p3: Focaccia

#19, Focaccia

Ffocacciainally! It’s taken some time to build up the desire to set about making this, since there’s surprisingly more steps and factors with making it than I actually expected, but I’m finally getting to go for what is ultimately my absolute favorite bread: Focaccia. No matter what I can think of, how it’s baked, what it’s flavored or stuffed with, when it comes to eating hot and crispy, as-is, there is no bread that beats that rich and crunchy flavor/texture, fatty personality, and especially that extra addition of garlic/herb personality that is this classic Italian creation.

The book offer two methods to produce this so as to get the ‘perfect honeycombed texture,’ one being to rely on an overnight Poolish dough to use as a starter, while the other starts from scratch but leaves the bulk fermentation to occur in the fridge, stretching it out over a looooong period of time overnight, thus developing more of those flavors and ideal textures we want in our final bread. I’ll be doing the latter, since it seems more rustic and natural to the region… and I feel if I WERE to use a starter for an Italian bread, it should be biga, not poolish… but that’s probably a stupid reason.

Of course it’s not focaccia without oil and toppings! You always want to start off with an herb/garlic/spiced oil which is used to cover and push into the dough during the shaping/fermenting/proofing stages; this mass of Italian fat gets sucked straight in to give that almost buttery flavor and texture we so crave. After that though, one can basically put about anything on it they want; it basically is the Ligurian cousin to the Neapolitan Pizza. But there are rules! As things go, there are three designated times in which one can put toppings on top of their dough, mainly depending on what kind of ingredients they are. Those toppings are as follows:

Pre-Proof toppings: done right after the night of fermentation and a bit of extra oil adding/shaping, these include sturdy items that can stay out for hours as needed, like Nuts, Fresh/Dry Herbs, Sun-Dried Tomatoes [or other dried things], sautéed Mushrooms/Peppers, Roasted Garlic, etc.

Pre-Bake Toppings: as the name suggests, right before popping in the oven. These are mainly your really Moist Cheeses [goat, blue, fea, mozzarella, etc], Fresh Tomatoes/Veggies, Coarse Salt/Sugar and other Spices, etc.

During-Bake Toppings: halfway through cooking, you can add harder, melt-focused cheeses like Cheddar, Parmesan, Swiss, etc so they don’t burn from a longer, high temperature bake; and also any potential sauce one might want [I assume adding earlier would have it soak in more, which wouldn’t mainly be the goal for most].

I myself went with an Herb Oil that infused garlic and a lotta dried basil I had left over from my herb pots, some really good oil-packed Italian Green Olives I got from work, some Pine Nuts we had in the pantry, and Lemon Sea Salt that I got as a gift from the sister and want to put to more use! Should turn out quite num!

Recipe
2 cups/16oz Water, room temp
2tsp/0.22oz Dry Yeast
5 cups/22.5oz Bread Flour
2tsp/0.5oz Salt
6Tb/3oz Olive Oil + ¼ cup
¼ – ½ cup, or more, Herb Oil

Directions

  1. Mix Water and Yeast, leaving to bloom at least 5 minutes20150927_134626
  2. Mix Flour, Salt, and 6 Tb Oil in stand mixer, adding in yeast and water mixer before turning on low until it all comes together in a big, sticky ball20150927_134808
  3. Switch to dough hook and knead 5-7 minutes, give or take, until it’s smooth; it will still be sticky, and should clear the sides of the bowl but still stick to the bottom, may still need to add extra flour20150927_140517
  4. Sprinkle clean counter with a 6×6” square of flour and transfer the dough on top, using a scraper/spatula dipped in water. Generously dust top with more flour and press into a rectangle. Let rest 5 minutes20150927_140603
  5. Pick up by the ends, letting the dough naturally stretch until about doubled in size. Lay back down, fold each end over ‘letter style,’ spray with oil and give another generous flour dusting, let rest for 30 minutes, covering loosely with plastic wrap or a towel20150927_140832
  6. Repeat twice, letting it rest another 30 minutes after the second time and a full hour after the first; the dough should swell and almost double in size after each, and especially the last, time20150927_140938
  7. Line sheet pan with parchment paper, pour remaining ¼ cup olive oil on bottom, spreading it around evenly before placing dough on top.20150927_153426
  8. Pour over half the amount of Herb Oil you’re using [don’t be afraid to go up to if not over ½ cup in total, it will absorb it all easily], and press into focaccia with just the tips of the fingers, using the motion and pressure to spread it as far to the edge as you can, ‘dimpling’ the surface20150927_153541
  9. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and move to refrigerator overnight20150928_114713
  10. Remove, pour remaining herb oil over top and dimple it in, which should fill the pan completely with bread now. Sprinkle with any desired ‘Pre-Proof Toppings,’ making sure to lightly press in any that need it, and leave to proof, covered with plastic, until doubled in size/1 inch thick, up to 3 hours20150928_141145
  11. Preheat oven to 500F
  12. Place any ‘Pre-Bake Toppings’ on your bread and slide pan into the oven, immediately turning down to 450F and leaving for 10 minutes20150928_142312
  13. Spin pan 180 degrees, quick sprinkle on any last-minute ‘During-Bake Toppings,’ and leave an additional 5-10 minutes, or until evenly golden brown20150928_143420
  14. Remove and slide onto a cooling rack, leaving at least 20 minutes to cool before slicing… I personally can’t claim I was able to wait before cutting off a small corner
  15. Enjoy!

Herb Oil
3-4 Fresh Garlic Cloves20150927_135333
½ cup Fresh or ¼ cup Dried Herbs of your choosing
½ Tb Kosher Salt
½ tsp Black pepper
1tsp-2Tb additional Spices, if desired
¼-½ cup Olive Oil

Directions

  1. Chop Garlic and Herbs, toss in sauce pot along with Oil and Seasonings
  2. Heat to 100F, take off heat and let slowly cool. Reserve for use

What Have I Learned This Time?

20150928_143433I don’t care what the book says, Pine Nuts are a big no-no with this kind of focaccia recipe; unless you’re making a small-ish loaf that only takes up to 10 minutes to back, those bastards gonna burn.

Once again, I seriously need to double-check and plan some details out more; not only did I put it in the oven after only 2 hours of proofing instead of 3, which I don’t think actually affected it but is still something I shouldn’t have done, and I didn’t notice that it said 5-10 minutes after baking after turning, thought it was just a full 10; thus the noticeably darker-than-desired top areas. Actually, I just looked over the recipe a third time, and realized I missed the bit where I was supposed to turn the oven down to 450F after starting. God I feel stupid. And why on focaccia!? I love it so much… I don’t want to make it suffer, I swear!

Dimpling technique and what it’s used for; the actual effect of letting the non-compressed parts rise and poof and brown while any of the excess air is pushed out. It’s an interesting effect to see, considering no other bread I’m aware of actually applies this technique; if anything I’d say it’s heavily visual but does make a distinctive eating texture for the final product, not sure if I’d like it so much if it was an even, risen landscape.

It really can soak up a lot of oil, and I think I’m definitely going ¾-1 whole cup of the herb oil next time, just to see how it’d end up! I did at first think there wasn’t enough, when it was hot, but interestingly the rich fattiness of the oil came out more when cooled, another learned item; but I still wanna see how far it can go!

Speaking of which, it tends to soak through the paper bag I keep my bread in for storage; after a few days it sorta looks like a philly cheesesteak to-go bag.

Any Thoughts?

20150928_143943I’m rather sad that I didn’t complete it ideally, it deserves more respect than that… especially since the dough was doing really well all the way to the proofing stage! God, almost nothing in bread-making feels worse than putting all the effort to making a dough that looks really good and almost perfect and then screw up the baking… though at least it wasn’t that big of a screw up. It still tasted awesome, the inside was soft, flavorful, oily in all the right ways… mmmmm. Didn’t go in the toaster all that well, but I wanna find a good way to transform… maybe buttered, insides of course, and griddled, like grilled cheese? That’s an obvious.

