p2: Basque Pumpkin Cornbread

The Sweet

downloadIt’s Autumn in Minnesota, we’re getting ever closer to Halloween and Thanksgiving, everyone is becoming unnaturally obsessed with ‘pumpkin spice’-flavored things, and my sister gathered us together last weekend for a family dinner of grilled pork and potatoes. So what better ‘dessert’ accompaniment for me to make than Basque Pumpkin Cornbread!? Yes, that is apparently a thing, as I found out while searching through the mountain of ‘classic French desserts’ I still had left on my Buzzfeed checklist.

Though, thankfully, my personal embarrassment for not knowing a lick about this particular item was short lived. It didn’t take me long to realize that, apparently, ‘French pumpkin cornbread’ is quite the ‘obscure’ recipe. There is ONE recipe for it online… one. I mean one can find other pages with it, but the recipe used is exactly the same; some blatantly display the fact it came from Lemons and Anchovies, the link which Buzzfeed itself uses (not that they have any other option). Any other recipes that try variations aren’t even relating themselves to the French recipe, or outright state they’re taking it and putting ‘American twists’ towards the bread, bringing it back to a classic US cornbread with pumpkin flavoring. But if you really want to understand just how random, for lack of a better term, this recipe is to French culture… I couldn’t even find any hint of it in my Larousse Gastronomique, THE definitive encyclopedia to French food, terms, recipes, culinary history, etc. And I checked EVERY term that would connect with it, even looking for its French name: ‘Meture au Potiron Basquais.’ Though I only found that in one blog post, of which could have been that particular author trying to make a name through his own direct translation. I would not be surprised if there was no other actual term given to this recipe by the French themselves, besides simply saying what it was not in English.

So that was an interesting thing to go through and realize as I attempted to search for other recipes which to compare to. But that’s not to say it doesn’t have history; for it DID get introduced to the southern part of the country at one point in time, it simply hasn’t had the luck to reach the fame and intrigue as their many other breads and pastries. The idea is that its creation developed after Christopher Columbus returned and introduced ingredients like Corn to the new world; of course starting in Spain and then spreading to Southern France first before the rest of the continent. Those in the shared Spanish-French Basque region turned the grain into a bread much like back in the Americas where they came from. Of course they had to put their own addition to it, mixing with rich seasonal squash while incorporating whipped egg whites, definitely a French introduction, as its sole leavening inclusion. Minimalistic by today’s recipes, but at that point an exceptional addition! Now it’s seeing if I can translate some of this exceptionalness into something that works today.

Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner

20151010_211450So, I’ve gotta use an actual pumpkin with this one, just for the fun. Which, if you are yet unaware, does NOT mean one of those giant monsters we love to get for carving. Those are NOT food! They taste like crap, back away and save those for Halloween! One has to ensure that their store, which most Whole Foods and decent grocery stores should have, stocks the specific cooking varieties in the produce section. These are smaller squashes, their size and development made to concentrate their natural flavors and sugars. You know, so they taste good.

This solo recipe seems to only use the canned version, but assuming this IS something that was made semi-frequently in the past, it’d be with an actual pumpkin. And I want an excuse to roast a whole one! Though… as I found out, and you can see in my semi-recipe for ‘Roasted Pumpkin’ below, came out rather stringy, like spaghetti squash. So not quite that mashable; attempts at ricing and putting in my mini-processor failed. Should have just boiled the pumpkin instead, but I always prefer the flavor of roasting and thought it would result like a butternut. It’s an easy fix though, solved by re-heating the roasted pumpkin with the milk and blending, where it purees simply.

But it sucks because I originally planned to use a particular technique I learned with my bread-making adventures, whereby one makes a ‘soaker’ by combining cornmeal and water/liquid overnight. This helps to make sure the very dry and crunchy meal actually softens and yields a more tender final result; something I REALLY wanted to make sure happened this time as I was using a stoneground, ‘medium grind’ cornmeal; one I expect is likely bigger than the kind of cornmeal originally used in the recipe.

