p1: Gratin Dauphinois

The Dish

enhanced-buzz-25038-1386024391-7Gotta love scalloped potatoes; I was going to save this dish for some other time in the future, maybe a rainy day, but I had a day full of absolutely nothing and a week to go until my next dish, this was a simple item on either list that I could whip together.

Overall, the term Gratin actually harkened back to the little fond or crust left in a baking dish after cooking, or that burned piece of cheese and cream at the bottom of a fondue pot. Always the prized piece of a dish, this would be scraped up and snacked with much affection. After some time, this word transferred to certain foods identified by being cooked in a low, wide ceramic pot that would develop an even, thick crusty top.

Though these can be made with practically anything, the epitome of the Gratin world has been and always will be based on the Potato. Gratin Dauphinois is no exception, having originated in the Southeastern Dauphiné region, being known for something quite unique as opposed to when one normally thinks of “gratin.” At the time of creation, thought to be around the 1700’s, cheese was quite the luxury ingredient, at times being used in a form of currency. A very rustic dish, made by those with not as much money to waste on luxuries for the sake of taste, thus excluded the use of the highly-prepared curdled and aged dairy product. As such it was, and still is, only prepared with Cream or Crème Fraiche and various seasonings.

There’s not much more to say about its history besides that; it became somewhat known after being served with Ortolans at a dinner for Dukes or something, but that’s about it. With a dish like this, who really cares? I just wanna dig right into it and forget all about anything else for a while.

A Word On…

Potatoes: It’s hard to say whether or not there’s a properly “traditional” potato to use for this dish, though I’ve found a few recipes that call for “Desiree,” a French Red potato that supposedly has a yellow, creamy center. What I can say is that most good and/or classic version use either only Waxy (red and sorta yellow) varieties or a combination of Waxy and Starch (brown/russet and sorta yellow), with them keeping a great structure after the long baking while still delivering a creamy flavor.017

The one thing you SHOULDN’T do is you ALL Russet/Starchy potatoes; you just end up with a soft, sorta mushy mix of potatoes and cream… which isn’t bad by any means, I’d eat it. But to make it “proper,” stick to the other kinds. For fun, and because the Buzzfeed recipe link did it, I decided to do a combo-strategy for my own, using some leftover Golden potatoes along with the firm, waxy reds.

Milk and Cream: A lot of recipes seem to differ in how much of each to use, and in fact many instances simply claim the dish uses “milk or cream.” Some use all cream, some almost all milk, and everything in between; the only thing I suggest one not do is use all Milk.

For the purposes of this post, I decided to go with a 3:1 ratio of Cream:Milk, recorded in another blog recipe as a certain chef’s claim to be a good quality, traditional mix. Plus, if I’m gonna make this dish, might as well be cream heavy right?

As for overall amount, basically everything I’ve found states the use of 500-600ml (2 ½ cups ish) of Dairy to every Kg/2.2lbs potato.

Cheese: NO! You move on now! Put the cheese down and go back to the cream! Gratin Dauphinoise does NOT use any of that stuff! If you wanna make a cheesy gratin, fine, but you will NOT slander this classic dish by gluing its name to it! The true, traditional recipe for this (and many others online say and follow the same rules, so I’m backed up on this) use only the cream and/or milk for the classic dish. You should too.

The same goes for using Eggs, a no-no.

Of course I’ve seen quite a few posts saying that, though comforting, this creates a somewhat bland potato dish. To which I say, any TRULY “bland” food is made not from the dish but from the cook who didn’t season the food properly like they should have. Don’t be afraid of the Salt and Pepper; I put it in the cream and on the potatoes as I layer them. At the end of the day it makes something that’s full, rich, with that heightening and deepness of milk and cream fats that’s simple, yes, but oh so good.

Cooking: A lot of people, when it comes to this dish that only relies on potatoes, milk, and cream, basically rely on Boiling the potato slices in the dairy for a while before layering and baking it out. This is a great technique and makes a nice, thick, blended combobulation of food, really bringing the starch content out to set the sauce. However, some researching has found that, again, a True dauphinoise gratin ONLY relies on Baking the potatoes in the hot cream. Going for the classic sense as I am, I of course am sticking with this style, of which a few things should be taken note.

First, I’d say it really is important that, in this situation, one should stick with the higher cream content strategy in their dairy (all cream would work). Secondly, since you can’t just set the potatoes directly in the boiling milk right after cutting, one needs to work quickly in the peeling, slicing, and covering in the dairy mix so they don’t start to brown and oxidize. Finally, NO WATER! No rinsing, no soaking, no doing anything of the sort, like many recipes call for to clean or whatever. Though important in many other recipes, we need to reserve as MUCH natural starch as we possibly can, and contact with water just washes off some of this. So be a dear, save it for the cream, it needs it!

A final note, this cooking is usually done for a long time on a lower degrees, about 320F, until fully baked through; supposedly needing to be turned up at the end to get a crisp top, though I found there was no problem of that for me.

Seasonings: I’ve already talked about the salt and pepper, which leaves the issue: what else do we flavor this with?

Well, if you’re trying to stay truly traditional, then nothing, other than garlic. And even that you’re only use to rub the baking pan with. However, there are a couple very classic, non-obtrusive French practices when it comes to making cream-based sauces that I think are acceptable while still keeping the dish “true.” A little seasoning of Nutmeg is always fine and increases depth a bit, and I made the decision to take the rubbing garlic and toss it in the cream while it was heating up, just so it was a bit more present.

And if one doesn’t care too much about precise historical practices, Herbs! Herbs are amazing with gratins like this, whether it’s some fresh-picked thyme between the layers or chopped chives sprinkled on top for serving. Oh, and not to forget Leeks and Green Onions, they’d be pretty good… bacon too… I mean overall this dish is an amazing canvas in which to add almost anything to customize to your own tastes or whatever it’s being eaten with. Of course at that point it’s left true dauphinoise territory and moved into just delicious gratin, but who’d complain about on a Friday night?

Gratin Dauphinoise
3 Garlic cloves
1 7/8 cup Cream
5/8 cup Whole Milk
Salt and Pepper
Freshly Grated Nutmeg
1 kg/ 2.2 lbs mixed Red and Starchy potato

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 320F.013
  2. Cut or crush a clove of Garlic, rubbing it thoroughly around your chosen baking/casserole dish. Thoroughly butter the sides after and turn to your food prep.016
  3. Combine Garlic, Cream, Milk, and a heavy seasoning of Salt, Pepper, and Nutmeg in a sauce pot, turning to medium/med-high heat.015
  4. While this is heating, quickly peel and slice the Potatoes, cutting to a maximum 1/8” thickness, ideally via mandolin or food processor.019
  5. Once the cream has come to a boil, start putting together the gratin. Layer half the potatoes into the dish, no need to make it pretty. Season with more salt, pepper, nutmeg, and pour over half of the hot cream on top, straining as you do so.020
  6. If not already done, finish slicing the rest of the potatoes, arrange on top in a nice layer (if desired), pouring the rest of the hot cream on top until it comes just below the rim of the potatoes.021
  7. Move to oven, baking for about an hour and fifteen minutes, or until the top is golden and crispy.           Note: unless the baking dish is raised notably higher than the potatoes, I suggest placing it on another sheet, as it’ll likely start bubbling over.023
  8. Remove, letting rest and cool at least 5 minutes to settle. Scoop up and serve with desired protein, roasts work good, or grilled shrimp if you wanna go for an “alfredo” feeling.

The Verdict

I can see why this is one of Pepin’s favorite home comfort foods; when done right, it’s just soft, creamy goodness. You almost forget there’s no cheese in here, with how rich and developed that dairy comes through. Those saying that it’s bland are just psychotic, I could eat this kind of food every day and be happy; speaking of which, it really IS good cold the next day, the cream thickens up and sticks to it like a nice, gooey glaze.026

Which does come to my one issue; while cold it’s perfect, I found this particular method of Dauphinoise a bit lacking in the liquid consistency after baking. Or, put simply, the cream didn’t thicken up as much as I had wanted to while cooking. Still tastes damn good and all, but it’s a bit disconcerting seeing all that leftover sauce still in the dish and not sticking like glue to those creamy potatoes.

I think next time I might try the boiling-potatoes-in-cream-first method, see how that turns out. But either way, this guy’s already moved up as one of my new favorite go-to sides for any dinner.025

Primary Pairing – Hefeweizen or Kolsch

024When I’m eating something so rustic, comforting, and soul-satisfying as these potatoes, my first choice of inebriation almost always goes to a good beer. And after a brief consultation with a friend, we both agree that the best to go with this dish are gonna be the Pale, Low-Bitter and lesser Hopped varieties, Ales preferably but Lagers fit right in of course. The top two choices of course are the German Kolsch and Wheaty Hefeweizen (meaning “yeast” and “wheat”); my first pick going to the weissbier for its cloudy, creamy unfiltered body that just goes great with potatoes.

But both styles have a great, full white head, a sharp crispness and BARE hop to cut through the fat, and simpler, subtler flavors that mix and don’t compete with the gratin. Following that style, I would also advocate, and personally crave, a nice cold glass of Pilsner, especially if I was cooking/eating this with plenty of herbs to match the slightly higher hop content.

Of course final decision always depends on what protein one eats this with, if any. My friend also suggested the use of Barleywine (a big, high alcohol and super malty and hoppy creation) as an option to fully compete and contrast the heavy, rich aspect of the dish. And I myself would say it’s a perfect option if having it with a nice Roast Beef.

022My Bottle: Blanche de Bruxelles

‘Cuz I had a bottle in the cupboard, and ‘cuz it’s one of my favorite pale beers! I remember drinking a couple glasses after a day of work in the kitchen, was always one of the most refreshing items on tap.