Can’t wait to try different toppings too. I really wanna get some slices of tomato and chunks of goat cheese on before-bake, get that roasted tomato-cheese pizza feel… ooooh! Speaking of which, I so have to use this for pizza one day, press it into a pan or something, cuz it totally has that distinctive buttery, crunchy-soft-ish chew type sensation of the typical Dominoes/Pizza Hut crusts, and deep dishes.

Does the Dough Like Me Yet?

It’s recognized my nervousness with sticky doughs and has responded slightly in kind… plus I think it’s perturbed that I didn’t pay enough attention to it while baking.

p1: Pistou (Soupe au Pistou)

T20150906_110606he Dish

I was going to save this week for one of my months that I planned to go vegetarian just for fun and exploration purposes, but that’s going to be a whiles away and we seriously have a buttload of basil leaves in our herb pot that just keep growing and needs use! Seriously, by this time I’ve scraped most of them off for this recipe or to dehydrate and the bastard is still going… it’s an herby monster… the mint isn’t much different.

Today we’re talking about Pistou, a name which we often use to signify two things: a pounded paste of basil, garlic, and olive oil (and sometimes other things); and the white bean-vegetable soup that is then flavored with this paste at the very end. And yes, as one can probably figure out even by now, there is much relation between pistou and pesto; the name itself comes from the Provencal dialect meaning ‘pounded,’ much like how pesto got its own name in Italy. The history of pistou can also be found in its Italian origins, the first mentioning of the condiment supposedly being by a Roman Poet named Virgil describing the pounding of certain ingredients into a green paste. In the 1800’s, the Provence people started making it themselves, and that’s about as much history as I was able to find online with a casual search.

The soup itself has been likened to the French version of Minestrone, its two staples being the ever-constant white beans and then a collection of vegetables; whatever kind one wants, though there are some classics which I’ll be looking to focus on. And of course there is also the tradition of including pasta, because why let beans and potatoes (did I mention there’s usually potaoes or some other root veg?) be the only starch? Well I guess that’s what all that garlicy-herb pungency is for, cutting through all that one-note goodness.

A Word On…

41d1a5306a33568b6b5f0d44216931a0Beans: actually, my very classic recipe from Larousse Gastronomique used a combination of white and kidney beans, but really one should never imagine making this soup with anything other than white beans, preferably dry that you’ve soaked overnight. I know canned beans are good, sometimes supposedly even better, but I just can’t shake the preference for doing it all myself; plus it’s probably cheaper anyways.

My last adventure with beans found me using Flageleot, which weren’t the CLASSIC white beans used in Cassoulet but they’re tender and delicious. Here, I actually found a link that did specifically mention them for this soup, which makes sense as it’s a lighter, vegetable-based thing where one would want a more delicate bean that won’t be covered up by tons of heavy meat and fatty flavors.

trofiePasta: probably the biggest reason to compare with minestrone, despite all those beans and starchy turnips or potatoes, most pistou soups still add pasta in there. There doesn’t seem to be a TRADITIONAL style, in effect many recipes state the option to use any small dried pasta good for soups (then again some even say to use basic noodles), heck the Buzzfeed linked one calls for those little ‘stars.’ That said, I think I’ve found the most perfectly classic style for this dish: it’s called ‘trofie,’ a hand-rolled pasta typically made in Liguria and shaped into small, elongated corkscrews. The region itself is in the Northwest region of Italy, hugging Piedmont and as such very close to the area of France known for pistou; the small shape itself makes it great for soup, much like shells and elbow macaroni. But even more convincing is what dish it’s typically used for: Pesto Pasta of course! And tossed with green beans and potatoes along with it, now where does that sound familiar?

T20150904_124947hough, as things are, trofie is practically impossible to find in any typical store; most likely if one wants it they either need to have an Italian friend or make it by hand themselves, and I’m not yet ready to re-visit my painfully horrible pasta-making skills. Fusilli would make a good substitute, though I might break each one in half or something. I myself decided to go with the next-most-suitable pasta for soups, Orzo; I have enough going on as is with the beans, pistou, and vegetables, I would actually like my pasta element to not stand out as well, and the small ‘grains’ that make up orzo pasta are perfect for this.

Pistou: so, what’s the difference between ‘pistou’ and ‘pesto?’ Often some tv shows and other recipes feature the French recipe that seems rather indistinguishable, but there are various versions that show stark personality traits. Firstly, this can be said for all things, there are never any Pine Nuts ground into pistou. Following that, the cheese itself CAN also be Parmesan, but different regions will switch this out for Pecorino or, most notably, a French Gruyere (Nice in particular); for the sake of fun, I’ll be trying out the latter. It is important when doing so, however, one REALLY try to find a good Comte Gruyere or something similar, as hard and dry as possible, close in texture to parmesan so it will hopefully melt and distribute into the paste ‘properly.’ Finally, the French pistou often will grind Tomatoes in as well; it’s not universal, but it seems to be utilized quite frequently, so of course I’m doing that too, just to see the results.

20150906_113601Now, we need to discuss the MAKING of the paste; classically, this is done with a typical Mortar and Pestle, pounded down into a paste like an old medieval alchemist or doctor making their spice mixes. I’ve used these for making curry, and there certainly is an aspect to using these that brings the ingredients together in a wondrous way; but the fact is not everyone has one, or the time/patience to utilize it, so many recipes just throw all the ingredients into a food processor. I myself have both… and they both sort of suck balls. My MnP, a gift, is of a style that… makes no sense, ingredients just fly off the edge so it’s such a bitch trying to pound anything into a paste or powder. And my tiny food processor is great for certain things, but one thing it can’t do is get herbs or garlic or anything down to anything besides a rough mince; after that things just spin around. I tried a couple things to fix this, but nonetheless my following pics of pistou will not look that impressive… it tasted great mind you, just not so perfect.

Oh, forgot to even get to the point I wanted to make. I actually ended up starting with all the ingredients, minus oil, and trying to pound/blend them together; I would actually suggest, like good curry, one attacks this in stages. First, grind the basil and garlic, which are still gonna have that thicker paste result; THEN add the difficult moist and sticky tomato+cheese, which will paste up easily on their own but I think acted as a hindering lubricant to my herb and garlic. Don’t repeat my mistakes.

20150906_104721Vegetables: I’d like to TRY and keep the vegetable additions rather held back, so I’m only using the ones that seem to be rather vital or otherwise almost constantly used and distinct. Initially this means Green Beans and Zucchini, seems to be harder to find a recipe without them! Now, my first time seeing Leeks in a recipe, I figured it was a simple random regional preference, since it wasn’t in my Larousse book. But after seeing at least 75-80% of recipes using them, I figured I should get one to use as the base sauté instead of onions. The final requirement is an actual starch: many recipes use potatoes in here, sometimes with or without the pasta addition, though a scant couple I noticed include Turnip, including the Larousse. After much debating, my goal turned to actually utilize the turnip; with my recent experience seeing it used in the SE dish of Navarin d’Agneau, it’s likely the one that would be most classically used in France. Besides, with the pasta and beans, I’d rather go for the less starchy option, and turnip has that unique texture of veg+toober crossed, figured it’d offer a nice element.

And of course what’s my luck, they were all out of turnips when I went to the store to buy them! Oh well. In that case, I did a combo of a carrot and potato in hopes of getting a similar effect; and they’re both also commonly used in this veggie stuffed soup.

