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Archive for the ‘Desserts’ Category

For our two days in Bordeaux after our recent cruise, we had, weeks earlier, scanned the city’s restaurant websites, searching for one local specialty we hadn’t tasted for 40 years: lamprey à la bordelaise. It’s an ancient dish of the region, impossible to get in the USA and available almost nowhere else even in France. We finally found it listed at Brasserie Bordelaise, which appeared to be a handsome update on traditional French eating places of centuries past.
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The restaurant’s entire online menu looked so interesting, I immediately made dinner reservations for both of our evenings in the city. It was a very good decision.

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On the first evening we were given a nice little window table, located almost at the viewpoint of the photo above. Tom and I could speak enough French to be taken as serious clients, and our waiter could speak enough English to make everything comfortable. Both languages were helpful when the bottle of Château Lafon-Rochet Saint-Estèphe we’d ordered turned out to be corked. (Tom’s blog has that story.) No matter, we wound up with a fine bottle of Domaine de la Solitude Pessac-Léognan, with relief and good will all around.

To start, we shared a generous plate of charcuterie, with five kinds of cured meats, local butter, good bread, and wicked little hot peppers. The peppers surprised us: The French don’t often go in for hot spices. But their flavor worked very well with the essentially rustic flavors of the charcuterie.
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For our main course – naturellement – we both ordered the lamproie à la bordelaise. Lamprey is not food for the faint-hearted. It is an ugly, eel-shaped, boneless, parasitic fish, which migrates from the sea into the Garonne and Dordogne rivers to spawn. Our only previous encounter with the dish was in 1981, in the city of Saint-Emilion. In my notes on that dinner I called it “astonishing and wonderful. A whole different form of protein, not like eel at all and not like anything else. It came with logs of leek in a dense, dark sauce of red wine.”

Now at last, 40 years later, we had it again. It came with a similar wine-rich sauce (thickened with blood, as we learned), the traditional garnish of chunks of leek, and slices of toasted country bread. The lamprey itself was just amazingly good, and still a unique flavor for us. It came with a salad of several lettuces and excellent mashed potatoes.
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This was a truly sumptuous meal. We crowned it by sharing a small dessert, all we had room for: a sort of deconstructed profiterole.
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Our second day’s dinner at Brasserie Bordelaise wasn’t quite as significant an occasion as the first, there being no other long-looked-for, rare regional specialty on the menu. But we ate very well that evening too. Evidently we’d become clients, because we were presented with complimentary glasses of champagne when we arrived.

This time we decided to forgo a starter, to save our appetites for a selection from the good-looking cheese cart we’d noticed at the side of the room. I chose a main course of roasted chicken: a large, succulent breast-and-wing quarter au jus, with crisp browned skin and a square of stuffing. With it were fried potatoes and the same good salad as yesterday’s.
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Tom’s main course was, like the lamprey, listed on the “local dishes” section of the menu: joue de bœuf confite au vin de Bordeaux. Normally, calling a food confit means it has been preserved for storage by lengthy cooking submerged in fat. This beef cheek was preserved by cooking in the red wine of the region – for hours, apparently, until it was meltingly tender. It was served with roasted carrots and mashed potatoes.
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It was another remarkable dish. The cheek’s flavor was an immediately pleasing blend of meat sweetness and slight gaminess. Both elements merged beautifully with the wine-rich sauce, which cried out to be sopped up with mashed potatoes and country bread. I knew at once that I’d have to try making it at home. Fortunately, beef cheek is not as impossible to find in New York as lamprey, and I already have a cheek in my freezer, waiting for a suitable day.

The fine Château de Pez Saint-Estèphe we’d been enjoying with our main courses ratcheted itself up another level as we moved on to a plate of cheeses: brie, chèvre, tomme de savoie, and cantal.
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This was a splendid final meal in Bordeaux, and after glasses of old Armagnac and fond farewells to the restaurant staff, two very happy people strolled back to their hotel for a peaceful night’s sleep, with blissful memories of that fabulous lamprey dish.
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I’ve sung the praises of bread pudding several times in this blog – its goodness, simplicity, and adaptability. As a frequent bread baker, I often have a few-days-old loaf available for a pudding, and fresh fruit for a filling – apples, peaches, pears, bananas. For a change this time, I tried a variant new to me: chocolate.