A Belgian “white beer” that implements wheat along with its barley, this light and cutting drink brought that element of frothy, creamy texture that lifted the rich potatoes perfectly. A slight fullness, that delicate simple flavor of citrus and yeasty fruit that goes so well with cream dishes, and a bit of bitterness to cut any needed fat (and also went well with the charred shrimp I ate it with). It might not have been the “ideal” pairing, not sure if it really was strong enough to truly stand up or not, but it worked well and I had a very enjoyable experience with it, yet again.

Secondary Pairing – Southern/Cotes du Rhone Blanc

Being sorta in the Languedoc/Meditteranean coastal area of France, the white wines close to the Dauphiné haven’t gained much fame, mainly due to the changing developments in the region from mass-produced wine lakes to quality focused vineyards. Varietal choices are still across the board, as are styles and personality.

Not as close but still in the vicinity lies the Southern Rhone, mainly known for their blended Reds, also offering Whites blends made from a mix of the typical area Marsanne, Roussane, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, and various other random grapes. Though, like the reds, overall flavor and balance varies greatly, in the glass they end up generally low key, medium acidic, slightly fatty wines when done well, and simple pitcher wine when not-so-well. Either way, they end up a pretty good option to go with the sorta-heavy, single-note flavors of these soft potatoes, a nicely neutral simple companion or a balanced glass of light florals and heady skin, something that’ll refreshingly cut through and/or fill and lift the palette nicely alongside. I had a really great white from Chateneuf-du-Pape a while back that would have held itself beautifully next to these potatoes.

On a side note, though Red wine certainly isn’t my first choice to eat with this (unless it’s paired with a protein that demands it), I will say that Buzzfeed’s choice of using something from Beaujolais wouldn’t be too bad. I think you’d have to be careful of your choice, since the unique flavors and tannins from the carbonicly macerated Gamay grapes could have really odd interactions with the fat-heavy Cream, but of the French Reds it’d be one of my first choices. Even better, the Beaujolais Blancs made from Chardonnay might yield even more impressive results.

 

 

 

p1: Cheese Souffle

Part Two of my Soufflé adventures, this one taken place for a morning B-day Brunch.

The Dish

It’s sometimes said that, in truth, the very first soufflés were a variation of an omelet. There is in fact a recipe of “Omelette Soufflé,” involving a VERY well beaten mixture of eggs and milk which is cooked mostly in the oven. Some accounts have it that after this followed an even more intensive recipe whereby the yolks and whites were separated, the latter being whipped to a voluminous nature, and folded back in to make what has to be the simplest and most basic soufflé ever. Cooked in a heavy skillet pan of course.

Whether there’s truth to this or not, I find the recipe idea fascinating; the term “soufflé” itself translating purely as “to blow/puff up.” As a descriptor, there are probably many kinds of recipes it could have applied to before being known as what it is today; heck, I doubt that original omelet really rose that much (not the one that was separated, that woulda been huge, I’ve seen videos…) and yet there it is. Was there an evolution to it, a slowly winding path of eggs and pastry finally culminating in Careme’s use of newly ventilated ovens? Or was it just a random stumbling and popping up of various clumsy dishes until one finally made something epic?

Whatever the case, soufflé has been discovered and is here to stay, in all its wonderful forms. And though our initial thoughts always land on the rich chocolate or velvety vanilla dessert, there is always that other intriguingly delicious side of the coin, the “savory soufflé.” Basing the main flavors out of things like Ham, Fish, Seafood, Spinach, and so many others, the discovery of this whole aspect of soufflé cookery truly shows the immense versatility of the dish.enhanced-buzz-6383-1389654115-2

And the absolute King of all these is the Cheese Souffle. I have no clue exactly when or who first made it, probably Careme he’s made everything, but the results have spoken for itself. That amongst all the savory soufflés that can be made, it is one focusing purely on regional Gruyere that has implemented itself as THE Classic and Traditional savory version of this dish that Represents the rest.

Which is all I really have to say on the matter, let’s start getting into this food!

A Word On…

Soufflé: I’ve already talked a lot about soufflé construction in my Dessert article, and I’m too lazy to write it again, so read some more stuff there.

Cheese: Though I could definitely see a not-too-untasty version of this with Cheddar, the true king of this French classic has and always shall be Gruyere. It melts very well, super flavorful, and goes good with eggs.

SAMSUNGWhen trying to stay classic, one thus has to ensure they get FRENCH gruyere, as most of what we see regularly is from Switzerland. Swiss style makes an almost perfect substitute of course, and I do not fault the use of it for any reason, but for my purposes the French is best. And for those also trying to follow suit, that means you want to look for “Comte” Gruyere, one of the main two regions to actually make the cheese (I forgot the other one, but I couldn’t find it myself anyway so let’s just focus on comte). You may, as I did, find a couple kinds, regular and “doux,” a double aged version. Just stick with the younger, simpler one, which thus melts easier and carries a little more straightforward flavors.

Cheese Integration: A very interesting thing I found. After expecting practically every recipe to call for melting the cheese into the Bechamel (a white, milk-based gravy which most savory soufflé bases are made from), it was a shock to see quite a few did something different. Instead of adding it to the hot sauce, the shredded gruyere was folded into the cooled down mixture at the same time as the whipped egg whites. This actually seems to be somewhat more of the classic method, especially since Julia Child did it as well, so I thought I would try my hand at it. If you want to too, I would just suggest that you make sure the cheese is shred FINE; don’t want big pieces around when also handling the delicate egg whites.

“Encrusting” Cheese: Something quite peculiar I’ve found in most recipes for this is that, instead of dusting the heavily buttered pan in flour (or sugar like what’s done with dessert soufflés), other cooks sprinkle the sides with Parmesan. It was an odd substitute for flour, but I guess if it works then it boosts the whole cheesy aspect even more, even Julia Child did it. So I thought I’d look into it a bit more…SAMSUNG

Two Problems. First, though I am of course willing to honor and try this technique, there is no way in HELL I’m using PARMESAN for a FRENCH meal. I don’t care if it’s used even in classic recipes, it is not a French cheese, so no go. Thus I set myself to find the hardest French cheese I could in search of a reasonable substitute, and even had a pretty good idea in mind…

Only to find out that some a-holes decided to ban the shipment Mimolette, which would have been THE perfect cheese. It has the EXACT same texture as parmesan, and now of all times I need it for something. But of course, they just happen to decide that the termites are too much or something or other… so I ended up with the OTHER comte, comte doux, which I guess ironically is the firmest French cheese we can now get in our market. Funny how that worked out.

Second issue. I tried it. The damn thing screwed up my soufflé. Weeelll, not really screwed up… but as you’ll see in pictures later, my little baked baby never got the chance to rise up the sides of the pan and above the lip (the center did, burst right out, but not the actual sides) like it was supposed to. And I buttered EVERYTHING damn good. It was the cheese and I know it; I love the crust it gave it, but it held my soufflé hostage from itself. The bastard.

It’s an easy fix though. Next time, I’ll just rub the cheese (which reminds me, best way to grate this is on the rougher side of the box grater; you know the section that looks like a bunch of little metal tents?) on the bottom and lower half of the pan, that way the top is completely unrestrained. Cuz I still like the flavor and texture it gave, but it needs a lot of controlling.

Wrapping: With my dessert,SAMSUNG I wrapped the whole thing with parchment paper, but for this one I decided to try using aluminum foil instead, a technique that Julia Child and others tend to feature. I’d like to give results on which one I prefer, but as I just mentioned my soufflé was never able to raise high enough where I could tell. Either way, both are options, and the foil is MUCH easier to actually wrap around the dish.

Cooking Time/Temp: Instead of the iSAMSUNGdea to start at 425F and immediately turn down to 375F, most recipes for this call for an even 400F. Which makes sense, as it took a noticeable amount of time to actually cook… in fact, much longer than the recipes called for. A lot will say around 25-35 minutes, but even at 30 mine was painfully undercooked, as I found out after trying to serve it.

Unless you’re using a different kind of dish, or the batter turns out differently somehow, then it’ll take more like 45 minutes to cook all the way through. Really need to make sure it doesn’t move at all when shaking it.

Maybe if I tried the melted cheese method it would have worked?

Cheese Soufflé
4 Tb Butter
3 Tb Flour
1 ½ cup Milk
Tsp Fresh Grated Nutmeg
Salt and Pepper
4 Egg Yolks
5 Egg Whites
1 Tb Water
½ tsp Cream of Tartar
6 oz Comte Gruyere, finely grated
½ – 1oz Comte Doux Gruyere, roughly grated

Directions

  1. Turn oven to 400F.
  2. Melt Butter in a saucepan set over Medium heat.SAMSUNG
  3. Whisk in Flour to a paste-like Roux, cooking over heat for about a minute.SAMSUNG
  4. Once the roux has lightened slightly (Blanc stage, right before it starts darkening again), carefully add the warm or room-temperature Milk, whisking in to fully incorporate the two.SAMSUNG
  5. Heat the sauce, watching and stirring often so it doesn’t burn or curdle, until it thickens enough to coat a spoon (Nappé).SAMSUNG
  6. Season with Nutmeg, Salt, and Pepper before slowly pouring the hot mixture into the Egg Yolks to temper.SAMSUNG
  7. Let this rest and cool slightly on the side while you start whipping your Whites, combining them with Water and Tartar in a bowl.SAMSUNG
  8. Whip on High with a stand or hand mixer until reaching firm, stiff peaks.SAMSUNG
  9. Take this and alternatively fold 1/3 of it at a time into the still-warm Bechamel along with the finely grated Comte.SAMSUNG
  10. Quickly prepare a large, straight-sided casserole or soufflé dish if you haven’t already. Heavily and thoroughly butter the bottom, sides, and rim before sprinkling and coating the bottom and lower ½-1/3 of the sides with grated Comte Doux. Enwrap the container with a long, folded piece of aluminum foil so it sticks straight up from the rim.
  11. Fill the dish with as much of the batter as you can get in, trying to get to the very top.SAMSUNG
  12. Move to oven and bake 35-45 minutes, minimum, until it has risen noticeably, developed a dark brown complexion, and set all the way through.SAMSUNG
  13. Spoon onto a plate to enjoy as-is, or served with a Poached Egg, Hollandaise, and Cheese Wedge for a delicious breakfast.SAMSUNG

The Verdict

A lot different than I thought it’d be, but ohhhhh so good. I’m not sure if I actually got it to what it’s supposed to be (in fact I think there may have been a chance of slight overcooking), but boy did I not care.

