Monday, September 28, 2015

Duck or any meat Parmentier

I made the first Jacques Pepin dish, duck breasts in red-wine balsamic sauce, six months ago when we started featuring Pepin at IHCC. It's fitting to end the Pepin rotation with another duck dish, a duck parmentier. (To see other Pepin's dishes by IHCC home cooks, please click here.) I took the cue from Kim, the IHCC administrator extraordinaire, who put out a phenomenal gratin parmentier a few weeks ago.

Parmentier is potato-topped meat pie named after Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, who is credited with staving off a famine in the late eighteen century in France when he promoted potatoes as a good source of nutrition. Now Parmentier is part of the French cusine lexicon. There is a metro station in Paris named after him. Colorful panorama of potato recipes is on full display at the station while waiting for the train to come.

I made a variation of this French classic with duck confit, which I have on hand in the freezer. I'm glad to learn about this technique. The potatoes keep the meat moist and the meat, gives the potatoes flavor. A good marriage! I did my bidding by passing the cooked potatoes through a ricer to make them light and airy.

After preparing the meat and the mashed potatoes, layer them in a gratin dish. Cheese is sprinkled on top and baked until browned and crusty. Gruyere, tarragon and chervil add a distinctly French touch to the dish. There is a British equivalent of the Parmentier: the shepherd pie. I can imagine doing a no-fuss American version, by topping the meat pie with drop biscuits instead of mashed potatoes.

I like that Parmentier has a lot of range. Any kind of meat, including rotisserie chicken leftovers, can be used. Even potatoes can be substituted with biscuit dough. Both the meat and potato components can be prepared ahead of time, making it a great dish to have in our repertoire.

Jacques Pepin has certainly helped expand my repertoire to include some classic French dishes, whose accent marks I routinely butcher, but all are invariably comforting and delectable. To name a few: onion soup gratinee LyonnaiseRothschild soufflemollet eggs Florentine, crepes and brandade (salted cod) au gratin. They've brought much joy and excitement to our dinner table. Au Revoir Chef Pepin!

Any meat would do with Parmentier

Duck Parmentier topped with mashed potatoes and Gruyere

Onion soup gratinee Lyonnaise

Rothschild souffle

Mollet eggs Florentine

Brandade (salted cod) au gratin


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Asparagus, Fennel and Beets with White Wine Dressing

The original recipe is asparagus, fennel and beets with verjus from Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty. The word verjus derives from the French term vert jus, literally “green juice,” which refers to its source — the high-acid, low-sugar grapes that winemakers thin from the vines just when the crop is beginning to ripen.

Since I haven't found verjus, I'd have to explore a homemade alternative. Verjus was popular in medieval times and is still used in traditional French dishes. In recent years, verjus has gained popularity as an alternative to vinegar in sauces and dressings. I adapted it by making a lime juice and white wine reduction, replicating the sourness and fruity flavor of unripe grapes. To balance the acidity, I added some sugar for sweetness. I can't tell whether I am successful or not since I've never tasted verjus. Verjus is known to be less assertive than vinegar or citrus and does not compete with cooking flavors. I am on the lookout for some.

One thing for sure, you can't really go wrong putting together steamed asparagus, roasted beets and fresh fennel. They are all delicious on their own. Ottolenghi specifies placing the fennel half cut-side down on a mandolin and shave into paper-thin slices. The slices should take on a hand shape. See the fennel slices shaking hands and getting acquainted with other vegetables! Seriously, I like Ottolenghi's meticulousness when it comes to plating. To me, there's much to learn there. (For that reason, I am partial to cookbooks and recipes with good visuals as well as weight measurements.)

To top it off, toasted pine nuts serve up this light vegetable dish with a crunchy and nutty note. It's a bright and eye-catching dish. Not your usual combination of everyday vegetables. I'd certainly enjoy bringing it to the dinner table more often.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Apple Kuchen: a Tall Apple-Custard Tourte

The name is a mouthful and its identity, questionable. This recipe probably comes from the Alsace region in Eastern France adjacent to Germany. I don't know whether I should call it a cake or a tart. It bakes more like a tart with its various components. There are the buttery crust, the fruits, crumb layer on the bottom and a custard filling.