I couldn’t find a recipe I liked in any of my cookbooks, but the ever-obliging Google offered many choices. I picked the one from the King Arthur Baking Company website, both because King Arthur is a resource I trust and because its recipe was the only one that specified dark chocolate. Yum!

I love making bread pudding because it’s so easy. The ingredients do require a bit of preparation, but the only tools you need are a knife, a spoon, and a whisk.

Here are the ingredients for one-third of the recipe. Clockwise from the bread cubes, there’s milk, eggs, unsweetened cocoa powder, chopped chocolate from an extra-dark Venchi bar, granulated sugar, and vanilla extract.
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The first thing to do was butter my smallest soufflé pan, dump in the bread and mix it with half the chopped chocolate.
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Next, in a small pot I put half the milk, the rest of the chocolate, the cocoa and the sugar, and stirred it over low heat until the chocolate melted and the cocoa and sugar dissolved.
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Then the liquid chocolate had to be poured into a larger bowl and have the rest of the milk, the eggs, vanilla, and a pinch of salt whisked in, creating a custard base.
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I poured that over the bread and chocolate in the soufflé pan, stirred it about, and left the dish on the kitchen counter for half an hour, so the bread could absorb the liquid.

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My pudding baked in a 325-degree oven for an hour, until the custard part of it had firmed. (When testing for doneness with a skewer, I had to avoid the little patches of semi-melted chocolate chunks.) Then it needed to rest for a while to fully set – which was fine, because that cooled it just enough to be ready to eat at the end of our dinner.
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It was a great dessert – not heavy but rich; not sugary-sweet but deeply, intensely chocolaty. The bread had practically turned into chocolate cake, lightly cloaked in velvety custard. The recipe suggested serving the pudding with whipped cream, ice cream, or confectioners’ sugar, but we were perfectly happy with it just as it was.
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Desserts are a culinary category in which I do not excel. I’m okay with simple cakes, pies, and fruit dishes, but nothing so fancy and fussy as floating islands, those cloudlike puffs of meringue sitting in a pool of custard. However, during our Seine river cruise in June, Tom twice had oeufs à la neige, a.k.a. île flottant, and adored them both.

On shipboard: with caramel syrup

At La Grenouille: with pistachio sauce

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Ever since, he has been teasing me about making one for him. Finally, I surprised him by agreeing to try. I found a reasonably short, straightforward-looking recipe in Raymond Oliver’s classic cookbook La Cuisine. Regrettably, his recipes don’t give numbers of servings, and I had no idea what quantity the listed ingredients would produce. So I tried a half recipe’s worth. After the fact, I suspect that the full version would feed the Paris Saint-Germain soccer team.

In any case, the first stage was to prepare the meringue. I separated four eggs and made up ¾ cup of superfine sugar by whirling granulated sugar for 30 seconds in the food processor.
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My egg whites took an unusually long time to foam up in the mixer that day. Why, I don’t know. As I gradually added the superfine sugar, they strongly resisted rising to the prescribed stiff, glossy peaks. That was worrisome. Eventually I settled for sticky, glossy mounds – as close as I was going to get.
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Then I prepared the poaching liquid for the meringue “islands.” In a broad, shallow pot, I dissolved ⅔ cup of granulated sugar and ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract in 2 cups of milk, brought that to a boil, and reduced it to a simmer.

Next instruction: “Shape the egg whites into ovals with two tablespoons.” I wish! The gooey meringue refused to smooth: Bits of it stuck to itself, stuck to the spoons, stuck to the sides of the pot. The gobs I was able to detach seemed to poach all right – two minutes to a side – but fluffy bits dropped off like calving icebergs as I turned them and as I removed them to a cloth to drain.
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And there was so much meringue! When I reached a dozen shapeless lumps, I abandoned what was left in the mixing bowl.

Now I needed to use the poaching milk to make custard – a standard crème anglaise. I’d done that before, from a Julia Child recipe, where you start by beating egg yolks with sugar until they thicken and turn pale. Here, the sugar was already dissolved in the milk, so I beat the yolks by themselves. And beat them. And beat them. No good: without the assistance of granulated sugar, they refused to change consistency.

