p2: French Sea Salt Caramels

The Sweet

4293852900_16753e7c6f_oSo my recent job, if I haven’t already mentioned, has kept my schedule notably busier and with less time to devote towards planning and developing the many recipes on my list. Doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying to do them all, of course, it just may take much longer than I thought… though luckily it should clear up a bit more in a few months. Every now and then I get a chance to go after something small, or something cool that fits a little request… more often than not, it’s been the desserts lately. What can I say, guess I like baking and such. For this past weekend, I took about an hour to make a little bite that Buzzfeed paired with Cheese Souffle: Salted Caramel pieces.

Did you know there’s an actual REASON that Salted Caramel hasn’t been used and popular until our recent 20th century? And no it’s not just because ‘modern chefs are more creative.’ In 1343, a large salt tax was put in place by King Philip VI, making it a luxury that only rich could afford. Thus even simple salted butter couldn’t be used by the masses until Brittany unified with the Kingdom of France. Even then, the ‘staple’ salt, Guerende Sea Salt, was a rather difficult ingredient to obtain [and I’ll admit, I myself just used a simple sea salt that’s in our pantry. We’ve got so many salts as it is, no reason to buy another one]. Thus the overall USE and distinction of it historically as far as pastries are concerned, a craft which focuses a lot on transforming very INexpensive ingredients, would logically take a much longer time to be realized.

In fact, that time came in the later 20th century, with Henri Le Roux, son of one of France’s most legendary pastry chefs. With his continued Swiss educated, he became France’s best chocolatier and caramel maker, ‘inventing’ the little confection midway through the 1900’s. Though it snuck in rather low on our radar, in 1980 salted butter caramel was voted the best candy in France. And now… well, now it’s the over-used dessert addition/focus that some people still use and rave over as if it was 5-8 years ago when the fad seemed to kick in.

That’s not to say it isn’t still delicious; there IS a reason it’s been so popular.

Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner

It is often read with this particular recipe, or really ANY French recipe with such simple components as such, should really be made with the BEST of each ingredient in order for it to come out in that perfect form of buttery-salty-caramel chew. Of course, my idea on making this was rather last minute and I didn’t exactly grab everything that fit that bill. Which I actually don’t mind, since it was my first time attempting the caramel recipe and I don’t want to ruin any awesome ingredients with a minor screwup that masks everything.

20160116_225956That said, I DID have a little bit of leftover Organic Can Sugar that I mixed with my regular sugar, we’ve had plenty fantastic Scottish Butter sitting in our freezer for months now, so I used some of each to help level it up decently.

There’s a rather decent technique I’ve found about for this, one which makes a lot of sense. Let me start off by saying that caramel really IS quite simple; you cook the sugar until it turns color, not too much, and then add in your cream and butter. That said, one usually has to be careful adding in the cream, since he shock in temperature can make the hot liquid sugar seize up and turn solid too fast. It’s fixable, just got to slowly bring it back to temperature, but not condusive and a pain. So, as other recipes have done, one just heats up the cream on the side to a simmer, leave it warm, and add it in like so. This is also a great way to dissolve most of the salt to the mix into the caramel.

Of a quick final note, it’s very important to prepare your pan to pour the caramel in afterwards. Parchment paper works perfectly, though I’ve seen a recipe with aluminum foil too; the main key to it, however, is getting a thin layer of Vegetable Oil brushed along the bottom and sides to ENSURE that no sticking happens. Which is a pain, since with the paper already there it tends to pool. And don’t try to play with different oils unless they’re even MORE neutral in flavor; otherwise you’re getting an olive oil-flavored caramel [which actually doesn’t sound too bad if done right, but not the goal here]. I bring it up mainly since coating the knife or other cutting/handling tools for the finished candy is a great way to keep it clean and easy handling. May just want to pat with some paper towels afterwards to soak up any excess.