The best bite to me was the apples. I got a 2-lb bag of Fuji apples from Trader Joe's which I have not used before in baking. After baking for over an hour, there was still a bite in the apples. The natural sweetness of the Fuji apples came through nicely. I hardly used up the bag of apples. The recipe calls for three pounds.

The tricky part of this recipe (from Dorie Greenspan's Baking with Chef Moi) is rolling out the crust. The crust is very delicate to handle. It completely fell apart in my first attempt in flipping it over the springform pan. In the second attempt, I basically pressed the crust dough on the sides. I wonder whether it's better to use thin plastic wrap, at least on one side, in stead of the more rigid parchment paper, which I used. I would line the bottom of the tart with parchment paper next time for the ease of transfer from the pan onto a plate since the crust is so delicate and fussy. I'd have preferred a more supple and sturdier dough.

The crust turned out quite elegant and tender fresh out of the oven. On the second day, it got soggy.

I skipped the broiler step. No need for more butter and sugar under the broiler. In fact, the kuchen turned golden brown in less than an hour of baking in a 360°F convection oven with the filling.

This is a delicious tart with a long name and a mixed identity. There is plenty to like about it. It is a full package: the fruity flavor, the creamy texture and a distinctive look. You can see more comments from other TWD's bakers here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Bostock with 1-Minute-Microwave Brioche

Twice-baked brioche, or bostock, tastes like a cross between a frangipane croissant and a softer biscotti. It is a perfect pastry to enjoy with a cup of latte or tea.

This bostock is made from aerated brioche bread soaked in an orange syrup, topped with almond cream and baked a second time in a regular oven. This is not a conventional approach like the one I just made, following a Nancy Silverton's recipe, posted earlier. This brioche bread can be made in minutes using a modernist approach and equipments. A blender, a whipping siphon and a microwave oven.

The dough consists of flour, sugar, eggs, butter, milk and salt, the usual suspects for enriched bread dough, but no yeast. There is no kneading or fermentation, a time-consuming process that takes hours and, somtimes, an overnight rest to complete. Yeast is not necessary in this recipe. The leavening of the modernist dough happens in different phases, and in a compressed time frame. The dough is initially mixed in a blender, then pressurized and aerated in a whipping siphon and finally finished in the microwave oven. In less time than it takes getting all the ingredients in place, the brioche bread is ready to eat. All in less than five to ten minutes.

microwave 1 min. in shallow pan
This may sound complicated, especially if you have not done it or seen it done before. I found this helpful youtube video. Michael Voltaggio demonstrates the steps to make the aerated brioche. He makes it look so easy to do. In my view, the microwave brioche is no harder to make than the conventional one: just different challenges.

The conventional approach requires experience and skill in fermenting and shaping the dough. It takes time. I've learned from years of baking that time should be treated as another ingredient in the mix. The baker should allow time (and the feel) to let the dough rise and do its magic.

The modernist approach requires using the proper equipments and getting the timing of each step right. Either approach takes some trials and errors before you come up with the perfect loaf. Modernist takes you to the finished loaf, instantly. You know, precisely and instantaneously, how everything turns out, the successes as well as the failures. There is, undoubtedly, the proverbial learning curve. It's less steep than that of traditional bread-making.

One thing about the bread made in a microwave oven: there is no crust and the crumb can be uneven. I microwaved the dough in a 16-oz paper coffee cup. It rose and then collapsed which made for a dense crumb. I resolved that by using a shallow 7-in x 3 1/2-in mini paper baking pan. The brioche did not collapse as much after microwaving. The second bake of the brioche dough creates the crispy crust, like that of a toast. You can hardly tell that the brioche was not baked conventionally. Twice-baked microwave brioche strikes an ideal balance of convenience and taste in making some high-quality delicious pastry that home bakers can easily produce with a whipping siphon and an adventurous spirit.