20150905_215922Soupe au Pistou
¾ cup Flageleot or other tender White Bean, Dried
1 Tb Olive Oil
1 Leek
5-6 cups Veggie Stock or Water
4oz Green Beans/Haricots Vert, de-stemmed
1 Carrot
1 Zucchini
1 White or Golden Potato
Tomato Leftovers from Pistou
3oz Orzo Pasta
Salt and Pepper
Pistou for service (recipe follows)

Directions

  1. Soak Beans in at least 3X the amount of water for at least 6 hours or overnight20150906_103612
  2. Clean and slice white and light green parts of Leek, tossing it in dutch oven or other soup pot with oil on medium heat, sautéing until softer20150906_103800
  3. Drain beans and add to pot along with Stock/Water, bring to a boil and leave for 5 minutes20150906_104041
  4. Turn heat down to simmer and let cook at least an hour
  5. Cut Green Beans in small chunks and dice remaining vegetables into consistent size20150906_123011
  6. After an hour, add green beans and Carrot, leave to simmer 10-15 minutes20150906_124714
  7. Toss in Zucchini, Potato, and Tomato dice, simmer for another 15 minutes20150906_130023
  8. Finally mix in Orzo, season with Salt and Pepper, and continue simmering for a final 10 minutes
  9. Ladle soup into bowls and dollop in 1-3 spoonfuls of Pistou, as desired, for service while still piping hot20150906_131731
  10. Stir, let briefly cool, and enjoy

Pistou
20150906_1124353-4 Tb sliced Basil
5 Cloves Garlic
¾ cups (about 2oz) Aged Gruyere
1 Roma Tomato, de-seeded and diced
4 Tb Olive Oil

Directions

  1. Place Basil and Garlic in Mortar and Pestle or Food Processer, pound/grind/process until they turn into a paste
  2. Add Gruyere and about half of the Tomato, continuing until it comes together in a wet paste
  3. Slowly add in Olive Oil, mixing between tablespoons, until fully incorporated. Reserve and use as needed/desired20150906_114455

The Verdict

If considering this in the idea of it being the ‘French version of Minestrone,’ then this particular rendition of Pistou is spot on perfect. All the vegetables and beans were tender, soft, the orzo had this delightfully slippery effect, and the combo of beans and gruyere-mixed-pistou created this interesting addition of rich and creamy that I adored, especially with the tomato influence. And of course there’s that noted garlic-basil flavor that just permeates everything and stays subtly clinging to the roof of one’s mouth for a while even after eating. So in that sense, it was great.

B20150906_131815ut it wasn’t the version I myself wanted. I was hoping the pistou would end up a lot more like a classic, green-basil-heavy pesto but with a twist (see pistou picture at top of post), however the amount of cheese and tomatoes in this recipe were really significant. And the soup I was hoping would be lighter and simpler, creating a version that would highlight mainly the beans and pistou, ended up a full bowl of what I previously described. If I made this again, I know what I’m changing to get my preferred stylistic results: first, less tomato and cheese in the pistou, to which I’ll probably also use parmesan instead. Second, less beans and more liquid; I clearly needed much more water to actually thin this out from a chunky stew into an ingredient-filled broth, and have adjusted my recipe above as such. Speaking of which, I’ll also just use WATER instead of veggie stock, so the individual flavors/elements stand out even more (it’s actually a trick I learned when making curry). Out of personal interest, I think my next version will ditch the green beans and, hopefully, I’ll be able to use turnip this time instead of carrot+potato. With luck I’ll have derived a simple soup of beans, zucchini, and pasta, overflowing with the pungently herbal flavors of pestou that we love so much. Maybe I’ll try out some fussili or other pasta too.

20150904_113432Primary Pairing – English Cider

Okay, I’ll admit this one isn’t really a regional pairing, apples don’t even GROW that far south in France. Though one could make the argument that they have Cider in the Basque region of Spain, far north and close to SW France, but that’s still a completely different area than here, and I don’t think it justifies. At the end of the day though, it’s been quite a while since I’ve opened a bottle of cider for one of these pairings, and I just ended up craving one here. A good, chilled glass of only lightly effervescent, medium bodied fermented stone fruit, with a bit of that musky edge as it swishes around the mouth. It certainly capitalizes on the rustic nature of this dish without offering any stand-out disjunction aspects. No overpowering acidity, if there’s any sweetness it’s just slight and might help to offset any saltiness from the cheese, and they’re never too heavy for a dish like this. Since we’re not bound by region, I enjoy the idea of doing an English style cider of some sort, which always has that great focus on rich texture with less carbonation/effervescence, my preferred traits at the moment.

20150906_131627My Bottle: Aspall Imperial Cider

I had some debate over whether I should get this version or the Dry, the latter being about 2% lower in alcohol content, and worried if my choice might have too much body to it for a cider. I can say with certainty now that I didn’t need to worry, its 8.5% alcohol being perfectly medium in alcoholic body, higher for a cider but with a result even alongside typical whites and light red wines, and luckily without any of the added thick body that certain typically viscous English draft ciders can have via accompanying sugar content.

Speaking of which, very glad that it didn’t have any sweetness to it either, as expected of a fully-fermented Imperial beer/cider, as no noted salt character from the cheese made itself presence as I personally wondered if it would. What it did bring was this delightfully farmhouse, light earthy, almost bitter herby aroma (hard to tell what it was exactly, a bit unique but subtle and not in-your-face) quality that ended up mixing brilliantly with the light but lasting flavors of garlic and basil. Overall, delightful, simple/light-ish yet rich and fulfilling in spirit, much like the pistou itself.

Secondary Pairing – Corsican Rose

gazpacho-017With the breadth of pistou being produced between various regions in SE France, far Northern Italy, and some Islands between them, it feels fun to go to one of the areas that connect these two countries: Corsica. Located right off the Mediterranean coast, this French Island has some deeply Italian culinary roots, and is known for really one particular style of wine: Rose. Now, I have no damn clue what Buzzfeed was thinking with their ‘Rose or Red’ suggestion for this; there is absolutely NO reason to drink a red with this, even if one did maybe mix in some prosciutto or something. There’s no meat and nothing else that creates a chew to justify the needed tannins in the accompanying wine; heck, even a rose is pushing it, but the heartiness in various regional dishes here bring it into acceptable play. White or Rose would be the better suggestion, and this warm island should provide some nicely savory, herby pink-tinged glasses that would support this soup greatly with their structure.

Project 4: Experimenting in the Shadows of Mount Blumenthal

A6-HESTON-BLUMENTHALs I was going through college, I developed a rapt fascination for a chef by the name of Heston Blumenthal; not many but the most intense foodies in the US know about him, but almost everyone in the UK is familiar with this British celebrity chef, who’s had multiple ‘mini-series’ revolve around him making fantastical dinners or developing new foods and menus to help others. It’s okay if you don’t know about him, but you need to learn; seriously, after reading this, go look him up, do your best to find some episodes of his ‘Feasts’ or something online, and glory in the wonder that is one of the forefront culinary thinkers in the Molecular Gastronomy(though don’t use that term, most chefs hate it)/Extreme Modern cooking. As much as I admire and respect so many chefs throughout the country and world, Heston became my true idol, the one guy that I will always talk about with such intense acclaim and worship, no matter how depressed I get comparing how little I’ve done in my culinary explorations to the intense focus and work people like him have naturally done. But that’s another story and issue altogether.

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In front of the Hinds Head, the bar right across the street and also owned by Heston. Only pic we had all together before heading into dinner!

His restaurant, Fat Duck, has placed within the top 3 restaurants in a row, if not been placed at the top, at least five different times I believe; and of course it’s 3-michelin star. Nowadays other new restaurants that go to these certain ‘extreme’ lengths of service and dish creation have upseated it, but I would still choose Fat Duck any day as the one I’d go to if given the chance. I say ‘would’ because, well… I actually did. As insane as it still feels, I was lucky enough to fall into a certain set of circumstances that allowed me to actually eat a coursed out meal at my Idol’s restaurant, and with five of my precious family members no less. I won’t go into detail, but I can safely say this was an experience and memory that I myself will cherish for the rest of my life. God, me and my cousin still talk about it just between the two of us, not to mention sharing the story with others.

