Thursday, February 28, 2008

Crêpes au sucre (Sugar pancakes)

Crêpes are very thin cooked pancakes that can be used for both sweet and savory dishes. The common ingredients include flour, milk, eggs, butter and a pinch of salt.

According to Jacques Pepin, “in France the crêpe used to be called pannequet, from which the word pancake is probably derived. A very thin pannequet resembles the wrinkled, fragile looking fabric which we know as crêpe.”

I remember a crêpe-like dish my mom would make that we called “egg cakes”. My sister and I would gobble each one up as fast as she made it, spread it with butter, roll it up, and dip it in pure maple syrup. Yum. One lunch time when we were in high school, we raced home to make them. Using our mom’s square electric frying pan (that did not have a non-stick coating by the way), we quickly started frying up our egg cakes. And quickly, they started sticking and burning and smoking up the house. I think we managed to get a few good egg cakes made even so. Little did I know we were making (or attempting to make) crêpes!

Wrapped around your favorite filling, such as chicken, asparagus and mushrooms or curried seafood, crêpes can be served as an appetizer, a main course, or even brunch. Often, buckwheat flour is used in savory crêpes giving them an earthy, mild mushroom-y taste. And, it’s gluten-free; however, it’s often mixed with wheat flours to mellow out the buckwheat taste.

Sweetened with sugar and vanilla, they can be filled with jam, melted chocolate, ice cream, fruit, or even Nutella (a hazelnut spread). Drizzled with maple syrup or lemon juice, sprinkled with icing sugar, topped with whipped cream or all of the above, crêpes are a simple but delicious dessert. Often, wheat flour, such as all-purpose flour, is used in sweet crêpes.

Crêpes come from Brittany (as does Pâté Pantin), a region in the northwest of France. It occupies a large peninsula in the northwest of the country, lying between the English Channel to the north and the Bay of Biscay to the south.

map from Wikipedia

The thickness of the batter can be adjusted by adding more or less milk, water, or a mixture of milk and water. Plus, it’s easier to get rid of lumps in thicker batter so adding the liquid in two stages makes it easier to get a smooth batter.

According to Mastering the Art of French Cooking, you should make the crêpe batter about 2 hours before using it to allow the flour particles to expand in the liquid and the batter to thicken, insuring a tender, light, thin crêpe. Le Cordon Bleu at Home suggests resting it for 30 minutes, and Jacques Pepin says you don’t have to rest it at all!

Although there are special crêpe pans, you don’t need one to make crêpes. You just need a non-stick pan.

Crêpes can be rolled, folded into triangles, rolled into a thin cigarette, folded into a rectangle, or stacked to make a cake.

Did you know that there is a Crêpe Day on February 2nd? And I thought February 2nd was only for groundhog celebrations! It was originally a Catholic holiday called La Chandeleur. According to this link, you must have a candle lit and then hold a gold coin in your left hand while you flip the crêpe over the skillet with your right hand. If you can catch the crêpe in the pan, your family will enjoy prosperity for the rest of the year. I did practice flipping each crêpe, but next time I’ll have to light a candle and find a gold coin instead of buying more lottery tickets.

Recipe for crêpes from Le Cordon Bleu at Home

¾ cup all-purpose flour
Pinch salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons (1½ ounces) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Sift the flour, salt, and sugar into a bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Break the eggs into the well and add one-third of the milk. Gradually whisk the flour mixture into the wet ingredients until very smooth. Then whisk in the vanilla, butter, and the remaining milk. Let the batter rest 30 minutes at room temperature.

Heat a non-stick pan over moderate heat until hot. Rub some butter over the pan. Pour 2-3 tablespoons of batter into the pan and tilt the pan so that the batter runs around to make a circle. Don’t put too much batter in or the crêpe will be too thick. Let the batter set. After about 1 minute, check the color of the bottom of the crêpe to see if it’s a light golden color. Flip the crêpe. Cook for about 20-30 seconds. It takes a few crêpes to get the heat of the pan right and the amount of batter you need for each crêpe, so your first crêpe or two are for the chef, not your guests!

You can make the crêpes in advance and sandwich them with wax paper and cover with plastic wrap to prevent them from drying out. Reheat as needed. You can also freeze them for later use.

Here are a couple of helpful videos that show how to cook a crêpe:


Tasting Notes:

Crêpes in any form are delicious. I love them on their own, wrapped around ice cream, or served as an entrée with a creamy chicken inside. The batter for this sweet crêpe was perfect. I think it would be fun to experiment by adding poppy seeds, different flavorings such as anise or earl grey, or different liqueurs in place of the vanilla. Definitely a keeper.