Salted Butter Caramels
1¾ cup Sugar
Vegetable Oil
1/3 cup Cream
¾ + tsp Sea Salt
5½ tsp Butter, cubed
1 tsp Vanilla Extract

Directions

  1. Place Sugar in sauce pan, moving over medium heat, stirring very often and NOT leaving the kitchen20160116_230959
  2. While this is initially heating up, quick mix the Cream and ½ tsp of Sea Salt in another pan over low heat, bringing to a simmer before removing. Keep warm20160116_230106
  3. Also, line a square baking pan with parchment paper, lightly brushing the bottom and sides with Vegetable Oil20160116_230528
  4. Stir more often as the sugar melts, making sure not to let it sit too long and burn while others are still crystallized20160116_231132
  5. When most of it’s melted, stick in a candy thermometer, continuing to stir and cook until the sugar reaches 180C [supposedly 356F]20160116_231334
  6. Briefly remove from heat and slowly, carefully add the warm cream mixture, stirring in until fully incorporated20160116_231626
  7. Return to heat until sugar has come back up to 140C [284-ish F]20160116_231944
  8. Remove from heat again, adding in Butter and Vanilla, mixing quickly until it’s thoroughly incorporated and smooth20160116_232220
  9. Pour the caramel into the parchment-lined baking pan, sprinkle the remaining sea salt over the top20160116_232530
  10. Leave to cool for about an hour or more
  11. Upturn onto the cutting board, taking a knife to cut into the desired piece sizes. If still rather sticky, coat the knife blade with some of the vegetable oil every now and then20160116_235716
  12. Transfer to bags, wrap in wax paper if needed/desired, and enjoy20160117_000330

My Thoughts

Of course it didn’t come out as I wanted. I could see even before it was fully cooled that this caramel would be much firmer than what should have been achieved; instead of that soft, stretchy, tender little chew, I got a hard and crunchy-chewy toffee-like creation. Not that I mind in general, it’s still quite delicious to suck on; creamy-buttery richness with that almost-burnt sugar mixed in. Perhaps not in a perfect blend, again not ALL the ingredients were of anything more than average/cheap quality, but it succeeded where needed. Well, it needed more salt, could only taste it IF sucking vs chewing, and then only in the fir half minute. I’m debating if it’s just the result of not using a classic big-grained French sea salt, which may have more compact flavor too, or if the recipe needed more… I blame the recipe.

As for why the sweets didn’t turn out as desired in consistency, I have two main theories. Either I may have cooked the sugar a bit hotter than called for at one or two periods, very possible though I’m pretty sure it didn’t get THAT much higher than the recipe called for, or the recipe really needs to have notably more butter and cream added into it. My money is on a combination of the two.

Possible Pairings

cremant-de-bourgogne-4278-1-2Not the kind of recipe that usually comes with a whole glass of alcohol to ‘pair’ with, but assuming one DOES want to imbibe while chewing on a [properly] soft and salty-creamy piece of cooked sugar heaven, I could think of a few tasty options.

The first thing that comes to mind is Bubbly; just a simple glass of that delightful drink that never really needs to be fully figured out as to why it tastes good with anything. Since there’s no real confining aspect to the candy that requires distinct characteristics in its partnered drink to balance out, besides the sweetness itself [the saltiness is already being handled by its own sugar content], we can revel in the option of that most celebratory of wines. A Champagne or nice Cremant de Loire/Bourgogne/Alsace wouldn’t be out of the question. The beautiful complexities of a good bottle can be easily featured under the simple candy, any toasty/buttery notes compliment the buttery/creamy aspect of the caramel, they’re even paired often with local seafood dishes so it works with the salt aspect on a secondary level. The one thing I WOULD make sure to try and do, if possible, is to get a Demi-Sec [the sweeter styles of French bubbly], just to make sure the balance is right.

B9315771956Z.1_20150107133802_000_GIS9K0B6R.1-0Many a sweet, fortified, and aged wine will shine here, much like the delectable muscat-based creations from the south of France. Though in this category I can’t think of anything better than a properly thick, brown, caramelly ‘Sticky’ from Australia. Or, as they’re technically known as, Tawnies, influenced by aged ports and one of the best things to ever come out of the country in my opinion.