20150813_003825But to get to the reason for my next ‘project,’ I swear I’m not just trying to brag here, there’s a point! For, on top of just being there, we actually ended up going during the same week as my birthday, cuz that’s how it worked out. And unbeknownst of me, making me feel extra guilty but also extra blessed, my mom called the place one day and got a couple ‘surprises’ for me as a gift. One of them was a copy of ‘The Fat Duck Cookbook,’ his penultimate masterpiece with so many intense and detailed recipes along with pages and pages of talk on the science of things and his trip through figuring out many of these dishes. There are actually two copies, the ‘smaller’ one, which I believe is about the size of an encyclopedia, and the ‘Big Fat Duck’ book; I ended up getting the latter. Which made the travel back to the hotel quite laborious… well that and the empty bottles of wine I requested to keep as part of my collection. I was getting souvenirs dammit!! Did I get anything from England? No, of course not… but the restaurant needed all-important mementos!

Sadly, I haven’t actually gotten much of a chance to really TRY making any of the things in here; I mean, most of this isn’t things that one can just ‘bust out’ on a random weekend or weekday night. A lot of this requires special equipment, unique ingredients or chemicals, long and very-specific preparation procedures, or a combination of all that. And that can just be for a COMPONENT of a dish.

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Gotta tease you with a couple pictures at least! For instance, the legendary “Sound of the Sea,” complete w/ headphones inside conch shells that played, well, sounds of the sea

When starting this blog, I HAD toyed with the idea of diving headlong into trying to put together some of these dishes, one at a time and likely with long breaks in between, if I got around to it. Though with how schedule has gone, and again some of the VERY special things needed for some of these, very unlikely. But… a recent search for a certain kind of ice cream recipe brought me back to opening up this book. And I just don’t think I can forgive myself for not at least ATTEMPTING some of the various recipes found in here. So I thought hey, why the hell not? Let’s do it.

Now, will I get through most of the recipes in here? Oh hell no. I don’t think I’ll ever even try to put together one of the ‘complete dishes,’ just don’t have the time and resources to do that accurately. Most of this will likely be me playing around with different ‘components;’ so, making a specific caramel, an ice cream, cooking preparation for fish or lamb, garnishes, etc. I’ll try to do a few different ones in each post.

Will I even make it past the first post I’m already working on? Who knows. Will I at least be doing everything to perfection? Again, hell no, and for once I don’t feel bad about that. I’ll do what I can, but there will be plenty of occasions where I’ll have to develop my own methods, or find decent ingredient substitutions, in order to make something even close to this at home. At the end of the day, I’m still a home cook, and don’t have the money or time to get a lot of these things just to make something ONCE. Besides, I’m not looking for complete reproduction(there are plenty of blogs that have already done that, trust me); for me, it’s more about finding ways and reasons to explore some cool methods and ideas that I normally haven’t done on a frequent basis, a general honoring of this book, this man, my family and the memories they’ve given me.

With that said, let’s see how these specific posts will end up breaking down:

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My personal favorite of the night, “Botrytis Cinerea”

No particular title or focus on the introductory section, for one because I just feel like ‘getting into it’ with these, and secondly since some of these articles will feature a few different component recipes, some which may be related to each other and some which will come from all over the damn book. Like with my Bread Project, gonna take a more casual tone with whatever I feel like talking about before getting into details.

What I’m Doing Wrong

Basically listing and discussing any particular different that I’ll have to undergo, whether it’s having to use a regular apple instead of the listed British variety, rig up my own ‘sous vide’ technique, or if I actually decide to blatantly change up certain flavors/ingredients, likely due to cheapness.

Cool Science-y Stuff

Some of the cool facts that pertain to the particular ingredients and techniques used that Heston discusses in the book; there is no way I am going to list EVERYTHING pertaining to a recipe, or even get into the detail his book likely does, but there are some fun facts that are nice to discuss.

Truthfully, I’m not actually sure how much detail I’ll ever get into with this, or even if I’ll include it with every, or any, post I might do on this project. Right now my brain is heavily debating if I even want to put the effort into trying to write and blog about these specific excursions, or if I just want to enjoy them purely on my own whenever it is I can get to attempting something. We’ll see what ends up happening.

Recipes

Complete with pictures and ingredient lists! My plan is to just write down what I’M making, but I guess I should also include () next to any ingredient, and potentially directions, that I made changes to shouldn’t I?

Results

My reaction, how it actually turned out, how exactly I might adjust things to fix problems or suit my particular tastes in the future, and other things that I may want to ramble on about.

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Only a starting glance at the “Mad Hatter’s Tea Party,” an iconic meal originally featured in one of Heston’s most famous Feasts.

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Hah, I’m teasing with the idea of adding a ‘Will Heston be proud of this?’ section, but I’m pretty damn sure I know how they’ll all end up!! No need to push myself further into depression right?

Well, we’ll see how this particular one ends up going about. Maybe I’ll also sneak into stores and steal recipes out of his ‘feast’ books to try too… I feel like some of them might be do-able at home.

p2, Kouglof

kouglof_The Sweet

With Easter coming up (or having come up) and my family being asked to contribute a dessert, I got the chance to tackle one of my French sweet recipes, and I’ve had a few that I wanted to save for holiday parties of sorts. These are often those brioche-based or light cakey favorites normally saved for celebrations as-is. Now that I finally have a mixer with a dough hook, too, I can tackle these recipes with even more enthusiasm than before!

After some deciding, and a noted dismissal by the mother against the idea of a certain cake made with Pastis (anise-flavored liqueur), I settled on Kouglof… or, much like Flammekeuche, one of the other tens of European names which this dish goes by. Hailing mainly from Alsace, this bread-like dessert made in a special ceramic ring-mold features an inclusion of raisins, almonds, and booze (typical additions for bread-based desserts). And, much like quite a few dishes from this highly Germanic-influenced region, one can safely claim that France is NOT the country of origin for this. No, we see various other cakes going by the same name and same or similar recipe in various countries; It’s kuglof in Hungary, guguluf in Romania, babovka in Czech-Slovakia, babka in Poland, and wacker/wacka in Austria.

It’s this last country which most likely made the biggest introduction of the recipe to France, Marie-Antoinette having supposedly introduced the pastry to her friends in Versailles. After which it became one of the most fashionable cakes at the time. Though the popularity may not be as big now (at least in the US), it still proves why, when made right, it’s such a much-loved dish, the smell of warm toasty bread mixing with the sweet notes of kirschwasser and almonds.

Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner

It’s difficult for me to narrow down different bread-based recipes when I don’t have too much experience with the formula effects, not to mention no clue given in research towards how that particular brioche traditionally leaned. Luckily, though, I was able to find certain requirements that I just had to have in the final mix, so that helped eliminate possibilities.

F20150404_215933irst, obviously, there had to be Raisins; Golden, in my opinion, since the wine grapes that would be most abundant and likely dried in Alsace, Germany, and the other countries that make this dessert would most likely be White varieties (I could be wrong, maybe they use a different variety which is red, but if anything I found a really good looking bag of organic Californian goldens at Trader Joe’s). But more importantly, it had to have some Alcohol to soak these in.

Speaking of which, though many recipes call for Rum (likely as it’s the most handy for home cooks), Kirsch or Kirschwasser (cherry brandy) is most properly utilized, a classic spirit distilled near the regions. And French Brandy would pose a reasonable substitute. But do please get in some booze, it’s not a proper dessert without the use of good alcohol!

