p1: Gigot d’Agneau a la Pleureur

The Dish

b840179a361e48ef94435b49a7c01546I’m no longer allowed to make ANYTHING lamb when my mother is around, since SOMEONE’S sensitive about it being ‘not as old’ as Mutton… doesn’t matter what age it may be, but nooooo more lamb allowed in the house. So for a particular recipe I’ve been gearing to make for a while, I’ve had to wait for that perfect opportunity where 1: the folks are out on vacation, 2: I’ve got enough time in my schedule to plan and set up a night to cook it, and 3: have the opportunity where I can bring in at least a few friends and family member to make it a fun food gathering, as it should be. Yay me I got a perfect evening on the LAST weekend that I had the whole house just to myself.

And what is this dish? Gigot d’Agneau a la Pleureur. Translated as “Weeping Leg of Lamb Roast,” the whole idea is that it’s indeed just a simple roasted lamb leg… sitting on a rack over a bed of potatoes, so every little ounce of melted fat, dripping juices and other goodies fall onto and absorbs into the delicious tuber as they cook. A full on foray into the indulgence and epitome of a pure meat and potato dish.

Now what’s the history of this dish? Truthfully… there really isn’t anything significant that I can find at ALL. The time that sheep became used often for food in France is the time these roast dinners would have popped up. And there’s no real particular region for this either; it’s famous in Bordeaux, grass-eating sheep in northern Normandy form delicious rich flavors, and the particular Buzzfeed list this came from has it under the southern reaches. So no help there. Not to mention it comes in many forms; the whole ‘roasting over potatoes’ thing is really only just one of a few twists to the preparation next to just cooking the lamb on its OWN. It’s not necessarily THE most traditional form of it, though gotta admit it’s one of the most rustically beautiful and delicious.

One interesting thing I’ve found. The French word for leg of lamb, ‘Gigot,’ comes from a root that means ‘fiddle.’ Rather apt considering the shape. But the thing is this word, ‘gigue,’ derives from Middle High GERMAN term ‘gige.’ Potential past influence via European neighbors/invaders? Considering the potatoes… possibly.

A Word On…

20151213_120924Lamb: This is rather simple, we’re just looking for a leg; so long as you’ve found a favorite and reliable butcher/deli, it’s a snap just to order. Though I doubt you’ll be getting a whole leg unless you’re willing to put down a LOT of money [my partial leg at 5+ lbs set me back 60 bucks], so a partial/center cut section of leg is fine. Just make sure there’s a big bone inside for flavor! That and to make some soup afterward.

Flavor Infusion: Garlic and rosemary are the boss here; there may be some use of OTHER herbs a la thyme, oregano, bay leaf, parsley, etc [mixtures known as ‘herbes de provence’], but truly these are the only two used consistently and to the best, most distinctive effect. Plus you just gotta love rosemary [oh how I wish I still had my pot of it…]. But the main consideration here isn’t what aromatics to use, but HOW to use them.

There are two techniques. One of the more classic and sort of ‘fancy,’ or presentable, ways of doing it is to literally push big chunks of garlic and rosemary INTO the lamb, ‘studding’ it with flavor that will then permeate as it cooks. This is what I’m doing as I’ve been really wanting to try it out for meat flavoring, that and the whole compound-butter-under-poultry-skin thing. The second technique is, quite simply, cutting a big bunch of each up [maybe making a paste with some butter/oil] and rubbing it all over the lamb as a seasoning/marinade. This is used quite often too, and I actually wanted to do BOTH to really ensure an awesome flavor all inside and crusted outside… but of course I didn’t properly check my garlic stocks until last minute. Soooooo nowhere near enough, I get to see what JUST studding will do for me.

Roast Time, Lamb: So, interesting, my favorite super-classic-French-food-‘encyclopedia’ states that a roasting temperature of 425F with a time of 20-22 minutes per lb of lamb yields a perfect pink center. But all other recipes seem to hang at 350-400, mostly leaning towards the latter half, stating 18-20 minutes at MOST for the pink insides. By the way, you want the pink… ‘fully’ cooked at brown throughout, that’s just wrong. You ‘well done steak’ people are monsters, you do understand that right? Ahem, anyways, I’m attempting mine at something close to what my book states, 400F with an average of 20 minutes a lb, of course giving the poke test around that time to see if it’s where I want it to be. With luck, it’ll be beautifully golden brown on the outside and tenderly medium-rare inside!

Roast Time, Potatoes: 2 hour maximum, if not a little less. It’s something that needs noting, as some legs of lamb can go for even longer. In which case, you’ll have to roast it in or over another pan before transferring the taters into the oven at the appropriate time. Which has a great benefit in that you can use the other pan, filled with some lamb juices, fat, and hopefully the crusty fond, to make…

Sauce: There’s nothing really traditional ‘have to have’ with gigot d’agneau a la pleureur, but I just don’t see doing a lamb and potato dish without some good sauce. But in these scenarios, one can’t beat a simple pan sauce. That’s when you’ll take your roasting pan with that beautiful fond in it, or a sauté pan that some of the meat has been seared in, put it over a hot stove and add some wine and, preferably, a related broth/stock. This will dissolve all those delicious goodies from the meat that’s sticking to the pan, adding their flavor, and cook down into a perfectly thick and flavorful liquid. From which one can adjust with any number of herbs, spices, or other aromatics. I ended up making my own last-minute kind of pan sauce with some scraps, a ‘recipe’ which I added after the gigot to give an idea on what you yourself can do at home.

Gigot d’Agneau a la Pleureur
1 Bone-in Leg of Lamb
4 large cloves of Garlic, at least
6-10 Rosemary Sprigs
4-6-ish Russet Potatoes
½ an Onion
Salt and Pepper
1 stick Butter
Pan Sauce [a recipe follows]

Directions

  1. Remove Lamb from wrapping, rinsing off thoroughly in sink, drying just as thoroughly with paper towels
  2. Start cleaning the lamb. With a sharp boning knife, or other delicate blade, carefully slice off as much skin, film, and fat from the surface of the meat as possible, still leaving a bit of fatty outside sections for rending and flavor. Reserve for sauce20151213_120834
  3. On the side, cut each clove of Garlic into 4 slivers and break Rosemary stems into 2-3 solid bunches each
  4. Taking your boning, or some other thin sharp, knife, carefully stab around 16 deep slivers into the leg. Into each of these, force one piece of garlic and rosemary, leaving the newly studded meat to rest at least one hour before cooking20151213_125434
  5. Preheat oven to 400F
  6. Thoroughly rub butter all around the lamb, judiciously seasoning the outside with a light crust of salt and pepper20151213_151505
  7. With a mandoline, slice your Potatoes and Onion into 1/8-1/4” rounds. Layer these in roasting pan with dabs of the remaining butter and sprinkles of salt and pepper20151213_151105
  8. If lamb is expected to cook for OVER 2 hours, set it on a rack over a separate roasting pan, preparing to move to potatoes later on in the baking. If UNDER, rest lamb on rack above potatoes and slide into oven now
  9. Roast as directed, 18-ish minutes per pound, until brown and delicious on outside and almost fully cooked, thus nicely pink, inside20151213_165644
  10. Remove lamb, setting to rest on cutting board at least 10 minutes [w/ foil tent over ideally] before cutting. Leave potatoes in oven to cook further as this happens20151213_170520
  11. Cut lamb into slices after removing potatoes, working carefully around the bone
  12. Plate meat and potatoes together, finishing with a prepared Pan Sauce
  13. Enjoy20151213_171010

