Category Archives: Baking

Bouchon Marathon

I have been waiting over a year for this cookbook to come out. Thomas Keller is of course the chef behind The French Laundry, Per Se, Bouchon, Ad Hoc, and the Bouchon Bakeries. Sebastien Rouxel, the pastry chef and Matthew McDonald, the baker have found a way to pass a lot of their expertise through the recipes which is simply fantastic. All of the recipes are given in weights as well as standard measurements which made me so happy since weights dramatically improves results. This book is definitely more on the advanced side but if that doesn’t intimidate you and you like baking this book needs to find a way into your home.

When my pre-ordered book arrived in the middle of the week I really wasn’t sure even where to begin. Every recipe looked like something I needed to try. As luck would have it events and the farmers’ market helped make up my mind for me. First we got invited to dinner. In California we can get pretty good strawberries almost year round. I found something called a Madeleine Cake that paired with fresh fruit so I gave it a whirl. It is a delightful, lemony, light cake that does pair wonderfully well with fresh fruit.

Next up a friend of ours was celebrating a birthday (I think 29). They had no plans so my wife decided they should come over for champagne and dessert. I found some Santa Rosa plums at the market as well. I had been wanting to make Tarte Aux Prunes ever since my side trip to France and was psyched to find a recipe in the book. Turns out Chef Rouxel is a mad genius. The Pâte Sucrée dough for the tart has almond flour and vanilla bean in it. It tastes and smells amazing all by itself yet alone with almond cream and market fresh prunes. Oh yeah, and Créme Fraîche ice cream I had made. Superb!

Then my wife decided that 15 other people should come too so I needed another dessert. This time I turned to the chocolate Oh Oh recipe. I didn’t have the right chocolate to coat them with so I had to wing that but these still got rave reviews.

Of course one of the reasons I’d been looking forward to this book was the bread. There are exhaustive instructions on creating bâtards (among other breads) from a poolish and I couldn’t wait to give it a try even though I had desserts to make. The directions are excellent and as the dough was coming together I could just tell it was going well. I definitely need more practice shaping and scoring but I’ve never gotten oven spring like I did with these and the flavor was great. Can’t wait for the second attempt!

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Filed under Baking, Bread, Cookbooks, Cooking, Thomas Keller

Dinner for 6 (aka the importance of a larder)

Hen tortellini with nasturtium in consommé

We had some first time visitors for dinner Saturday. I never quite know how people are going to react to their first dinner. I never know how many times my wife will have to apologize for her crazy husband’s cooking. I’m happy to report we did well on both fronts. The dinner was complicated by us being out Friday night, me participating in a running event Saturday morning, and my son acquiring a remote controlled airplane which, of course, required spending some time in a field trying to get it in the air.

As a result the dinner required dipping into the strategic reserves. One of the guests is French so my mind landed on featuring lamb and flageolets in the main course. I love lamb and thought about doing racks but they are just horribly expensive. If you move down a touch you can find the chop. I’ve started buying the whole cut that turns into chops and then taking both pieces of meat off the bone and tying them together to form a roast. I did this Thursday night seasoning with rosemary, salt, pepper, and anchovies (yes try it!) then left them to cure. Before the guests arrived these got dropped into the Sous Vide machine to cook to rare over two hours before browning on the stove. One of the guests claimed it was the best lamb they had ever had. Who am I to argue ;)?

The rest of the menu fell in to place after consulting a few more cookbooks and the larder. A nice make ahead is the Comte crackers from Dorie Greenspan’s excellent Around My French Table.They can be made ahead and then sliced and baked as your guests arrive. With the crackers I served some bread with roasted Piquillo peppers and sheep milk cheese. I had roasted and frozen these a few weeks before not knowing when I would use them. The first course was the tortellini that I had learned to make at Flour + Water in a consommé, both of which were also in the freezer. With the lamb and beans (which were also cooked and frozen) I served a Heston Blumenthal inspired salad of radicchio, greens, shaved blue cheese, hazelnuts, and pears. And since my wife won’t eat lamb I did butter basted chicken for her.

On the list of things to try was a cake from Miette, a local bakery that produces some killer cakes. I had just read an article that put their Tomboy cake on a short list of best cakes in the country so how could I resist even though I have limited experience with layer cakess. Not as pretty as their versions but quite tasty. It is a rich, double chocolate cake with a raspberry buttercream.

I am pleased to announce that we were also able to consume five bottles from the wine fridge over the course of the long evening! I chose a nice creamy Benovia La Pommeraie Chardonnay to pair with the tortellini. The Selyem Rochioli and Beuhler Cabernet accompanied the main course. The sparkling cider is what we call “kid’s wine” and the sparkling fermented juice was served at the beginning of the evening. The pairings were quite successful.

It was a fantastic evening. There is nothing quite as satisfying as cooking in front of an appreciative audience and our friends were that and more. The meal has left a lingering glow in the house even after the last of the wine glasses was cleaned and put away.