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Running total: $179.50 + $1.16 = $180.66

Butter used so far: 4 pounds, 1.5 tablespoons

Monday, February 25, 2008

Fettuccini Alfredo (Fresh pasta with a creamy pepper and Parmesan cheese sauce)

Fettuccini Alfredo is a rich pasta dish said to be created by restaurateur Alfredo di Lello in Rome in the 1920s, and the recipe was kept secret until recently. As the story goes, when his wife became pregnant and lost her appetite, he created this recipe out of love and his need to nourish her and his baby. There is also a story that Signore Alfredo was given a golden spoon and fork by Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford because they thought his pasta was so delicious and that tossing the fettuccini with those forks was the "secret" to the recipe.

The original recipe does not contain cream, pepper, parsley, or chives. It only contains butter and Parmesan (specifically Parmigiano-Reggiano) and maybe a pinch of salt.

The fettuccini noodles must be made fresh, or “fatte in casa” (made in the house). Fresh pasta is the key since it holds onto the sauce. The noodles should be 1/5-inch wide (5 mm). Traditionally, pasta is made with semolina flour, a coarse-textured flour that is high in gluten and makes a firmer noodle. Noodles must be cooked al dente, the Italian phrase meaning “to the tooth”, which means pasta that is slightly resistant to bite.

Fettuccini Alfredo is typically served as a first course, not a main course.

Did you know that there is a National Fettuccini Alfredo Day on February 7? You can even buy a t-shirt commemorating this day.

Recipe for Pâte Fraîches (fresh noodles) adapted from Le Cordon Bleu at Home

Makes 1 pound

2 cups all-purpose flour (You could use ½ cup semolina and 1½ cups all-purpose.)
3 egg yolks
3 tablespoons vegetable oil (or olive oil)
¼ teaspoons salt
5-6 tablespoons cold water
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter

Put a mound of flour on your work surface (or use a bowl). Make a well in the center. Add the egg yolks, oil, salt, and 5 tablespoons water to the well and mix with one hand to blend. Draw in the flour with a pastry scraper and mix until the dough comes together. Add the butter. If the dough is dry, add more water. With the palm of your hand, work the dough until it forms a smooth elastic ball, until it no longer sticks to your fingers or the work surface. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. The longer it rests, the easier it is to roll out.

Lightly dust the work surface with flour. Roll out the pasta dough 1/16 inch thick. (Cover with a clean, damp kitchen towel any dough that you’re not working with so that it doesn’t dry out.) Use the edge of the rolling pin or a ruler as a guide and cut the dough into long strips, 1/5-inch wide. Lay 2 or 3 dish towels on the work surface, dust lightly with flour and dry the noodles in a single layer on them for at least 30 minutes before cooking. Don’t dry them too long. They should be pliable and smooth, not brittle, moist, or tacky.

Note: You can use a pasta machine to roll and cut the fettuccini.

Recipe for the Original Fettuccini Alfredo from Link

Alfredo di Lelio

Serves 4

1 lb of fresh, fettuccini noodles
6 oz unsalted butter
6 oz Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (aged 24 months), grated

Cook the fettuccini noodles in 1 gallon (16 cups) of salted boiling water for three minutes.

Soak the serving dish in a bowl or sink of boiling or very hot water. Dry off the bowl and put the butter in the bowl to melt.

Strain the pasta leaving just a small amount of water (about 3 tablespoons) and toss the noodles with the butter and the grated cheese. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper.

Serve in a warm bowl so that the pasta doesn’t congeal.


To make it a main-course pasta dish, add chicken or salmon. You can also add mushrooms, garlic, and of course, heavy cream. Sprinkle with parsley and fresh ground nutmeg, if desired.

Tasting Notes

I enjoyed the fresh fettuccini noodles, but I found the Fettuccini Alfredo greasy and bland. I added some freshly ground pepper, but I think I prefer the Americanized version with garlic and cream. My kids enjoyed it though.

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Running total: $170.88 + $1.54 (pâte fraîches) + $7.08 (Fettuccini Alfredo) = $ 179.50

Butter used so far: 3 pounds, 30.5 tablespoons

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Gnocchi à la parisienne (Baked dumplings in Mornay sauce)

Gnocchi (nyo-kee) à la parisienne is a French version of gnocchi baked with a Mornay sauce. Although it’s a simple recipe, there are a couple of culinary things to learn, including how to make pâte à choux and Mornay sauce.