Andrew’s Substitute Pan Sauce
Leftover Lamb Scraps
Another ½ an Onion
1 cup or more, as needed, Red Wine [preferably French]
1 Sprig Rosemary, Chopped
1 tsp Capers, Chopped
Salt and Pepper

Directions

  1. Heat a pan to a high, but NOT scorching/smoking, heat
  2. Throw in Lamb Scraps, the cut off fat and skin, letting it sear and sauté for 5-10 minutes with minimum stirring20151213_152335
  3. Once the stuff is somewhat browned and, more importantly, the pan has started developing a fond, remove almost all the lamb and pour off most of the excess fat. Feel free to leave in any little chunks of meat that may have been attached to the fat20151213_152517
  4. Dice Onion, tossing in to sauté in the rendered lamb fat, 2-4 minutes or until somewhat soft20151213_152855
  5. Deglaze with Wine, adding in the Rosemary and Capers, leaving to boil and reduce until the wine has thickened20151213_153923
  6. Remove from heat, taste, and season with Salt and Pepper as desired
  7. Reserve for lamb

20151213_171144The Verdict

I love it when a lamb comes together [get it!? Like the A-team… yeah I’m not proud of me either]. And darn if this didn’t come out… just like I wanted it to. I mean, as I mentioned earlier, the cook-time estimates I found had it go a BIT beyond what I personally wanted; would much rather prefer having more pink, but it was still there closer to the bone. Besides, the not-so-pink meat was still juicy and tender, and damn if it wasn’t full of flavor. Perfectly rich lamby taste, seasoned good… and I admit I didn’t expect MUCH effect from just the studding-infusion of the garlic and rosemary without also having a rub, but they actually gave a notably gentle aromatic addition to the flavor.

THEN we get to the potatoes… a bit on the fatty side of the flavor, so a big plus in my books. Flavors have officially soaked in. But it’s when you take a giant scoop of meat, potatoes, and sauce together that it’s best. What starts off as a fancy-like, seemingly classically haute-dish reveals its highly rustic charms as all I wanted to do was shovel more and more of it into my mouth. I just love when I fully enjoy one of these recipes like so. I could and probably should try to talk about other ‘elements’ of it and execution, but this is about all I want to really say.

20151213_170236Primary Pairing – “Koggen”

One of the epitomes of French Meat and Potato dishes, I’ve gotta use a beer sooner or later [I’ll try not to use one in the next meat-potatoes-ish one]. Something dark, malty, and heavy would do the trick, but I feel anything porter/stout-related might be a bit too much. Which is when I happily ran across a beer in a specialty shop known as ‘Koggen.’ One of the few true German-only styles, it’s a wheat-based style which, if I’m correct, can be seen in the lighter hefeweizen or heavier dark versions. The idea of having something simple and German with this very rich, heavy, and gamy meal felt just perfect, hopefully combining in the same way it did so in my Cassoulette adventure.

My Bottle: Apostelbrau Naturally Cloudy Koggen

To continue, upon pouring of the beer I was able to discover the delightfully malt-heavy flavor profile it displayed. Though I didn’t expect it to be REALLY hoppy, the aromatic greens were barely seen at all except for the subtle support structure you knew it had. The drink itself turned out almost dense, concentrated with that sweet, almost caramelly-savory profile which helps cut through and pair with the perfectly golden-roasted game meat. Part of the flavor make me wonder if I remembered it wrong and that the beer was mostly RYE focused vs wheat, but either way it was good, simple, letting the subtle notes of garlic and rosemary shine from the lamb while matching it’s heaviness. Just rustic perfection.

Bordeaux_1680129cSecondary Pairing – Right Bank-based Red Bordeaux

To be more specific, Bordeaux wine from one of the renowned riverside ‘Haut Medoc’ communes. Those are the ones that actually ARE mostly Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated, creating that image of the big, heavy, tannic reds for which the French region is so well known for. These are also the ones that are so famously known as the drink of choice for one of the region’s most famous dishes… which also just happens to be a giant, heavy roasted leg of lamb. Truly it’s evolved as one of the most delightfully perfect dinner pairings in the world. The bodies match, the heavy tannins work with the chewy game meat in encouraging our own salivation to its limit, and the strong acid backbone cuts through the still-present fat character. Not to mention the very spicy, herbaceous, wild eucalyptus and ‘garrigue’ flavors which were made to compliment the meat just like, and next to, the garlic and rosemary we love so much here. For those interested, and able, look for Boreaux wines with the names St Estephe, Pauillac, St Julien, or Margaux on the label. Those are your best bet, though aren’t always perfect. Otherwise, as money for these bottles isn’t always on the easy end, Haut-Medoc or Pessac-Leognan labels will work too.

p2: Navettes des Marseilles

The Sweet

Due to flavor requirements from a certain Tropezienne cream-filled Tarte, I am now stuck with almost a full vial of Orange Flower Water with nothing to use it on. Lucky me, however, I recall yet another recipe in my lineup that calls for this not-so-oft-used ingredient. Luckier still, this past Thanksgiving had me as the person to bring over desserts; and with the host not actually like pumpkin pie or other very sweet items so much, a secondary confection was called for. And these guys just happen to look like little French footballs!!

navette064

For those in the know, I’m of course discussing Navettes des Marseilles; also known as ‘Navettes de Saint-Victor,’ ‘Navette a la fleur d’oranger,’ or simply ‘Navette’ cookies. These little spritz/sugar cookie/shortbread-like treats come equipped with a pow of distinct floral flavor from the orange flower water, though they can be easily flavored via other means depending on region and personal preference. Their unique oval and middle-indented shape belies their name, which roughly translate can come to mean ‘boat’ or ‘transport.’ This to supposedly celebrate the arrival on Saint Lazarus, Saint Mary Magdalene, and Saint Martha by boat in the Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer over 2,000 years ago. Though the Catholic roots of this sweet have ALSO claimed that it was created as a ‘souvenir’ of sorts for wooden statue of ‘Our Lady of the New Fire’ that washed ashore of Lacydon in the 1200’s.

Nowadays various bakeries have become quite cult famous in their areas for their proficiency at putting this little treat together… which feels like it won’t bode to well for my attempt, but we’ll see how it goes!

Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner

I’m not really sure I have anything to discuss here, though a fair warning as you read through the recipe: I didn’t state it, but I added thyme to this recipe, which can sort of be seen in some of the later pictures. Obviously this has NOTHING to do with the classic cookie, but I wanted to do a flavor twist for the people I was serving this to. Plus it was for a Thanksgiving dessert, had to get something besides just orange in there.

Oh you know what, there IS one thing. I’ve noticed a lot of recipes, after or before shaping the dough, have you ‘rest it’ for 2 hours on the counter before baking. I have NO idea what this is for. If there was yeast or notable leavening ingredients in, or if it was simply pie dough, it’d make sense… here just don’t know. Perhaps it wants to rest any potential firmness of the dough right after being worked by hand so much, but I don’t see why it needs that long. I’ll do it anyways just to see if there’s anything I can divine.