It was like that perfect expression of airy, fluffy eggbake, or omelet, or scrambled egg texture, but different; it wasn’t heavy, but it wasn’t light either, just a warm juicy mouthfull. One which, soon as you bite into it, you get that flavor and feeling of CHEESE, heavenly heavenly gruyere cheese, that practically melts into your mouth, but you know nothing is actually melting. It’s like ideal form of a cheese omelet. Overall that’s just the best way I could describe it in my mind’s eye; I suggest you make it for yourself to fully experience.

SAMSUNGOh, a really fun surprise too; after taking it out of the oven (-cough- for a second time), my immediate worries were that there had been some burning; I mean you can see the picture. Actually that was one of my favorite parts of the whole thing. The older gruyere on the outside had fully melted and caramelized into a rich, heavy, sorta crusty strip of cheesy goodness reminiscent of the “burnt” bits of grilled cheese, or the last bits of congealed stuff at the bottom of a fondue pot (which any Frenchman will tell you is THE best part). Not only was it just plain awesome, it added a nice dimension next to the richly singular juicy-soft insides.

Something tells me my sister may be demanding I make this again soon…

Primary Pairing – Loire Whites

Whether it’s a sharply acidic Sancerre, lightly sweet and Riesling-esque Vouvray (or many of the other Chenin Blanc wines of the whole region), or the mildly yeasty and subtle body of a Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine, the whites in this northern area of France are all amazing to pair with food, and each shine qualities to match this interestingly light to medium bodied, fluffy cheese-centered dish. Don’t get me started on what their famous Cremants and some of the lighter dessert wines of the region could do for this… or a Savennieres! Oh, such an oddly unique, vibrantly strong character that Chenin Blanc region wine has; almost like the oxidation qualities in the previously discussed Jura.SAMSUNG

What you choose all depends on what you’re craving to drink with the souffle. The sauvignon blanc-based whites of the Central Valley/Eastern Touraine will cut right through everything; many of the Chenin Blanc based Vouvrays and Anjou-Saumur wines provide a fullness to lift up those rich flavors; and the Muscadet-based wines actually MATCH the salty qualities, not to mention the body. Cremants and Desserts (Coteaux du Layon, special Vouvrays, etc) are great for special occasions.

SAMSUNGMy Bottle: 2012 Chateau de la Roulerie, Coteaux du Layon

A little fat in the mouth, just a bare amount of sweetness, and a solid acidity from this all Chenin Blanc wine make for a svelt, yummy pairing alongside the hot, cheesy dish. Normally I might not have a Layon as my first choice, the particular region in the Anjou area known for its almost total devotion to refreshing Dessert wines. This basic Table Wine version, however, holds those sickly qualities back with simple, not-so-ripe grapes, while still maintaining just a bit of the area’s characteristic sweetness to counterbalance the salty cheese.

The body matches, the acid is enough to stand up to the fatty egg and cheese, and it just has that perfectly simple table wine nature that just makes you want to gulp it down with the area foods, much like I did that morning.

Secondary Pairing – Fine or VS Calvados (apple brandy)calv

Who doesn’t love Apples and Cheese? Cider would be great too, but I do enough of that, why not get into some good hard liquor every once in a while? The region that makes it is close by, it still has a bit of that fruity sweetness (though hard to find through the alcohol, I know), not to mention those barrel-aged and distilled(heated) flavors of baking and caramelization that match with the crispy dark soufflé cooked cheese on the outside. Who cares if I’m drinking in the morning, I think it would go really well with the big, fatty breakfast version I made as well, as the high alcohol would be able to just cut through all that butter, yolk, cheese, etc.

Which is one of the things I learned in class about the stronger alcoholic beverages; they pair with foods a lot better than some may think they do, so don’t be too afraid about using them. Many brandies and whiskies have a bit of tannin to them; maybe some sweetness; they often carry a strength in certain flavors that one just can’t find anywhere else (just look at liqueurs); and the high alcohol can actually be used to contrast and cut high fats, acids, sweetness, etc. Even if one has a light bodied dish, so long as at least one component is noticeably strong, we can consider Hard Alcohol as a potential, proper drinking partner. Just have to find the right one, and for here I would just love a younger Calvados.

p2: Souffle

Okay, how the heck is it that out of 44 different classic French desserts they could have chosen (3 of which are all some form of profiterole, 5 or more are different Tarts, and 2 of those tarts are some kinda plum), there’s not a single damn Soufflé!? Oh, well I guess they already have a souffle in the savory side… but wait, they also have a Savory Crepe paired with a Crepe Suzette, so that logic is thrown out the window! Well I say screw them, I’m changing it! This is now the “French 45,” and we shall have Soufflé!!imagesN8HN2EYL

The Sweet

The development of soufflé is likely long-lived but shortly-documented, its transition from fried egg to pastry most likely kicking off in Medieval Times, when Whisked Egg Whites started being incorporated into a variety of dishes. Though it wasn’t until the development of Meringue techniques in the 1600’s that the true potential in soufflé could be seen, but not yet realized.

Finally, new Ovens, heated by air drafts instead of coal, made their appearance in the early 1800’s, flagging in the first “true” soufflés (certain chefs such as Beauvilliers and Louis Ude had supposedly made very similar kinds of pastries less than 20-40 years prior, but they would be either unpublished or labeled), providing an even temperature for the pastry to cook properly. The first to make notable use and publication of the technique, and thus credited with its creation, is a certain Antoine Careme, the King of Chefs and the Chef of Kings, aka one of our personal Gods in the Kitchen. There’s much I could go into recounting about Careme, but that’s a post in and of itself.

untitledBesides perfecting the recipe, which he soon used to make hundreds more including the grand and famous Soufflé Rothschild (made with gold flecked liqueur-macerated-crystallized fruit), he also provided the inspiration for traditional Straight-sided cooking dish, using a similarly shaped Stiff Pastry Casing (as many oven-cooked things at the time were cooked in barely edible breads, pastries, and other handmade pots, it’s actually quite an interesting talking point, especially “chicken pot pie”).

And from there it’s history. Long years of refining old recipes and experimenting with new has lead to soufflés both precise and imaginative, along with a strong guidebook and understanding of the true “dos and don’ts,” and what we can get away with. There is of course much more to say about this and the soufflé’s history, of course, but I gotta save some material for the Cheese Soufflé whenever I get to it.

Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner

Here’s the thing about soufflé: it’s a lot easier than people think it is. It’s not this super-long, extensive recipe based off exact measurements, extremely delicate poofy little pastry that’ll break at the slightest vibration. In fact, this weird little cliché of soufflés deflating for who knows what unseen force is just plain weird and unfounded. Any simply, properly made soufflé is very durable and stuSAMSUNGbborn; it’ll of course “shrink” a bit after it’s taken out of the oven (as it’s the warm air that causes it to rise up, so it’ll of course shrink down as it cools). But unless you actually stab it while cooking, its stability is guaranteed.

And it’s all based off of only Two components: Whipped Egg Whites, and a Flavorful Base/Batter. That’s it.

Again, simple. Before cooking, whip your egg whites to a very firm “stiff peak” stage; when you pull the mixer from the whites, there will be little horns that stand straight up when turned upside down (and stay that way if you tap it). You can use this as-is, or sometimes I’ll add in a small amount of sugar around “soft peak” stage and re-whip it to stiff peaks, sorta making a “light meringue” for a bit of stability (and it can make a fun crusty bake). Fold this into the base until it looks like foamy mousse batter thing, you be the judge of what looks right, and that’s it.

Of course, that’s not where people usually have issue grasping the concept, is it? Probably most of the caution and uncertainty comes through making this actual base, how to get in that flavor you want. What recipe do I use, what proportions of individual ingredients do I need to make sure it rises properly?

Well STOP. None of that stuff matters. The only things you need to know for making your base is that A: it’s Intensely Flavorful, and B: getting the right thickness is important. That’s it, it should be strong and distinct enough to survive the “thinning” of all the egg whites we fold in, much like when you make a mousse (which is basically what soufflé is, a baked mousse). And I like to think it should be somewhere in the range of “pan/cake batter” consistency, so long as its thick enough to hold flavor and stability, but thin enough “flow” and ribbon easily when lifting a spoon. There’s of course a general range here, it doesn’t have to be exact; can have something a little loose or a little thick. We just don’t want a firm, thick, cement batter that you can’t even fold egg whites in or a barely watery one where the foam will dissolve.