Of final note, any Aged Spirit would also be on my list, a-la Whiskey. The vanilla and caramel flavors picked up from the toasted oak will compliment these flavors greatly, and high-alcohol actually helps pair with various difficult food concerns. Very ‘heavy’ meals, fatty, acidic, but especially SWEET things can be cut or balanced next to a good spirit. If I had to pick one thing, though, I’d definitely have to go for a GOOD quality, special Rum. Aged well and from a proper estate, they’re flavors are amazing and encapsulate the epitome of ‘sugar’ complexities. They even make some in the French Martinique. Just saying.

p1: Buckwheat Crepes

So, a few years back I got this amazing awesome electric ‘Crepe Griddle’ machine thingy as a Christmas present, and have been needing to use it bad. With this little goal of going through all these French dishes, however, I’ve finally found myself an excuse to have a ‘crepe night’ event with family and cover two of my recipe requirements in one go: both the savory Buckwheat Crepes, as follows, and the dessert of Suzette, of which I should be writing up a report soon.

The Dish

My experience with crepes isn’t exactly few; in fact, I’ve discussed their preparation and use as street food in my other blog Here, and will soon have yet another post on Dessert Crepes for my Suzette. In my original, however, I lament on my depressing inability to truly replicate that which I have discovered on the streets of Paris and other French cities (was lucky enough to travel there for high school once). One of the things I have yet to try, though, is the use of Buckwheat flour; and seeing as it’s a common ingredient in certain European ‘pancakes,’ and a common style seen in this particular country, it might just be what I need.

enhanced-buzz-5708-1385794294-3Crepes themselves supposedly popped up in the NW corner of France, Brittany, originally being called ‘galettes’ (flat cake), the name crepe being developed later after the food spread throughout France as a derivation of ‘crispus,’ Latin for ‘curled,’ alluding to the tendency for their edges to bend up in the pan to signal its readiness to flip. Whether its origins are truly pure French can be debated though, as there are records of various nation’s pancakes being developed after a Dutch ‘tour’ that started them in Austria (and what a long and fluffy pancake history they’ve had), around Germany and into France and back to Austria again (or however it went, I can’t recall exactly but I do know they supposedly stopped in France and influenced their galettes while there). But it was in Brittany that the tools and techniques for French-style crepes were officially refined and mastered before popularity spread to Paris and beyond.

However, it was in the 1100’s that buckwheat was introduced to the Brittany region via Middle Eastern traders, thus the very first crepes made were in fact purely 100%, the use of White Wheat Flour not coming into play until the 1900’s when it became affordable. Combined with milk, butter, and eggs, the flour-based crepes became softer, developing them into that classic texture we now know and love from the folded wonder.

A Word On…

20140826_135054Buckwheat Flour: luckily this isn’t too difficult to find in stores, but you still have to go to a Whole Foods, Co-op, or similar store to get it. As for proportions of use, I have yet to do much in-depth recipe testing with this, or even try any buckwheat batters out besides this one, so I say just pick this or another recipe that looks good and have fun with it. The great thing about crepes is that, spread so thin and browned a bit crispy, they all come out delicious.

As for why it’s used, one of the most important aspects to Crepe Batter Making is that you want little to no actual gluten development. That’s why most recipes just combine everything together at the same time, with the massive amounts of liquid, often in a blender. Also partly why we let it rest for an hour or so, thus any stray carbohydrate strands that were formed may relax in their suspension. But, unlike regular flour, buckwheat is completely gluten-free, thus the risk of any development is lessened even further, giving us a fully soft batter to crisp up on our own. (and, you know, traditional ingredient used in galettes and whatnot, that probably influences it too)

Cooking Equipment: Now here’s where things get interesting; for when it comes down to it, Crepe batter is an extremely easy and simple recipe to put together, with very low margins of error. It’s COOKING the crepes where the issues come into play for people. Ideally what we need is to turn this batter into a very wide, thinly spread pool of batter in as perfectly circular shape as possible. Oh, and did I mention over a really hot surface? So it has to be made into this form very fast; easy access and the right tools are ideal.

Traditionally, this is accomplished on very big, thick heated stone rounds with no edges, the batter ladled and then spread with circular strokes using what seems to be the ‘bladed’ end of a squeegee/window wiper. Most of us don’t have access to this though, and even if we did probably not the years of practice and casual skill to sweep it into perfect circles every time, so we have to find other means. There are specially made ‘classic’ French Crepe Pans (supposedly what they’d use at home), really wide and flat circles with sharply upturned, short rims to allow for making a bigger crepe with easy access to grip the edge. They can be pricey though, and mayhaps have very little use outside of similar items.