Navettes des Marseilles
200g Sugar
3oz/6 Tb Butter
2 Eggs
1 Tb Orange Flower Water
1 Tb Kosher Salt
500g Flour
Milk

Directions

  1. Cream Butter and Sugar until fluffy20151123_202606
  2. Add in Eggs, one at a time, Orange Flower Water, and Salt, blending until fully incorporated into creamy batter20151123_202858
  3. Slow mix in Flour in thirds, waiting until mostly incorporated before adding more, and blend into a dough20151123_203755
  4. Divide dough into 24 even pieces via cutting in half, each half in quarters, and splitting each of those into 320151123_204655
  5. Shape pieces into flat, pointed ovals: one popular technique is to roll into a cylinder, press flat, slightly shaping into good starting form as you do, and pinching each end. Will likely need further manipulation20151123_205406
  6. Press a slit down the middle with back of knife, spatula, etc, arrange on baking sheets and leave to ‘rest’ for 2 hours at room temp20151123_213232
  7. Heat oven to 350-375 degrees [it’s not really consistant]
  8. When ready, brush tops with thin layer of Milk to coat20151123_224536
  9. Bake for 15-20 minutes minimum, until firmed up and, ideally, it’s developed a light golden color around sides
  10. Remove, let cool, and enjoy20151123_234502

My Thoughts

In the vein of these being a French, orange flower water-flavored sugar cookie, this recipe worked out brilliantly! I may have overcooked probably half of them, but the flavor of the orange flower water came through nicely through a nice spritz-like cookie base flavor and texture. In the vein of what I WANTED to make… I chose the wrong recipe. From the pictures I saw, in creation and final product, I expected to see these cookies rise a bit, create that proper slit-bread-like-rift on the top, with a thicker form and softer, ender texture. Mine just came out firm, like an Italian biscuit cookie… though I did read a description that these ARE at times considered in the same context for texture, makes me feel a bit better. That said, I’ve encountered a few recipes that, among the proportions I’ve used, also add in Baking Powder and up to ½ cup of Water. Figured this would have greatly helped achieve the outcome I was looking for, but made the decision to avoid the baking powder since it didn’t seem like something that would have ORIGINALLY been used; debated the water, but the texture of the dough seemed perfect for me, as many a page mentioned ‘sticky look/feel but not actually sticky.’ So I know what I’ll be adding in next time when I want to make the other outcome.

20151123_234509Though there’s also the chance that I could have heavily improved my odds, perhaps even fixed the issue altogether, by leaving the cookies thick, perhaps even shaping them as big as I originally wanted with the slit. Thus by the time it was ‘fully cooked’ and had a bit of browning on the very edge/bottom, the more voluminous insides would remain soft and tender as opposed to getting so firm.

I swear it feels as if the purpose of this blog has switched from celebrating awesome recipes to simply providing perfect examples of what NOT to do.

Possible Pairings

Though many alcoholic accompaniments may taste good alongside these, truly there are a few exceptional options one should attempt to actually find.

First and foremost, ‘Orange Muscat/Moscato.’ Unlike how its name suggests, it is not moscato flavored with oranges; it is actually a specific variety/member of the grape’s extended ‘family.’ That said, it almost always carries an exceptional and deep flavor of the citrus fruit along with all other similar aspects. There are some lighter, classically fizzy versions, but here we want the dense and flat proper dessert wine versions. These will be reminiscent of what one will find in the dessert wines of the Italian Islands and French Mediterranean.  Not to mention perfect for dipping these little buggers.

cantucci-vin-santoSpeaking of dipping, ‘Vin Santo,’ an Italian dessert wine made by drying the grapes to concentrate their sugars and sweet flavors, is traditionally paired alongside biscotti for that exact purpose. And the flavor is amazing and deep. Perfect for these.

Finally, a simple glass of Grand Marnier with ice, or perhaps a similar Orange Liqueur-based cocktail, ideally with brandy. One could still dip for the more viscous drinks, or simply enjoy the matching flavors, letting the more complex notes of any of these options shine while the connected floral orange flavors of both cookie and drink tie them down to earth.

p1: Baked Camembert

The Dish

enhanced-buzz-18653-1387650694-0When it comes to the dishes in this French list, my decision for when and why I make particular ones are usually just happenstance with how they fit that week/situation. But a few of them actually have plans built around them, fun ideas I got excited about soon after I began studying this collection of classic recipes. Some of it’s based on occasion/time of year, while others are purely on how I’d make it, or something else.

In particular I’ve been looking forward to a good period to go through with an idea I had for the highly simplistic, royally rustic meal that was ‘Baked Camembert.’ Grab a really good wheel that I’ve wanted to have for a while, put together a baking dish of it, then bring it to a wineI know which would bake it for me and enjoy with family, the people at the bar, all accompanied by their personal garnishments and some wine we’d order. So I finally found a good time to do that this weekend… and of course the place was unexpectedly closed with no warning or reason given. Well that’s my luck. But I still had the cheese, so might as well just put it together at home!

The cheese itself is a Normandy or Pays d’Auge creation, supposedly developed by farmer Marie Harel in the town of Camembert during 1791 after following advice from a priest from Brie who she had given refuge, it being the French Revolution and all. Though most of its origins, at least towards what we know of it today, came through the industrialization process of the 1800’s, like the creation of the signature round wooden box in 1890, the container ‘sponsored’ by Napolean III, used to help it ship and travel to different countries and continents like America, where popularity boomed. Though it really centered itself into French culture during WW1, when issued to troops as part of daily rations.

Proper camembert, traditionally and legally speaking, is always made with UNpasteurized milk, which is remarkedly seen to always taste better than the convenient and ‘safer’ (damn US laws, literally making it illegal to obtain any proper, delicious form of fresh milk unless you’re squeezing the cow yourself) pasteurized versions.

Ok, done with the textbook description, let’s get to baking the stuff!

A W20151004_160142ord On…

The Cheese: Well, I’ve already talked about the cheese itself, and finding it shouldn’t be too difficult for any proper artisan cheese section/shop; I’m sure you have a favorite to get the good stuff from. I’ve actually been dreaming about doing this dish for a while though, because there’s a local farm that makes a camembert-style cheese that I’ve had on my mind ever since I saw this on my list of must-makes. So I had to finally get a whole wheel to bake into melted hot cheesy goodness.

Accompaniments: baked rind cheeses are always good with some garlic and onions, that’s how we do our brie, but I want to stick to something more countryside, so garlic and rosemary on top like one of the recipes I glanced at. As for what to eat it WITH, besides bread of course, I’m not sure what all is traditional, if anything. Usually freshly minced shallots, some capers, cornichon pickles, and other similar items are seen on the side for a variety of simple French dishes like tartar, fondue, and that dish of Raclette I made a while ago. I personally had this ripe tomato from my own pot that begged to be used soon, so I just had to use it, cut through the funky-creamy fat of the cheese with some natural umami-assisted acidity. Plus it’s classic; melted cheese, crunchy bread, and tomatoes, sound familiar? But you can always use whatever you fancy and have lying around, if not just eat it plain with bread! That IS the wonder of meals like this.