Now all you have to do is pick your flavor and find a simple way to make it taste good. Vanilla Soufflés are basically just made with Pastry Cream or a thick Anglaise; a Chocolate often made by melting the delicious goodies with a bit of milk and adding it to some egg yolks, sugar, and flour (similar to lava cake batter). If you wanted a Citrus soufflé, just make a Curd (lemon, lime, blood orange, whatever); Fruits you can just puree whole, maybe mix it with something (very classic recipes have you adding sieved fruit to sugar cooked to the “hard crack” stage). I’ve even read an article about a chef who just ignores any fats (egg, milk, whatever) and just thickens Juices and Flavored Water with Corn Starch.

There’s no real rules so long as it’s, again, flavorful and has a good, foldable thickness. Of course many chefs try and dissuade from the use of Fats (as just stated); which I do agree with, and I usually try and use only a little of those, the idea being that the fat will slide between the delicate network of the long protein strands in the whipped whites, thus taking it apart. But I just love the richness it’s able to add, along with the ability to make an ideal “batter” simply (most of the things I mentioned earlier are basic custards or cake batters), and so far hasn’t actually affected the soufflés I’ve made to any noticeable degree. Besides, the very classic soufflés are basically egg whites folded with the yolks, only flavored.

Just don’t use Butter. For the love of god, NO BUTTER; you’ll have enough on the baking dish as is. You can stick with milk and yolks, they’re a little more of an indirect lipid source. You’ll have enough on the baking dish as is.

Now we just have to fold in the egg whites. You can do this with the batter at room temp, or some recipes do it soon after MAKING a Hot base; though I don’t like the idea of folding egg whites into something HOT (too much risk for destroying the delicate air bubbles), having it “warm” wouldn’t be an issue, and can help in the rising qualities. Just don’t use the batter while cold, it will weigh things down (in a sense).

As far as cooking vessel goes, any bakeproof ceramic/porcelain/whatever (NON-METAL) thing works. Little ramekins are classic, or you could use a casserole (I saw Jacques Pepin make one in a long rectangle one). All it has to be is WELL BUTTERED, very thoroughly; get the rim too. After which, you can choose whether or not you want to “dust it with sugar,” giving a fine coating on the bottom and sides. People say this “helps it climb,” but really it’s just to get a little crunchy coating around the sides.

Oh, and fill it to or very near the top; there’s no reason to leave room for overflow, we want to give our soufflés the best chance to grow Straight Up. Actually, one of the ways toSAMSUNG help this, so it doesn’t sort of mushroom out over the sides, is to wrap a chimney of parchment paper around the dish.

Final thing, concerning cooking temperatures and time. Usually sticking to 350-375 is a good bet, I’m liking this one thing I’ve found of starting the oven at 425 and turning it down to 375 as soon as the soufflé goes in. Of course smaller ramekins will cook faster than the large ones; about 12-15 minutes, with 25-30-ish for large casseroles. Feel free to open the oven and give the dish a little prod to see if it’s set or jiggles; again, they’re sturdier than what we’ve been told.

Quite a lot of recipes also have one cooking it in a hot water bath, like custards… which I just don’t like. There doesn’t seem to be a NEED for it, and it just prevents it from any chance of getting a nice little texture on the crust.

There we go, Soufflé. With all I wrote you’d think it was difficult (I know, I tend to ramble incoherently and ongoing at times, my apologies), but if you look at the individual points made I promise it’ll now look a lot more approachable than it did before. So let’s bake one shall we!?

Banana Soufflé
2-3 Egg Yolks
2 Tb Flour
1 Tb Salt
1 Tb AllspiceSAMSUNG
1 tsp Cinnamon
2-3 Tb Sugar, plus extra
½ cup Brown Sugar
1/3 cup Rum
1-2 Overripe Bananas (depending on size)
5-6 Egg Whites
Butter, as needed

Directions

  1. Thoroughly whisk egg Yolks, Salt, Flour, Spices, 2 Tb of Sugar and Half of the Brown Sugar until pale and fluffy.SAMSUNG
  2. Move rest of brown sugar into sauce pan with Rum, heating to a simmer until melted. Remove to let cool.SAMSUNG
  3. Mash Bananas, whisk into Yolk along with the cooled rum syrup. Taste and adjust alongside consistency with extra flour, sugar, rum, banana, or whatever desired/needed. Reserve until ready to bake.SAMSUNG
  4. Heat oven to 425F.SAMSUNG
  5. Take Ramekin/Casserole dish, thoroughly rub Butter into bottom, sides, corners, rim, etc (I suggest twice). Sprinkle with leftover Tb of sugar, shaking and turning around to evenly coat the bottom and sides.SAMSUNG
  6. In Stand or Hand mixer, whip egg whites to Stiff Peaks. If desired, sprinkle and mix in a couple Tb of sugar on low speed, turning back to high to re-whip towards stiff peak stage.
  7. Gently fold the beaten whites into your banana base, 1/3 of the eggs at a time.SAMSUNG
  8. Quickly transfer to your cooking dishes, filling to or as near to the top as possible.SAMSUNG
  9. Move to oven, immediately turning the temperature down to 375F. Cook until Browned, lightly Crispy, fully Risen and the center is Set, about 25-30 minutes for larger casseroles and 10-14 for small ramekins.SAMSUNG
  10. Serve immediately alongside Rum Sabayon and Banana Ice Cream.

My Thoughts

So easy, so delicious, I really love making these soufflés. I don’t think the one I made turned out perfect, but that’s fine, it’s an easy fix. Which is another great factor to making this classic dessert: when something goes wrong, you know exactly how to fix it (and in an easy way), which is more than what we can say for other baked goods.

If it’s dense and doesn’t rise, you need more egg whites/a thinner batter; if it’s too big and delicate, less; spongy and shrunk, overcooked; still batter-y inside, cook more next time; if it doesn’t rise straight and “tents” instead, more butter on the sides (I think I needed some on the rim); if it seems too moist and tender (hard to describe what I mean, but you’ll know), reduce the liquids in the base, and so on and so forth.

I still have yet to “know” what the proper and classic soufflé is supposed to be like structurally; is it supposed to be cake-like, really moist, egg-white-y… there’s been a lot of results from different recipes I’ve tried out. But as long as it tastes damn good, and hits that comfort spot in your soul, and looks pretty, that’s all that matters.

Which certainly happened with the Banana. It was like everything right with banana bread, and custard, and warm cake… all together. Actually, with the Sabayon and Banana Ice Cream (super easy and tasty, just blend frozen bananas), it sorta reminded me of reconstructed Bananas Foster. Just needed some sea-salt caramel and a crunchy topping to complete the idea.

Despite the various rambles and unclear conjectures, I do hope this post may help encourage a few people to try making their own soufflé. If you do, you’ll have to tell me the results!

Possible Pairings

It all depends on what kind of soufflé you’re making, but a good “general” choice is Moscato d’Asti, or a Sparkling Demi-sec. Moscato is great with different chocolate dishes, is light in body to not override, and of course why not have bubbly with this air-pocketed pastry?

untitledAs far as my Banana one, I’m sort of craving something with botrytis, but I don’t want that thick, heavy syrup that a Sauternes can get. One of the simpler, more affordable St. Croix-du-Mont or Loupiac would be great (two regions near the legendary Sancerre, same style but less concentration), maybe a Coteaux du Layon from Loire, so long as one of them has Botrytis.

Though I don’t consider them on a regular basis, if you can find a dessert wine made from Chardonnay, that would probably be a good drink with the banana. Again just avoid anything heavy. Oh, maybe a Vidal Ice Wine would be good.Amontillado-sherry-287x300

A tasty, lighter sweet Rum to pair with the tropical fruit, brown sugary-ness, and of course the Rum Sabayon. Ties into the idea of bananas foster better too.

And in the world of fortifieds, I could totally go for a sweetened Amontillado Cream Sherry, so long as it’s made well. I do love a good sherry, and rarely do the cheaper sweet stuff, but this could work. Port wouldn’t really work, except maybe a “White Port.”

p1: Magret et Confit de Canard

A perfect 2-for-1 adventure, why pay the extra money for buying breasts and thigh/leg meat separately for different days when you can just get the whole poultry and do both? Costs less AND you now get the wings, neck, giblets, and the whole carcass (bones and all) for your own stock.enhanced-buzz-20628-1386088111-22

The Dish

I LOVE Duck. Besides the fact that it’s, well, delicious, the big bird is FULL of fat-thick skin (I mean just look at the huge overhang flap from the neck) for amazing rendering. That, and this dish actual holds a bit of nostalgic importance to me. When I was in culinary school, Pan-Seared Duck Breast was the first recipe and technique I was able to really nail; it was the first technique I was able to take pride in. But enough about mislaid attempts at justifying myself, let’s talk about the actual food!

What’s become viewed as a specialty of Southwestern France, the art of Confit started, as many recipes featured in my giant Garde Manger cookbook have, as a way to preserve food. Yes, despite what the history books may say, people didn’t always have electricity and refridgeration, nor any access to gathering ice, difficult or non (or maybe I just had really shitty history books in my school…). Many a meat from days hunting needed to be able to last a long time, both to stretch out meals and simply on those times they couldn’t eat it all in a few days time.enhanced-buzz-4157-1388097660-0

So methods were developed to “cure” these proteins for the long months ahead. Smoking over fires, drying in the air, storing it in the ground with loads of salt (very popular with fishies), and the method we’ve come to know a “Confit,” the past tense form of “confire,” to preserve. After rendering off gobs of fat from the animal in question, usually very thickly-skinned birds like goose, a large cooking pot (traditionally copper) would be filled with cuts of partially salt-cured meat and the detached lipids (…. fat). This would be heated to cook the meat through, then transferred to a clay crock, covering the meat in an even, thick layer of the skimmed and clean oils. Stored, this coating of solid fat would keep out anything, both good and bad, that tried to get in; providing a rusticly air-tight seal on the now stable cooked and cured meat, protecting it through long winters and up to the spring, when hunting was easier and farmed animals were mature enough.