I myself actually have this amazing plug in ‘griddle’ purely for crepe and other pancake-like-thing makings (it was a present, so I should be forgiven…). I got the spreader and the elongated spatula for flipping/folding and everything! It even has this cool device, for people who are too crappy at using the spreader (raises hand), where you set it into the rim, pour the batter in and move it around like a clockhand, quickly, and wind up making an absolutely perfect and super-thin crepe. If you’re reading this, and are actually attempting to make crepes, I’m guessing at least half of you probably want to beat me with a rolling pin for my boasts right now, I’m sorry! I will say though that if you CAN get something like this, apparently it was manufactured in Europe, it’s easily the best option for making the best crepes somewhat classically (or by cheating, either way). Plus one can still use it as an awesome flat-top griddle for other stuff (cooked an egg on it just this morning).20140824_170043

BUT, for all other intents and purposes that one might not be able to use something like this, we ultimately have to stick with a basic Saute pan. I’m sure you’ve probably heard or seen the ‘technique’ at least a dozen times by now, but it’s always good to re-study. The main annoyance with these is that, despite how big many look, the curved sides end up taking a lot of potential cooking area from the flat bottom, thus making us unable to make the good, really big crepes. Plus it can make it a bit annoying trying to reach in from there to lift and turn it; I mean it’s almost impossible to get a spatula in, except the rubber ones. BUT when you do get used to the technique of pouring, lifting and twirling the pan to let the batter fall and fill the area out, one ends up with an almost perfect circle every single time, WITHOUT needing any special spreader equipment. Just gotta get it around in time before your amount of ‘free batter’ not coating the bottom sets to much from the heat (and no you don’t want to start it out lower, coat, and then heat up; it needs to be hot the whole time to get it browned and crisp properly).

For those intrigued, there is one other option I’ve seen, involving turning your sauté pan upside down to give yourself a completely flat surface to work on, similar to the stones and griddle. There are some issues, namely that 1: it can only be done over gas burners, and 2: it can be tricky having a pan that will sit right, without rocking, completely flat with no slant, etc. Might be best to avoid unless really confident or desperate.

20140824_174858Fillings: Whatever the heck you want! The particular project I’m following requires nothing other than the crepe being buckwheat based; if one wanted something sort of traditional off the streets, they can stick with Ham and Gruyere, Lemon, Fruit Jams, and other things. For my little party, I decided on ham+brie and slow roasted tomatoes+ricotta, along with the dessert crepe of course.

Buckwheat Crepes
1 cup Buckwheat Flour
1 ¼ cups AP Flour
1tsp Salt
1 Tb Sugar
1 Egg
1 cup Water
1 1/3 cups low fat Milk

Directions

  1. Sift Flours and combine in bowl with other Dry ingredients, welling the center.20140824_123359
  2. Whisk Egg and Wet ingredients in separate container, adding half to the well in the dry.20140824_125354
  3. Whisk until smooth and slowly incorporate the rest of the wet ingredients until a smooth, thin-ish batter is formed.20140824_125516
  4. Let rest for at least an hour and prepare your crepe-cooking-setup.20140824_125912
  5. Briefly brush surface of your griddle or sauté pan with oiled paper towel to ‘season’ and turn to a medium-high heat.
  6. If, ideally, you have some form of flat top griddle, cooking stone, or electric machine equivalent (thank you foreign engineers!), pour a small ladle of batter somewhere between the center and edge of the cooking area.20140824_180217
  7. Take a classic crepe-spreader, what looks like a wooden window wiper, or anything equivalent (spatulas may work well) and sweep through batter with swift, smooth clockwise motions, spreading it in a circular(ish) shape. Make sure to keep the edge of the device hovering just above the griddle.20140824_170129
  8. If using a sauté pan, ladle your batter in the outside circle. As fast as one can, lift, tilt, and swirl to coat as much of the bottom of the pan in a thin batter as possible. If one ends up missing a spot, in either cooking scenario, no worries; simply add a bit more batter to fill in the area.20140824_150130
  9. Once the edges start to curl, or peel up easily with a spatula lift, and the bottom is a nicely even golden brown, carefully lift and flip over to the other side.20140824_150157
  10. Pile your desired filling into either the center or spread over half.20140824_170614
  11. Once heated through and the bottom is browned, which will not be long so move fast, fold as desired. Often this is done either by folding the edges in to make a square or hexagonal package, or folding it in half and once again for a triangular wedge (though thinner fillinged crepes can have this done 3 or more times, and one can always have fun experimenting with rolling).20140824_170842
  12. Transfer to plate or parchment paper, garnish with any desired sauces, extra filling, or other toppings, and serve.