Recipe
1 Wheel Camembert
1 Garlic Clove, thinly sliced
1-2 tsp Fresh Rosemary, very briefly chopped
1-2 Tb Olive Oil
Tsp Sea Salt
French Bread, for service
Ripe Tomato, for service (optional)

Directions

  1. Turn oven to 375F
  2. Lightly score top of the Camembert and place in ovenproof ramekin/casserole/bowl20151004_160916
  3. Cover with Garlic and Rosemary, lightly rubbing in20151004_163134
  4. Pour over Olive Oil, making sure to evenly spread along the top and sides, followed by sprinkles of Sea Salt
  5. Place in oven, cooking until top is crusty and inside is warmed through, 15-25 minutes at most20151005_135730
  6. Move loaf of French bread in oven about 5-8 minutes before service to toast and crisp up20151005_141241
  7. Remove from oven, let cool on counter about 5 minutes while you slice bread and any other additional accompaniments20151005_141357
  8. Place in center of table, and enjoy! Best eaten spooned over warm, crusty bread

20151005_141200The Verdict

Okay, so I just looked at the Buzzfeed recipe to double-check procedures, I’m quite used to simply baking brie ya know so there’s nothing in-depth I should need, and that’s when I saw the directions for scoring the cheese. They also have you remove the top lid for service. Well you know what? That recipe creator can go screw himself, cuz you can see the result. And yes I probably overdid it a little bit, but that was well after it turned into a cheese pool; if my guess is correct and their ‘ideal’ is to bake until just warmed throughout, then that’s just plain stupid. If you’re going to bake cheese, then you need to BAKE it; that means a hot, gooey center, rind that has gotten that crispy golden look to it, something really sinful, and that needs time. It should thus be scored very LIGHTLY on top, probably just in the center (did some research, apparently it is important so as to let the air/steam out while cooking), but that should be it.

20151005_141543Now I simply know that I need to leave the cheese completely untouched so as to ensure it stays in one piece during this process. Not that it really changed the experience in the slightest. Because it was just soooo good… like brie but with more of that fatty cream flavor, and surprisingly enough a little more subtle on the funk and knutty-herb-farmhouse flavors, a ‘fresher’ cheese flavor that had yet to get to that really ‘aged’ feel. It took me and my mom quite some effort to make sure we left even a bit for dad, because once that cheese got on bread, especially with a piece of just-ripened tomato from my pot, that just ended up an almost perfect afternoon treat. Everything I love about baked brie dinners but a little more concentrated.

Primary Pairing – Mead

Camembert and honey are certainly a match made in heaven, though so is honey and most cheeses if you get down to it. The distinctively cloying fat and somewhat salty properties of cheese get balanced beautifully with anything sweet, thus its often inclusion in or close to the last course of a proper French meal. So why not take advantage of this affinity to highlight a nice bottle of classic Honey Wine, letting its usually rather simple flavor, aroma, and body contrast the camembert’s properties while letting its own complexities shine through. But one needs to ensure they get one of the lighter, slightly sweet and refreshing meads; avoid ones 20151005_140917like that which I used for Raclette, which was rather thick and heavy and would be too heavy for any but the rich and more pungent cheese.

My Bottle: Winehaven Stinger Honey Wine

So far, probably my favorite Minnesota winery, Winehaven celebrates the colder Northern US history of fruit wine, made long before we found ways to grow decent wine grapes or developed hybrids for the right areas, with a small selection of bottles like raspberry, rhubarb, and of course Honey Wine. They’ve got a lot of reds and whites made from California and Minnesota-exclusive varietals too, and not done too badly either, but that’s a discussion for another day.

I got this bottle as a Christmas gift from the Sis, not too exciting as I’ve had it before, but have been saving it for the right occasion nonetheless. And here I was, being forced to bake the camembert at home instead of these other plans I had, with no bottle pre-picked out at my disposal… and yet one of the almost perfect combos are right at my feet! Chilled, it was a little lighter, still sort of medium-bodied with the thickness, which was just within the edge of acceptable when eaten alongside a big, hot glob of cheese on bread. And I love the expression it has with that musky, spicy-floral side of honey that comes through, a sign of decent honey and clean, quality attention to the winemaking. Was it the greatest thing ever? No, probably not, but for Mead it was rather good and refreshing, and didn’t clash with the cheese when the two combined on the palate.

Secondary Pairing – Bordeaux Blancbb

What I was HOPING to have this evening by sharing the dish with family at a friend’s restaurant, but alas had to rely on what was in house! But something young, clean, without any particularly ‘distinguishing’ features like chardonnay and Riesling can carry, a pure white wine with enough body to match the cheese and a refreshing nature to cleanse the palate. For me I think a decent Bordeaux Blanc would fill those qualities, along with some little green, white fruit notes from the sauvignon used that would cut nicely through the subtle funk of the rinded cheese to compliment its grassy qualities, without being too strong and overpowering. It may not be a proper regional pairing, but right now it peaks my cravings; though on that note, a nice snifter of Normandy Calvados wouldn’t be too bad either…

p2: Tarte Tropezienne

The Sweet

tartSo for this week’s project, I had the mother take a look at my list of things and pick out a few things that sounded good. Which is how I ended up finally doing Baked Camembert, which I’ll be writing about soon, and the one dessert that she made mention of: Tarte Tropezienne. Which, and I’m glad she brought my attention to it considering I forgot, was a perfect sweet project to try considering my recent bread-based interests.

The ‘confection’ itself is basically a large, round Brioche-cake, sliced in half and filled with a particularly unique version of ‘buttercream’ or mousse. As such, with how it looks, Buzzfeed ended up describing it as ‘basically a giant cream puff,’ which is certainly true in one sense but completely off in another, but so can many things be. Either way it seems decadently-simple and sinful in buttery goodness.

Alexandra Micka is the inequitable source for where this pastry comes from. Of Polish origin, this baker move to St. Tropez in Provence during the 1950’s, after which he made the infamous cake in ’55 for the cast of a film production in the area. Obviously they completely adored it, and the name was supposedly suggested by the main actress at the time, Brigitte Bardot, most likely as a nod to the region (though interestingly, the name ends up translating to ‘roof pie’), even though technically it’s not really a tarte even as the French or English may widely define them.

Though that doesn’t make me want to attack it any less, so let’s get to the important parts of this briochy creation!

Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner

It took me a while to whittle down and figure out what bread and ‘cream’ recipes I wanted to use, but there are a few things that helped narrow it down. First and foremost, one of the items I do believe I ran across was a mention that the original brioche recipe used was a ‘milk brioche,’ and despite my complete urge to go for this own really-decadent looking kind from a professional chef, he had absolutely no liquid in it at all besides eggs. So that was out. Afterward, I just had to go for something with a higher proportion of fat, eggs, and sugar, a Middle-Class/Rich-Man’s style, since it’d suit a dessert more and I really want to prove myself after my not-so-great Rich Man’s version that came out a couple months back. Found one that seemed good, was relatable to the one I originally enjoyed, and I even added an extra tablespoon of butter for good measure!

20151004_155203The second and more important part, in my opinion, is the filling… now, this isn’t just some simple frosting, or pastry cream, or anything like that. A few recipes will basically say, or make it look, like a pastry cream that is simply folded with whipped cream like a mousse; similar to what I once made for a Crepe Cake. But if one looks further, or at particular discussions of recipe and history, you might see the mention that the filling is truly a mixture of Pastry Cream, Buttercream, and sometimes also Whipped Cream. The French Wikipedia called for pastry cream + a term that LINKED to crème Chantilly, but translated to cream butter.

My first thought at this was that ‘Oh great, now I have to make pastry cream AND buttercream AND whipped cream and fold them all together.’ Ah, but then I found one article that featured what the actual technique was, calling it ‘German Buttercream,’ or something like that [of course I can’t find the recipe again NOW], or ‘Mousseline.’ Basically after making the pastry cream, instead of just immediately adding 1-2 pats of butter to melt in, one waits until it cools… and then beats in the equivalent of a whole stick, MINIMUM, until incorporated. Basically, it’s a Pastry Butter-Cream? And then of course one folds with whipped cream… you know, to make it ‘lighter.’ I just wanted to attack this head-on, so I found the one recipe that basically called for 3 whole sticks of butter to REALLY get this crossed effect, and it just so happened to be a rather egg-yolk rich cream, because that’s the kind of pastry cream I usually enjoy and felt like making this time.