Finally, I had to have a recipe that used Almonds (surprisingly not all did), the higher quantity of this, raisins, and kirschwasser in the recipe the better, so as to properly display the additions and not just make a plain, simple brioche. I wanted to make sure these elements actually COUNTED with the flavor they brought in. Which is why, instead of following recipes which just sprinkle all of them on the bottom of the pan (to top the cake after baking), I moved all required inside, after having previously chopped and toasted them in the oven. Extra was utilized for ‘garnish’ of course; gotta try making it pretty.

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Besides required must-haves, there were also things I avoided; mainly, those recipes that made really small versions of the cake and/or glazed it with an icing of sorts. Though I bet they would get the idealistic cake-ish or high-butter brioche crumb that I was ideally looking for, it just didn’t feel like it embodied the kind of kouglof I wanted today. I want the big cake, unadorned but for the raisins and almonds already inside, sliced thick and only sweetened by any fruit or whipped cream one would top it with.

As for final recipe notes, I tried finding one that didn’t seem TOO bread-y (we’ll see how that worked out), but in particular I found interest with one yeast-starter strategy, where instead of simply leaving with warm milk/water, one made a little dough-ball to rest and rise for a bit before mixing the whole batch in. Not really sure what it did, but the idea seemed intriguing, so I just had to do it. It also had me cover the dough in flour as it rose/’proofed’… not sure what reason that is, besides maybe being a natural substitute for covering the bowl with plastic/a towel?

20150405_100220Oh, speaking of rising, creating the optimum slightly-warm and moist environment is ideal for any bread-type preparations. The best way to do this, if not privy to some ideal location in your own house, is to boil a pot of water and place in the oven along with the covered dough. So sayz Zool, all hail Zool! (da-na-nana-na-na)

Final note: no matter the country, this pastry has a traditional fluted, round pan in which it is baked in. I am TOO LAZY to go out and buy one of these for this one recipe that, as much as I want to, I will likely never make again. Luckily for us, bundt pans work just as well.

Kouglof
100g Golden Raisins
40ml Kirschwasser
20g Active Yeast
320ml Lukewarm Milk
550g AP Flour
2 Eggs
80g Sugar
1tsp Salt
130g Butter, Diced and softened
80g Chopped, Toasted Almonds
Whole, non-toasted Almonds for display
Butter

Directions

  1. Place Raisins and Kirschwasser in container together, let macerate overnight20150404_220058
  2. Combine the Yeast and 70g of Milk, mixing briefly, letting sit for 5-10 minutes to activate.20150405_094932
  3. When soft, lightly foamy, and smelling distinctly of the yeast, add to 100g of flour. Knead briefly into a ball20150405_100123
  4. Cover in some of the remaining flour. Set aside for ½ hour in an oven alongside pot of boiling water to briefly rise, about ½ hour20150405_105620
  5. Combine remaining Flour, Eggs, Sugar, Salt, Kirsch (drained from raisins), and the starter ball in mixing thoroughly by hand for about 10 minutes, or with a stand mixer dough hook 4-6, until the ball is fully incorporated (dough should start stretching a bit)20150405_110508
  6. Add Diced Butter, mixing on medium-high until incorporated (or hand-kneading about 10 minutes) and dough becomes smooth and elastic20150405_110830
  7. Toss in Raisins and Chopped almonds, kneading briefly to distribute as evenly as possible20150405_111035
  8. Cover bowl with clean towel, let rise in warm area of your choice for 30 minutes20150405_113617
  9. Butter the desired Kouglof or Bundt Pan mold thoroughly, placing a whole almond in the grooves for a decorative top20150405_113928
  10. Punch down, BRIEFLY knead again, and transfer dough into desired pan. Cover and let proof again for 30-60 minutes, until doubled in size20150405_114138
  11. Turn oven to 360F20150405_121902
  12. Move pan to oven, back 30-45 minutes, until top is crusty, brown, and a knife inserted comes out clean (Note: may want to cover top with aluminum foil partway through if browning too fast)20150405_124422
  13. Remove, let cool 2-4 minutes before upending over cooling rack, allowing it to sit 5-10 minutes before serving.20150405_131424
  14. Slice and enjoy as desired20150405_162700

20150405_155426My Thoughts

I think it came out exactly as it was supposed to (maybe a TOUCH over, there was a bit of a dryness to the crust, which came out exceptionally golden brown, beautiful, and crispy btw omg lol afk yjk… okay I’m gonna stop that now), but it didn’t fit my ideal goal; I clearly kneaded it too long for my preferences, as it really came out more brioche-y than sweet bread/cake-y like I was hoping to get. Not complaining completely though, this is one of the completely acceptable outcomes; it IS a brioche-style recipe.

On its own it’s a nice, rich little slightly eggy bread, as I said with an awesome crust, I love how it came out looking! The almonds and raisins added a nice touch; not fully transforming the flavor as if you were eating something stuffed with marzipan or almond extract, just a subtle little addition so it’s not plain bread. With the maceration, those raisins provide a happily little pop of flavor in the pieces of kouglof we find them in.

20150405_155538At the end of the day, though, this guy is just so much better eaten with other stuff. A big dollop of hand-whipped vanilla cream and some raisin-fig-strawberries soaked in balsamic, sirup, and other yummy stuff. Sweetens it up and adds some much needed moisture, for what’s the best use of sponge and breadcakes but to use them to soak up delicious fruit compote things. Not to mention the leftovers make for EPIC Bread Pudding the next day (which this one did as well, topped with chopped almonds and leftover soaked fruit).

kirschPossible Pairings

Obviously we can’t consider eating a slice of kouglof without a sipper of the same Kirschwasser we used to cook it with; it makes sense regionally, culturally, and deliciously. Gotta love that combination of deep fruit and almond-y tones from cherries with this lightly nutty and fruit-jeweled bread.

Though since we’re technically in Alsace, for the French purposes of this recipe at least, we should consider one of their delicious sweet wines… or at least what I’d say for any other dessert from there, I would love to consider a proper VDN (basically a special late-harvest, sometimes botyrized, awesome). But kouglof (this version anyway) really is barely sweet, so this isn’t an ideal pairing. Instead, I would so love to try one Alsace’s rare Moscatos. Fermented dry or, more realistically, a bit off-dry (the Alsace wine Region and Germany have shared much history, and have slowly started affecting each other’s styles; certain German vintners are starting to make drier, more robust bottles while the traditionally bone-dry Alsace is starting to incorporate more sweetness in some Grand Crus), with that distinctly floral, naturally sweet and raisiny/grapey flavors the wine exudes, perhaps with a bit of fleshiness from their long, full fermentation to go with those baked bready notes. Doesn’t that just sound like it’d be perfect with these flavors?

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p1: Coquilles St-Jacques

7-SAV150-69_Scallops-750x750The Dish

As fun and interesting it is to delve into realms of history and legend that so many of these classic French preparations have seemed to garner, it’s almost ever more intriguing to find one that has little to say for itself. Thus is my experience with the preparation of Coquille St. Jacques, a term which has been says translates to “Saint James’s Scallops,” deriving an interesting little tale to the origin. The story goes that the holy Saint James, in his travels, saved a night who had fallen into the river; upon emerging, the night was covered in scallop shells (there is also a story of a knight’s horse that fell in and emerged with scallops). As such, Saint James’ emblem became that of the scallop shell, which on its own is a true fact, and thus lending itself to the name of the dish.