I forgot to sprinkle confectioner's sugar on top of the bostock for garnish. The success of the microwave broiche took my breath and concentration away!

crumb shot of bostock with brioche microwaved in a paper cup

microwaved in mini pan and cut into two pieces

My final take on the bostock with microwave brioche:
  • I would make this bostock again: it's fun, fast and a conversational piece.
  • It won't win any award as the best brioche I've ever eaten. That goes to Tartine brioche with natural leaven.
  • Once baked brioche is best made with yeast (natural yeast produces the depth of flavor unmatched by that using commercial yeast). For twice baked brioche, or bostock, aerated brioche works just as well. It rewards you with instant gratification.

I have way too much fun in testing new approach in making bread, as we know it. The intersection of baking and science is an exciting and fertile ground to explore. The finished twice-baked brioche, a sumptuous treat, is almost an afterthought.

microwaved in a coffee cup (upper right)

Twice-baked Brioche, a.k.a. Bostock

This version of bostock, a Nancy Silverton's recipe from Dorie Greenspan's Baking with Julia, is made from brioche bread soaked in an orange syrup, spread with almond cream and topped with sliced almonds. See similar bakes this week at Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD). It is then baked the second time. The end result is a pastry with amazing textural contrast: a buttery, flavorful and moist interior and a crunchy exterior.

I've never twice baked brioche bread before this. Brioche is one of my favorite breads; there is never enough leftover brioche to make the bostock. I'm a believer now, after the first bite into the bostock. It tastes like a cross between a frangipane croissant and a softer biscotti. It is a perfect pastry to enjoy with a cup of latte or tea. I would certainly consider making the brioche dough, just for the purpose of making this splendid bostock.

First, bake the brioche bread
I had extra brioche dough in the freezer from making the brioche tart two weeks ago. The dough was defrosted in the refrigerator overnight. All that's left to do is to make the orange syrup and the almond cream. I have all the ingredients, except the almond paste. Almond paste is blend of ground almonds, confectioner's sugar and corn syrup. I thought about making the paste from scratch, but succumbed to the expedience of picking up an 8-oz. box at the store, the exact amount needed.

To make the orange syrup, combine 1/2 C of sugar, 1 C of water and 1/2 C of orange juice in a saucepan. Bring it to a boil. I left out the vanilla bean since we're making a relatively small batch of syrup.

The almond cream is a mixture of butter, almond paste, almond meal, eggs, flour and almond extract. I made a full batch in the stand-mixer with a paddle attachment. I ended up with a lot of left-over cream. Even half of the almond cream recipe would have been enough to make about one-pound of bostock.

I did not include the dry sour cherries, called for in this recipe; I did not have any on hand.

I do not have mini-loaf pans measuring 4 inches by 2 inches each. Instead, I used a standard size loaf pan. The first and second bake took me longer than expected. I wanted the brioche to take on some color. It took me about 30 minutes and 25 minutes, respectively, in a 325°F oven.

Next, bake bioche slices, soaked with syrup and topped with cream and almonds

Soft and moist inside, crunchy outside

There is no brioche dough left and I wish I do. I have plenty of syrup and cream to make another batch of bostock. I have another trick. A super quick aerated brioche recipe comes to mind. It takes only minutes to make the brioche. First bake took place in the microwave. Oven baked it (the traditional way) again and was a big success. See the next post.

1-minute microwave brioche

Monday, September 14, 2015

Tomato Salad with Red Onion and Basil

Nature does nothing in vain

It seems like a fraud to be presenting a dish like this, a tomato salad with red onion and basil. It is such a simple recipe that anyone could easily put together — without thoughts and full attention. I struggle with the idea of bringing this dish to this week's IHCC blog roll.