20140824_174935The Verdict

I was a bit surprised by the color of the batter, even with the browning, not that I mind! The pictures certainly didn’t show it off like that though. Sort of makes me want to try out different buckwheat crepe ratios/recipes even more, especially since I still have yet to achieve what I believe to be that ‘perfect texture’ found in the many street side stalls in France. Though to be fair I’m coming to think that part of that is less the batter recipe and more the creperie workers’ ability to evenly spread it out to a slightly thicker layer. Either way, I can’t quite tell that much of a flavor difference between these and other crepes unless tasted side-by-side with minimal filling and a thicker consistency.

And now I feel silly, as I write this, my very last sentence which I’m putting down after all my other text, and after researching some history on crepes, I find that buckwheat-based ones, unlike my assumptions to their softening properties, are actually seen as resulting in CRISPIER versions than all-flour-based crepes. Ooops. Lesson learned for future purposes. And yes, I am too lazy to go back and rewrite some of my other typings on the concept, haha.

That said, god these made some good savory crepes. Especially when warm, melty cheese was involved. Think I can officially say they made a family ‘crepe night’ definitely worth it.

Primary Pairing – French Cider, sparkling (which is common)

20140824_174949Originally I was thinking of using a nicely light, blond ale or lager for this, which would have worked great for certain reasons (which will follow). However, I’ve used light beers relatively frequently in my malt-based primary pairings, so I thought I’d switch to another option that me and Buzzfeed both agree on: Cider.

When considering a dish that has a wide, WIDE range of different fillings, flavors, and elements that one could experience, such as adventures in crepe-making, versatility becomes a very important thing in one’s pairing. Luckily, crepe fillings rarely if ever exceed a certain body or chew to them, so we can keep our options in a somewhat restrained ‘light bodied/textured’ range.

The great thing about French Cider is they often have ‘just a little bit’ of each of their palate aspects: a little bit of bubbly (which can be used a bit like light red wine tannins), a little bit of apple skin tannins, a little bit of sweetness, a little bit of body… you get the idea. And what they don’t have just a little of, namely their rich apple flavor and crisp acidity, are great aspects for standing up and cutting through the bigger flavors one can run across, while being able to not overwhelm lighter dishes. And that’s really the strongest point of both Ciders and Pale Beers: good ones can stand up to the whole range of crepes, while not overpowering the more delicate ones.

20140824_174518My Bottle: Héritage 1900 Cuvée Tradition Dégorgée á la Valee, Cidre bouché au Pays d’Othe

When I saw this guy on a random wine store visit, I just knew I HAD to get it for one of my dishes, and I’m glad it fit so perfectly into our ‘crepe night.’ It was sparkly and bubbly and celebratory, with a very light sweetness to be able to drink with the various light dishes we made that night. It went particularly delicious with our Ham and Brie, especially considering the very light notes of hay and yeast, giving it a light funkiness that tied it into cheese flavors quite well. And the apple flavor was pure and refreshing; it even had that very slight bit of apple skin ‘tannin’ I’ve found present in many good ciders; a key element allowing it to be drunk with any crepe with a bit of chew(like the ham), but doesn’t affect the fully soft options either.

Perfectly balanced for this night’s needs, and with a delicious freshness and just deep enough flavor to be special while connecting to the simple flavors of this French food, my bottle of Héritage Cuvée was a proper highlight of the evening.

images2Secondary Pairing Cremant de Loire

There are some very nice white wines and super-light reds throughout Loire that can be used in a similar way to ciders and pale beers, but the Sparkling wines are just so special in their ability to eat with a wide range of food. Not to mention there seems to be a whole ‘bubbly’ line of thought with my pairing drinks anyway, so why not let it run?