If taking the recipe like I did, using an actual pumpkin and roughly ground, delicious cornmeal vs the canned pumpkin ‘jello’ and a mass of processed maize flour, as I found out you’ll likely want to re-adjust certain proportions and procedures. You’ll see how I found this out later. Nevertheless, I’ve listed some notes in the recipe on the side if this is the case for your own adventures.

The ‘original’ recipe also called for Rum, which I chose not to use because… okay, I won’t like, I forgot the darn rum. Which I myself didn’t care about at first as it seemed like just a random addition; rum isn’t really much of a French ingredient except on that one Island. It made more sense to consider using an Armagnac, fruit brandy or something. Then I realized… Christopher Columbus, durnit. Of course there would be a connection to rum, it’s a dish that originated from overseas travel! Maybe rum wasn’t QUITE as vital to their crews in those very beginning days of runs between the Americas, but I can’t say it wouldn’t have been used in the dish now as a fun new ingredient. Sooooooo my bad.

‘Meture au Potiron Basquais’
1 cup Milk (+ ¼-½ when dealing w/ fresh pumpkin)
¼ cup Sugar
½ tsp Salt
1 cup Pumpkin Puree (1 ½ – 2 Fresh Roasted, Recipe Follows)
2 cups Cornmeal (if stoneground, medium grind, maybe a little less)
¼ cup/½ stick Butter
3 Eggs, Separated

Directions

  1. Turn oven to 375F20151011_151428
  2. Warm up Milk, Sugar, and Salt in sauce pot; if using actual Pumpkin, add in and bring to a simmer20151011_152655
  3. Blend until pumpkin is smooth, or whisk milk into puree
  4. Add Cornmeal, whisking in until smooth, ideally in stockpot to keep warm and encourage moisture absorption/softening20151011_152954
  5. Move to bowl, let cool a little, and stir in Butter so it gently melts
  6. Mix in Egg Yolks, making sure batter is only warm at the most20151011_154727
  7. Whip Whites until foamed, fluffy, and formed Stiff Peaks20151011_155013
  8. Fold into the batter, using 1/3 at a time, making sure it’s evenly distributed but minimally handled20151011_154221
  9. Thoroughly butter bottom and sides of cake pan or springform mold20151011_155239
  10. Pour into pan, transfer to oven, and bake 50-60 minutes, until set in the middle
  11. Remove, slide knife around sides, and carefully unmold from pan and onto cooling rack20151011_170226
  12. Let cool 10 minutes, cut into wedges and enjoy! Perhaps with some whipped cream or toasted meringue fluff20151011_201053

Roasted Pumpkin
1 Sugar Pie, or other sweet baking, Pumpkin
2-3 Tb Olive Oil

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 350F20151010_215500
  2. Carefully cut Pumpkin in half, scooping out all the seeds and ‘squash guts’
  3. Thoroughly rub oil over the top and inside of the pumpkin, placing it on a foil-lined tray cut-side-down20151010_220339
  4. Roast 1½ – 2 hours, or until a knife cuts in smooth and easily
  5. Remove, let briefly cool and scoop out inner flesh while still warm. Reserve for use20151011_001350

My Thoughts

Let’s start off with what went wrong. I couldn’t really taste any of the pumpkin, a side effect of using the fresh stuff vs the rather ‘concentrated’ canned paste, so I’d need to use much more next time if sticking to it. It also had that drier, crumbly cornbread-like texture; wasn’t horrible, but not that great for a dessert. Should have cooked it less, ideally found a way to have soaked that cornmeal like I planned, and/or used some more milk/less cornmeal in the final mix. But despite those tweaks, as cornbreads go it was still a rather nice bite, especially for such a simple recipe developed from what would have been made in old America with just corn and water. By the way, do I think the rum would have helped? Flavor wise it would have been a nice addition, though I might personally enjoy soaking it into the cake AFTER baking, get that nice texture and ideal unctuous aroma.