20151004_134410As you look through other recipes, you’ll see the consistent habit of sprinkling the top of the dough with an even layer of Pearl Sugar, those ubiquitous large crystals so famed in Eastern Europe for those waffles we love so much. As always though, they’re a pain to get a hold of; but luckily for us, it’s highly likely they aren’t REALLY all that classic and traditional, even if the chef was from Poland. It would be more likely that he used large-flake sugar or crushed up some compressed, so simply taking sugar cubes and crushing them up lightly would work just fine. At least that’s what I read in another article, I could be wrong here… it WAS only 60 years ago.

Finally, Orange Blossom Water! It’s the one oddly classic ingredient here, and some recipes won’t make mention and try to substitute it with ‘rum or kirsch,’ despite the fact that kirsch has been stated to not be traditional, especially in the much-further-southern region of origin. Though think of this now, it might not be too impossible… Polish baker, I could see him using Cherry Brandy… but orange blossom water is a DEFINITIE must-do, and you don’t want that delicate flavor to try crossing with other alcohols, especially when it’s so pricey why not just have it shine? As for WHAT it goes in, I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be solely in the bread, custard, or both… recipes differ, so I just went BOTH to really make sure you could taste it! Plus, I’ll admit, I did do ONE thing I’m almost 100% sure isn’t too classic, in that I made a simple orange syrup and then flavored it with more of the orange water, to which I soaked the cut bread with. But I haven’t made any bread/spongecake soaked with syrup yet, I thought it’d be fun… and again, make sure I didn’t screw up with too-light orange flavors. Hopefully it turns out.

Tarte Tropezienne
2½ tsp Dry Yeast
1/3 cup Milk, Warm
2 cups/275g, ish, AP Flour
3 Tb Sugar
2 Eggs + 1 for eggwash
½ tsp Sea Salt
2 tsp Orange Blossom Water
1 tsp Vanilla
8 Tb/1 Stick Butter, softened
1-3 Tb Crushed Sugar Cubes/Pearl Sugar
‘Mousseline,’ Recipe Follows
Orange Water Syrup, Recipe Follows

Directions

  1. Pour Warm Milk over Yeast, leaving for at least 5 minutes to dissolve and bloom20151004_002208
  2. Once done, combine with Flour, Sugar, Salt, 2 Eggs, Orange Water, Vanilla, and the 2 Eggs in a stand mixer, mixing on Low speed with the paddle attachment until everything is combined into a single ball/mass20151004_002731
  3. Turn up to medium speed, slowly adding in small pats of butter one piece at a time, until fully incorporated and dough stretches from the sides20151004_003136
  4. Switch to a dough hook, start beating at medium-high speed for 5-10 minutes, adding more flour if too sticky, until the dough is smooth and, ideally, pulls away from the sides. It should pass the windowpane test if a small piece is very carefully stretched between fingers20151004_015627
  5. Transfer to an oiled bowl, carefully turning to coat, and cover tightly with plastic
  6. Leave to bulk ferment at room temp for 1 hour, until about doubled in size, then move to fridge for overnight20151004_121711
  7. Transfer onto a lightly floured surface the next day, dusting some more on top. Push down with your fingers to press out any excess gas, folding over if need be
  8. Swiftly but gently roll dough out into a circle-ish form at least 10” diameter20151004_122128
  9. Move onto a parchment-paper lined sheet tray and brush with a light layer of egg wash (the one egg, beaten with a bit of water). Leave at room temperature for at least 1 hour, until soft and hopefully risen a little bit20151004_134925
  10. Preheat oven to 400F
  11. When ready, brush another layer of egg wash over the top, sprinkling with Pearl Sugar or crushed Cube Sugar to create an ideally even coating20151004_140343
  12. Move into oven, immediately reducing the temperature to 350F. Let back 20-25 minutes, turning halfway through, until it’s developed a nice, thorough golden brown color on top and feels cooked when tapped20151004_141644
  13. Remove and let cool on the counter, 20 minutes minimum20151004_202850
  14. Carefully slice, using a bread knife, in half, sawing horizontally along the edge to create a level cut from one side to the other20151004_203112
  15. Remove top, turning over, and brush the Orange Water Syrup over each side, soaking it evenly over the bread
  16. Take the reserved Mousseline and spread in an even, thick layer over the bottom piece, using as much as desired. Conversely, one can also pipe in, starting at the center to practice your motions and leaving the edge for some more attractive work (if the annoying makeshift piping bag will let you of course)20151004_204423-1
  17. Slice in wedges and serve

“Mousseline”/”Pastry Butter-cream Mousse” Filling
2 cups Milk20151004_131532
6 Egg Yolks
¾ cup Sugar
1/3 cup Cornstarch, Sifted
Tsp Salt
1 ½ cups/3 Sticks Butter, softened
1 Tb Orange Blossom Water
1 tsp Vanilla
¾ – 1 cup Heavy Cream

Directions

  1. Place Milk in pot over medium heat, leaving to scald/come to a simmer20151004_131616
  2. On the side, combine the Yolks, Sugar, Corn Starch, and Salt, whisking until thoroughly mixed and pale yellow in color20151004_132023
  3. When the milk is ready, remove from the stove and slowly pour into the egg mixture, whisking all the while to temper everything together carefully. Pour back into the pot and move back over heat20151004_132442
  4. Keep, whisking slowly at first while picking up the pace the longer and hotter it gets, making sure to keep it moving so none of it stays on the bottom or sides to scald or overcook, which will happen faster the thicker it gets20151004_133121
  5. As it starts to notably thicken, whisk fast and thorough, removing from the heat when it feels like it’s oneor two steps away from being a heavy cream [it will get to that point from continual cooking and when it cools]20151004_133430
  6. Quickly transfer to a bowl, straining if desired and/or worried about overcooking, and leave to cool on the counter20151004_141913
  7. When it’s down to room temperature, add in the Butter, Orange Water, and Vanilla, whipping it all thoroughly together with a whisk, or even an electric beater, until it’s all combined, ‘fluffy,’ and somewhat resembling buttercream20151004_142047
  8. Now start beating your Heavy Cream, ideally with a hand mixer to have it go faster, until it turns into Whipped Cream, drawing stiff peaks when moved; you’ll need about 1 ½ cups of it total20151004_135951
  9. Fold whipped cream in, 1/3 at a time, to make an aerated and fluffy ‘mousse’ of sorts20151004_155025
  10. Transfer to piping bag for use, storing in fridge if needed20151004_155754

Orange Water Syrup
½ cup Water
¼ cup Sugar
Zest of 1 Orange
1 Tb Orange Blossom Water

Directions20151004_135405

  1. Combine everything but the Orange Blossom Water in a pan, heat until it comes to a boil and the sugar is dissolved. Remove off to the side
  2. Once cooled, strain and add in the orange blossom water

My Thoughts

Well where to start… obviously it’s not as pretty as the other ones you see online; part of that being the sugar, pearl may not be ‘traditional’ but it gives the best effect. I really should get some soon, if anything to make those amazing Belgian waffles…

That and it’s too wide and thin… well, that was my thought, even after baking. But once it got cut, filled, and sliced into wedges, the inside actually looked a lot thicker than from outside, so on an everyday note I’m rather satisfied, but it’s still not as pretty as preferred. To fix, I should have probably fermented it in a smaller bowl, or folded it over20151004_204532 before rolling, or maybe just cut out the perfect circle from the rolled out dough; it was already at 10” just from the de-gassing stage. Though what I would have really liked to do was a little trick I read from a professional chef’s recipe where the dough is shaped inside of a tart mold rim; that way it stays a perfect circle, at the desired size, even when baking, and rises straight up like a cake! And I have springform pans, rather similar… but much taller circles than the tart pan rim, I was worried it wouldn’t bake right.

