A White House Dessert

Grace Coolidge, First Lady of the United States, in 1924, the year she donated a recipe to the Richmond Day Nursery Association's cookery book.

Not long ago my mother-in-law showed me a book of recipes published in 1924. It had been printed to benefit the Richmond Day Nursery, a school in Richmond, Indiana, where both sides of my husband’s family have lived for generations. The book belonged to his great-grandmother Muriel Bartel Rohe, and the yellowing pages are filled with favourite dishes of the local gentry, including several submitted by great-grand-aunts and distant cousins. The organizers of the cookery book also reached out to First Lady Grace Coolidge. Mrs. Coolidge—famously painted that same year by Howard Chandler Christy in peerless red velvet, her favourite colour, with the family’s white collie Rob Roy at her feet—graciously complied with a dessert called Coffee Soufflé. Its origin is unknown, though it may have come courtesy of Elizabeth Jaffray, the Coolidges’ housekeeper. Grace Coolidge was a witty, stylish woman who loved dancing, was a big baseball fan, and taught deaf children in her youth, but the First Lady considered herself hopeless in the kitchen.

Grace Coolidge and her collie Rob Roy, as painted in 1924 by Howard Chandler Christy.

Of course I was intrigued. Coffee and soufflé are two words that quicken my heart, and I’ve always had a fascination with Mrs. Coolidge, largely because of the glamour of the Christy painting, arguably the most elegant First Lady portrait to hang on the walls of the White House. So I tried the dessert out on friends with whom we dine nearly every week-end, and though we all agreed Mrs. Coolidge’s dessert is more a mousse than a soufflé, they pronounced it delicious. I, however, was somewhat disappointed in the result. It just seemed a bit too spongy for me, due to the gelatin required. The coffee flavour was subtle, though, and pleasing, and we provided some contrast to the coffee and whipped cream by sprinkling it with shavings of dark chocolate.


SOURCE: Cook Book (Richmond, Indiana: The Richmond Day Nursery Assocation, 1924)


1-1/2 cups coffee

1 tablespoon gelatin

2/3 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup milk

Yolks of 3 eggs

1/4 teaspoon salt

Whites of 3 eggs

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

A bar of dark chocolate


Heat the coffee, milk, gelatin, and 1/3 cup of the sugar in a double boiler.

The first four ingredients being heated, as directed. We don't own a double boiler so I simply nestled a fondue pot inside a copper sauce pan.

Add the egg yolks, which have been slightly beaten, the salt, and the remaining 1/3 cup of sugar. Cook until the mixture thickens, stirring frequently; this will take some time, and it will eventually have the consistency of motor oil (it’s the only way I can describe the texture).

The whipped egg whites as folded into the coffee mixture.

Remove the coffee mixture from the heat. Beat the egg whites and the vanilla until stiff. Gently fold the whites into the coffee mixture. When thoroughly combined, pour into a mold, chill until firm, serve with whipped cream, and garnish with dark-chocolate shavings (see below).

An individual serving of Grace Coolidge's Coffee Soufflé, plated in a vintage Johnston Brothers bowl. It really needed a sprig of mint to brighten it up, but we hadn't any in the house.

11 comments on “A White House Dessert

  1. littleaugury says:

    Always, I adore coffee receipts! This one, good? No tears. Mint would top it off- one of my GranMa’s books has a page of putting coffee through its paces- one with Egg. Have you tried that one?
    The portrait of Grace Coolidge is one of the best of the WH portraits-I have noted too, her taste for sleeveless dresses-wonder if she got called out for that as Michelle Obama has been? Enjoying your posts here-I love receipts(my GM’s language) though I am not a seasoned cook. GT

  2. home before dark says:

    What fun! By the end results, there was an agreement: yummm. While I have a double boiler (it’s an all-clad insert so a separate hardly ever used piece of equipment needed isn’t needed), I think one the best ideas is putting a clear pyrex bowl over simmering water so you can keep an eye on water temp while doing magic on top. The Coolidge portrait will always remain a classic.

  3. I need a dessert for this weekend and am hopeless with them. This looks easy enough and delicious.

    Wonderful new site! But would we expect anything less from The Aesthete?

  4. sallyc says:


  5. kaiology says:

    Thank you for sharing that recipe, and for including the beautiful pictures of a very stylish Grace Coolidge! I’ve taken the liberty of linking to it from my Coolidge blog http://kaiology.wordpress.com/

  6. […] a comment » Over at The Aesthete Cooks blog, I spotted a very nice entry featuring a recipe  for Coffee Soufflé submitted by First Lady Grace Coolidge for a 1924 […]

  7. Looks delicious, I’m having a few friends visit me in a few weeks and I will give this a go. I way share pictures of my final product if I think it looks good enough!

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