Gnocchi means “lumps” or “dumplings”. But these lumps are pillowy-soft-melt-in-your-mouth lumps since they’re made out of pâte à choux (not potatoes like their Italian counterpart). The gnocchi is spooned or piped into 180° water where it cooks until it floats to the top. The high moisture content and the eggs in the pâte à choux create steam that puffs each tender gnocchi. However, due to their delicate nature, if you overcook them, they’ll fall apart.

Pâte à choux (pronounced “shoe”), also called choux paste, hearkens back to 1540 and comes from the word “choux”, which means cabbage in French— that’s what pâte à choux looks like when baked as traditional cream puffs. Choux paste contains four simple ingredients: butter, water, flour, and eggs. Pâte à choux is such a versatile recipe, and can be used for both sweet and savory dishes, such as Gougères or chouquettes, Pommes dauphine, Croquembouche, and even Paris-Brest.

The Mornay sauce that covers the gnocchi is a béchamel sauce with the addition of cheese (usually half Gruyère and half Parmesan). A béchamel sauce is a roux blanc with the addition of milk. A roux blanc is flour and butter that are cooked just long enough to eliminate the taste of raw flour without coloring the mixture. So, to summarize:

Mornay = béchamel + cheese + eggs (sometimes)
Béchamel = roux blanc + milk
Roux blanc = butter + flour

Gnocchi à la parisienne is cooked au gratin, meaning covered with butter and grated cheese and then browned in an oven.

Recipe for Gnocchi à la parisienne adapted from Link and Link

Pâte à choux:

1 cup milk
½ stick unsalted butter (4 tablespoons or ¼ cup or 2 ounces)
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
⅛ teaspoon grated nutmeg
3 large eggs

Mornay Sauce:

1 to 1½ cups whole milk
2 tablespoons (25 grams) butter
2 tablespoons (25 grams) all-purpose flour
freshly ground nutmeg
freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons (25 grams) Parmesan cheese, grated
1 tablespoon butter, chilled, diced

For the pâte à choux:

Combine the milk and butter in a saucepan and heat until the butter melts and the milk boils.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the flour all at once. Beat until a thick mixture forms. Stir over low heat until the mixture pulls away from the pan and the mixture dries a bit. Cool slightly. (If you don’t cool the mixture, the eggs will scramble when you add them.)

Add the salt, Parmesan cheese, and nutmeg. Then beat in the first 2 eggs, one at a time, beating until thoroughly blended after each addition. Then lightly beat the third egg in a small bowl and add it little by little. Add just enough beaten egg for the mixture to become smooth and shiny and fall slowly from the spoon in a point.

For the gnocchi:

Bring a pot of salted water to almost a boil (180°F). Prepare an ice water bath.

Using a pastry bag fitted with a large plain tip, fill the bag with the gnocchi dough. Press the dough out and cut it off at the tip using a paring knife, making small rectangular gnocchi.

Poach the gnocchi in the water for about 3 minutes. When they are cooked, they will float to the surface. Carefully lift the gnocchi out with a slotted spoon (they will not be completely cooked inside) and gently drop them in a bowl of iced water to cool. They will sink to the bottom of the bowl when cool. Drain and use right away, or refrigerate for later use.

Note: You can freeze the gnocchi on a sheet pan and then store in a freezer bag for up to six weeks.

For the Mornay sauce:

Bring the milk to a simmer over medium heat. In a separate saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the flour. Cook the flour for a few minutes without allowing it to color. Whisk in the milk and continue whisking until thickened. Season the sauce with nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Off heat, add the Parmesan cheese.

If you add the cheese while it is still on the heat, it will become stringy. If the sauce has lumps, pass it through a fine strainer and reheat in a clean saucepan.

Thin as desired with scalded cream. Taste and adjust seasonings. Keep warm (over a saucepan of hot water) until needed.

To finish the gnocchi:

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Spread a little of the Mornay sauce over the bottom of the gratin dish. Spoon the gnocchi on top of the sauce. Top with more sauce. Dot with butter and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Bake until the surface is browned, about 15-20 minutes. Broil to finish browning the top. Sprinkle with parsley.


You can use different cheeses, such as Gruyère, Comté, or Emmentaler. You can also add herbs, such as chervil, chives, parsley, tarragon, or basil or a combination.