There was another benefit to this, of course; the meat tasted amazing. It is said a “Gascon will fall to his knees for a good confit,” it being a favorite technique of the region and showing just how tasty this tender, succulently prepared preservation can be. And its melding from a technique to survive towards finer French cuisine was assured.

Up and throughout this point, it was tradition that the entire animal would be used; with Duck being considered purely for confit in the south, its parts were all indefinitely stuck in the delicious but thick swamp that was its fat. It was only until a couple centuries ago, when restrauters served portions of the “magret,” or Breast, of the duck in the traditional country style: grilled, skin side first. The fat melts, the skin crisps up, its thinning layers insulating the delicate yet flavorful red chest meat from quickly overcooking, rendering a final product that’s tender, juicy, and full of all the flavors that have encapsulated the heart of every duck lover.

A Word On…SAMSUNG

Duck: There’s not much I can say for quality duck. It’s not that easy to find it fresh; I WAS able to figure out a place that I could get a whole duck fresh. Sadly, it was really out of my way, cost an extra $2 per pound, could only get it on a certain day… it was just easier to get a frozen one. It’s relatively available in a lot of markets, I’ve even gotten whole ducks from Cub (better ones from smaller meat markets or co-ops though). And after all that confit-ing (is that a word?), especially if you’re using most of it for dishes like, oh I don’t know, cassoulet, then I think it’s acceptable to take a SLIGHT loss in quality just this once.

As far as substitutes go, there really isn’t many worth it. Chicken tastes absolutely nothing like duck, game birds are usually tiny and, again, barely resemble it. The few things that do, namely Goose and some Pheasants, actually cost MORE. So just get duck, unless you wanted a higher quality/local bird version.

Skin: The two main factors in the final product of our magret lies in how cooked the meat is and, more importantly, how crispy we can get the skin. I.e., how much fat we can cook out of it. If left to “traditional” or “proper” senses, this basically means taking ALL the fat out, which I will be doing for this particular circumstance.

Which I just think is so bull. Every single damn time I see a cooking competition where a judge complains that there’s still fat on their duck… that’s the point! Come on! It’s delicious and amazing! Of course you don’t want this thick, barely cooked layer, but get rid of like half of it, have that full brown crust over the surface and a soft ¼” of fat underneath , and that’s just a slice of heaven isn’t it? Eat it and tell me I’m wrong.

SAMSUNGRant aside, no matter how much fat we need to cook down, we need to be able to control it. And besides heat application, that means one thing: Scoring. Carefully pricking or slicing through the fatty skin in evenly distributed lines, opening the insides up to better release the fat. How deep or thin it’s cut will determine how much comes out during cooking, simple as that.

Pan-Cooking: When I originally learned this technique, I was given the opinion that it was the only way to do it right. Get a pan searing hot, pop the duck (skin side down) for a bare minute or two and turn it down to medium-ish for a LONG time, like 15 minutes, before finally flipping onto the other side for one last minute.

Apparently that’s not the only way anymore. There are some that apply the exact opposite idea, starting in a low (if not cold) pan and gradually increasing the heat. Some have it on the flesh side for half the time and quick-melt the fat later. However the actual method one chooses works, so long as you’re able to find one that works and is comfortable for you, then do it.

But try mine first.

Doneness: There’s a bit of a debate as to what a properly cooked duck breast should look like in the center. I’m firmly footed in the camp that it should have a nice, even pink, sort of like a medium-rare steak, while there are many others who like it completely “grey” (often it’s still able to retain moistness and has flavor, unlike a fully cooked steak, but still grey). And then there are betweens.

I can’t say what specific stage is “proper” and “best,” because I don’t know. What I CAN tell you is what you DON’T want. First, there should NEVER be any still raw meat, even a small spot; it can still be pink but actually “firm” and cooked (don’t worry, you’ll know when it’s under). On the opposite end, it should never be full-blast, dark grey, DRY, noticeably overcooked. The whole technique of cooking it on its (very thick) skin side for most of the process and VERY briefly flipping over to the flesh is meant to keep either of these from happening. Giving enough heat to the delicate underside to push it through without having been blasted over the border throughout the hot process.

Resting: Those familiar with meat cookery know that the meat should rest soon after leaving the heat before it’s sliced, otherwise the delicious juices inside “burst” and flood everywhere before gathering back in the center. I will say, though, that doesn’t mean keep it on the counter for 6-10 minutes, because even with the best intentiSAMSUNGons it’ll get cold on the plate, and likely you’ll STILL have some blood leaking out onto the board. What I’m clumsily trying to say is that finding the “perfect resting spot” for these duck breasts is difficult as hell if nigh on impossible; to keep warm, you’ll have to let go of some of the juices. But luckily it won’t affect the final plated meal at all; look how much I lost and mine was still succulent.

Fat: Duck fat is obviously the traditional lipid of choice, and you can get it too! I have noSAMSUNG idea how easy or difficult it is to find in stores, but with how much skin and fat is on a whole duck, rendering your own is a simple task. Just cut off as much of the skin from the bones, wings, and excess breast and leg fat that you don’t need, and as described in my post on Coq au Vin, start rendering. A little bit of water in a pan, on medium-low, adding more until enough fat has melted out to cook the skin the rest of the way.

ISAMSUNGt’s okay if the pan is crowded; these guys will shrink down a LOT as time goes by. Which WILL take a while though, especially compared to how fast the chunks of salt pork rendered out. And when done, you’ll have yourself most of a cup of your own amazingly delicious fat and a couple handfuls of the best duck cracklings in the world.

SAMSUNGSadly, there’s a good chance this won’t actually be enough for the confit, unless you were cooking JUST the legs in a pretty small/tight pan. If you need more, I suggest first looking for other rendered fats; I made sure to keep my leftover chicken skin and salt pork stuff from previous projects, along with a nice bunch of bacon fat that had yet to find a purpose.

And in the case of no other rendered fats or still needing more, it’s okay to use commercial oils; Olive Oil is the best suited (I’ve found some pretty awesome recipes that use it), and Vegetable Oil will work too. I suggest adding your other fats first, waiting for them to melt in the oven, and topping the rest off with the other oil to ensure you only use JUST as much that’s needed. It can feel wasteful (I had to use quite a bit), but think of it this way; when you’re done with all your duck, you now have a whole bunch of your own ducky, aromatically, salty fat goodness that you can use in place of veggie oil or butter in any recipe. Just make sure to strain it first.

Oh, speaking of which, NO BUTTER. Good chances of burning, plus there’s the whole separating milk solids. Maybe if you clarified it first it’s okay, but at that point I’d prefer it for poaching fish and seafood over confit.

Confit: Though the general procedure for confit is basically the same no matter where you go (lightly salt/cure duck, cover in fat, cook for long period of time, store), cooking temperatures seem to abound. I’ve seen ones that cook a 300F+ for 90 minutes, 200F or so for 3+ hours, and 180F cooking that lasts a whole day. Classic French recipes say to “simmer” while some procedures leave the fat perfectly still, and others blitz it at the end to actually try and crisp/brown the skin in the fat. It makes it hard to tell which you should actually use, so ultimately I say it’s up to your opinion and what sort of constraints you have.

All I advise is that, at whatever temp, the duck cook until it is tender and soft through and through; a paring knife should slide in easily. I myself stuck to 200F for 4 hours or so, took one leg out early to eat with the meal and left the rest in there for another 5+ hours just for the heck of it.

Sides and Sauce: Doing a bit of research online and in my big Larousse Gastronomique book (after I made the whole dish, of course, gah), I’ve found there to be quite a few different sauces and sides that can be traditionally served with either of these duck preparations. There are not too many things in common here and there, other than a couple factors IF you want to consider them (I was mainly focused on cooking the proteins, as neither entry in the 44 placed importance on what theySAMSUNG were served with).

Potatoes seem very popular as a side, usually in a whole or chopped/sautéed fashion; I myself chose to go the opposite route and mash mine, take advantage of using those ever so soft cloves of fat-roasted garlic and onions. The sauces themselves are all pretty French, and sometimes use Capers; I just kept to a very simple and traditional French Pan Sauce using a demiglace from homemade Duck Stock.

Magret de Canard avec Confit de Canard
1 pair Duck Breasts
Salt and Pepper
Duck Leg and/or Thigh Confit (recipe follows)

Directions

  1. Heat a large, thick bottomed sauté or cast-iron pan to Medium-Hi, practically smoking.
  2. Carefully score the skin of your duck breasts however desired, making sure not to injure the flesh.
  3. Lay skin-side down in pan, letting sear hard on the high heat for 1-2 minutes, and season the flesh side liberally with salt and pepper.SAMSUNG
  4. Turn heat down to Medium-Low, allowing the duck breast to gently heat and render the fat for 10-18 minutes depending.                      Note: if using an electric stove, may need to turn heat down immediately.
  5. Lay your desired cut of Confit, skin down, into the hot fat about halfway through cooking, letting it caramelize as it heats up.SAMSUNG
  6. When skin is properly rendered and crisped to your desired, quick flip over and cook on the flesh for 1 minute.
  7. Move onto the cutting board to rest, pouring the SAMSUNGfat from the pan to make your Pan Sauce (recipe follows) as it does so.
  8. Slice Magret on a bias and serve with whole or shredded Confit, a potato-based side, and French sauce.