20151011_201348Now obviously a lot of this result was due to how I myself ended up making it today, but still it makes me even wonder why this is in the dessert section at all. Already one debates if it actually has the clout to be on the list of French dishes, let alone on this side of the selection. The rum and a softer crumb would have eaked it closer yes, but still it tastes more like something that should be enjoyed as a Thanksgiving side dish as opposed to end-of-the-meal indulgence. My meringue didn’t help that much, though it was tasty! I swear almost nothing feels better to me in cooking than when a meringue turns out perfectly.

Possible Pairings

Now this is interesting as, I’ve already mentioned, this isn’t really much of a dessert; even if made well, still feels like a side, like a regular corn or other form of bread. So it’s hard to think of a ‘dessert alcohol pairing’ to go along with it, especially sweet items and anything from France. Truthfully I can’t think of anything that would be ‘classic’ to go alongside it.

20151015_105714But if I take it from a different direction, looking not where it is NOW but where it originally came from, the answer makes itself a little more known. I mean, why should a sweet corn ‘bread’ not be paired with that very well known, sweet-ish corn distillate? Yes, Bourbon, I believe, is the answer here. A little snifter glass of a good 9+ year bottle to sip and enjoy alongside the rich, corny baked item. It’s just a mouthful of southern US/American goodness.

Sticking along that route, we could take advantage of those so-favorite Thanksgiving-esque flavor combos, and bring some more sweetness into it, and go with a bottle of Pecan/Pecan-Pie Moonshine/Corn Whiskey. Slightly sweet, whiskey-ish, and with that nice brown sugar-pecan notes that are so reminiscent of baking spices and the we so nostalgically would enjoy alongside pumpkin and baked corn stuff. Just make sure you get a GOOD bottle, from a smaller and preferable non-nationwide, distillery and not the mass-produced moonshines; I myself got turned onto this one that our family friends from Missouri keep bringing up.

p2: Meringue

The Sweet

I did a project on eggs in my last year in High School, after reading its chapter in On Food and Cooking (amazing book, still need to read the rest of it). I was fascinated by it, the amazing complexity of structure, the enormous range of applications, the interesting and odd ramifications from the tiniest of changes in amount, cooking time, temperature, etc which have plagued egg-focused recipes for centuries. But no doubt my favorite aspect came in the egg whites, or to be more specific what happened when we kinetically agitated the protein chains (aka beat the crap out of them w/out heat).

As a brief review, and to show I’m not all bull, egg whites are mainly made up of water and proteins, which are individually bundled together in tight balls. As energy and kinetic force is applied, links in these balls disconnect, letting them unfurl into long chains. Continuing to be whipped around and mixed up, the chains cross and link back together with the help of more energy and other things. Chains form around and together in giant nets, creating a new tight structure which traps water and air firmly between them, thus creating Bubbles. Very solid bubbles which have been used with great success and popularity throughout our history of cuisine.

Origins are contested and unsure, but all study suggests the very first recordings of those to purposefully beat egg whites for something to be in, surprisingly enough, England (or the area around it) during Medieval times. I find it quite interesting and curious that, in the same Medieval times, a painting technique known as Tempera (very similar to tempura isn’t it?) originated, whereas the focus was on heavily beating egg yolks or whites before mixing with pigments. Maybe that lead to the discovery of how beautiful and fancy egg white foams looked, perhaps leading to the Elizabethan-era dish known as Snow, made by adding a bit of egg whites and sugar to cream before beating, is likely the true precursor from which meringue evolved. At the time, 16th century, any forks and whisk-like utensils were still to be discovered, thus all any cook had to work with were bundles of reeds and cleft sticks. Cream is extremely easy to whip to peaks by hand given enough effort, at the time being used as a decadent centerpiece for higher class tables. But the eggs’ temperament in this area thus meant it needed to wait before it could shine on its own.