I dipped all the remnants of meringue out of the hot milk and gradually beat it into the yolks, where it eventually produced a pourable custard, topped with a huge layer of foam. I transferred it all to a quart-sized measuring cup and arranged the least unsightly “islands” on a serving plate.
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I put plate and cup in the refrigerator to chill until the evening. By then, most of the custard’s foam had dissipated, but the islands looked as wretched as ever. I chose four to use for two dessert portions.
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Despite the messiness of these constructions, Tom said he liked his floating islands very much. He certainly consumed them with speed and gusto. I was less enthusiastic about mine. The whole effect of this dessert, even at its best, is too purely sugary for me.

The remaining islands went back into the refrigerator, along with the custard, and Tom had another round of them the next day. He said they were still perfectly good. Also on the third day, when he finished the last of them. Bless him!

Addendum by Tom:

Diane is right that her floating islands weren’t pretty, but they were really very tasty, and compared favorably both in flavor and texture with those I ate in France: one more item to add to the culinary category of ugly-but-good. Given the depth of Diane’s birth pangs, however, I have promised not to ask for them again. Besides, three straight days of floating islands used up my lifetime quota.

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I haven’t yet resumed ambitious cooking after returning from my recent trip to France, because both Tom and I almost immediately came down with breakthrough Covid. Mild cases, but fatiguing. So, instead of a cooking tale for this post, I’ll write about two seafood lunches we enjoyed while on the latter part of the trip.

After our three days in Paris, we had a week’s cruise on the Seine, meandering through bucolic Normandy to the river’s estuary at Honfleur and back, on the MS Seine Princess.

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It was a very pleasant trip, but like previous river cruises we’ve taken with the Croisieurope line – on the Loire and Rhône – the dining was not a particular highlight for us. Only one menu is ever served for each three-course lunch and four-course dinner, and the style is international hotel standard, with few nods to seasonal or regional dishes.

Tom and I are not fond of large meals in midday, so when the ship spent two days docked in the charming town of Honfleur, we took the opportunity to skip the set lunches and check out the many little seafood eateries right at the port. Promptly at noon, we settled ourselves at the enclosed porch of La Grenouille.
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First Lunch

The enticing menu had a wealth of shellfish choices. This sumptuous assiette de fruits de mer – oysters, scallops, shrimps, whelks, periwinkles, and dog cockles – made Tom a very happy man.
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I’d been told by friends that, in Honfleur, you absolutely have to try moules frites, the local specialty of mussels marinière with French fries. I did, and received a huge pot of them and some of the best fried potatoes I’ve ever eaten. The mussels were smaller than those we usually get at home, with a different sort of salt-spiciness. Very nice.
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With this light but satisfying lunch we drank half a bottle of a crisp, fresh Muscadet – plus one extra glass, just for the pleasure of it.
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And then strolled back to our ship for a post-prandial nap.  It’s very stressful, being a tourist.

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Second Lunch

Our second day’s objective at La Grenouille was oysters. We’ve always considered American oysters much better than European varieties, and here was a perfect chance to give that preference another test. We ordered the plateau d’huîtres, which has six each of three kinds of oysters: Claire, Isigny, and St. Vaast.
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All very large, they looked similar, but our waiter carefully explained the arrangement on the plate. (Interesting that they were served opened, but the top shells still attached.) Almost sparkling with freshness, they were the best we’d ever had on the eastern side of the Atlantic.

Least pleasing were the St. Vaasts – a little too sharply salt-watery for our taste. It was hard to choose between the other two, the Isignys more strongly flavored – not brinier, but more shellfishy than the more elegant Claires. All three kinds were enhanced by mignonette sauce, which we don’t like at all on American oysters, and excellent brown bread and butter.

Bottom line: We still like our own oysters better – they’re more richly flavored and far more varied – but (in Michelin’s terms) these Norman bivalves certainly vaut un détour, if not an entire voyage.

Our gastronomic researches were lubricated by a full bottle of the same classic Muscadet we’d had the day before. It tasted even better with the oysters. Then we needed something small and sweet to round out the meal. Tom declared his floating island, with pistachio cream, the best he’d ever had, and I loved my pretty apple tart.