Confit de Canard
Duck Legs, Thighs, and other Miscellaneous Parts
4-5 Tb Salt
½ Head Garlic Cloves
½ Head Red Onion, Chopped
2 Bay Leaves
1 Tb Peppercorns
3-5 Sprigs Thyme, dry or fresh (preferred)
Rendered Duck Fat
Other Rendered Fats and/or Oils (Optional or if needed)

DirectionsSAMSUNG

  1. Prick the fatty skin of whichever Duck pieces one is using, particularly the thicker fat layers, to better melt out while cooking.SAMSUNG
  2. Combine with Aromatics in pan, rubbing them down with your salt (may need to add more; looking for the area between “heavy seasoning” and “thick cure”).
  3. Cover, leave rest in the fridge, at least overnight and preferably over 24 hours.SAMSUNG
  4. Remove Thyme Sprigs and Bay leaf, lightly rinsing the meat if it seems needed, making sure to drain off any fluids/juices in the pan.SAMSUNG
  5. Top with Rendered Duck and/or other Animal Fats and move to oven, turning it onto 200F.SAMSUNG
  6. Once melted, top off with additional cookable lipids if needed to fully cover the meat.SAMSUNG
  7. Cook Minimum 3 hours (after heated) until tender, when a small knife is able to insert and pull out cleanly and with ease, skimming the “skin” stuff on the top if desired (it is nummy).
  8. If one desires to brown the skin while cooking, turn oven to 375-425F after it’s turned tender, leaving to “simmer” under the heat about 20-40 minutes (again, depending).SAMSUNG
  9. Remove, let cool on counter, cover, and store in fridge until needed. Ideally it should sit as long as possible, months even, to develop flavor.
  10. Add to recipes or enjoy as is by heating up in oven or sauté pan.

Pan Sauce
1 ½ – 2 cups homemade, thick Duck Stock
¼ cup Wine
Thinly sliced preferred veggies (optional)
2 Tb Seasoned Garlic Compound Butter, chilled

Direcitons

  1. Reduce stock to ¼-½ cup thick, gelatin-like Demi.
  2. Turn recently empty, still hot cooking pan to Med/Med-Hi heat, pouring in wine to deglaze the crispy Fond on the bottom.SAMSUNG
  3. When reduced by half, add in your prepared Demi and any Veggies, Capers, or other garnishes one desires.SAMSUNG
  4. Once bubbling, remove from heat and toss in your Compound Butter (butter mixed with salt, pepper, and the confit-cooked garlic), quickly stirring to emulsify as it melts.
  5. Pour over Duck or other desired cooked protein.

The Verdict

SAMSUNGNow this is why I love duck; that juicy, sorta-red meat but also a bit porky-game bird-y flavor, with that tender chew that you just love biting through over and over. Though the color was a bit darker than I usually try to make it (you should see it when it’s perfectly pink in every single slice), it still tastes damn good, thus proving the incongruity of the “right level.”

I still think that, at the end of the day, I much prefer my skin to have a good, even, noticeable layer of that awesome fat on top. It’s already hard enough getting it “properly” crispy after practically rendering ALL the fat off, so why bother? Save some on the meat for your own guilty pleasure; plus it helps control the temp even further.

And the Confit was delicate, tender and tasty; I can’t wait to see how it tastes after sitting in the fridge for over a week. I’d be curious to try out some other cooking temps for it, like heating it up at the end; “luckily” for me it seems there might be more than one other 4SAMSUNG4 dish besides cassoulet that requires the fat-cured protein. Might just have to revisit it then.

Oh, yeah, and that confit garlic and onion make some pretty damn good mashed potatoes. All it needed was some of those small, crunchy cracklings I made on top… if only they were able to last an hour after making them…

Primary Pairing – Junmai/Honjozo Sake

Another instance where, while thinking and searching for the most desired wine to go with this week’s adventure, my mind decided to sidetrack itself towards something different. I think what probably struck the embers on it this time, besides Surdyk’s pretty damn good selection of sake, was a craving for that perfect mouthfeel to go along with that oh-so-important chew factor of cooked duck. Not to mention it does draw me back to Peking Duck….

And I do love pairing sake with non-asian recipes, really show its versatility in mirroring similarly desired factors in wine. It’s a great substitute for the naturally earthy flavors of a French red; and much like I wouldn’t look for a big, deeply tannic red wine here, I also want the particular musky characters of sake reduced, but still present as a major character. So Junmai-level seimaibuai (how much the rice is milled down) gives that perfect median amount, often carrying with it a rich enough body and more rice character to emphasize the similar weight in the food. It’s not too difficult to find one with enough acid to match the fatty richness.images

Where junmai is a little stronger, but muted/even tone in flavor and aroma, great for underlying and supporting the flavors of the dish, the Honjozo (made by adding alcohol in after fermenting to change aromas) provides a wild aromatic aspect of those mushroomy, barky, only slightly floral/fruity notes to celebrate with this duck. So whether you’re looking to celebrate the Duck or the Sake as the main aspect, the choice is yours (Junmai is a great style for those not yet into sake, for this or other instances).

Oh, by the way, no serving it hot. Step away from the microwave!

SAMSUNGMy Bottle: Tozai “Living Jewel” Junmai

So happy I ended up picking this bottle, it ended up as practically THE perfect sake to have with the meal; always remember how risky choosing sake can be if you know nothing about the specific bottle or brewer.

Good, solid undertones of the forest with such a refreshing body and creaminess, refreshing my palette while standing up to the softer weight of the meats. Light herby characteristics tie in to the French aspect of the meal, with just enough tannin from the rice to take care of the protein. Though that’s just the beginning; I found a few fun little surprises in store.

Duck always works well with fruit, particularlySAMSUNG stone and other tree fruits like peaches and apples; with a little punch of something reminiscent of apricots and Japanese plums, this little pleasure is still enjoyed. I actually forgot about the sweetness factor when choosing; the sake is a bit off-dry, if not sweeter, which worried me in offering it in terms of balancing the food. Luckily, this actually turned out to my benefit, as my highly reduced Demi Pan Sauce provided a noted salty character, begging to be cut by a bit of sweetness (this aspect would be even more perfect if I had the duck cracklings on top). Finally, the starchy rice flavor sprinkled throughout ate perfectly with the mashed potatoes.

So if you want a sake to pair with this or similar food and aren’t sure what to get, this is a good bottle to zero in on.

Secondary Pairing – St. Emilion and Satellites

I think this is the third dish in a row where the wine pairing suggestion was Cab Sauv or Cab Sauv dominated by Buzzfeed… at least this item’s suggestion was partially right, but at the same time oh so wrong.

There are two things wrong with listing “Red Bordeaux” as a pairing. First off, unlike Burgundy where the whole region’s red is characteristically made with one grape, Bordeaux is a region of blends. Not only that, but the actual style of that blend and the final balance varies hugely and very distinctly from one section to the next. Most people aware of Bordeaux know the concept that “Left Bank” wines are very big, rich, Cab dominated with some smooth Merlot, while the “Right Bank” are much gentler, softer Merlot based blends with little or no Cab Sauv (they use the highly floral and aromatic Cab Franc instead).

Which brings me to my Second point; where it can be clearly seen even from this description that a Right Bank wine WOULD work well, thus lending credibility to the idea of “red Bordeaux,” the fact is when most people DO generalize it’s always concerning the COUNTERPART. The big, overly bodied and overly tannic Cabernet-dominated blends. Which I’m quite sure of are Buzzfeed’s initial assumptions on the style.

God, I just can’t help being mean to these guys sometimes can I? Maybe it’s just bad luck in choosing some of their more ill-fated concepts early on… it’ll probably get better later.st_emilion

Let’s get back to where they COULD have been right though; being a southwestern/bordelaise dish, both confit and magret have affinities for certain reds of the region. And I can’t quite think of a regional wine better than one of the simpler, fresher St. Emilions. With a base that sticks traditionally around 85% Merlot and 15% Cab Franc, we have a wine very similar in body, acid, and tannin level to a Pinot Noir, great for matching the structure of these dishes.

At the same time, the unique qualities of the grapes brings a smoother lushness from the Merlot, the importance of the mouthfeel that I also found in sake. Cab Franc helps emphasize the super ripe and tart fruits and brings accompanying flowers of red and pink, bolstering the aromas nicely like the Honjozo.

But you want to stick with the simpler bottles in the right bank; Pomerol and quality Crus of St Emilion make amazing wines, but along with their depth they bring in added body, tannins from ripe grapes and oak, and other aspects which can skew it away from the ideal pairing. Not to mention price of course; St. Emilion Satellites (regions surrounding it that are allowed to append their name) come in at so great price deals for the quality of the wines, and can bring in that nice refreshing aspect I find.

Other options, if you can find them, are Fronsac or Blaye wines (other less-notable regions along the Right Bank). And personally, I’m tempted to ignore Bordeaux all together and hitch a ride to Loire to pick up one of their Pure Cabernet Franc-based red wines. Ah, screw the merlot, give me all those aromatics, small but tight tannins, and that stony taste of graphite and tart fruit down my gullet. That’s how you drink with duck right there.

Don’t forget to stay tuned in a couple weeks when I turn all my leftovers into Cassoulet!

p1: Piperade

enhanced-buzz-29342-1385771009-2A Valentine’s Weekend Brunch concept lead me to search out a dish that was rich in holiday spirit (or, you know, close-ish) and breakfast-reminiscent. What better dish to pick than the Hot, teasingly Spicy, Red stew of Peppers known as Piperade, cooked with Eggs and eaten on Crusty Bread.

The Dish

The Pinnacle of Basque Cuisine, the recipe known as Piperade is shared in the small region crossing both French and Spanish borders. Its beginnings, however, trace towards the French side in the far south-western region of Bearn (also known for béarnaise sauce… huh, that’s two relatively well known mother sauce adaptations they’ve invented), where the end of summer heralded and abundance of ripe, concentrated Tomatoes and Peppers, brought over from the New World and now used to make a sauce.