I can't walk by the tomatoes at the farmstand or in the supermarket without picking up a few. The multicolor gems and beautiful tomatoes at their seasonal best make it irresistible, if not imperative, to bring them to the table, day after day. They are not only eye-catching, but taste fantastic. I enjoy eating and serving ripe heirloom tomatoes as simply as possible. I am OK with this dish, after some back-and-forth, believing that tomatoes should have the limelight.

More than that, the basil seedling planted in the early summer has grown to a good-size plant, the perfect accompaniment for the juicy tomatoes. There is no better way to showcase tomatoes than eating them fresh and serving them up with some thinly sliced red onion and shredded basil. A touch of red wine vinegar and fine olive oil. That's it, as nature has intended!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Ricotta and Rosemary Bread Pudding

Bread pudding served with grilled green beans for a light vegetarian meal

Open crumb and crackly crust sourdough
Transforming a humble dish, like a bread pudding, into something special and successful takes a skilled hand. I’ve found it in Ottolenghi and his team, again, in Plenty More. With ingenuity and persistence, they have developed this remarkable vegetarian recipe using a short list of everyday ingredients.

Ricotta and rosemary bread pudding appeals to me at so many levels. I make breads regularly, mostly levain breads and a lot of sourdough. But I have never made bread pudding before. It did not occur to me, for one reason or another, that with bread puddings, plain breads can be transformed into a main course to be served for lunch or a laid-back dinner. The economics of this dish is also compelling. Less than one pound of sourdough bread is all that's needed to make the pudding. The resulting dish, baked in a good-size rectangular baking pan, can easily feed four to six. I was impressed with how well it all came together in a coherent dish even before taking a bite in the pudding. One more bonus: Bread, Parmesan and rosemary, three major ingredients fulfil this week’s mystery box madness challenge at IHCC. Everything is falling in place.

I did not make all-white sourdough bread called for in this recipe and I won't. I followed Chad Robertson's Tartine basic country bread formula except for using 20% whole-wheat flour instead of 10%. In my calculation, there's enough all-purpose flour to make the bread a blank canvas ready to take on other ingredients. Natural levain (not commercial yeast) is 20% of the final dough. Hydration level is about 78%. After four hours of bulk fermentation, I shaped the dough into two big boules. Put them in the refrigerator overnight for the final rise. The loaves were transferred into a Dutch oven and baked in a 475°F oven. This is my good-old standby bread recipe that makes open crumb and shiny crust country bread, consistently. I can't be more enthusiastic about making these country loaves that epitomize the versatility and simplicity of four basic ingredients: flour, water, yeast and salt. Of course, you can always get store-bought sourdough bread to make the pudding. To me, it's the journey, not so much the finished bread!

The next step is to prepare a milk mixture consisted of: whole milk, heavy cream, onion, rosemary and nutmeg. Bring the milk mixture to a boil. Discard onion and rosemary after the mixture cools. Add eggs to thicken the milk mixture to the consistency of custard. The fun part is to layer the rest of the ingredients in a baking pan. Parboiled turnips go to the bottom of the pan. Each bread slice is topped with a cheese spread made with parmesan, ricotta, rosemary and chives. Then the bread pieces are placed above the turnips. The custard is spooned on top of the bread slices until all slices are immersed and soaked up the creamy and cheesy goodness. After an hour and a half, the pudding is ready for the oven. Nothing more complicated than mixing and assembling. This is a very straightforward recipe. Nothing could easily go wrong.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. You take one bite: it's sourdough bread transformed into a smooth pillowy pudding, like a souffle, enlivened with herbs and cheeses. The turnips that lined the bottom of the pan add a peppery touch. Turnips are optional, according to Ottolenghi, but they make the pudding extra special. And I love biting into the hidden turnip.