Tasting Notes

Gnocchi à la parisienne has a clean, tender yet chewy, eggy taste. Although the gnocchi taste light, they are full of calories and definitely not on the diet list. Next time, I'll add more salt since it tasted very bland.

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Running total:
$167.53 + $3.35 = $170.88

Butter used so far:
3 pounds, 16.5 tablespoons

Monday, February 18, 2008

Allumettes au fromage (Puff pastry strips with cheese)

Puff pastry, the big “puff daddy” of pastries, is sometimes called the “queen of all pastries”. In French, pâte feuilletée (paht fuh-yuh-TAY) means “leaved” or “leafy”, and literally translates to flaky pastry. However, paste is what I found to be the case during my first two attempts, not puff paste!

Why make homemade puff pastry when you can buy store-bought? It’s a challenge, but it tastes better, richer. Also, many store varieties use hydrogenated fat instead of real butter. However, by making it at home, you can control what fat goes into your puff pastry. In France, you can buy beurre sec, which is a dry butter that has a low moisture content, but a high fat content and therefore doesn’t melt as fast. The butter in Canada and the U.S. has more moisture. If possible, try to locate European (or European-style) butter. If that’s not possible, try to find the hardest butter in your supermarket by using the finger test!

Puff pastry is used in both sweet (such as shells for tarts, napoleons, palmiers, Danishes, strudels, and turnovers) and savory dishes (such as croissants, cheese straws, beef wellington, salmon en croûte and pâté en croûte, and vol-au-vents). Although my allumettes were fatter than matchsticks, I tried making puff pastry strips again using a more matchstick shape.

What separates puff pastry from regular pastry is the layers. Layers of dough and butter are carefully combined so as to make a pastry with exactly 729 layers.

The layering is accomplished through turning (also called lamination). Lamination means sandwiching something between layers, in this case dough-butter-dough. Each rolling and folding is called a turn. Classic puff pastry is turned 6 times. If each turn creates 3 layers, that means 3 to the 6th power which equals 729 layers of butter between 730 layers of dough. I love Google! When I typed “3 to the 6th” in the Google search bar, this is what it showed:
Puff pastry depends on these 729 thin layers to hold the steam and puff up. Puff pastry is sometimes called Mille feuilles, or a thousand leaves. This is because there are 730 layers of dough and 729 layers of butter. If you add these together, you get 1457 layers.

If all goes well, the layers of butter alternate with the layers of dough. In the oven, as the butter melts, the dough absorbs the flavour, and steam is generated. This evaporation pushes the layers apart, making a buttery and flaky pastry with many layers.

A big key to making puff pastry is keeping the dough and butter cold, around 60°F. This means patience, which I don’t tend to have a lot of. After a couple of attempts at making this pastry, I decided given that our home is warmer than it should be given the wintry weather outside, I needed to do one turn and then put it back in the refrigerator. This helped avoid the situation of having the butter seep through the dough causing a big sticky mess.

Use a cold, marble slab, if you can. I don’t have that, so I filled a large bowl with ice water and put it on the counter where I would be rolling out the dough. This helped keep the counter cool. You could also put a cookie sheet in the freezer and then use it to work with the dough.

Recipe for Puff Pastry adapted from Le Cordon Bleu at Home

1½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup cake and pastry flour
1 teaspoon salt
⅔ to ¾ cup cold water (up to 1 cup)
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
14 tablespoons (7 ounces) unsalted butter
1 large egg, slightly beaten, for glazing

You can mix the dough by making a mound on the counter or use a bowl. After you’ve added the flour, salt, cold water, and melted butter, you mix it with your fingertips (and using a pastry scraper if you opted for the counter) until it’s loosely mixed, enough to hang together in a “shaggy manner” (according to Julia Child). If the dough is too dry, add sprinkles of water. I had to add an extra ¼ cup. At this point, the dough is called détrempe.

Form it into a ball. Cut an X on the top and about half way through the dough.

This helps to cut the gluten strands so that they can relax more quickly, eliminating the rubbery-ness of the dough. Cover with a wet towel or plastic wrap. Put in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Now for the butter, or beurrage (which means the butter block)—all 200 grams of it (or 14 tablespoons or 7 ounces). The butter should be slightly softened, or beurre en pomade. Between two sheets of plastic wrap, pound the butter with your pin into a square that’s ¾=inch thick and big enough to fit in the middle of the rolled out dough. Another key is that the butter must be the same consistency and temperature as the dough (ideally 60°F).

