people from eating there. So, if you ever come to Kansas City, avoid The American Restaurant. If you want a souffle', come and visit me... I'll whip you up one!

Just in case you aren't paying close attention, I am posting my Christmas Eve dinner with my wife. We decided to recreate our culinary journey through restaurant quality meals. So far, you have missed...
Come back tomorrow to see what we did to wrap up the whole meal, and a bit of a teeny tiny rant!! ...


  1. I hate horrible wait staffs - especially at high end restaurants - the $$$ you pay should pay for good service - kudos to you for not going back.

    It reminded me of when my Mom and I went out to and Italian restaurant with my then 8 year old daughter. She loves gnocchi, but with butter, garlic and shaved Parmesan cheese - she's like her momma that way.

    When the server asked what Hannah wanted, she asked for gnocci, no red sauce, but with butter, garlic and shaved Parmesan. The server looked perplexed, excused himself and within a couple minutes, the chef came and asked what she wanted.

    Hannah's face flushed, but being the independent gal I raised her to be, spoke up and said "I don't like red sauce, so I would like butter, garlic and shaved Parmesan cheese." The chef actually said "well, you haven't had my red sauce, walked away, and served her gnocci covered in red sauce.

    I was so pissed! I asked for the manager and chef to come to the table, told them that any good chef could prepare food as the customer wished, and the chef just stormed off. While I tipped the server 20% because it wasn't his fault, we never went back, I told everyone I knew never to go there, and within a year they closed their doors.

    Aren't you glad I can type fast Dave?! Happy Monday!

  2. I remember those posts. They were a lovely tribute to the great relationship you have with Jackie. I hope all is well and that you two have a lovely Christmas. This has been quite a year for you two.