5069cc5474c5b64af3000563__w_145_h_200_s_fit_The tipping point for this seemed to happen in two countries simultaneously after the turn of the 1600’s. French chefs introduced a much lighter version of Snow containing more egg whites and sugar, and a certain Lady Elinor Fettiplace documented a recipe for “White Biskit Bread” in 1604, the latter being described as a “beaten-egg-white-and-sugar-confection.” The advent of Forks and other tined objects around 1644 would catapult the techniques to destroy and re/combine ingredients and thus send Meringues on their way, with various excerpts and influences on the French and other sides throughout its timeline. One note of interest, as many site, is the supposed official invention in the Swiss town of Meringen by pastry chef Gasparni in 1720; its relevance to the name is debated, especially considering other reports of the confection’s connection to the Saxon (in England-ish area) town of Mehringyghen and the fact that many words entering France from Germany often ended in –ingue. So whether the name’s source is specific or purely random (there is no actual or partial translation to it, it’s its own word, which is pretty unique if you think about it) is officially up in the air.

Popularity in desserts rose, the technique was slowly refined with different ways to make it added, and the final nail in the coffin of its identity was hammered in by the legendary Antoine Careme, who was supposedly the very first chef to use a Piping Bag to shape the foam before baking, as opposed to spoons. Not surprising considering his work with cakes.

Highly beaten egg whites with sugar are used today in everything from decorating desserts to acting as the base for soufflé to piling on top of pie to poaching and eating with custard (which will be another post soon I assure you). But probably its most popular, and singularly known, uses nowadays is as a simple ‘baked’ Cookie, which is what I’ll be doing with it today.

Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner

I find Meringue has been both the glorious highlight and bane of my culinary life; or really anything that involves whipped egg whites (do you know how much trouble I had with Souffle before getting it right?). Some of my best points in my culinary life revolve around that period when I had whipping egg whites with sugar down FLAT; getting the right amount in, adding it at the perfect time, and all that stuff needed to yield the perfectly smooth, fluffy, marshmallow-like egg fluff, which I mostly just use to pile on top of a dessert raw instead of baking (should try it sometime instead of whipped cream).

But then for whatever reason I lost it, haven’t been able to make a good, proper protein-sugar-chain in the last couple years. So I was very much looking forward to tackling this project head-on, re-learning the various important points to not only make a perfect fluff, but also the right kind for baking. It was a very relieving day… so now I get to yell at you and pound this delicate art into your brain like a drill sergeant.

First thing to learn, as every other person discussing meringue will tell you, is that there are technically 3 regional styles of meringue: French, Italian, and Swiss. Obviously we’ll be focusing on the first one, but it’s still fun to mention the other two. Italian meringue, often the ones with the highest stability when done right, is made by pouring cooked sugar (vs raw grain) into the whites while whisking. The unique Swiss technique, however, has one mixing the egg whites and sugar even before beating, in particular over a bain marie (double boiler) on very gentle heat until the sugar melts into it. Supposedly, as I haven’t tried this style much, it create a rather dense, thicker version of the style; marshmallowy, right up my alley I think.

But we’ll be sticking with the originator and most simple, and least stable, style; adding raw sugar to the whites while mixing. Now we have to choose between another two styles of meringue in general; Soft or Hard (so if one considers it, with the regional techniques, there are at least 6 different kinds of meringue one can make). The former uses less sugar, added at a time that turns it into a lighter, fluffy cloud-like thing, well known in Meringue Pies. The latter, and often seen in icings and our baked cookies, incorporates large amounts and yields that almost emulsified, smooth white cream.

20140717_105548Really. One of the first important points to learn, when making a firm baking meringue, is that you’ll need about Double the weight of sugar as the egg whites being used to get the right consistency. Considering that, it should be plain to see that, despite the disappointing loss in flavor, you should use the finest grains of sugar you can find. Not powdered sugar though, it’s got starch and other things in it; though I have heard there are some recipes that swap out a little bit of regular sugar for powdered for an interesting result.