Which is what it started as and is still often used today, a sweet and rich sauce to go with various meals, sometimes cooked with beaten eggs a-la omelet. But it didn’t stay that way, the newly popular flavor combination moving across the border where they shared use of the same ingredients. Its influence grew, acquiring ingredients in its slow spread and popularity. Onions and Garlic from the Midetteranean, Ham and a Hot Ground Pepper from the Border, and it wasn’t long before the simple sauce turned into a cavalcade of sensational activity. Not only that, the stew’s mixed colors of Red (tomatoes), White (onion+garlic), and Green (peppers) stood representation of the Basque Flag, much like the Margherita Pizza does for Italy.

A simple dish packed full of flavor, Piperade truly stands tall as one of the typical foods of Southern France.

A Word On…

Peppers: Overall, the recipe is pretty easy. It’s just onions, garlic, tomatoes and peppers cooked together; and the traditional ingredients reflect that. Bell Peppers, that’s it; usually Green to reflect the “Basque Flag Color,” though there are many recipes that discuss adding a variety of bells for a beautiful color mix. Just stick with this and you already have the classic. No need to do the whole “roasting the skin and peeling off” thing, just keep it fresh before cooking.SAMSUNG

There is one fun option we have though; the main Buzzfeed recipe link uses these little gems, and I just love adding them to dishes whenever I can. Preserved, Roasted Red Sweet Peppers. If you’ve had these in restaurants, maybe on an antipasti plate, you know why I adore these things. They’re soft and rich, smokey and sweet, and just concentrated with that essence of cooked peppers. You can find a can or jar of these, the already emptied casings sitting in an acidic mixture of vinegar and verjus, in any decent supermarket (co-ops, whole foods, etc). Just slice them up and toss in a little later than the other veggies; and I do still use it alongside bell peppers, so I can keep the classic feel and flavors of the dish.SAMSUNG

HOT Peppers: With the sweet peppers we need the Heat. This comes from a little guy called the Espelette pepper, a Southern French product with its own AOC. Finding this in our market, though, is a damn difficult task.

We have options though, just have to find a fresh or SAMSUNGchili pepper with similar Scoville units. And at only 4,000 (which is pretty darn low), we have a couple options. Guajillo Chilies are probably the easiest to get your hands on, and very close at 5,000 scoville; it’s what I got. Other decent options, if you can find them, are Mirasols and Fresno Peppers.

These aren’t added in as-is, which brings our second SAMSUNGconsideration. Normally, the espelette is ground into a French Paprika/Pimento. To make your own with whatever chili you get (if you get a “fresh” pepper, though, just slice it up and add in as-is), start simply by toasting the dried peppers (deseed first). This is simple, really; just heat up a pan, put in the whole peppers and press down with a spatula for about a SAMSUNGminute each side, until those essential oils start to bloom and you can smell it. The skin should start to darken to around the edges.

Move it to your handy-dandy spice grinder (basically, a coffee grinder, cleaned) or food processor. It’ll be soft while warm, so let cool a bit to crisp up, and grind untilSAMSUNG beautifully powdered. This can be used as is, for this or whatever, but I like to still add some decent Spanish/Smoked Paprika to edge the final spice flavors a little closer to the original.

Tomatoes: I’ve talked about quality tomatoes a bit in one of my other Posts, and when it comes to getting the BEST ones for such a tomato-focused cooked dish, then stay away from “fresh.” Unless you can really get those rich, concentrated, deep red organic/home grown fruit right from your own garden (or a quality farmer’s market), then stick with canned. It sounds counter-intuitive, but think of it this way; organically canned tomatoes are picked and preserved at their PEAK of flavor and sugars, keeping them at their best flavor.SAMSUNG

You have to know which ones to buy though. I love the Italian San Marzano tomatoes (well, everybody does, haha), and there are also some really great local, Whole Roasted Organic options. Whole Foods has a great stock on these options.

Cured Pig (and Focal Points): Traditionally, one cooks this dish wish an Air-cured meat called “Jamon de Bayonne” (from the Bayonne region of course). Finding this in the non-Chicago Midwest, much like the Espelette, is next to impossible. The main substitutes to it, for our concern, would be Italian Prosciutto and Spanish Serrano Ham. Which iteration one pics of these, then, is dependant with how it’ll be used.

SAMSUNGI like to think that there’s a bit of a tug-of-war battle between the Egg and the Ham, each vying to see which one will act as the main showcase with the different recipes. Do you tone down the amount of eggs and top it with big chunks of fresh sliced or sautéed Ham; or do you keep the meat in with the veggies as it stews, the flavors mingling and overriding any subtle and delicate flavors it might have had.

Focusing on the Brunch aspect, I chose a cheaper prosciutto, which holds a very rough and simple personality but has a stronger flavor to stand up with the stew. This I had Sliced Thick, sautéed and mixed back in right before baking (I still want to ensure one can taste it). If one were to HIGHLIGHT the ham, then I think Serrano is the better choice: lighter and finer flavors, a little more of that cured pork fat still attached, and much closer in personality to the Bayonne. What I’d actually do is make a nice, refined veggie “sauce,” poach the egg on the side, and stack on the plate with a couple fresh, delicately thin slices of the Serrano.

Two extremes with many a variation in between if one explored them. The choice is up to you.

Eggs: Nowadays baked along with the stew, the original French dish was more closely tied to an omelette, or “frittata” style, with the tomato-pepper sauce cooked in. However, changes in preferences and styles have introduced baking of the eggs as a viable and now classic substitution, and the one which I chose to follow at the time.

Piperade
4oz Prosciutto, Serrano, or similar meat, Thick Sliced
1/3-½  cup Olive Oil
1 Onion
½ Head of Garlic (5-7 medium cloves)
1 Large or 1 ½ Small Bell Pepper/s (any color)
2 Tb Guajillo (or similar) Chile Powder
1 tsp Paprika
1 tsp Sugar
1 tsp crushed Thyme (fresh or dry)
Salt n Pepper
1 cup Roasted Sweet Peppers
1 pint Can Whole San Marzano Tomatoes
2 Tb Fresh Parsley, chopped
5-8 Eggs

Some good, Crusty Bread, sliced and Grilled

DirectionsSAMSUNGSAMSUNG

  1. Turn oven to 350F.
  2. Cut your dry-cured meat into even-sized cubes (or julienne sticks, depending), turning the cooking pan to Medium heat.SAMSUNG
  3. Once hot, add Olive Oil; it should start Shimmering quickly. Toss in cubed meat, sautéing until colored and lightly crispy around the edges.
  4. While this is going, slice your Onion, Garlic, and Bell Pepper into thin strips.
  5. Transfer cooked prosciutto to paper towels for draining, SAMSUNGreplacing them in the warm pan with your sliced veggies.
  6. Gently cook on Medium/Med-Low until they start to get soft, making sure they don’t get any color. Toss in the Guajillo, Paprika, Sugar, Thyme and Seasonings, continuing so they “bloom” in the warm oil.SAMSUNG
  7. Slice Roasted Sweet Peppers, adding in as the veggies get closer to full softness.
  8. Remove whole Tomatoes from the can, chopping them into thin pieces. Add, along with the can sauce/juices, simmering for 5 or so minutes until SAMSUNGlightly reduced and “incorporated.”
  9. Stir in the chopped Parsley and Cooked Prosciutto.
  10. Ready your Eggs, carefully cracking into small bowls/ramekins for easy transferring.
  11. Carefully make a few “wells” into the cooked veggies and peppers with the back of a spoon or spatula, gently easing the whole eggs into each of their new resting places.SAMSUNG
  12. Transfer to the hot oven, letting the Eggs and Stew bake until the white is set, 6-8 minutes.
  13. Remove, scoop onto a plate, and serve alongside drinks and some good Toasty Bread (and maybe a sausage if it’s breakfast, num).SAMSUNGSAMSUNG

The Verdict

I really love how this recipe turns out. Really tart, tomatoey-pepper rich stew, firm chunks of salty pork, and a fatty egg yolk to round it all out. The heat is low and gentle, the paprika-chili pepper flavors notably present but only offering the barest hints of capsaicin. Enough to arouse the palette without being too needy. Everything had its own strong, distinctive notes that just make you crave it throughout the day. It was all the beauty of a typical Chinese meal, designed to hit all 5 points of flavor (and the soul and SAMSUNGelements and whatnot): Sweetness from the Peppers, Acidity from the Tomato, Umami from the Egg and Garlic, Saltiness from the Prosciutto, and Bitterness from the Charred Bread.

Ultimately it was a fun brunch, and a delicious thing to put on top and soak into that crunchy garlic bread.

Primary Pairing – Sagardoa (Basque Cider)

Again, a Cabernet Sauvignon with this dish? I think Buzzfeed must have been in a red wine coma when they put this particular article up. Not only is there no real texture to require the deep red’s tannins (crunchy bread doesn’t count), but much like the cheese we have another culinary pitfall for wine: Eggs. To be specific, egg Yolks, the fatty substance which is noted for having the tendency to coat and impede the palette, obstructing and inhibiting flavors from wine and drink. That and some compounds that can change flavors into the negative, tannic and more complex wines like Cab are immediately a no-go with any dish that highlights this ingredient.