Whether these tales are true, or if they really has any forbearance on the dish’s name, is up to debate. What we can say is that Saint Jacques has become the accepted name for a certain French scallop, and that the term “coquille” is culinary used for a number of recipes that are baked or broiled inside a scallop shell, which when cleaned has made a very durable and trusty cooking utensil for hundreds of years (there’s an interesting anecdote to begging poor or monks who would travel with one tied around their neck and use to scoop food). These dishes are oft composed of the main ingredient chopped up and covered in a creamy wine sauce, thickened much like gravy, and then broiled with cheese as-is or on top of a bed of other ingredients. Methods for coquille st-jacques has found the scallops cooked alone or on top of duxelle (a blend of shallots, garlic, and mushroom sautéed into a paste), diced or whole, until golden and bubbly.

A Word On…

Scallops: Here is the question on how one puts this dish together; do we do the classic, rustic coquille which consists of a mass of goeey cheese sauce mixed with chopped up shellfish meat, or do we leave large rounded disks with an elegant garnish to display in a more refined manner, thus highlighting the meaty seafood? If one goes for the former, tiny Bay Scallops are likely your game, much sweeter and more flavor without having to worry about the structure. However, after my few months away from the blog game, I feel like I want to present the more sophisticated style of my first dish in a while; not to mention, if I’m going to cook with a good quality scallop, I want it to be able to shine properly, so bigger Sea Scallops it is.

I buy them fresh from a good distributor, not frozen and definitely not the ‘wet packed’ scallops that many people warn about. To make sure it doesn’t have any of that extra moisture that could ruin its structure when cooking, I pat and let them sit on some paper towels before the poaching. The results… well let’s see.

Of course, die hard recipe reproducers would look to get true St. Jacques Scallops from France; of which I have no clue how to do in the States besides shipping in frozen, so I’ll stick to some decent fresh ones instead.

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Mushrooms: though their inclusion is fully optional, every recipe I’ve found that uses them points almost exclusively to white buttons, which I was want to follow. Giving myself a few extra seconds at the store, in front of the bins, I could not help but think that if this was made in the French countryside, around the Loire, from ingredients on hand, would it have been a ‘white button’ or some available brown-topped, perhaps wild mushroom? Some version of the latter feels more sincere, so at the very least I decided to buy some Criminis to get more flavor in.

20141221_133939Sauce: The sauce used for this is somewhat intriguing compared to other ones I’ve worked with in the past. It’s a roux-thickened recipe, much like with three of the classic mother sauces and gravy, but it uses no stock, no milk as its base, some cream yes but that’s more for fortification at the end (like butter); the liquid component is entirely based on wine that the scallops are poached in before baking. Flavor wise it ends up similar to a classic beurre blanc, but oh what a different texture.

That ramble out of the way, the poaching liquid itself offers another choice to us, as I’ve seen in my searchings: Wine or Vermouth. Many have used either or, or combinations of the two, thus leading us to debate; my own curiosity has me wondering what the vermouth would taste like, and why it’s included, however contrary to that I don’t think I’d want to create an all-vermouth sauce and poaching liquid unless I had some good quality alcohol, as opposed to the terrible mass-produced crap that’s usually in my bar simply be destined for thinning out in cocktails. Thus I settled for an almost equal portioned blend of the two, so that I could add just that little bit of complexity, botanical depth, and richness vermouth contributes. Though, I would suggest that, unlike me, you use a proper WHITE vermouth in your own experiments (sadly we ran out, so red it is).

Cheese: Not too much of a commonality in recipes, I’ve seen people use Swiss, Parmesan, Gruyere, mixes, you name it. Some sprinkle just on top, some melt into the sauce, if not both; which is where I start, as I feel like the sauce should stay a simple gravy of the thickened cooking liquid, only using cream to bolster the texture. Cheese is made to be gratineed over the top, and though there seems to not be anything SPECIFICALLY required, gruyere just seems to fit the bill best, both in its melting properties and the common use in French cuisine where cheese is concerned.

Coquille: Very likely, you probably don’t have a scallop shell you can use for cooking at home. Ramekins work well, though, or any other similar small baking dish that can be stuck in a super-hot oven and broiled with.

Coquilles St-Jacques
4 Tb Butter
3 Shallots, Chopped
4 cloves Garlic, Chopped
1 cup Chopped White Button or Crimini Mushrooms
¼ bunch Parsley
12 Sea Scallops
¾ cup Dry White Wine (French preferred)
½ – ¾ cup Dry White Vermouth
2 Tb Flour
3 Tb Cream
¼ cup Grated Gruyere
Salt and Pepper

Directions

  1. Heat a sauté pan to medium/med-high, tossing in 2 Tb of Butter and 2 of the Shallots.20141221_134934
  2. Cook 1-2 minutes until it begins to soften, adding in the Garlic and chopped Mushrooms.20141221_140736
  3. Heat, stirring often, until browned nicely throughout and broken down. Season with salt, pepper, and most of the Parsley Leaves, minced. Reserve.20141221_142013
  4. Gently prepare your Scallops, slicing carefully in half to produce two thin disks.20141221_143341
  5. In a separate, wide pan, combine the Wine, Vermouth, Parsley Stems, and the rest of the Shallots, heating until just barely at a simmer.20141221_142446
  6. Arrange the scallops in the pan so that the liquid only just covers them (or gets close to the top), letting them sit in the warm but not boiling poaching liquid 2-3 minutes. You may need to flip them halfway through to ensure even cooking.
  7. Remove scallops, reserve on the side, and strain the resulting wine and scallop Stock.20141221_143442
  8. In the pan one cooked mushrooms in, add the rest of the butter with the heat on medium. Once melted, whisk in the Flour.
  9. Let sit on hit, whisking often, until it lightens slightly in color, 1-3 minutes. Slowly pour in the still-warm wine stock, mixing constantly to incorporate.20141221_143742
  10. Let heat for a minute or two until thickened slightly; if notable too thick, add in more wine to thin into a proper sauce. Season salt and pepper, finish with the Cream.
  11. Heat oven to 475F.20141221_171344
  12. Start arranging your ingredients on the Coquille or other ramekin-like serving vessel, starting with a mound of the sautéed mushroom duxelle and some of the sauce.20141221_171738
  13. Carefully layer the poached scallop coins on top in a pleasing array, spooning the rest of the sauce overhead. Garnish with Gruyere and move to the oven.
  14. Roast until the sauce is melty and the top has bruleed to a beautiful golden edge, about 5-15 minutes depending on cooking vessel and other factors.20141221_182958
  15. Remove, garnish with freshly chopped parsley, and serve alongside toasted baguette.

The Verdict

20141221_183344There’s a very intriguing ‘rule’ in French and Italian cooking that states one should never plate seafood with cheese; there are of course exceptions to every rule, but it’s usually seen with subtle manipulations, here most often using only the lightest hints of parmesan to bolster a bit of richness in a white fish or scallop dip. Which is why, when eating, I found this particular dish so intriguing, in light of not only this rule but of what I know of France’s culinary distinctions. Here we’re taking a scallop, an ingredient that needs gentle treatment and is most commonly partnered with delicate flavors so as to highlight its veil of sweetness and easy-to-dismiss flavors of the sea, and completely smothering it in garlicky mushrooms, a thick and tart cream sauce, and the strong European cheddar that is Gruyere.

And the damn thing works. For despite this rich, gut warming bowl of goodness, the scallop’s flavors are never fully covered, and the portions leave its meat in the strong point, allowing us to enjoy its well-cooked texture, the sweetness coming to underlay against the creamy cheese and sauce, with mushrooms dancing in behind to say hello and make our taste buds happy. Though they might not be a requirement, I am happy I went for the version with the duxelle, as well as keeping big pieces of scallop vs chopped, though I’m sure that would have been its own scrumchy delight. It does need to be eaten with bread or something else though, for a complete course, too bad I forgot to get a baguette (had some English muffins though, so it worked out!).