The Process is as such:

20140717_112417Separate your whites from the egg yolks, very carefully; there is to be no trace of yolk or any other fat in the whites, otherwise the egg proteins will NOT come together; they’ll try, and many will, but that giant network will never form together properly. So keep your separating system organized and risk-free; crack over one bowl and organize the whites for whipping in another.

Despite the back of my mind always insisting on naturality and keeping things traditional, stabilizers have become key to the creation of these nowadays. In particular, Cream of Tartar; add a small amount, part of a teaspoon, in while the egg whites are getting somewhat foamy while beating.

As the proteins are destroyed and re-chain together, the resulting foam will go through two stages before breaking down again (or, in reality, the chains tightening up so much that their held water leaks out): Soft Peak and Stiff Peak. When the foam starts to take shape, turning completely into a mess of snow-like bubbles, but it still too weak to hold a firm, pointed peak (tested by pulling whisk/beater away), it’s at the Soft stage. This is when we need to add the sugar.

The key, simply, is a little bit at a time, and it should emulsify properly. I have seen a LOT of old, and even recent, recipes that say this should be ‘folded in, gently’… yeah, I tried that when I was young. It doesn’t do anything, just gets grainy and you can’t whip it into the proper emulsion after. I mean maybe if you did it a certain way it’d work, but I doubt it’d be any better than just blending it in on a lower/medium speed. Will ensure full incorporation anyways.

Push it all the way to the Stiff stage (it’s easy to tell, damn it gets firm…), and flavor; rule of thumb, any extract, liqueur, or hard spirit should add enough flavor while not requiring a lot (you only want to add a couple tablespoons of something at the very most so as not to mess with the structure). Also certain powders, such as cocoa, can be used in sparing quantities.

Now we bake; or, to be more accurate, we ‘Dry.’ Something I’ve been trying to figure for a long time… do I cook it at 350F for a short time and shut it off, can I do 225F for a few hours, do I gradually lower, can I even cut it short at all with high temp? I’ve found many recipes that will be convinced with using various temperatures, but all it’s done for me is browned my cookies and caused sugar syrup to leak from the bottom. So, really, don’t try and do it quickly. Turn your oven to its lowest setting, about 160 or 170F, and leave them in there overnight or a whole day. It’ll dry out, the eggs will technically cook (just very slowly) but nothing will brown and, so long as it’s stable, leak or denature in any way.

And thus you will be left with a perfectly crunchy, melt-in-your-mouth Meringue Cookie. See how simple that was?

Meringue
3 Egg Whites (about 3 oz)
¼ tsp Cream of Tartar
¾ cup/5-6oz Fine grained Sugar
¼ tsp Salt
1 tsp – 1 Tb desired Flavoring Extract or Alcohol

Directions

  1. Turn oven to a barely warm setting, 160F preferred.20140717_142408
  2. With electric mixer, beat Egg Whites until notably frothy and foamy. Toss in Cream of Tartar and continue beating.20140717_142605
  3. Whip until soft peaks form on blender after pulling away. While mixing on low/medium speed, slowly add in the Sugar and Salt.20140717_142828
  4. Continue beating until bright and glossy cream in appearance, and very stiff peaks form on blender after pulling away.20140717_143007
  5. Quickly mix in your Desired flavoring and transfer to a piping bag, piping out desired shapes onto a parchment paper lined pan.20140717_143249
  6. Move to oven and leave for a minimum 6 hours or, ideally, overnight.20140717_143821
  7. Remove, let cool slightly and pop into mouth, or a dry airtight container for storage.

My Thoughts

So I still need to do this one or two more times until I get it right. It’s so frustrating cuz I know the process and know I CAN do it properly, but there’s always one thing that keeps happening every time. The first cookies I made (a Bourbon Vanilla) I tried out one of those higher temperature recipe; you know, like the ones I previously mentioned you should flat out ignore (well now you know why). Well they overbrowned and the sugars cooked a bit. And my Kirschwasser batch took an extra tip of liquor, completely loosening and screwing up that perfect Stiff Peak consistency (I tried to fix it, but it was a no go).