So what kind of drink do we pair with this odd ingredient? Why, we just have to look at the rest of the dish; tart, strong, with little “weight” but still having singular flavor identity to it that, though not really complex, isn’t boring either. There are many White Wines that fit this diagram quite well (Rias Baixes, Vinho Verde, Txakolina, Sancerre/Pouilly Fume, Mosel Riesling, etc), but there’s only one thing that stands out at the top around the Basque Region. And that’s their Cider.SAMSUNG

Cider’s a beautiful thing. Low alcohol, deliciously tart and acidic, with an intensely unique, piercing flavor. It can cut right through the coating fat of the egg yolk, its personality simple and strong enough to not be displaced and confused by the twisting placebo compounds. And just a refreshing glass to have for brunch; who needs a Mimosa? (please oh please god do not tell my Mother I said that)

My Bottle: 2011 Isastegi Sagardo NaturalaSAMSUNG

Was so happy to find this unique little item in a local store. The acidity matches perfectly with the tomato-pepper stew while still pushing through the difficulty of the egg, with a bare off-dry sweetness to counter the light salt of prosciutto. Then it gives a fun little muskiness, as should any good cider, to keep you excited and wanting more. I think the best way to describe its qualifications is that it has the same amount of “satisfaction” in it as the comfortingly poignant piperade.

Secondary PairingGaillac or other SW France Rose

This was actually going to be my primary choice, I mean it was Valentine’s weekend; but then I found I could actually get a Spanish Cider (and cheaper), so I just had to go with my other option.SAMSUNG

It’s a bit surprising, I know, since apparently us “wine snobs who roll their eyes at the mention of rose” must HATE the idea of using this very versatile and food friendly style when it comes to pairing. But I guess sometimes even we deem to lower ourselves to -gasp- “enjoy” a wine that tastes delicious and refreshing. Just a bit of those red-reminiscent fruit flavors and aromas to be mentally appealing next to the distinctive tomato-pepper stew, while holding the piercing tartness and personality of a white to stand next to the dish’s difficulties.

They’ll have some more body than the cider, probably along with a bit of “heat” and musk/earthiness that reminds one of Mediterranean Basque. A great regional pairing fully incorporated with the French side of things.

If you can’t find any rose from the SW of France, there are some great offerings from Provence and Southern Rhone at decent prices, just ask an employee about their suggestions to lead you to the right bottles.

p2: Creme Brulee

Image                I do seem to enjoy starting each of my projects with a dish that’s just classically cliché (such as the Coq au Vin), so of course Crème Brulee should be my first adventure here. Not to mention it was a fun V-day Brunch Dessert with strawberries.

The Sweet

THE classic dessert, served in a variety of French cafes and restaurants, fine dining US spots, even brunch buffets. Who knew as simple Custard with Burned Sugar on top would have become so popular?

Maybe most of Western Europe, considering how much they’ve contested ownership rights. It is an interesting bit of history, since no one is TRULY clear as to where the dish properly originated. The earliest Recording seems to have been in the mid-1600’s, in England of all places. Trinity College, Cambridge, the cooks made a simple sugar-topped Custard dish where they burned the College Crest on with a branding iron, and thus their claim to the recipe is born. Which I wouldn’t be too surprised if it turned out true, considering the widespread use and popularity of Custards and other Egg-binded “Puddings” in English dessert cuisine. Then it was known simply as Burnt Cream, or Trinity Cream to honor the college origins.

It’s first appearance in a cookbook came in 1691, in France, the Cuisinier roial et bourgeois, called Crème Brulee; though interesting he changed the name to Crème Anglaise (English Cream) in a later book. Also taking into account that early French versions simply made a disk of caramel on the side beforehand to place on top for service, the argument for French dominance seems a bit weaker and weaker.

The Final, and least likely, originator comes in Catalan (Spain), with crema catalana/cremada(burnt). Same kind of recipe, but with cinnamon and citrus zest added, its first recorded appearance seems to have come sometime in the 17th century.

Though the dates on all these seem to go back and forth; one place said that Cambridge started burning in 1879, another that the French didn’t first list until 1731, it’s all a bit confusing and unclear. And not to mention this is all just based off of records, there’s still no evidence or word of mouth who actually made the first version. But either way, we have this delicious dish of contrasting textures and rich toffee-cream. Who cares when it’s all about indulging?

Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner

SAMSUNGVanilla beans are a pretty pricey thing these days, so I only like using the ones I have when it fulfills two criteria. 1: it’s a special dish/occasion, and 2: the vanilla is able to SHINE, i.e. it’s usually a very, very simply flavored dish with no notably competing/contrasting element, usually custard. Crème brulee is a good dish for this.

But because I so rarely use them, MY vanilla beans seem to have “dried up” ever more than usual; they’ll actually snap if I bend them far SAMSUNGenough. It makes splitting them open not so easy, and a pain in the ass trying to get all the seeds out. Turns out it’s an easy fix when using them to infuse though; just let it soak in the Cream (or other liquid you’re cooking) overnight beforehand. It softens up so nicely, just look!

Seeds are easy to scrape out again, and if anything you just got some extra infusion time for a more in depth flavor.SAMSUNG

As for the custard, my recipe searches have found that nearly all recipes use ONLY Heavy Cream as their dairy of choice; which is usually odd with custard recipes. The main differences come simply in how many yolks are used (my favorite being Alton Brown’s, who uses the minimum 6 for a quart of cream; it keeps it to a really tender and soft pudding) and whether it uses cornstarch or some other binder. Ignore the starch additions, you don’t need them at all, and they only serve to mess up the flavor.

Finally, when it comes to Torching your sugar, I do always suggest using a blowtorch if you have one (the little handheld guy is so fun and a great tool to have); but not everybody does. Fear not, a simple solution presents itself; just turn your Broiler on High and stick it in (after the broiler’s warmed up of course). There are a couple adjustments to how the dish should be treated as you go, and I’ve made a couple notes in the recipe where suited.SAMSUNG

Crème Brulee
1 Vanilla Bean
1 Quart Heavy Cream
Tsp Salt
6 Egg Yolks
½ cup Sugar + Extra for dusting

DirectionsSAMSUNG

  1. Split vanilla bean, thoroughly scraping its insides of the fine seeds with a paring knife.
  2. Transfer both seeds and leftover bean pod to a pot with the Heavy Cream and Salt; warm on Medium heat untilSAMSUNG thoroughly Scalded (skin starts forming on top and the edges are barely simmering).
  3. While warming, whip Yolks thoroughly with a whisk, slowly incorporating the ½ cup of Sugar, until it turns very pale yellow and fluffy.
  4. Slowly pour in a bit of the warmed SAMSUNGcream at a time, “tempering” the delicate yolks to the heat. After about 1/3 of cream is incorporate, simply dump the rest in, whisking to fully mix.
  5. Let cool on counter, cover in plastic wrap (pressing to the top to prevent skin formation), and transfer to fridge for a minimum 2 hours or Overnight.
  6. Strain out vanilla bean and ladle your custard into whatever ramekin or other ramekin-like container you have.
  7. Turn oven to 325F and start boiling a large SAMSUNGsaucepan (2 quarts) of Water.
  8. Transfer ramekins to roasting or other baking pan, carefully filling with the hot water  until it’s just a bit below where the custard level is.
  9. Bake until mostly set and the center still jiggles when you shake, about 40-45 SAMSUNGminutes.                Note: if using a larger baking dish, or Broiling later, then feel free to take out earlier than it may seem. The residual heat, greater than in the small pan, should follow it through further, plus the Broiling heats the custard up a lot.
  10. Move to fridge for overnight, or until chilled completely.SAMSUNG
  11. Remove 1/2 hour before ready to serve. When close to ready, sprinkle on an even, only slightly heavy layer (don’t want it super fine or thin, just a bit more sugar than that) over top, shaking and rotating ramekin to get an even coating.              SAMSUNGNote: if Broiling, I actually DO prefer a finer layer, as it takes longer for the sugar to start cooking, and can get much more spotty than with a torch.
  12. Brulee sugar however desired, whether with blowtorch, broiler, or the classic branding iron.
  13. Let sit 5 minutes after caramelizing and serve, on its own or with fruit.

My Thoughts

SAMSUNGI really like this custard recipe; very nice and creamy, not that rich/heavy with the yolky custardy flavor, simple but developed. The vanilla bean is able to shine through along with the sugar flavor very well. As for the dish, always a classic; crispy, crunchy sugar caramel with a smooth milkfatty pudding. French comfort dessert at its finest.

Possible Pairings

layon-vv-18One of the many French desserts that have lost a sense of belonging to a particular region, being seen all over. Often with those kinds of desserts, they’re usually attributed a bit more towards the Parisian area, so Loire pairings it is.

I think one of the lightly sweet Coteaux du Layon dessert wines made with Chenin Blanc would be delicious, or a Methode Ancien sparkling Loire (also made with Chenin), especially if one could find a Demi-Sec version (half dry, or really half-sweet).

Vouvray_Sparkling_Chenin_blanc_wineCan’t leave out the other countries vying for credit on the burnt cream’s creation. And England has been creating some wonderful Sparkling Wines as of late; with their continental temps, they might even have Ice Wine. Either of those would be a fantastic, simple drink next to this I believe.

As for Catalan in Spain, hmmmm….. I SAMSUNGknow! They make a great lightly sparkling, off-dry Cider in the Basque. It’s sort of musky, but pure and simple, and just a nice little gulp. Would go great with the cinnamon-citrus zest version, and I happen to have a bottle that I used to pair with an upcoming Savory French 44 dish.

IMG_4499And to end on hard alcohol, a glass of Calvados (an apple brandy made in Northern France); it’s on the border of France and England, shares similar flavor profiles with cognac to make it match the burnt sugar of the dessert, not as overpowering when young. But gentle and deep when old, a good drink with complexity to go with the very simple but delightful custard.

And that ends the first of hopefully many “sweet” posts on the subject. Hope those reading enjoyed it, and are able to take some fun things into consideration with their next baking session. I’ll see you all on the next go-round!