Retrieve your dough from the refrigerator. Lightly dust the work surface so that the dough doesn’t stick. Form the détrempe into a ball. Make a cross in the dough with your pin. Roll out each arm of the cross leaving the middle mounded a bit. Put the beurrage in the middle of the mound.

picture from Link

Fold the flaps (or arms) over the beurrage to form the pâton (or dough roll).

Now, press the dough with a rolling pin 4 to 5 times along its length until it is about 7 inches wide. Then, using flour to dust the work surface so that it doesn’t stick, roll it about 21 inches long and 3/8-inch thick. Stay away from the ends. Be neat. Don’t roll it side-ways. Always roll it length-wise. Use as little flour as possible when rolling out the dough so that the dough doesn’t get too tough. Roll it thinly and evenly so that the layers are even when baked. Roll the ends first, and then the middle. The straighter your rolled dough, the more uniform your puff pastry square. Whew, lots of rules!

picture from Link

Now that you’ve rolled out the perfect rectangle, there are two types of folds you can do after you roll each layer: simple folds or book folds.

For a simple fold (also called a single fold or letter fold), fold the dough like a letter taking the top 2/3 of the way down and then taking the bottom 2/3 of the way up to form a square.

729 layers after 6 turns

picture from Link

For a book fold (also called a double fold), fold the two shorter sides into the center and then fold the dough in half like closing a book. This fold gives you even more layers.

1,024 layers after 5 turns

picture from Link

As you fold, brush off any excess flour. After making the fold, turn the dough clockwise so that the folded edge is on your left. It’s important to always turn the same way so that the seam is always on the same side and so that the layers form properly. Roll and fold once more. Then push two fingertips into the dough to indicate that you’ve done two turns. Refrigerate the dough for up to 30 minutes.

Do not try to work with soft puff pastry; the butter will melt and seep into the dough, which ruins the layering effect and your pastry will not puff when baked. Work with the dough in short spurts (such as 10 minutes) and refrigerate in-between for up to 60 minutes. But, don’t refrigerate for too long or the butter will get too hard, making it too difficult to roll out.

Repeat the roll-fold-turn so that you have turned it six times making sure to refrigerate in-between turns. Mark the number of turns on the dough with your fingertips to keep track. If you’re fast, you can roll, fold, and turn twice before having to refrigerate it. I found I had to refrigerate after each turn. Take your time and be patient.

If you don’t use the dough right away, you can store it in plastic in the refrigerator for 3 days or in the freezer for 3 months. Defrost in the refrigerator overnight before using it.

Recipe for Cheese Straws adapted from Le Cordon Bleu at Home

2 ounces (½ cup) Parmesan cheese, grated (I used old cheddar)

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Butter the baking sheet and sprinkle it with water. The water keeps the bottom layer stuck to the pan allowing the other layers to rise.

Roll out the dough ⅛ inch thick and ½ inch longer and wider than the baking sheet. Place it on the baking sheet. Trim any excess.

Any leftover scraps can be used for decorations or appetizer crisps. You can sprinkle the scraps with cheese or sesame seeds or whatever you like from your pantry. However, don’t re-roll the dough or it won’t rise properly.

Brush with egg glaze. When you put an egg glaze on the dough, make sure you do it before cutting it or else make sure the egg glaze doesn’t touch the sides. If it does, the egg glaze will “glue” the layers together and therefore won’t rise.

If you prick (or dock) the dough before baking, it won’t rise as much. Some recipes require you to prick the dough so that the steam can escape and the filling doesn’t explode. It can also help prevent uneven puffing. Prick where you don’t want it to puff much.

Sprinkle with cheese, pressing it gently into the pastry. Refrigerate 20 minutes.

When chilled, cut the dough. You must cut the dough, with a pastry wheel or pizza cutter, so that there is a fresh edge for it to rise. A folded edge won’t rise. You could use a pasta machine set to the fettuccine width to cut cheese straws. Cut into strips ½ inch wide and 3 inches long.

Here’s another tip c/o Alton Brown found at this Link: If you’re cutting the dough on a cutting board, flip the dough so that the side that was touching the cutting board is on the top. It was not torn, stretched, or squeezed as much as the top.

Bake until puffed and golden, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and break apart any strips that are attached to one another. Cool on a rack.

Tasting Notes

Crispy, light, cheesy. Better than Pepperidge Farm Goldfish, according to one of my daughters!

