Celebrate the South

Savor the Bread Pudding Soufflé at Commander’s Palace

A signature New Orleans dish you can count on

Photo: Rush Jagoe

Here, even the earth under your feet is not a given, a certainty. In drought, New Orleans turned to powder, to something like an old woman’s Bruton snuff, and the piers that held up the shotgun doubles would sink into the earth. For those of us not born here, the first thing you asked, when you went to buy a house, was not the price, but whether it was at least somewhat level. I took a marble, once, to test it. It took off like a shot. In rain, so far below sea level, you think not about puddles, but the End of Days.

You could not, here, count on the absolute of time. A ten-minute ride from the Quarter to Uptown could take your natural life if there was a parade. You could not count on the streetcar. Whole student bodies at Loyola matriculated while the torn-up tracks were a promise and a precious memory.

But you could count on a lot that made up for it. You could count on a good po’boy on Annunciation Street, and good coffee anywhere. You could count on fine piano on the radio. You could count, if you lived near a supermarket, on little old ladies leaving their carts in your front yard, or against the bumper of your Pontiac. You could count on a pork chop sandwich, and, if dressed with extra mayonnaise, count on needing a new shirt.

Still, if what they say is true, if a perfect moment in this old city really can last a lifetime, then I guess you can count on one fine dessert, and a first spoonful that always seems to surprise, even if you have looked forward to it for months or
even years.

Photo: Rush Jagoe

Chef Tory McPhail (center) and his crew at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans request that you order the bread pudding soufflé twenty minutes in advance—which leaves plenty of time for warming the whiskey cream topping.

The first time I had the Creole bread pudding soufflé with warm whiskey cream at Commander’s Palace, I counted on quite a bit. Any dessert you almost have to order before you hand over your hat? It must be one hell of a thing.

It was. The only dessert I had in life that compared was my mama’s sweet dumplings, and if it were not for hurting her feelings, I would be more profound. I can say that the closest I came to passing out here had nothing to do with Jim Beam in the old Pontchartrain Hotel, but from joy. People from my part of Alabama do not use the word heavenly, but I would if I could. 

The dessert is made, I hear from people smarter than me, by folding meringue into custard made with bread from the Leidenheimer Baking Company and flavored with simple things like vanilla, cinnamon, raisins, and such. It comes as a poufy dome in a soufflé cup, whatever that is, and I was just beginning to be a little uncomfortable when the waiter poked a hole in the dome with a silver spoon and ladled in the whiskey sauce, and the place could charge five dollars just to let you smell it.

There was more substance inside than I thought, and I ate all I could scrape away, down to a line of sugar glued to the rim of the soufflé cup. I hope, at least, no one was looking.   

Usually, it is hard to rediscover, or renew, a perfect moment.

But I will count on it, unless there is a parade.  commanderspalace.com

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