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There’s much about Honfleur I’ll remember with pleasure: its 15th century all-wooden church, the largest one in France; its cobbled streets of colorful half-timbered houses around the old port; its huge ferris wheel and old-time carousel; its short, flat car bridge that swings open like a gate, for boats to pass through the harbor; the small marsh just past the bridge, where we watched lapwings playing (all told, 30 species of birds seen on the trip!). And, by no means least, these two lovely lunches at La Grenouille.

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Tom and I are just back from a trip to France. We spent the first three days in Paris, staying in a small hotel on the left bank, near the Sorbonne. I’d made two advance dinner reservations at long-favorite restaurants, and for our first evening we wanted to try finding someplace simple in the neighborhood.

We absolutely lucked in.

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This is Au Père Louis – an old-fashioned (in the best sense) bistrot and wine bar just a block from our hotel, and a little gem. The friendly but properly serious young staff greeted us with courtesy, albeit mild amusement at my so-careful French. Asked for une table tranquille, they gave us a virtually private one in a low balcony room, overlooking the active bar area. Most of the clientele seemed local.
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The menu was everything we’d hoped for, with classically simple traditional fare, at very reasonable prices. We each started with os à moelle – roasted marrow bones topped with fleur de sel sea salt from the Guérande and served with lightly grilled bread. The marrow was so fragrant and luscious that I forgot to take a photo until we’d almost finished our portions.

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Having the bones sawn lengthwise as these were makes extracting the marrow much easier than digging it out of the round hole in a cross-cut section of bone. I was tickled by the menu’s picturesquely calling that technique en gouttière, which means gutter-style.
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My main course was magret de canard grillé, avec purée maison. The large, rare duck breast came with a red wine sauce that had an intriguing hint of cherries, and with very flavorful mashed potatoes.
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Tom had saucisse au couteau d’Auvergne – a hefty piece of spicy pork sausage, served with the same good mashed potatoes. Preparing sausage au couteau means coarsely chopping the meat with a knife, not putting it through a grinder. It’s said to preserve more flavor.
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These were two very rich, filling dishes, so for dessert we shared a slice of a rich, filling (!) apple tarte tatin, which came accompanied by whipped cream so thick it was almost butter.

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Our dinner wine was a 2020 Chinon from Marc Brédif. Here are Tom’s comments on the wine.

Marc Bredif is a century-and-a-quarter old Loire winery, with fabled deep aging cellars – really caves – cut into the hillsides. It was taken over in 1980 by Baron de Ladoucette, one of the most esteemed producers of Loire wines, and has since grown in stature as a specialist in Vouvray and Chinon. Our bottle was a classically lovely Loire red, rich with soft Cabernet franc flavors.

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Finally, for digestifs, Tom had a glass of clear eau de vie distilled from Normandy apple cider, and I a glass of Louis Roque’s La Vieille Prune Reserve, a fine plum brandy. Both were excellent, and both did their digestive work quite efficiently.

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This supremely satisfying meal – pure perfection for a first evening in Paris – cost only €146, which is $154. In Manhattan, it could easily have been twice that, and we’d have been hard put to find a restaurant that actually had a quiet table. When we stopped back two days later for a light lunch, we were recognized and warmly greeted. That’s part of the charm of Paris – not just international éclat but also neighborhood warmth.

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I’m away on a non-cooking vacation just now and wanted to leave something to amuse my readers while I’m gone. Friends have told me that sometimes my posts about recipes that didn’t work are more interesting to read than ones that did. For your culinary schadenfreude, therefore, I proudly present some of Diane’s Greatest Misses.

Not Very Mexican Corn Soup

Here’s a recipe I really had to struggle through, arguing with it all the way. Though it produced something edible in the end, I couldn’t feel it was worth the effort. Hard to tell how it was supposed to turn out.

 

Swordfish Bocconcini

I have to shoulder a lot of the responsibility for this one. I didn’t pay enough attention to the instructions, so I did something foolish. The disappointing result probably served me right. Justice can be cruel.