Mind you, they both tasted damn good, were crunchy and crumbly, sweet and delicious and meltable and all that jazz nonetheless. But not that annoyingly just-out-of-reach perfection that keeps teasing me. Oh, and their texture doesn’t stand up that well over the days; I’m wondering if that’s due to the mistakes made or if it would still happen with a perfect French Meringue. I bet one would have to do a Swiss style (using cooked sugar syrup over raw grains) to get a similar result as those packaged store cookies; their stability and density is just so much better.20140718_093831

Possible Pairings

This is a hard one, there’s not really that many elements to this one would normally use when matching with drinks. Though it’s crunchy, there’s no real texture or chew to them. The body is extremely light. It’s sweet, but that disappears quickly along with the rest of the meringue itself, dissolving fast in the mouth. There’s ultimately not that much presence left during or after eating which one could then use to make a solid flavor integration with alcohol.

So then, I’d say, the best use would be to switch the focal point, having one’s desired drink as the main attraction while using these little cookie bites as a crunchy snack on the side. The best option from there would be to stick with those drinks that reminds us of “dessert;” Cocktails of Chocolate, Fruit, and/or Mint; simple chilled glasses of Liqueurs or, even, your favorite Fruit Brandy. Match the flavorings you used to the drink: have a Lemon Meringue with Limoncello; drink a shot of the same Kirchwasser we used in the cookie; set a basic vanilla next to a shot of Vodka at the end of the meal (if you’re so Russian-inclined); or just a nice simple glass of Sparkling Wine.meringue drink

Thus taking an initial leap from my first sentence, one actually could have quite some fun here. For though there’s barely anything that really CAN ‘pair’ with this, one could then say that there’s barely anything that really CAN’T. It’s an open book, drink with it what tastes best to you at the end of the meal. Or just get drunk off meringues and booze in the afternoon, I won’t judge (so long as it’s the good stuff).

p2: Chocolate Mousse

The Sweet

When one thinks of French Desserts, they invariably at one point think of Chocolate Mousse; when one thinks of any hoity-toity restaurant dessert we think of chocolate mousse (just done in some super-pretty, sculptured, towering, surrounded-by-things-that-don’t-look-edible way). When we think of Mousse in general, chocolate is the first one seared into the frontal cortex (or whatever cortex that works that).

Which makes it sort of odd that the first “mousses,” a word translating to “Foam” btw, were most likely savory creations. Theorized (but not really recorded) to have originated during the 1700’s, most likely when they started playing with aerating egg whites in meringues and other things. These would be folded with shredded and pureed meat to be baked, poached, steamed, etc.

Using the technique with desserts probably wasn’t so long of a wait; folding meringues or similarly fluffy and aerated frostings with cooked/pureed fruit or other seasonings would have been quite the logically accessible feat for various pastry toppings or simpler sweet tooth treats. Bringing in chocolate to the occasion, on the other hand, would be a different matter entirely.

classic-chocolate-mousse-6461Despite being introduced via the Spanish in the early 1600’s, the use of chocolate in dessert was a long way off. As an import item from the Americas, France’s only way of getting it in at the time being by Spanish trade or their recent acquisition of the Martinique island, cacao was quite the luxury. And being so expensive and rare, even the royalty was wary in having it used in any other way than the simplest version to which they knew: as a Drink. Its original use, as many are probably aware, was as a hot, often spiced (at least in the Americas), SAVORY drink, very similar to coffee. In fact, the first businesses allowed to sell the cacao to the public in France were Cafes, well those and Apothecaries, since it was also seen as medicinary.

And it stayed like this for a couple centuries, even with all the advancement in surrounding countries in converting the bean to a sweet solid, to be used in various dessert preps. The French just stuck with their fancy drink until, finally, they either did some development of their own or chose to buy the delicious sweets from Holland or wherever. By the 1850’s, it was melted and folded with meringue, making France’s first chocolate mousse. From there, like many of the desserts in this list, it spun and grew to a dessert every professional and home cook has made at least once. Not to mention paired with everything from seasonal fruit to sea salt and olive oil.

Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner

Mousses in general, I find, are a pretty easy and fun thing to put together! There are a lot of ways one can make them, and like soufflé you can use whatever kinds of flavor you want. Only with a mousse, all that’s important is getting a concentrated, intense flavor; don’t need to worry about the “base’s” viscosity and thickness TOO much. So long as it can be folded into something, you’re good.

As for what we fold it into, we have a few options: whipped cream, egg whites (simply beaten or fully “meringued”), sabayon, a combination of all or none, anything with air incorporated. You can add and adjust it however you want, with more or less cream, butter, egg, sugar, etc. So long as it’s fluffy, you’re good.

Talking about the Chocolate, now, we can get to a few fun subjects. The main strategy is to melt the chocolate, and it should be a GOOD quality 60-70% bittersweet (gotten at a co-op/whole foods/baking supply store), with some cream/milk and/or butter, basically making a ganache. Any flavors can be added via booze, herbs, or spices. This is then folded with whatever aeration device one chooses until “fully incorporated,” though I like leaving a few white streaks for effect (it’s pretty! Plus it doesn’t harm the final product flavors).

There’s even this method of making it where, basically, one just melts the chocolate with some water (huge taboo, you NEVER want to get even a drop of water into melting straight chocolate, usually), then whisking it vigorously over an ice bath. Simply put, aerating the chocolate on its own before it cools and re-sets.

Personally, I love making my chocolate mousses with just whipped cream, really keep that rich, chocolatey ganache characteristic with a thicker, marshmallowy consistency. Maybe getting in a LITTLE whipped egg whites, which bring in a lighter, delicate mousse factor to the equation. But that’s my preference.

The FRENCH method, as I’ve researched, is quite interesting, and pretty singular across the board. Though amounts and certain practices may vary recipe to recipe, most posts on a “French Chococolate Mousse” I’ve found have a few main things in common. None of them use Whipped Cream, folding only with beaten Egg Whites. The only time heavy cream is used is to melt with the chocolate, which is made sure to be done VERY gently. Finally, they always incorporate Egg Yolks, usually just by “tempering” with the warm, recently melted chocolate.

SAMSUNGThough that’s not always the case. Julia Child had a very intriguing recipe for hers, in which she basically made a thick, fluffy sabayon out of the egg yolks (-cough- and booze), which theoretically should add another layer of thickness and aeration to help the mousse along. She, like others, also used a bit of coffee to help boost the chocolatey flavors. As such, I felt compelled that, if I were to follow a specific French(ish) recipe to make a certain version of chocolate mousse, this would be the one I tried. If anything, it required a lot more effort to do the yolks right, and it was a little fun and unique.

Chocolate Mousse (a la Julia Child)
4 Large Eggs, separated
2/3 cup + 1 Tb Sugar
2 Tb Brandy/Cognac
1 Tb Water
6oz Bittersweet Chocolate, chopped or chipped
6oz Butter, cubed
¼ cup Dark Brewed Coffee
Pinch of Salt
½ tsp Vanilla