 

20141221_182559Primary Pairing – Gingo Sake

It’s not hard to reason that sake goes very well with fish and seafood, considering the well famed Japanese cuisine. Though one might not think it, considering most sake’s very earth-bound flavors of woods, fungus, and earth mixed with the rice’s sweetness. But when we get into the more aromatic and refined styles of Gingo and Daigingo, where the rice grain has more of its heavier outer layers polished down, we find notably lighter-bodied ‘wines’ with those characteristic flavors of the sea mixed with fruit and floral yeasts. If we were to choose a bottle that was only halfway up this sake totem pole of refinement, mainly Gingos, then we would still hold onto some of those earthy flavors, which in my opinion make it quite the appealing pair to enjoy alongside this medium-lightweight, mushroomy seafood dish.

20141221_180421My Bottle: Sho Chiku Bai’s Junmai Gingo Sake

I’ll admit a noted disappointment on first sip, as I had hoped for it to reveal more flavors of fleshy fruit, or perhaps some zesty aromatics, but nonetheless it shone itself as a proper, standard Junmai Gingo. The ‘weight’ of the drink was a noted step down from regular Junmai sake (which is an interesting thing to taste one next to the other; unlike other drinks, where shifts in style happen more smoothly and gradually, one can very easily feel a drop in aromatic strength and body weight between the different sake styles), and contained the smooth flavors of barley and mushrooms to play with the palette without overpowering the light scallops. The flavors and weights ended up meshing quite nicely, with just a bit of that creamy rice flavor that blended into the creamy white scallop. Overall, much like my last sake pairing with the duck, a surprisingly successful match after opening.

vouvSecondary Pairing – Vouvray

Sticking to the NW region, along the river Loire and close to the sea, I so much want to use a Sancerre or Muscadet, but the body’s just too light and flavors too crisp for my liking in this case. A Vouvray, however, based on the Chenin Blanc, brings a bit more weight to combat the slightly heavier sauce and mushrooms, a bit more of a richer background, while still holding notable acid (as Chenin and Rieslings are like to do) to cut through the cream and brighten the seafood. Not to mention many Vouvray (note I’m sticking with the generic as opposed to choosing a specific style, regional or otherwise) contain a bit of sweetness which I think would combat the saltiness of the cheese and scallops beautifully, if done right of course.

p2: Crepes Suzette

Somewhat a continuation of my previous post on savory Crepes.

The Sweet

201110-r-crepes-suzetteIn the crepe’s origins, buckwheat ruled, being mixed into a batter consisting purely of itself, water, and rock salt. Cooked on both sides in a thin layer, this created a very crisp, and often very fragile pastry. As time went on, the interests in southern Brittany and other areas of France learning of this dish started changing their tastes, requiring the ‘pastry’ be filled and stuffed. As it was, these buckwheat crepes would fail this task miserable, breaking in half whenever attempting to fold. Thus those cravings-driven cooks of shops and home began to add eggs, milk, and butter, softening its structure and turning the French flatbread into a French pancake, entering the second step in its evolution towards the foldable street food we love today.

As white flour became steadily more available in the 1900’s, crepe’s structure thoroughly began to change, diverging the styles between an extremely soft, all-flour version and the more traditional dark floured one (which I’ve discussed somewhat Here). This former was particularly celebrated with royalty (likely before its price dropped), and in Paris and Southern France, almost exclusively being used for desserts. It is from here that the epitome of cooking with these pancakes developed, Crepes Suzette.

Like many a classic recipe, the story Suzette’s origins abound with different versions. The most advertised, and also debated, story comes about from a certain Chef Henri Charpentier. While cooking a tableside dessert of crepes cooked in orange juice, sugar, and liqueur for the Prince of Wales, a frequent customer. By accident, the sauce caught fire in the pan, burning into a gentle flambé. With no choice other than complete humiliation either way, he served the ‘ruined’ dish, only to be met with even more love from the Prince. When asked its name, Charpentier told him it was to be called “Crepes Princesse” after the Prince, the dish automatically making it name female. Out of mock ferocity, the Prince demanded that the lady at the table, a daughter of his guest named Suzette, be honored instead.

Though interesting, much contesting has been done. Mainly the fact that, at the year this now-famous chef stated it happened, he would have only been around 14. The main issue comes in the fact that, usually, only the Head Waiter would have served tableside, and he’d be way too young for that. Though potential unique circumstances could have made it possible, especially explaining the screw-up, but it’s not likely. Of interest, it’s also rumored that the young lady may not have been a regular ‘friendly acquaintance’ and more, ummm… paid for.

A similar royal story pits a chef named Jean Reboux, who was supposedly asked to make something by a lovestruck Princess Suzette de Carignan for King Louis XV.

One of the more interesting accounts lie with another chef, named simply Monsieur Joseph, in the presence of the actress Suzanne (Suzette being her nicknamed) Reichenburg; or, as yet another account states, a waitress of the dish’s name that served the play. The chef would generously supply crepes for the cast and, to ensure they stayed warm for the performance, lit them in the fiery sauce.

Of final note, and probably the only set thing that could help explain the origin of this elusively researched dish, is a recipe in Oscar Tschirky’s 1896 New York cookbook for “Pancakes, Casino Style,” basically a complete formulation for Crepes Suzette minus the flambé. Following this in 1907, Auguste Escoffier then describes the complete version of Crepes Suzette in his famous Le Guide Culinaire.

Whatever the origins and methods (psychotic as it is to say, there’s so much more things I could type on this idea), Crepes Suzette came out too much acclaim, truly the harbinger not only of Crepe desserts everywhere but leading the charge for the flambéed dish movement. Truly one of the heights of high French sweet cuisine.

Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner

Finding the truly traditionally composition and technique, basing it on the dish during the height of its fame and not on a singular point of creation or more recent version, has proven to be a very challenging feat. In fact, with the many sources and styles I’ve found, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as One True Version of this; there are in fact multiple choices and slight variations done while still keeping it, in my opinion, ‘classic.’ I’ve thus had to narrow down which ones I prefer in this instance.

20140824_115746Though I should start with my first quandary in my search; see, the one thing I knew I wanted to do, and was very much a classic technique, was this thing I saw Jacque Pepin talk about in the Crepe episode of him+Julia Child. This is where he took sugar cubes and rubbed them on an orange, using them as the sugar base for the ‘classic style’ crepe, while later he also showed a ‘more modern do-at-home version’ where he made a compound butter. The odd, and really frustrating, thing was that, despite my many searches, I could never find his recipe online that included the zest-infused sugar. Only the compound butter. And no video clips of the episode.

Many other searches, both in classic books and traditional recipes, yielded something surprising; this Compound Butter method, where one mixes sugar, zest, and orange juice (with perhaps other ingredients) together, using to very quickly and easily melt in the pan and/or over the crepes before flambé-ing (Jacque melted it in a broiler), it just kept popping up. It wasn’t just something made up in the last couple decades, but perhaps a link to the classic high restaurant style, likely inspired by finishing savory pan gravies for meat with herb-butters.

So our first choice is to do this, or build our own syrup from scratch in the pan, usually achieved by combining orange juice, zest, your sugar, and butter(either in the beginning or later) and reducing down, perhaps with some of the booze. I prefer the latter method, just because it feels like I can develop more flavors, and there’s this calm, classic feeling of building your sauce one bit at a time that I fell in love with when making French cuisine.

At some point we need the crepes to mix and soak with this sauce. But when we flambé, do we leave them in the pan, or are they transferred to a serving dish, and flambé the booze on the side to pour over? Both are seen and done in front of guests to add flare, the former being developed exclusively in restaurants as they cooked the sauce and crepes on a pan in front of customers. As such the flambé would happen in the same pan, to keep things simple, and transferred to plates from there. The latter is just as often seen in recipes, so it was a tough choice for me; ultimately, since I had no restraints like restaurant table-side service, I thought it’d be fun, plus it gives me more of a chance to light all the booze directly and not risk the crepes potentially muddling the fire up in the beginning.