 

Rillettes: A Sad Story

This failure was entirely due to my not being able to find the right cut of pork for the dish. Not wanting to postpone my culinary experiment, I bought what I hoped would serve just as well. Poor choice: It didn’t.

 

French Irish Stew

This time I blame the famous cookbook author. I followed his recipe faithfully, but this dish, which he highly praised, was totally uninteresting. A notorious egoist, he would have been outraged by my opinion.

 

How Not to Make Wine Jelly

I’m not sure why this one failed. As an experienced jam maker, I thought I certainly should be able to make jelly. The instructions were clear, the procedures straightforward. Unfortunately, there was no jelling.

 

One More Strawberry Dessert

This summer pudding took a pretty elaborate effort to make, and it gave only a very minimal reward. There was nothing wrong with the process or the ingredients. The combination just didn’t sing for me.
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Well, however poorly these culinary experiments turned out, they were interesting – and in most cases educational – for me. Win or lose, cooking is an endlessly fascinating activity. If you dip into these little tales, I hope you’ll find my experiences interesting – and maybe a bit instructive – to read.
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Talk about luck: This apple upside-down cake came out remarkably good, though I made it with the wrong kind of flour, the wrong kind of milk, rock-hard brown sugar, overtired apples, and even the wrong size of pan. I wasn’t actually trying to ruin the cake, you understand; it was just a naive hope that the materials I had on hand would work well enough.

Looking for a simple dessert to provide some kitchen warmth and cheer on a mean, cold, windy day, I found the recipe in the Cakes volume of the Time-Life Good Cook series. Pineapple upside-down cakes were very popular in my childhood, but I’d never heard of them with other fruits. I had three cooking apples that needed to be used. OK!

The first instruction was to melt butter in an 8-inch square pan and in it dissolve light brown sugar and grated nutmeg. I didn’t have a pan that size, so I pulled out a 9-inch round one. And I took a microplane grater to my rock-solid chunk of brown sugar to scrape off half a cup’s worth. That powder was so dry that I wondered if I should try to moisten it. No, better not. At least I had fresh, fragrant nutmeg to grate in with the sugar.
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Next was to peel, core, and thinly slice apples to arrange on the caramel-y syrup. My normally sturdy Winesap apples must have had a hard life: They’d developed soft spots, and when peeled revealed some brown areas and cottony textures. I made as many decent-looking slices as I could from the best part of the fruit, and chopped enough of the not-too-bad part to cover the rest of the pan’s surface.
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Setting the pan aside, I went on to make the cake batter. I sifted together the dry ingredients: all-purpose flour – which should have been cake flour – white sugar, baking powder, and salt. And, since I didn’t have any milk, which would be needed next, I also added some instant nonfat dry milk powder.

In my heavy-duty mixer, I stirred softened butter to loosen it and gradually beat in the dry ingredients, then water (substituting for milk) and vanilla extract. I beat that batter for two minutes, added an egg, and beat for another minute. It made an attractive thick, shiny batter, which I poured over the apples in the pan.
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The cake baked for 35 minutes at 375° and rose nicely.
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I left it to cool, right-side-up, for five minutes then inverted it onto the serving plate and left it in pan for one more minute. Then came the drama of uncovering it. Would the fruit stick to the pan or fall apart? No, it all held together just as it ought.
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And a very good, sweet cake it was. The loose, delicate crumb would have had a finer texture if I’d had cake flour, but there was nothing wrong with its taste. The apples’ flavor had married perfectly with the butter–brown sugar glaze. All in all, considering my substitutions, it was a better cake than I deserved.
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A great pleasure of opening any of Martin Walker’s “Mysteries of the French Countryside” books is anticipation of the dishes that Bruno Courrèges, his police-chief detective, will be making for dinner guests in the intervals of solving crimes. Bruno’s kitchen work is described so fully, I’ve been able to recreate several of his recipes for myself – about which I’ve done posts, here and here.