Speaking of which, it didn’t really rise while proofing… not much of an issue since it rose in the bake, but something doesn’t feel right, especially since it was still QUITE sticky; I’m positive I should have followed the technique in other recipes where you actually knead the dough to smooth, window-pane consistency first BEFORE adding the butter. That said, it turned out a lot better than the Rich Man’s Brioche I did earlier, was actually bread-like, though truthfully it could still be more Middle-Class level… if anything, I’m considering that I may have cooked it a little longer than I should have, and that’s the only real flaw I’ve found in final texture/flavor, proof-rise or no.

God-damn though was this thing rich!! Choosing the really eggy pastry cream recipe woulda been great if it was on its own, it tasted fantastic btw, but I probably should have gone a lighter version… and it was really cool trying out the buttercream-like technique, and that also was really good, but I think next time I’m gonna lean more towards the lower-butter recipes! Even after folding with the whipped cream, fatty enough as THAT was, put that between brioche bread and all you get is a mass of heavy fat and sugar; really good tasting, delicious mass, but believe me when I say a single slice will do you well for the night! I’m sure the tartes that are more well-done than mine are probably not so overwhelming, but I understand why I’ve seen quite a few that add strawberries and pistachios, to help cut through and then add texture (even with crunchy sugar, overwhelmingly one-note soft) in a tasty fashion.

There’s probably more to say, and done in a better and concise fashion, but I’m drawling out now… that frosting bread be weighing me down!

Possible Pairings

iD2fkPrWith how rich and heavy this turned out, I don’t even think I want to think about dessert wine, or anything thick and sweet to drink with it. That said, one of the ‘classic’ pairings often mentioned to enjoy with it is a little dessert wine called Monbazillac, a smaller sub region very close to the oh-so-famous Sauternes in Bordeaux, the latter known for its rich, honeyed, and devilishly complex dessert wines based off Semillon and Sauvignon. Though, THAT is rather expensive, and even the really aged ones stay thick. Dessert wines from nearby regions however, such as Monbazillac, come in at some rather great price deals for the consumer, and usually end up a lighter-bodied and definitely reduced in sweetness, usually a nice simple sweet drink to enjoy chilled without much thought. So it really would fit this particular purpose quite well, especially if you made a better and more ideal tarte than I did!

Though really, at the end of the day: we need liquor. Non-sweet, cuttingly dry and high in spirit to help cut through all of that fatty, creamy texture and flavor. If Kirsch was actually used, as so many recipes keep saying even though, again, it’s not really regionally sound, it’d be the perfect pairing. Otherwise, a young Cognac, that hasn’t developed all that really deep and thick texture and ‘sweetness’ that the older ones have, would be great; though Armagnac would probably be better regionally, and the simpleness of the tarte would let the complexities of it shine, though its extra roughness in texture could overshadow that as well.

Or you could just make a Sidecar with Lemon Juice, Cognac, and Grand Marnier to bring out the orange notes in the dessert and still have that brandy flavor and aspect; and shaking these with ice will help lighten all the heaviness while still cutting through the custard some.

p1: Navarin d’Agneau

Tffa22dd9403391d6b99e3d6445b1a0b4he Dish

I was going to do some more in depth research on this week’s recipe, but I’ve written SO much in my ‘A Word On…’ section that I think I’ll just cut this short, for both of our sakes. This week I’m doing Navarin d’Agneau, or Navarin of Lamb, normally a Springtime-ish dish of, of course, Lamb(or Mutton too, but I keep seeing lamb in recipes so there), stewed slowly and accompanied by fresh, sweet spring vegetables. It’s been compared to the south’s version of Bouef Bourgignon, but made with lamb, white wine, and more green veggies.

It’s often popular around Easter time (damn my timing and hunger for a lamb dish this weekend), a time when it developed; likely as a followed enthusiasm for the popular, rich and heavy mutton stews enjoyed in the winter. Once spring comes around, the only meat available is new, young lamb and the lighter, sweeter spring vegetables. These then coalesced into a stew deserving its own name; of which, many have at one point acclaimed to honor the Battle of Navarino in 1827, but more likely an evolution of ‘Navet,’ or ‘Turnip,’ which is and should be used boldly in this deliciously svelt stew.

A Word On…

Lamb: it seems most recipes are rather in agreement that lamb Shoulder cut is the way to go, either as the sole cut or always included in a mix of them. I also found one very traditional-looking recipe that used lamb ‘neck,’ saying that you could cut it into good sized whole slices (not something I’ve seen any neck, unless it was something as big as a cow, able to do, but hey who knows what part of the neck it was from). I of course stuck with shoulder, but as with any stew, any really flavorful and tough section of the lamb would work wonders; parts of the leg like the shank could be as potentially tasty (and even cheaper), one may just need to ensure it gets enough braising time. Speaking of which, I don’t like the idea of using a heavy beef stock with what is a lighter lamb, especially if it’s supposed to be a more spring-time stew. So instead I use chicken and will sear and stew the lamb bones from the shoulder, or whatever cut used, in with the meat.

Vegetables: Despite the humongous potential in people utilizing an insanely large variety of different vegetation in all these different recipes, I actually found most kept to similar lines and made it easy to narrow down exactly which ones I wanted to use as the ‘minimum base’ for a very traditional navarin d’agneau.

First up, obviously, is the Turnip; gotta have this (though some evil recipes tried substituting it out with potatoes, the bastards), followed by the Carrot. We then see two very green elements, Green Beans and Peas. I ended up getting some Haricots Verts, based on an older French strain of the bean, at the store, along with a package of fresh English peas, which wasn’t my initial plan. I was originally going to go for Frozen peas, which are actually one of the best versions one can get in the store due to peas tendencies to have a VERY short life while not frozen. But this seemed a fine opportunity to keep that spring freshness in tender little bites; plus it was fun to utilize (got a lot left over I’ve been putting in lunches and stuff!).

Finally, the Onion, which deserves some extra consideration. I would say, if we’re talking pure and perfect ideal, we’d want to go for “Spring Onion,” which looks like a green onion but with big, bulbous white end (like a bigger pearl onion, but fresh and with the green shoots). I wanted to do this, but of course none in store. If you’d like to keep that flavor and feeling without going to my following alternatives, I’d say try using Leeks. But with that eliminated, favorite course is usually to turn, much like many stews, towards Pearl Onions. Which I was ALSO gonna do, but then I found a bag of Ciopollini, which are very much like the pearls, but like flat saucers, and usually sweeter and more flavored. It might not be classic, but I sort of couldn’t help myself in playing with these guys for that extra special addition! Just note for preparation that you indeed need to let them boil in water for 1-2 minutes, makes them much easier to peel off nicely.