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: 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!

p1: Sole Meunier

The Dish

Famously known as the meal that launched Julia Child’s desire for the French kitchen, one could theory Sole Meunier as singularly responsible for America’s culinary history as it is today. Reverse that, we could also say that if not for enhanced-buzz-20146-1389047781-0Julia Child’s inspiration and success, this highly simple dish of pan-seared flatfish with butter sauce might never have graced the books as a true “French Classic” along with its many compatriots. Perhaps it’d have been bullied out by a roaming pack of angry Langoustines…

But luckily for us, we don’t have to consider the dystopian alternate dimension that union would have destroyed, and we can experience and enjoy those lovely flavors for ourselves! And how easy it is to put together. The actual dish, born in the Northern area of France along the Rivers and Seaside and now famous for Rouen, consists purely of two main steps. A nice filet of sole is dredged in flour and sautéed in butter, the “Meuniere,” or “Miller’s Wife” style, and then topped with a lemony brown butter sauce (made in the same pan). So let’s get into it shall we?

A Word On…

Fish: Sole isn’t necessarily the easiest of fish to come by in a regular supermarket, but luckily for us it’s not that rare either, especially since there are multiple kinds of Sole available: Dober, Lemon, Petrale, and other very similar Flatfish in its family such as Turbot and Flounder. One should be able to find a good, fresh version of it, off and on, at any market with a decent meat and seafood section. Back home I mainly rely on the local Coastal Seafood, an amazing store that really focuses on acquiring only good quality, sustainable Fish and Seafood products.SAMSUNG

If a Substitution is need or desired in anyway, look for any white fish with naturally “thinner” filets and meat. Though it’s also a member of the Flatfish family, I would never suggest using Halibut as a “proper” substitute, as the meat is always just so thick, not to mention its becoming a bit generic of a fish.

Oh, and please buy fresh; no frozen fish for a nice, proper meal!

Brown Butter: This recipe relies on the cook adding butter into the pan AFTER cooking the Sole, which is then transferred to a covered plate and/or oven to keep warm, while they make brown butter a-la-minute. Which is what I’m doing so as to follow the traditional recipe of course, but I don’t actually see this step as truly needed so as to receive the same results.

A fun suggestion for those who don’t want to wait for the sauce to cook, or don’t want to risk any cooling off or drying out of the out-of-action-fish, is to make a batch of browned butter beforehand. Just toss a bunch of unsalted butter into a saucepot and turn on med-high. After it melts, start stirring it occasionally and keep an eye; the solids and liquids will start to separate as it changes color, deepening to a nice chestnut brown. Once those rich aromas of nuts and caramelization start to surface, you know you’re done (or close to it); take off the heat and either strain or sift out the cooked solids.

Once prepared, you can just add a scoop of this directly to the pan in place of raw butter, warming quickly for an instant brown sauce. Added bonus, you can make a large batch of brown butter ahead and use the deliciously caramelly fat to flavor a number of things (pour some over warm steak, OH so good).

Sides: It actually took me a while to find out what this is traditionally served with, as most recipes just talk about the fish, or may have some random veggie or starch with no discussion into if the origins are shared or not. But, after a bit of searching, the “classic” accompaniment to Sole Meunier is Boiled Potatoes. Though I’m not stopping you from enjoying it with mashed potatoes, baked, rice (white or brown or wild), or whatever you want. It’s just a fun thing to know I think.

Sole Meunier
2 Filets Sole (Dober, Turbot, etc)
1-2 Tb Flour
½ Tb chopped Thyme
Salt n Pepper
6 Tb Butter
2 Tb Lemon Juice
2 Tb chopped Parsley

Directions

  1. Clean , Filet, and Deskin Sole, if not done alreadySAMSUNG
  2. Preheat large sauté pan to Medium
  3. Lightly dredge fish in a mixture of Flour, Thyme, and Seasonings
  4. Melt 1 Tb of Butter in pan, lay skin (flat) side down in pan, letting rest 3 minutes until lightly crisped before flipping over.SAMSUNGSAMSUNG
  5. Remove after another 3 minutes, crisped with fully cooked, tender flesh. Transfer to a plate covered in foil, or into a warm oven, and turn pan heat up to med-high.SAMSUNG
  6. Add in rest of the butter, whisking and watching carefully until it turns and amber-brown tone, releasing rich, gentle nutty flavors.SAMSUNG
  7. Quickly whisk in Lemon juice and chopped Parsley, move the warm filets onto a plate alongside Boiled Potatoes, and drape your Brown Butter Sauce over the top of each.
  8. Enjoy