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Running total: $163.18 + $4.35 = $167.53

Butter used so far: 3 pounds, 9.5 tablespoons

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Review — Basic Doughs Part 2

Yeasted dough requires rising time. Sausage requires marinating. So, if you had the sausage made, the brioche ready, and the dough for the Pissaladière done, the finishing wouldn’t take too long. You could focus on the Tarte au sucre and cooking the onions for the Pissaladière. Here’s what my plan would look like if I were to make the following in one go:

• Pissaladière
• Saucisson en brioche
• Tarte au sucre

Step 1: 3 days in advance
Make sausages for the Saucisson en brioche to cure for up to 3 days.

Mise en place: measure and prepare meat
grind 1½ pounds pork

Mise en place: measure herbs, spices, and pantry items
2½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon sugar
¾ teaspoons black pepper, freshly ground
2 tablespoons white wine
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 tablespoons black truffle, in julienne slivers (or dried porcini, in ¼-inch pieces)

Step 2
Make Tarte au sucre so that it can rise for up to 2 hours.

Mise en place: measure liquids and eggs
⅓ cup whole milk, warmed to 110°F (use an instant read thermometer if you have one)

Mise en place: measure herbs, spices, and pantry items
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1¾ cups plus 2 tablespoons flour (more as needed)
2 eggs
¾ teaspoon salt

Mise en place: measure butter
6 tablespoons butter

Step 3
Make dough for Pissaladière so that it can rise for 90 minutes.

Mise en place: measure liquids and eggs
½ cup warm water (110°F, if using a thermometer) plus 1 cup warm water
22 g (2 tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil

Mise en place: measure herbs, spices, and pantry items
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
575 g (3½ cups) all-purpose flour
6 g (1 teaspoon) salt

Step 4
Make brioche for the Saucisson en brioche so that it can rise for 1 hour or overnight.

Mise en place: measure herbs, spices, and pantry items
1 tablespoon and 3 tablespoons sugar (¼ cup total)
1 package (2¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast
4 cups bread flour (I used all-purpose flour)
1 teaspoon salt

Mise en place: measure liquids and eggs
1 cup warm water (110°F)
2 large eggs
5 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon oil for bowl

Mise en place: measure butter
10 ounces (2½ sticks or 20 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened

Step 5
Start cooking onions for Pissaladière so that they can cook for 30 minutes.

Mise en place: chopping
1 kg white onions (just over 2 pounds)

Mise en place: measure liquids and eggs
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
splash of water
½ teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Mise en place: measure herbs, spices, and pantry items
1 bay leaf
4 garlic cloves, whole

Step 6
Finish Pissaladière.

Mise en place:
fresh herbs such as rosemary, oregano, and thyme, chopped fine
about 16 Niçoise olives, sliced
8 to 10 anchovy fillets, well rinsed
black pepper, freshly ground

Step 7
Finish Saucisson en brioche.

Mise en place
2 large egg yolks, beaten
1 large egg, beaten
flour for coating

Step 8
Finish Tarte au sucre.

Mise en place
½ cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons butter

Friday, February 15, 2008

Tarte au sucre (Sugar pie)

Tarte au sucre from France is not your sugar pie from Quebec that I’ve had at Christmas since inheriting a French Canadian brother-in-law. It’s a sugar yeast cake more similar to brioche. It’s light and airy topped with butter and brown sugar, more like a rustic coffee cake.

My first challenge for this item was finding the right type of recipe to use. When you search for “Tarte au sucre”, the most common recipe that the search finds is the traditional French Canadian sugar pie made with brown sugar, cream, and vanilla. No yeast in sight. Obviously, this wasn’t the right type of sugar pie.

In my search for this recipe, I thought I’d found a similar dessert called La Galette Pérougienne, which means a flat cake made of puff pastry (or in this case brioche) from the ancient town of Pérouges. Pérouges is a medieval, walled town in the Ain region, which is part of the Rhône-Alpes region.

I even found a recipe for La Galette Pérougienne from the ancient town of Pérouges. I thought I’d hit the jackpot. But, there must be a typo in the recipe because it didn’t turn out (at least that’s my theory!). The recipe says to bake for 5 minutes, which may be the problem. I increased the time in the oven, but perhaps not enough. It turned out doughy, and inedible. So back to internet searching I went.

Attempt #2: I found a recipe that showed a picture of how the dessert looks when finished. I thought this would be the one. However, the dough was stringy and yeasty. The topping was tasty, though.