DirectionsSAMSUNG

  1. Combine Egg Yolks, 2/3 cup of Sugar, Liquor and Water in bowl and move over lightly simmering water/double boiler.
  2. Whisk vigorously as it heats, keeping it over until it’s light, fluffy, and has “aerated” as much as it seems it will go.
  3. Remove and place over a bowl of ice water. Working quickly, replace its spot over the water with a bowl of the Chocolate, Butter, and Coffee, turning off the heat and keeping them covered with a towel to melt slowly and gently.SAMSUNG
  4. Continue whipping the yolks as it chills, getting it as stiff and voluminous as possible.SAMSUNG
  5. Stir the chocolate every now and then until it’s completely melted and silky, taking off the heat once done.SAMSUNG
  6. Let cool a couple minutes, using the time to whip the Egg Whites (and also ensure the yolks stay aerated).SAMSUNG
  7. Combine in bowl with Salt and Vanilla, whipping with stand or hand mixer until it’s turned fluffy and starting to keep shape (not yet at “soft peak” stage). Sprinkle in the remaining tablespoon of Sugar and continue working to Firm Peaks.SAMSUNG
  8. Take the chocolate, slowly pouring it in a slow, steady stream into the egg yolk mixture, folding it in until mostly incorporated.SAMSUNG
  9. Working with 1/3 of it at a time, gently add and fold in the whipped whites (may need to move chocolate to a bigger bowl to complete, there’s a lot), adding in the next mound of meringue when the previous is mostly mixed in.SAMSUNG
  10. Fold until no trace of white can be seen and transfer to the desired holding vessels, whether it be cups, chocolate bowls, or even a pie shell!SAMSUNG
  11. Let chill in fridge at least an hour and enjoy, preferably with whipped cream and crunchy topping.

My Thoughts

SAMSUNGYeah, overall I really think I prefer using just whipped cream and maybe some meringue for folding, just love the richness and that fluffy feel to it. Not that this isn’t a good mousse, just… different. The texture is somewhat springy, maybe spongey-reminiscent, you can tell it’s affected by the egg yolks but I can’t quite describe how. It’s good, quite good, and sorta craveable in its own right, just not how I translate my “ideal” mousse.

The flavor is nice though, dark and concentrated chocolate, great to have with the whipped cream. I would actually make a couple adjustments to Julia’s formula though. First, a little less sugar, maybe use only ½ cup, because it’s pretty sweet (like, overly). Second, though I love and understand the concept of using just a bit of coffee to act as an undertone, actually INCREASING the flavors and personality of chocolate in our minds, there’s also too much of this in the recipe. I eat it, and it doesn’t taste like chocolate mousse; it tastes like chocolate-coffee, which is not what you want. Cut yours in half just to be safe.SAMSUNG

But none of that really stopped me spooning as much of it as I could in the middle of the night like it was fat-free pudding. And at least it tasted good in pie!

1Possible Pairings

A while back I purchased and read through a relatively well known book on pairing wine, which I loved. Besides chapters on particular regional pairings, discussing components, etc, it also had a few pages on “special subjects,” like cheese pairing and other difficult ingredients. One page discussed dessert, and had a whole thing on chocolate with wine. I just loved going through this particular section, because the author talked about the different levels of chocolate, and making sure you kept different kinds of chocolate desserts in mind, and basically the fact that you have to use all these different wines depending on the situation… and then basically just used some form of Muscat/Moscato for every chocolate situation.

Of course, they were all really different kinds of muscat wine, but the irony I think is just hilarious. That said, it’s at least a great starting point; I think a really good quality, sweet and bubbly, singularly refreshing Moscato d’Astiis a great wine to go with this. They’re both aerated, and despite its chocolate-ness the mousse doesn’t need that heavy or concentrated of a dessert wine to go with it. Other simpler, not too aged, syrupy, or oxidated Moscato dessert wines can work well; maybe even a Muscat de Setubal (from Portugal).

DSCN0375We could also enjoy some form of Raspberry dessert wine; there’s a local Minnesotan vineyard that makes one that tastes great with chocolate dishes such as this. Though really any sort of good fruit-based wine or Liqueurcan go with this, it just depends on one’s tastes and flavor preferences.

I harken to wonder if any full-bodied spirits like Cognac, Rum or Aquavit would actually be appropriate, though their inclusion in the recipe opens the door, and the mousse’s intensity in flavor (and sweetness) most likely allows for it to work on a certain level.

Finally, to start with a wine and end with one, I might choose some form of Coteaux du Layonas a good French accompaniment. The many desserts of Bordeaux should work too, but I like the idea of the calmer, spritely fruit and botrytis that clings to Loire’s sweet creations (vs the denser, syrupy Sauternes).

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.”