This time Tom and I and the friend who shared those earlier occasions gathered to make a dinner based on two of Bruno’s recipes from The Shooting at Chateau Rock: a main course of chicken and a dessert of cherries. Earlier, I’d written up the book’s information on each dish, so we could make notes on scaling down and quantifying. This we did while having kirs, the aperitif that Bruno served.
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For our appetizer at the dinner table, we couldn’t match Bruno’s homemade pâté de foie gras, but we had a hearty chunk of peppercorn-crusted pâté de campagne, served with cornichons and mustard.
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Our main course was this dish of chicken thighs, which, owing to a peculiar omission in the book, might well have been called a “mystery of the French countryside” itself.
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For all the book’s detailed narrative of chopping shallots, garlic, and tarragon, softening them in butter in a casserole dish, adding wine and stock, bringing it to a simmer, covering and putting it in the oven for 45 minutes, it never said to put the chicken thighs in the pot.

I kid you not. All three of us had read and reread the book’s pages, and once the raw chicken thighs are salted and peppered on the kitchen counter, the next we hear of them is when they come out of the casserole to wait while the sauce is being finished.

Needless to say, we needed an intervention. When would Bruno have put the chicken in the casserole? We opted to brown ours quickly in butter at the beginning, took them out of the pan to wait while we softened the vegetables, and returned them in time for the addition of wine and stock. From there, we were able to return to the book’s “instructions.”

Finally, the pan juices were reduced, and the sauce was finished with crème fraiche and lemon zest. We served the chicken with a very plain rice pilaf, as Bruno did (plus green beans, which he didn’t). The whole dish was excellent, with just a touch of spicy-sweet tarragon in the creamy sauce.
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Bruno’s dessert was cherries (picked from his own tree, of course) lightly stewed with honey and topped with a custard made from crème fraiche and heavy cream. It sounded luscious. Alas, our version didn’t entirely succeed.
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We did take extreme care in the time and temperature for heating the two creams and in the continuous vigorous whisking, both when beating them into the eggs and when finishing the cooking. But our custard first refused to thicken, and then – slowly but inexorably – curdled. Too much heat, I fear. I’ve found custards made with milk much easier to work with, and baked custards are easiest of all. Wish we’d used a double boiler here!

Our dessert wasn’t quite ruined: The cherries were fine, and you could think of the topping as a kind of furry, sweetened ricotta. But it didn’t have the silky texture you expect in a custard. Still, well chilled, and with cherry juice drizzled over the top, it was a pleasant enough ending to the meal.

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And finally: Tom produced three white wines for us to drink in the course of the dinner. A Mâcon-Villages for the kirs, a Condrieu with the pâté, and an older Savennières with the chicken. He’s done a post about them on his blog.
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A cobbler can be a great fruit pastry for an ease-loving home baker. You do have to make and roll out dough but, unlike making a pie, you don’t have to fit a round of dough into the baking dish, fit another round over the fruit filling, trim and seal the two together, and shape an attractive rim.

The cobbler section of Lee Bailey’s book Country Desserts opens with a two-page spread showing a rustic blackberry cobbler, made with dough merely partially folded over the berry filling, leaving large (artistically placed?) gaps.
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In the recipe headnote, the author declares this to be his favorite kind of cobbler. I’ve made and enjoyed his peach cobbler, so the prospect of an even tastier one was very tempting. And berries are easier to work with than other fruits: no peeling or slicing needed.

There were no fresh blackberries in my Greenmarket yet, so I bought a commercial pack. Happily, it contained three cups of berries, which was exactly right for a half recipe’s worth.

I usually make pastry in my heavy-duty mixer, but this recipe requires a food processor, because it calls for frozen butter and frozen vegetable shortening. That’s certainly a way to keep the dough cool, but I’ve never had trouble using just chilled fats and very cold water.  This should have been my first clue that Bailey’s favorite cobbler might require a bit more effort and complication than other, less special, ones.
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The processor noisily and laboriously turned the frozen fats, flour, and salt into a rough crumble. Then I had to trickle in more ice water than called for, in order to make it gather into a mass. Good thing the fat was frozen: in the process, the machine had thrown a lot of heat.
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The dough, shaped by hand into a ball, had to rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. I used the time to clean the dough residue from the processor parts, which was harder than cleaning my stainless steel mixer bowl. Another clue? Hmpf!