Everything I know about breadmaking in one recipe 

Humble yet successful ricotta and rosemary bread pudding

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Sausage and Potato Packet

Stewed red onion: mouth-watering flavor

The sausage and potato packet is my choice for "the dish of the day" at IHCC, from Jacques Pepin's Fast Food my Way. (Don't forget to see selections of other home cooks' dish of the day at IHCC.) Baking a stew in an aluminum foil is seriously appealing because there is no cleanup involved. Perfect for lazy summer days when the day is long and the time for cooking and cleaning in the kitchen swindles. Pepin also recommends this dish for a winter picnic. You can serve this for lunch or dinner, or as a main or side dish. It's extremely versatile.

Ingredient list is short and they are mostly stocked items in your pantry: potatoes, onion, garlic or sausages. I like to use red onions, unpeeled small potatoes and Italian hot sausages. Anything you have on hand should do as long as they are cut to sizes that would be cooked evenly in the oven. When unexpected guests show up for dinner, this dish can be easily put together. No advance preparation is needed. Assemble all the ingredients raw, wrapped in foil, then bake. Serve it with some grains and a green salad, you'd have a big-flavor dinner on the table with minimum effort.

I've prepared this dish repeatedly; it never disappoints. It takes an hour of baking in the oven at high temperature (425°F). The aroma wafting through the kitchen, not to mention the taste of it, would satisfy the most discerning palette. I have been getting bundles of red and yellow onions from the farmers' market. The juicy, deep flavor of the stewed onion is what I consider as the star and best bite of this dish. Enormously comforting and delectable. I would pack in more onion that this recipe calls for; I can never get enough of the stewed onion. I may go further and change the name of this dish to: Sausage, potato and onion packet.

Don't skip the fresh rosemary in the packet. The intensely earthy, herbaceous aroma of rosemary permeates the air in the kitchen when the packet is being baked. The kitchen becomes that luring, welcoming hub I always want it to be.

Sausage, potato and onion packet

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Brioche Tart with White Secret Sauce

As seen in this brioche tart video on PBS, Julia Child got all choked up and was lost for words in a brief awkward moment as she and Nancy Silverton, the guest baker and contributor of this recipe, were tasting the finished tart. Later she proclaimed that this was a dessert to cry over. "The best dessert I've ever eaten," Julia said.

How can I resist making this dessert? The entirety of it so that I can reproduce, the best way I can, what Julia had experienced. This recipe consists of a long list of different components: the brioche dough, the creme fraiche custard filling, the sabayon, and the poached fruits in a caramel-wine syrup. Is this the best dessert I've ever eaten? Would I make this again? On special occasion, perhaps? I wonder how fellow bakers at Tuesdays with Dorie who've made this dessert rate this tart. I am curious whether this is also the best dessert in the realm of public opinion.

I can't be happier making fruits-based desserts. I got some nectarines, black mission figs and blackberries, slightly cooked in the caramel-wine syrup. To me, the fruits make the brioche tart a more complete and balanced dessert.

The tricky part of the whole exercise was the amount of constant whisking (without stopping, which I failed miserably) in making the sabayon.

The stand mixer provided a welcome relief. Still the amount of whisking over a saucepan of boiling water (on a hot summer day) until the yolk mixture became voluminous and hot, turned this into a real tricep workout and an endurance test! A stand mixer is indispensable – from start (the dough) to finish (the sauce).

I'd also appreciate a more exact temperature guidance other than "almost too hot for you to stand when you dip your finger into the mixture." After some digging, now I know that the correct temperature for the sabayon to set properly is supposed to be: between 165 and 170 degrees Fahrenheit. Well, I almost blew it.

If I can find ways to reduce the amount of sugar, especially in the white secret sauce, this dessert could be a perfect ten. I love the taste and texture of it. The brioche and the creme fraiche custard combination is a sure winner. But I can't eat more of the tart because the sauce is super and, almost singularly and artificially, sweet. A minor distraction of an overall fantastic dessert, that can be served for breakfast or dinner.

A little cramped using a 9" springform pan
Custard-filled brioche 
White secret sauce is a sabayon made with a caramel-wine syrup