Attempt #3: During my next quest, I found out that the north of France is the largest sugar-producing region of France and is famous for producing sugar from beets. Then I found a recipe for Sugar Tart from my old standby— It says this is a “Belgian” classic, which borders France on the north. When I tried this recipe (without using the food processor as is suggested), it remained flat as a pancake!

Attempt #4: Back to research. I found a recipe with pictures of the different stages. This one used a bread maker. Although, during this experiment, I wanted to replicate the tools I’d have at cooking school, and I’m pretty sure bread makers are not in the kitchen, I was desperate. I thought that if this recipe worked, then I would have something I could try by hand. So back to my kitchen I went. This time though, I used the recipe from but followed the technique described on the blog. This one was flat, chewy, and inedible.

So, I thought through all the different recipes I had tried. The one in Attempt #2 tasted the best of the bunch, which isn’t saying much. But, I thought that if I used the method used in Attempt #4 (namely using the bread maker), that I might be in luck. I also made sure the milk was no hotter than 110°F since I’d read that any higher could kill the yeast. And, I proofed the yeast to make sure it was alive and kicking. So, I gave it one last whirl. Guess what! It worked. Finally, I had a recipe that I could eat and enjoy.

Recipe for Tarte au sucre adapted from Link and Link and Link

⅓ cup whole milk, warmed to 110°F (use an instant read thermometer if you have one)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 package (2¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast
1¾ cups plus 2 tablespoons flour (more as needed)
2 large eggs
¾ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons butter
½ cup brown sugar

To make the yeast dough, proof the yeast in the warmed milk and add the sugar. Wait 2 minutes until the mixture is foamy.

If you’re using a bread maker, add all the ingredients for the dough and use the basic dough or basic French dough setting.

If you’re making the dough by hand, sift the flour on a marble slab or board and make a well in the center. Add the eggs, salt, and dissolved yeast mixture. Briefly mix the central ingredients then draw in the flour with both hands, pulling the dough into large crumbs with the fingertips. Knead the dough for 5 to 10 minutes or until very smooth and elastic, adding more flour if necessary so that the dough is not sticky. Pound the butter to soften it thoroughly, then work in into the dough, slapping the dough on the work surface, until the butter is thoroughly incorporated. The dough should be smooth, not sticky. Transfer the dough to a light oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth and let rise until almost doubled in bulk.

Thoroughly butter the pie pan. Transfer the risen dough to a floured work surface and fold it in thirds, patting it to knock out the air. Flour your hands and flatten the dough into the base, not the sides of the pan. Let rise for 15 minutes and then spread with butter cubes and sprinkle with the brown sugar. Let rise for 15 minutes and then bake for 15 or 20 minutes in a 400°F oven. Serve at room temperature.

Use orange zest or lemon zest in the dough.
Fold some chocolate pieces into the dough.
Sift some icing sugar on top for decoration.
Serve with crème anglaise.

Tasting Notes

Once I finally mastered the recipe and technique, I found the sugar yeast cake a light snack perfect for breakfast or brunch. It's not too sweet. My husband added butter on top, heated it in the microwave, and slowly finished off the whole thing.

. . . . . . . . . .

Running total: $160.49 + $2.69 = $163.18

Butter used so far: 2 pounds, 25.5 tablespoons

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Saucisson en brioche (Sausage baked in a brioche dough)

A sausage roll (or pigs in a blanket, toad in the hole, sausage in a nightgown, hotdogs, Hot Dog on a Stick, Pogo, corndog, French fry-coated hot dog, or bangers and mash) by any other name would taste as sweet, but the French sure have a way with words! Saucisson en brioche sounds much more delicious!

This dish comes from the Rhône-Alpes region of France where Lyon is the capital, and its sausages have always been famous.

map from Wikipedia

The first part of this recipe is the sausage. I gathered all the ingredients I needed — even the sausage casing. I’ve never made homemade sausages before and the combination of ground meat and intestinal lining from same animal set my stomach a little off. Once it was sealed up in the refrigerator ready to cure, I was able to move onto the more interesting part of the recipe: the brioche.

The richest of all breads is pâte à brioche (BREE-ohsh), and only a small yeast step away from being a pastry. The word comes from old French, from broyer, brier, which means to knead. Made with lots of eggs and butter, it’s a rich and tender bread. Traditional brioche à tête has what looks like a head or topknot on top of a roll made using special fluted molds. You can make it as traditional bread in a loaf pan, or use it en croûte, as in this version. In this case, brioche surrounds above-mentioned homemade sausage.