When it was time to roll out the dough, I faced a mathematical question. If a whole recipe needs a circle of dough 15 inches in diameter, how big should the circle be for half a recipe? It was obvious that a half-sized circle – 7½ inches – would be too small, so I resorted to my trusty A = π r² formula and rolled the dough to 11 inches.
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Probably unnecessary precision, as I realized later. I could just have eyeballed the job. I think I was already a little spooked. Anyway, I draped the dough over a small pie dish and heaped the berries in the middle, adding sugar and dots of butter.
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Here I diverged from the recipe. For three cups of berries, it would have wanted six tablespoons of sugar – much too much, I thought. I gave it three tablespoons. Then, just before closing over the dough, I chickened out to the extent of one more tablespoon. In the upshot, that was unnecessary: Those berries were plenty sweet already.

Back to following directions, I folded the overhanging dough around the filling (it wasn’t supposed to cover completely), and sprinkled a little more sugar over the crust.
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The cobbler baked at 425° for 45 minutes, to come out lightly browned and bubbling – and with a large puddle of breakthrough juices. Hmpf again!
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Inartistically messy as it looked, my blackberry cobbler was delicious. Perhaps a bit too sweet for us, but richly berryish and with a firm, tasty crust. Well worth the amount of unexpected effort it took. (Though next time I might try making the crust with unfrozen fats.)
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The half of it that we couldn’t finish for dessert that evening made a sinfully good breakfast the next morning. That none of it lasted longer than that is a testimony to how much we enjoyed it.

 

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Santa Claus did all right on the cookie front at our house this year. Tom, serving as Santa’s personal representative, negotiated successfully for three batches of traditional favorites, while I stipulated for the addition of one new-to-me kind.

 

The new one I made is Spritzgebäck, a hazelnut cookie, from a recipe in the Cooking of Germany volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series. We love hazelnuts, and I found excellent imported Piedmontese nuts in a local specialty store. Making the dough was easy: butter, sugar, egg, vanilla, flour, and ground hazelnuts. But shaping the cookies was awful.

The dough was to go into a pastry bag fitted with a star tip and be pressed out into crescents. My dough was so thick it utterly refused to emerge. Substitutions of three increasingly large-hole tips were to no avail. I had to settle for squeezing it out, messily, from the bag alone. The best shapes I could achieve that way were clumsy semicircles.

They tasted good, though: crunchy, sweet, and nutty. Still, I don’t think this recipe will enter my holiday cookie repertoire. Happily, the traditional cookies I made later were much better behaved.

 

Peanut butter cookies have been part of my Christmases for as long as I can remember. I used to make them exactly as my mother did, but over the years I’ve experimented with various recipes. You can’t really go far wrong with a peanut butter cookie.

The recipe I like most, one I clipped from Saveur magazine many years ago, calls for chunky peanut butter. In all other respects we’re a smooth peanut-butter household, so usually I buy a jar of the chunky just for Christmas. This year I used the smooth I had in the pantry, and chopped some of those excellent hazelnuts into the dough. As always, the cookies came out fine: happy throwbacks to the Christmases of my youth.

 

For this year’s batch of Toll House cookies, I even considered putting in more of those hazelnuts. (I’d bought a lot of them!) But there were chopped walnuts in my freezer that needed to be used, so I decided to stick with them, as usual.

For these cookies I always use the recipe on the Toll House morsels bag, but I noticed that the morsels themselves weren’t quite the same this year. They’re called “dark” now, not “semisweet,” and they’re bigger. The recipe still doesn’t specify light or dark brown sugar, so I tried light brown for a change.

They were good cookies too, though a little different from my standard. More crumbly and less chewy – possibly from the lighter brown sugar? The morsels seemed more intensely chocolaty, which tended to mask the walnuts’ flavor. Next year back to the drawing board, to recover the old style.

 

My third Christmas cookie classic was Ruggelach. Though I make these tiny cream-cheese pastries almost every year, from a recipe of my mother’s, I often vary the filling ingredients. This year I decided to try dates and – guess what! – hazelnuts. They were delicious, as always. Beautifully nutty, with rich little centers of fruit sweetness from the dates.

 

I’d started my cookie making fairly early in the month this year, so it required a certain amount of self-control every day, as we passed them sitting in their decorative tins, to be sure there’d be some left for Santa. Happily, there were.

 

 

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