 

Sous Vide Lamb Roast

kosher salt 3/4 tsp per pound
few sprigs of rosemary
freshly ground pepper
one anchovy fillet per pound
touch of lemon zest
olive oil

Chop the rosemary and anchovies and then rub together with the salt and lemon zest. Add olive oil until you have a spreadable “paste” and rub all over the lamb roasts (I trimmed some of the extra fat as well) and marinate for 24-48 hours. Tie the roasts and vacuum seal. Warm the sous vide to your desired doneness in my case 130 F (54.5 C) for the bottom end of medium rare and cook for around two hours. Pull and dry the roasts while you heat a pan. I added some garlic, thyme, and butter to some olive oil and seared the roasts while basting them. Slice and enjoy!

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Filed under Baking, Cookbooks, Cooking, Family, Food, Napa, Russian River, Sous vide

Brutti Ma Buoni (aka Ugly But Good)

My recent forays into ice cream and pasta have left a lot of egg whites lying around. Add to this a pressing need to conjure a dessert for a neighborhood party and I turned to my well worn copy of Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. In it are these Piedmontese cookies which provide a nutty crunch that is a nice counterpoint to the things you will find on most dessert tables. They also go well with your morning coffee, or so I’ve been told ;). I’m not sure I think they are all that ugly but I do think they are good. They would be a great accompaniment for ice cream as well.

Brutti Ma Buoni

11 ounces slivered almonds
1 c + 3 tbsp sugar
4 egg whites
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
salt

Turn the oven to 300 and run to the market to get slivered almonds (or anything without skins). When you get home start the egg whites and a pinch of salt in the standing mixer. Dump the almonds and sugar into a food processor and grind until as fine a powder as you can. If you are crazy, like me, finish your egg whites to stiff peaks with the vanilla in a copper bowl (they really are better!) and dump the almond mixture into your the now empty mixer bowl. Add some of the egg whites to the nut mixture and stir until well combined. Add the rest of the whites and mix until combined as gently as you can. Scrape into a piping bag with no tip and pipe 1 tbsp sized cookies. They will spread a bit in the oven so give them 2 inches of space. Place in your oven and turn as necessary to get a nice brown over 30 minutes or so. Take your shower so you look decent then put the still cooling trays of cookies into the trunk of your car and get to the party.

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Cooking with passion(fruit)

Long time blog readers might remember when I first ran into passion fruit in the Bouchon Bakery kitchen.  It is an ingredient I had never thought all that much about but when I tried it in their parfait mixed with caramel and chocolate it made me run out and get some puree to make my own desserts at home (someday I will figure out the right time to harvest the passion fruit in our backyard!).  So I wasn’t too surprised to run across the Chocolate Chip Passion Fruit Layer Cake in the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook.  It is definitely a flavor mix that sounds strange but somehow the acidic flavor of the passion fruit (almost a grapefruit flavor though without the bitterness) is a perfect match for chocolate and caramel or in the case of this recipe: coffee.

They have an interesting technique for making layer cakes in the cookbook making a small rectangular cake and then cutting circles out of it that I just had to try.  This cake features some of Tosi’s signature crumb (in this case chocolate) that add a simply amazing crunch and flavor to this otherwise soft cake.  I made one slight modification making a caramel butter frosting instead of coffee but otherwise followed the recipe which you can see Christina Tosi herself share the recipes for.  All of the components are pretty amazing by themselves, in fact I might be remaking just chocolate cake for the kids soon.

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Christmas Dinner

Two new cookbooks provided inspiration for the beginning and end of Christmas dinner this year.  The first is by Heston Blumenthal whose restaurant The Fat Duck sits in the upper echelon of the culinary world.  I am thoroughly enjoying his Heston Blumenthal at Home book.  This book is definitely designed for the adventurous home cook and is filled with insight that can help improve even basic techniques as well as some challenges to push yourself in new directions.  The pumpkin soup caught my eye and, given the season, I had to try it.  Blumenthal is keen on preserving component flavors which means only cooking things until they are done and not cooking soups so long that they become muted.  In this case the pumpkin is cooked in two different ways.  Half is roasted and the other half is sweated with onion.  I was a little lazy in that this is the soup sans garnishes (though couldn’t resist some espelette pepper) but it is delicious even in this simple form.  Here is a link to a more complete version.

Blumenthal Inspired Pumpkin Soup

One small pumpkin (1 kg, metric units I know!)
150 grams unsalted butter (he calls for 250, over two sticks, but I couldn’t do it)
3 medium onions sliced thinly
400 g whole milk
600 g water
sprig of rosemary
vinegar to taste

Peel the pumpkin, cut in half then seed.  Cut one half into chunks, toss with some oil and roast in a 180C (350F) oven for 40 minutes until soft and a bit browned.  Thinly slice the other half of the pumpkin.  Warm the milk in a pan until shy of simmering and drop the rosemary in and turn the heat off.  When the roasting is nearly done melt the butter over medium heat and sweat the onions and pumpkin until softened, careful not to color. When softened add the milk (discarding the rosemary), water and roasted pumpkin and bring to a simmer and cook for another 10 minutes.  Puree the lot in a blender (careful not to burn yourself, do it in batches) and run through a sieve if your blender leaves chunks.  Season with salt, pepper, and your favorite vinegar to taste.  Don’t be shy but you don’t want to taste salt or vinegar they will simply bring out the flavors of the soup.  Pour into bowls and sprinkle a little hot pepper of choice on the top.