Brioche is bursting with butter, making it a difficult dough to work with. It is best handled when cool. Also, since it is a soft dough, it is kneaded differently from stiff bread doughs. Maybe that’s why mine didn’t rise. I kept checking my dough every three hours, and it didn’t change or grow. A soft dough is worked gently, by being “gathered up into a loose ball with a pastry scraper, then picked up with the fingertips of both hands and slapped back down into the bowl.” (Le Cordon Bleu At Home)

The second time I made this, I adapted the recipe for brioche from Cookwise by Shirley O. Corriher. I had no problems with this recipe, except that I had to add extra flour since my dough was too wet. It turned out buttery, rich, and tasty.

Another tricky part about this recipe is making the sausage stick to the brioche since it has a tendency to pull away. The author of Cookwise suggests coating the sausage with egg-flour layers to glue it securely to the dough to prevent it from pulling away as it rises.

Now, given that I’d made the sausages several days ahead, and given that the expiry date on the ground meat was close, and the fact that my first attempt at making brioche failed, and the schedules of a family life, and other such excuses, I didn’t trust that the sausages were viable without risk of food poisoning. So, after all this labour, I took some pictures, took a small bite, and decided to not risk anyone else’s health and quickly disposed of my fancy, schmancy Saucisson en brioche.

Recipe for sausage adapted from Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home

1½ pounds pork, coarsely ground (about 25 percent fat such as Boston Butt)
2½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon sugar
¾ teaspoons black pepper, freshly ground
2 tablespoons white wine
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 tablespoons black truffle, in julienne slivers (or dried porcini, in ¼-inch pieces)
sausage casing

3 days or up to a week in advance: Mix all the sausage ingredients in a bowl. Tie a knot on one end of the sausage casing, and using a piping bag and tip, pipe the sausage ingredients into the casing. Tie a knot at the other end. Twist the casing in two places to form sausages. Set the sausage in the refrigerator to cure.

Recipe for brioche adapted from Cookwise

I made this dough the same day that I used it.

1 tablespoon and 3 tablespoons sugar (¼ cup total)
1 package (2¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (110°F)
4 cups bread flour (I used all-purpose flour)
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
5 large egg yolks, beaten
10 ounces (2½ sticks or 20 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon oil for bowl

Proof the yeast by dissolving 1 tablespoon sugar and the yeast in warm water. Let stand 2 minutes until foam appears. This indicates that the yeast is ready to go. Add the rest of the sugar, the flour, salt, eggs, and yolks. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, until very elastic. The dough should be soft and slightly sticky. After a few minutes more kneading, add water if dough is too dry or flour if dough is too wet. Then work the butter into the dough.

Oil a bowl. Place the dough in the oiled bowl, and turn to coat on all sides. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour. Refrigerate until well chilled or overnight if desired.

Finishing the Saucisson en brioche adapted from Cookwise

2 large egg yolks, beaten
flour for coating
1 large egg, beaten

Divide the brioche dough in half. Use one half for a regular brioche loaf, if desired. Roll one half into a rectangle about 8 inches wide and close to the length of the pan.

Brush the sausages with egg yolks, then dredge in flour. Lay the floured sausages in the middle of the rectangle. Brush the dough with egg yolk. Roll the dough around the sausage, putting the seam under. Tuck the ends under. Decorate with remaining dough, if desired. Glaze with the beaten egg. If the dough was at room temperature, let rise in a warm room for about 30 minutes. If the dough was cold, let rise for about an hour.

While the dough is rising (about 30 minutes before baking), preheat oven to 450°F. About 5 minutes before baking, turn the oven down to 375°F and place a shallow pan with ½ inch of boiling water on the lower shelf of the oven.

Bake for about 45 to 50 minutes, or longer. Start checking at around 40 minutes; it should look dark golden brown and a bit crispy. Cool.

Tasting Notes

Better than your run-of-the-mill hotdog! Next time, I’ll skip the homemade sausage bit, and buy my favorite ones from the butcher to use in the hole. The brioche on its own was tasty too. It toasted up nicely, though a bit crumbly. Here's a picture of my "plain 'ol brioche".

. . . . . . . . .

Running total: $142.42 + $5.01 (Brioche) + $13.06 (Saucisson) = $160.49

Butter used so far: 2 pounds, 15.5 tablespoons