20150706_152609Tomatoes: Most recipes use an addition of tomatoes and garlic to the stew, either in sautéing beforehand or adding raw to the pot just before leaving to boil (I’m choosing the latter, since I feel I wanna keep the ‘fresh’ and seasonal flavor of all the vegetables here). ‘Crushed’ tomatoes are often the case, and whereas one can just as well and easily use some canned tomato sauce, paste, or crushed versions (nothing wrong with that, especially depending on the quality of tomatoes one can find), I can’t help but want to stick to going for fresh. This requires one to then skin and de-seed them, which is often done through a particular staple technique called ‘Concasse,’ my second reason for pursuing the fresh route; I haven’t done tomatoes concasse in quite a while, thought it’d be nice to do it for once.

20150706_144839This involves a few steps. First, the tomato has an X scored into one end, while the core is cut out of the other; this technique focuses purely on taking out any undesirable element of the tomato and only leaving the tender flesh to work with. So the core must go, and scoring will help promote the skin removal.

To do which, we basically just blanch it like the vegetables; pop in boiling water, but really for only 10-15 seconds at the MOST. At one point the skin will start to split from the cut, and this is when it is to be removed and quickly chilled in ice water (though I once saw a French chef who completely abhors the ice water bath, saying it only removes a little bit more of the flavors). From here, one will easily be able to peel these skins off.

20150706_151311

Following up, we have to deseed; which one could cut the tomato in half or quarters to accomplish, but it’s much easier to ‘peel’ the outer section of flesh off with a nice, almost like you’re trying to cut the thick peel off a grapefruit. As you can see, this easily reveals the big clusters of seeds in the core, to which we can easily just scrape off with our thumbs, and any seeds sticking to the very smooth outer ‘peel’ inside curves. Then we can do whatever we want with them. In order to ‘crush’ them, I basically diced my tomatoes as small as possible, from which I used the flat of my blade to push and scrape across the cutting board, repeating the actions of dicing/slicing and then scraping until it turned into sort of a big wet paste. Basically the same procedure to making minced garlic paste, for those familiar, just much bigger.

Wine: White, always white; I don’t think it strictly has to be white or fantastic, but this feels like a dish where using something super-cheap vs with a nice drinkable can make a noticeable difference. So I myself grabbed a decent and fun, not too distinctively flavored (like sauvignon blanc) dry white with some body that I had in my rack for a while and happily drank the rest with family.

Caramelization: We know how to sear by now, but I found a couple recipes, both from my Larousse and others, use an interesting technique that I’ve never heard before. After the lamb chunks are seared nice and golden, one sprinkles some sugar on them, starts stirring, and cooks on high to get an even FURTHER level of browning and caramelization. Basically it’s combining both sugar caramelizationa and maillard reaction (though I bet when they did this decades back they had no idea it was a separate thing). I’ve got to try this now, right?

20150706_155534They also had us dusting flour in too, very standard when making a stew so the stock can turn into a thick gravy when it reduces. Found another recipe thought I’d try that says, after sprinkling in, moving the pot to a 450F oven helps to promote really good browning of the flour evenly without burning (a technique proven well for making really dark rouxs for things like Gumbo, as seen on Good Eats via Alton Brown).

Stewing Strategy: This is where I had the most doubts and annoyances, figuring out what I wanted to do. I mean, obviously stewing the lamb is straightforward; sear it, add the wine and stock, cook on low heat for a few hours. The main issue came in two forms. First, do I simmer the stew mostly on the stovetop or in the oven? I don’t think there’s any classical reason against either method, so I went for the latter; it just seemed appealing to me, and I do like the idea of it harking back to times when one would start a dish like this in the morning, put the pot in an oven/fire all day, and find it ready and waiting come dinner time.

The second and bigger issue came with the Vegetables. There are SO many different little versions of how these are treated (except for the peas and green beans, those are always just blanched and stirred in the last five minutes to heat and finish the light cooking they need); blanched and sautéed golden and added closer to the end, onions and stuff sautéed WITH the lamb in the beginning, added raw halfway through, trying the ‘glazing’ technique on carrots/etc, blanched and non, etc. It got quite confusing. But there are a few factors that helped me narrow down to what seemed most pure for me. Firstly, this is a dish that, to me, really celebrates the feeling of Spring, the natural freshness to ingredients, everything is young and green and bright, so I think I can cut out anything that requires the vegetables to caramelize.

Secondly, in an effort to make sure the colors and flavors are kept to that attractive freshness, I’ll be blanching every single vegetable (again, boiling water for a bit, then shocking in ice water like w/ tomatoes); not sure if it’s really necessary to do this, besides for the beans and peas, but I wanna try it here. This will invariably reduce how much time they can spend in the stew, so adding in only the last half hour or so. And I WILL be letting the stew do all the cooking; I could try ‘glazed’ vegetables, which would be yummy and pretty, but doing so would mean only adding them in at the end, making them Garniture. Which, in itself, is a classic way to treat vegetables in stews like Boef Bourgignon, but I really want some of that flavor mingling happening, and I’ve found a recipe that relies on the complete vegetable cookery with the lamb (sort of an in between stage between garniture and start-to-finish, soft vegetable+meat stews), and they still get that nice, whole, glazed look to them.

Potatoes/Can-I-Get-a-Side Here?: Stews like this can be served with any number of starch; rice, a side of baguette, pasta (like in Coq au Vin), however I’ve been seeing a lot of mashed potatoes under this one. And when I don’t, often there are potatoes being cooked along with or in place of (tut tut, the one recipe buzzfeed has doesn’t even use these? For shame) the turnips. So to keep that traditional, southern French, sort of rustic feel (and cuz I love stew and mashed taters), that’s what I’ll be doing, and what I suggest anyone ELSE does.

20150706_160202Navarin d’Agneau
2lbs Lamb Shoulder, bones included
2 Tb Oil
1 Tb Sugar
3 Tb Flour
1 cup decent White Wine
2 cups, give or take, Chicken or Beef Stock
2 Tomatoes, prepared Concasse
2-3 Garlic Cloves
2 Bay Leaves
1 Sprig Rosemary
½ bunch of Parsley
1 small bunch Garden Carrots
3 small Turnips
8oz Pearl or Cipollini Onions
1 handful Haricots Verts or other nice Green Beans
¾ – 1 cup Green Peas, frozen or really fresh