It seems a bit finicky but I have never tasted the sweetness of the onions coming through a soup of this type before.  Very cool and I’m sure you can use this technique for all kinds of things.

Dessert came from the Milk cookbook.  It was their legendary Crack Pie.  It is so named because once you try it you will keep coming back for more.  Scientific evidence supports this.  As with the Confetti Cookie recipe this one is involved.  The crust is actually it’s own recipe of oatmeal cookies that are then crumbled and mixed with butter to form the crust.  It is really just a modified Chess Pie if you hale from the south but the secret ingredient of Freeze Dried Corn powder adds a very special flavor.  Here is a video from Martha Stewart who visited Milk Bar and managed to score the recipe before the cookbook came out.

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Christmas Buns

Suzanne Goin talks about dishes that cooks have love-hate relationships with in her excellent Sunday Suppers at Lucques (how many times do I have to mention this before you go get it?).  For her the dish is braised short ribs that she added to the menu and then could never take off.  For me, it is Christmas morning sticky buns.  Somehow the tradition has evolved to the point where Christmas simply isn’t Christmas without sticky buns.  It is my fault.  This tradition actually started when I was growing up though my parents were content to open up a cardboard tube.  It may not surprise you to learn that I had to modify the tradition ;).  When my wife asked if we should go out Christmas Eve to hang out with some friends I thought for sure this meant I was free of my chores.  I was silly, of course.  I finished up at 1:30 in the morning.  They are still good after all these years though.

The source of this recipe is literally lost in time.  I have it scrawled down on a note card with no sources.  It is pretty much a simple brioche dough that is rolled up jelly roll style.  I do know that I have substituted Lyle’s Golden Syrup for Dark Corn Syrup because I’m not a fan of corn syrup and because the Golden Syrup tastes fantastic.  It is, unfortunately, not that easy to find.  Amazon is your friend.

Christmas Sticky Buns

1 C Scalded Milk
1/2 C Unsalted Butter
1/3 C Sugar
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 pkg yeast
1/4 C warm water
3 eggs
5 1/4 – 3/4 C flour

1/2 C softened, unsalted butter
1 C brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1 C dark syrup (I like Lyle’s Golden Syrup!)

Melt the butter in the scalded milk and allow to cool.  Soften the yeast in the water.  Mix milk mixture with the yeast, eggs, sugar, salt and flour.  I do this in a standing mixer and knead until smooth and elastic.  Rise for 1 1/2 – 3 hours.  Finish wrapping your presents.

Divide the dough in half and roll each half into a 10″ x 18″ rectangle.  Spread the butter onto each half.  Combine the sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over each rectangle.  Drizzle the syrup over both as well.  Roll the rectangles up in a jelly roll fashion and then slice each into 12 slices.  Place into two 9 inch cake pans, cover, and put in the fridge.  Collapse into bed or, if doing at a sane time let rise for another hour outside the fridge.

The next morning preheat the oven to 350 and bake until nice and brown, at least 30 minutes.  Allow to cool for a few minutes before flipping onto wax paper.  Enjoy!

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Turning Old

This week I turn old. To be clear I don’t actually feel old but I am certainly now at an age that my kids would consider old. As the landmark approached the question became how to mark it. For better and worse there really aren’t too many options for me so after some wrangling it was decided that we would throw a dinner party and cook some food that was a bit over the top and drink some wine we wouldn’t normally drink.

At first I combed through my fancy cookbooks picking out fancy recipes from The French Laundry, 11 Madison Park, et al.  I compiled an impressive menu but something didn’t feel right.  After a while I realized that the problem was I didn’t just want to cook other people’s food.  I came up with a plan to take favorite dishes that I’ve made or experienced and refine them in my own way.  Every course would relate to a food memory of some importance and so the planning began.

I wanted to cook a multi-course deal at as high a level as I could which meant that all of the logistics had to be taken into account during the planning.  I would need to be able to finish each course quickly enough that the “crowd” wouldn’t get restless while I worked.  I used turning old as an excuse to get two cooking devices that would help me pull it off: a vacuum chamber and a sous vide.

I spent the weekend before the event cooking a bunch of stocks as well as effectively completing one of the courses that could be frozen (ravioli above).  Then on Wednesday the preparations began in earnest with me grabbing moments to cook and prep before and after work.  I then put a full day of prep in Saturday culminating in a Blumenthal ice cream experiment (photo above) at around midnight.

Sunday was another day of cooking and finishing the house prep.  One of our dearest friends came over to lend a hand doing whatever needed to be done and proved to be quite indispensable.  I also decided to bake some rolls and make a second ice cream with spectators since I had a bit of “extra” time.  Then the table was set.  The cooking schedule was posted so I wouldn’t forget any steps as I tried to work a course ahead and the guests arrived…

 

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