Though that also leads into one quick decision; most of the recipes that call for this have the liquor heated in a separate, empty pan. Which is fine, but after your crepes are soaked and transferred, there’s all this sticky, delicious sauce left in the bottom and edges of your pan. So I just dump it in the same pan while hot to scrape up as much of the remaining, and even more developed, flavor that I can. Then I make a show of it.

Our final method articulation lies in something that I never would have considered until I started actually looking at recipes: Caramel. Seen with Jacque and certain others, there are a few recipes that sprinkle sugar on top of the sauced crepes at the end before the fire, or before broiling, meant to have them caramelize like a crème brulee. Other recipes, however, have started off their sauce making by, instead of just dissolving sugar in orange juice, cooking the sugar as-is until it just browns, then building the sauce. This flavor of caramel, also a tie in to certain aged tastes in the cognac spirit and liqueur, is thus a newly interesting and required component to the final flavor. I of course have to attempt it in the simple and classic sense of brulee, but I would love to try the other method to really get the richer flavor in some other time.

Speaking of liqueur, that is one last thing I want to talk about before ending my tirade. Though something about Grand Marnier just feels right to me, I have seen plenty of excerpts mentioned using Cointreau, another cognac-based orange liqueur. A such I think any Orange Liqueur, just so long as it used COGNAC as the base, is acceptable; but no Triple Sec or Orangecello or whatnot, my apologies but that just isn’t a true and proper Suzette sauce. Following that, whether or not one also adds a bit of Cognac or other decent-quality Brandy to the mix… up to you. I’ve seen many recipes that just use the liqueur, but I do like the flavor developed by mixing the two. Mainly I would suggest, if you want to try it, mixing them beforehand, tasting to get the exact ratio that you like (mine was very Grand Marnier centered with maybe only 30% Cognac in it) before starting to cook your Suzette.

That way everything is just right to start your perfect Suzette recipe.

Crepes Suzette
80 grams (ish) Sugar Cubes
2 Oranges
Tsp Salt
1 Stick Cold Butter
¼ cup + 2 Tb Grand Marnier
3-4 Tb Cognac
4-5 Large or 6-8 Medium-sized Crepes (recipe follows)

Directions

  1. Taking your Sugar Cubes, one at a time, carefully but thoroughly rub each side over the skin of one of the Oranges until it changes color and grabs its aroma.20140824_114257
  2. Crush cubs into grain, also scraping off any sugar that’s stuck to the orange, and reserve your orange-sugar on the side.20140824_124633
  3. Zest the other Orange, and Juice both citrus fruits.
  4. Combine these with Salt, all but 2 Tb of sugar, 2 Tb of Grand Marnier and 1 Tb Cognac in warm sauce pan.20140824_182041
  5. Heat, on medium, to boil, stirring to dissolve and letting cook 5-15 minutes, as needed, until reduced by about half into a syrup.20140824_183130
  6. Remove from heat, roughly chop cold Butter and toss in, stirring until fully melted and emulsified in.20140824_183653
  7. Take your pre-cooked Crepes and lay in pan, one at a time. Let briefly rest, flipping over to coat both sides in the orange sauce.20140824_183558
  8. Fold into quarters, picking and hanging up to let any excess syrup drip, and transfer to a heat proof casserole, broiler, or other such dish.
  9. Repeat with remaining crepes until they’re all used up or almost all syrup has been absorbed, whichever comes first.20140824_184045
  10. Move pan back to stove to start heating up. While this is happening, sprinkle the remaing 1-2 Tb of Sugar over the folded crepes in a thing and even layer.
  11. Once pan is hot, the thin layer of sauce is bubbling, start the flambé process. Very quickly, dump in your remaining alcohol (if using a Gas stove, off-heat), briefly stirring and swirling to pick up and deglaze the leftovers of sauce.20140824_184138
  12. Light with flame (match, blow torch, gas stove, etc) and pour the ignited liquid over the crepes.20140824_184145
  13. Wait until the fire goes down, the edges have browned and sugar is dissolved (and hopefully somewhat caramelized), and serve.20140824_184156
  14. Transfer hot crepes onto plate, spooning extra sauce remaining in pan over the top.20140824_184515
  15. If desired, serve with fresh or candied fruit, ice cream, or whatever desired. Enjoy

Sweet Crepes
1/3 cup Sugar
1 Tb Buckwheat Flour
1 Tb Melted Butter
1/3 cup Water
Tsp Vanilla
2 Tb Grand Marnier
Tsp Salt
Zest of 1 Orange
2 Eggs
1 ¾ cup AP Flour
2 ¼ cup Low-fat Milk

Directions

  1. In a bowl mix Sugar, Buckwheat, Butter, Water, Vanilla, Grand Marnier, Salt, Orange zest, and Eggs together.20140824_130753
  2. Sift flour and add, alternating, with the Milk, mixing well and until smooth.20140824_131209
  3. Let rest for at least an hour and get your crepe-making equipment and station prepped and ready, brushing surface with an oiled paper towel.20140824_131315
  4. Heating your pan, stone, etc to a medium-high-ish heat, scoop a small ladle of batter just outside the center.20140824_170043
  5. Very quickly, spread/swirl the batter around in a thin layer, getting as even a circle as possible.20140824_150110
  6. Once edges start to brown and curl lightly, or it lifts easily and is evenly browned on the bottom layer, lift and quickly flip to its other side.20140824_150142
  7. Let cook until it browned, remove from pan and stack with other crepes between wax or parchment paper for later. Optionally, one can sprinkle with preferred fruit, sauce, jam, or other filling right after flipping, folding or rolling to serve hot.20140824_150157

My Thoughts

The only things of note for the next time I make this is one: a little too boozy, but in the best ways (it by no means ruined the flavor, I just think a little less would allow the orange sauce to shine further); note that I originally used over ½ cup of alcohol when cooking but as you can see pared it down to 1/3-ish for the recipe. And secondly, I’m a bit saddened the sugar on top didn’t caramelize as intended (I doubted it ever would in ANY person’s recipe/attempt, but thought I’d try), but again was still delicious, added a bit extra something. Maybe next time I’ll actually caramelize some of the sugar in the pan I build the orange sauce in?20140824_184150

Besides those slight adjustments, our suzette was simply heavenly. Depth and richness pervaded from the aged cognac-based spirits, with flavors of orange both fresh and developed, hanging around a syrupy sauce that clung to the fully tender and soaked French pancakes. It made me drool as I ate and I licked the plate clean. Something tells me my family will force me to make it again, not that I’d mind.

20140824_184320Possible Pairings

Truly I can’t think of any better partner than pouring yourself a simple, straight up shot of ice-cold Grand Marnier, or whichever cognac-based orange liqueur you used. No need to make cocktails, or get something rare and unique, just let yourself enjoy the deep flavors that actually pervade what is this complicated liqueur, all while appreciating the same flavors and more in your dessert.

Though one could also use it as an excuse, in the same vein, to have a sipper of Cognac, either the same you used here or, ideally, an even better and longer aged beauty, kept at room temperature or a touch lower (no heating your cognac! Bad dog!). Then again, I’ve found Armagnacs (cognac’s not-so-smooth, very aromatically fire-y cousin) that bring a noted nose of oranges to the party, making it a fun substitute if you can find the right bottle.

If we did want to walk outside those alcohols that were used in the recipe, I will admit there’s a part of me that for whatever reason craves an Australian ‘Sticky,’ their richly fruity and caramel-y fortified dessert wines, especially the ones made from Moscato. The syrupiness and richness and alcy body just feel like they’d be a nummy match.untitled2