The Verdict

Tender, juicy filets with subtle notes of proper fish flavor (not “fishy,” but that noted freshness and roundness of the sea in the back of your mouth), just making for a great bight of the ocean. Eaten with that heavy but soft texture of the boiled potatoes, which still lets every delicate note in the Sole shine alongside the starch’s mild flavor, and one just has warm happiness. Then we top the both of them with the toasty, nutty butter, the contrasting lemon juice offering an interesting zinginess to the dish as a whole.SAMSUNG

The one thing I regret is I don’t think I got the kind of crust I could have, especially after seeing a few other recipes for this. If making this, best to ensure that one gets a good, even and “thick” coating of the flour, along with some more butter in the pan whilst frying. But besides that I think it came out as a deliciously simple fish dish.

Primary Pairing – French Blonde Ales – “Biere de Garde”

I’m pretty sure it’s the potatoes, because right after I learned of serving them as a side for this my tastebuds started to crave a creamy, sudsy, full medium-bodied blonde beer. Something with the weight of a Vouvray to match those boiled spuds but a freshness and purity in aroma similar to Sancerre to pair with the delicate fish and sauce. And with the center of France’s non-wine fermented drinks (such as cider and beer) starting to appear as one slowly travels to the colder areas of the Norther Reaches and Alps, this becomes one of the great dishes in this list to introduce the pairing possibilities.

Sadly, French Beers aren’t the most often seen in the hordes of selections at various wine and spirit stores, beer focused or non. I find many of the lighter malted Belgians a great stand-in as well, such as Saisons. And speaking of Belgians…

My Bottle: Belgium Tripel Karmeliet

SAMSUNGAh, I’m so glad we had this guy hiding in our downstairs fridge. Made with a combination of Wheat, Oat, and Barley, this slightly fuller version of one’s typical pale ale gives a nicely malty, grainy palette that pairs really well with the browned butter. Combined with the typical Belgian citrusy, fruity floral hop nose to balance the tart lemon presence, this makes for an excellent beer to pair with a dish like this. Then there’s getting into elements like body matching, tannins, contrasting light bitterness with fat, etc, but all we need to know at this point is that it works and is very delicious.

The best part, in my opinion, is being able to enjoy and highlight a good quality beer with light complexity next to what is ultimately a very simple and uncomplicated fish dish.

Which is always a great rule to keep in note when one starts getting SAMSUNGinto Fine End Food n Wine pairing: if the flavors in One of them is Complex, the Other should be Simple. Having two simple things is fine, but if both elements are complex, they end up battling and drowning each other out in a confusing whirlwind of loud and buried molecules. That doesn’t mean they can’t both be high quality; a very well cooked Filet Mignon next to a Grand Cru Musigny (Burgundy), or a Paella of the freshest Seafoods accompanied by a sharply acidic and juicy Sancerre from a good year.

And there you have your Unneeded Rambling Wine Lesson of the Month!! -exaggerated thumbs up-

Secondary Pairing – Cremant de Loire

Or a Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine Cru Communaux (basically quality Muscadet from Clisson, le Pallet, or Gorges which have spent 18+ months on their Lies, or yeasty sediment), if you can find it. Both have nice, lighter fruit and mineral-based flavors and aroma, faint and delicate sparkling qualities (Muscadets being known for just a bare petillant fizz) to bring only a bare amount of tannin in, and just enough yeasty, bready creaminess to stand up with the potatoes and walk alongside the browned butter. Overall I think it’d come in as a perfectly buttery, frothy, starchy, nummy mouth party. Not to mention the whole Regional pairing aspect along the Loire river.

Take that next to a Champagne, which brings larger bodies, super-rich toasty bread notes, and more noted CO2 on the palette, it’d overpower the dish as a whole by a few small steps.SAMSUNG

If you enjoyed the sound of this dish, you should see what I did with its leftovers Here!