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 450F and set Dutch Oven, Cast Iron, or other suitably heavy duty large pot on medium-high heat20150706_154319
  2. As this heats up, debone and portion Lamb (helps to have a nice boning knife for this) into even, good-size chunks, about 1-2” size
  3. Coat bottom of hot pan in oil and, in two batches, add your lamb pieces and bones, letting sit in smoking hot oil for about 1-2 minutes until deep brown, flipping over and repeating until at least two sides are evenly golden20150706_154538
  4. Remove all lamb to separate bowl (the first half should be here already after finished browning) and pour off some of the fat in the pan so only a couple tablespoons remain20150706_155125
  5. Sprinkle lamb (and bones) with Sugar and transfer back to hot pan, stirring very often, but not constantly, 2-4 minutes, until a deeper caramelization has occurred and coated more of the meat20150706_155244
  6. Quickly dust with flour, stirring to evenly coat, and move to hot oven. Let sit 3-5 minutes to darken further20150706_155349
  7. Transfer back to hot stove, turning oven down to 350F, add in Wine and scrape bottom of pan to deglaze all the tasty bits and fond, letting the wine cook briefly20150706_155730
  8. Add in enough Stock to just cover, and while it comes to a boil, finely chop and crush both Tomatoes and Garlic into a paste of sorts (sprinkling kosher salt on board helps), toss this into the pot along with a Bouqet Garni of Bay Leaves, Rosemary, and some Parsley Stems (just tie them together with string)20150706_160221
  9. Stir this in and move to the now-reduced oven, uncovered, for about 1 ½ hours20150706_145127
  10. While this is going, prepare the vegetables; peel Carrots and Turnips, cutting the latter into 6-8 pieces and carrots as desired, and snip the ends off of the Green Beans. Working one vegetable at a time, blanch each of these, and the Peas, in rapidly boiling water for 30 seconds to 1 minute (green veggies should develop a nicer, deeper color, carrots should turn a bit brighter, and turnips are a guess) before dunking in an ice water bath20150706_150606
  11. For the Onions, let sit in boiling water 1-2 minutes, let cool slowly and carefully peel off the outer husk so the whole, tender onion is now revealed. Hold this on the side along with all your other blanched vegetables20150706_153057
  12. Remove stew from oven and strain the liquids into a bowl, using the chance to remove all the bones, bouquet garni, and as much chunks of garlic and tomato from the meat as possible. Return sauce and bare lamb to the pot20150706_170047
  13. Nestle and stir in the carrots, turnips, and onions into the stew so they’re all glazed in some sauce. At this point one may need to add just a bit extra stock if it’s already rather reduced and gravy-like20150706_174125
  14. Return to the oven for 25-30 minutes before removing and setting on stove as you wait for service (at this point, the stew can be refrigerated for 1-2 days before the meal)20150706_181133
  15. When getting close to service, cut green beans in half and heat stew up to a boil. Mix in the beans and peas and let cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes
  16. Chop remaining Parsley leaves as fine as desired, add to stew, and serve20150706_183721
  17. Spoon over mashed potatoes, rice, or serve with crusty baguette, and Enjoy

The Verdict

20150706_183829It’s been a while since I’ve felt REALLY satisfied with the results of a stew without having to take extra cooking time and other further manipulations to get it looking decent. Lamb came out tender, the stock reduced into a beautiful gravy, got a nice sear on the meat beforehand (actually loved that trick of adding the sugar, you could really see this deep, even burnish of caramelization spread out through the lamb), vegetables were all tender and still had the bite where appropriate, lending their sweetness while at it quite nicely. And of course the flavor was rather delicious, it all came out quite cohesive, that sort of medium-rich body and flavor depth I was looking for; not excessively deep and heavy like super-beefy, usually red wine-based stews can get to (like the Coq au Vin). The only thing I’d say is that I didn’t get any of the flavor from the haricots verts I wanted; texture yes, but either I didn’t get the best quality to begin with (they looked good though… and came from Trader Joes…), I perhaps did some little screwup on the blanching, or I just expected more than what was realistic; they are green beans after all. Either way, the pot I made didn’t last the night; even if it was bigger, I don’t think it’d last the night. And I’m using my leftover blanched veggies tomorrow in some oatmeal lunchie. God I’m really happy about this after waiting a while since my last French 44 recipe.

Primary Pairing – Beaujolais

I’ll give Buzzfeed props for hitting their wine suggestion in the ballpark for this one; a Pinot Noir (though they really do need to specify further than just varietal, pinot noirs come out insanely differently depending on who’s making it and where). Since this dish is cooked in white wine, and the lamb can come out VERY tender when done well, one can easily argue a case for being able to pair with either white or red wines; but if doing the latter, it should be a rather lighter style, with only a small to medium amount of ‘tannins’ since the lamb has barely any chew to it now. Pinot noir fits well, and is often seen as a nice red with very vegetable-heavy dishes.

20150706_183125But I want to find something better still, which is why I looked to the nearby regions. Did you know that the wine we know as Beaujolais is actually a part of the Burgundy region? Yet it’s so far south, and the soils have changed so much, that it’s almost like an extension of the Northern Rhone? The area and wine almost fits more into the character of this South-Eastern region of France, like this dish, than the NE ‘Burgundy-Alsace-Alps’ mentality (it’s on much flatter, hillier ground). And it fits perfectly with a dish like this.

For due to the result of an often-practiced technique called ‘Carbonic Maceration,’ which I won’t get into detail about, the main grape of the region (Gamay) turns an extremely, almost confected fruity nose, and a palette that is really, REALLY low in body and tannin, the perfect kind of level to go with a stew. It also comes out very distinctly lilac-purply in color, unique! Despite the very expressive nose, the palate rarely has  the flavor to back it up, like many a French wine. Instead it holds structure, for us to better enjoy and quaff down alongside our food. And this almost sweet-smelling, plain savory-bodied, low-tannin, decent-acid wine offers up a great opportunity to consume alongside potentially funky, tender lamb and a butt load of sweet vegetables.

But we ideally need something with just a BIT more character than the mass-market Beaujolais and ‘Noveau’ (-shudders-) that we’re used to, which is why I got…

20150706_182829My Bottle: Chateau Thivin, 2011 Côte de Brouilly

There are three classes of Beaujolais. “Noveau,” the cheapest and lowest quality, made super-fast and as early as possible for the masses of people who got dragged into the hype that THIS is the wine that needs to be consumed at holidays; “Villages,” a little better, standard wine from the region, still focusing almost purely on carbonic maceration and its distinct effects; and “Cru Beaujolais.” These last are wines that come from 10 select villages on the top of the single hill that occupies the entire region, and though they all still use carbonic maceration as is tradition, one sees a lot more further fermentation in barrels, long oak aging, and other more traditional and quality-focused practiced. These result in wines that have similar balance and those unique noses of Beaujolais, but with more depth towards ACTUAL wine aromas and flavors, almost as if they were crossed with a nice Burgundy.

And the best part? For French wine, often really GOOD quality French wine, the prices on these Cru are amazing. I got mine for, what, $16-18, the REALLY good regions can reach up to around $30, and it’s worth every penny. All the money is really from the work and quality that’s going into the wine, and not just the added prestige of what supposedly well-renowned subregion from a French wine region can get you. (why I normally hate navigating Bordeaux and Burgundy; so hard to find something that’s WORTH the price unless you know beforehand).

And this one did not disappoint. A little bit more in terms of savory and deeper fruity, slightly toasty flavors helped to mingle with the meaty lamb while we savored the nose in between bites. The distinctly fake-fruity notes aren’t too forward, so I could enjoy them mingling in with the vegetables as a poignant accent. But I’ll very much be looking forward to enjoying the rest of the bottle on its own for the next couple of days, navarin leftovers or not.

LYONESS 2015-05-19 14_04_33Secondary Pairing – English Cider

This IS a dish cooked in white wine, and really tender when done well, so having a white wine as a pairing is not just not out of the question, but it could be argued as the most desired if you can find the right one. But, since I’ve already used my one ‘wine slot’ for the Beaujolais, time for a substitute. Cider is a substitute. Cider tastes good, and has very similar balances to white wine; not to mention lamb is also quite popular in the UK, so going for English Cider with a dish like this is almost regional. They usually come with a little bigger bodies than some of our really light and crisp ciders we’re used to, letting it stand up to the richer lamb, an acidity to cut through this medium richness, and the fresh apple flavor help evoke the feeling of spring even further. And what’s more, the hint of sweetness carries through with the naturally sweet vegetables. And now I’m wishing I had cider instead of wine… talking about it always gets my cravings going…

p2, Kouglof

kouglof_The Sweet

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

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

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

Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner

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

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

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

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

20150404_220446

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

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

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

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

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

Directions

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

20150405_155426My Thoughts

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

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

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

kirschPossible Pairings

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

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

musc