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Posts Tagged ‘bread’

I always thought of shrimp sandwiches as using cold, mayonnaise-based shrimp salad. Now I’ve discovered a different kind of shrimp sandwich – warm, spicy, saucy, and good! The recipe, from Richard Sandoval’s New Latin Flavors, is called Tortas con Camarones al Ajillo, or Garlic Shrimp Tortas. One further reason I liked it was that most of the ingredients are things I keep in the kitchen or can get easily, so no special shopping was required.

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I did change a few things when I made the recipe. First, it calls for just “crusty rolls,” which could be anything: French, kaiser, ciabatta, etc. I wanted to have true Mexican torta rolls. Online research told me there are two varieties, called telera and bolillo, which seem to be identical except for the way the tops are slashed. I found a nice recipe for them on the King Arthur Flour website and baked a small batch, using the easier bolillo slash.

 

The next day I was ready to make the tortas for lunch. For two sandwiches, the recipe calls for ¾ pound of shrimp. That sounded like too much for the size of my rolls, so I used only ½ pound. I peeled them, sprinkled on salt and pepper, and let them sit while I started their sauce. (Cook’s confession: I never bother to devein shrimp unless the veins are grossly unsightly.)

I persuaded Beloved Spouse to stem, seed, and cut up two small dried de árbol chiles, a variety I like very much, while I sliced two cloves of garlic very thin. These went into a large pan along with olive oil and a bay leaf, and sauteed until the garlic began to brown.

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I added the shrimp and cooked very briefly, until they just turned opaque . . .
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. . . and removed them from the pan. Into it I poured in ¾ cup of white wine and 1½ tablespoons of lemon juice and cooked until the liquid had reduced by half. Off heat, I put the shrimp back in and left them there to soak up flavors while I prepared the rest of the ingredients.

The tortas were to receive a garnish of tomato slices and a heap of baby arugula. For several days previously I’d had some halfway-flavorful Mexican tomatoes – winter’s best option – and a big plastic box of wild arugula, both of which I’d been using. Alas, when I reopened the box this time, the arugula had gone slimy. I had to substitute shredded Boston lettuce – a much milder green.

While two split bolillos were toasting lightly, I reheated the shrimp, taking out the pieces of chile and the bay leaf, stirring in a teaspoon of chopped parsley and the grated zest of half a lemon, and dissolving two tablespoons of thinly sliced butter into the sauce for a final enrichment.

At last I could put together the tortas. The bottom half of a roll on a plate; the shrimp heaped on, the sauce poured over, plus tomato slices, lettuce, and the top half of the roll.

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Though a little messy to eat, the tortas were scrumptious. There was an almost symphonic interplay of flavors and textures – nutty sweetness of shrimp, subtle scent of garlic, spicy heat of chiles, bright acidity of wine and lemon, richness of butter, softness of tomato, and crispness of lettuce, all contained by a very tasty roll. I only regret having lost the arugula – it would have made another tangy element. Next time, for sure!

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A place in my neighborhood, billed as the only 100% Paleo restaurant in the city, puts a chalkboard on the sidewalk listing daily specials. I love to walk by and envision a Neanderthal family sitting in their cave breakfasting on something like No-Yo Matcha Parfait: coconut milk, maple syrup, taro root, almond butter, matcha, banana, and grain-free granola. Where in the world could a group of Paleolithic hunter-gatherers have collected that combination of foodstuffs?!

Such absurdities make it impossible for me to take the Paleo diet seriously. While I’m quite happy to eat meat, vegetables, fruits, and nuts, there’s no way I’d give up all dairy products, grains, bread, pasta, sugar, salt, and coffee. (Not to mention wine.) But leaving aside the pros, cons, and controversies of the Paleo approach, it can be fun on occasion to eat something “primordial” – and there’s nothing more primordial than roasted marrow bones.

Here’s the batch that we had one recent evening:

raw-bones

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They’re perfectly easy to prepare: Place the bones in a roasting pan with the wider side of the marrow openings up. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Put the pan in a 450° oven until the marrow softens and begins to ooze out – about 15 minutes. Serve. Except for the salt and pepper, any Paleolithic cook could have done it.

roasted-bones

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It’s hard to overstate how elementally satisfying the succulence of marrow is at the end of a grey, cold, winter day. However, I destroyed the Paleo purity of the dish by having a loaf of crusty ciabatta bread as its accompaniment.

bread-loaf

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There’s nothing roasted marrow likes better than to be scooped out and spread on a slice of warm toast, there to be blissfully devoured.
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plate-of-bones

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And one more post-Paleolithic touch: Marrow loves a good, soft, round red wine. So do I.

bone-tower

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Breakfast Brioches

Around here, everyday breakfast is usually two cups of espresso and something in the bread family: an English muffin, a bagel, a homemade muffin or scone; if nothing else, white toast. Very occasionally, we have croissants or brioches. I buy the croissants, because I’m not good at making them, but I can make good brioches.

When the urge to do so overcame me recently, I dug out my individual brioche tins and started looking through cookbooks. There are some big differences in technique claytonbetween brioche recipes, though none of them is simple. Julia Child’s in Mastering is – predictably – the most complicated, with a six-page master recipe and five pages of shaping variations. Even Irma Rombauer, always a model of conciseness, devotes a whole densely written page of Joy to brioche making. This time I chose to use Bernard Clayton’s basic French Brioche recipe in The Complete Book of Breads, which runs to only four pages.
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Brioche dough – really more like a very thick batter – never gets kneaded, only beaten. To start, I dissolved yeast in water; added a small amount of flour, plus nonfat dry milk, sugar, and salt; and beat that in the heavy-duty mixer for two minutes. Next I added a lot of soft butter and beat that in for one minute. Finally, I beat in eggs and the rest of the flour. Here are those three stages of the batter.
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three-batters

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Then came the tricky part. I quote you the recipe’s instructions:

Grab the dough in one hand . . . pull a large handful of it out of the bowl, about 14 inches aloft, and throw it back – with considerable force! Continue pulling out and slapping back the dough for about 18 to 20 minutes. Don’t despair. It is sticky. It is a mess but it will slowly begin to stretch and pull away as you work it.
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A heavy-duty mixer, at medium speed, can do this in about 10 minutes.

This time I thought I’d give the hand system a try.
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slapping-dough

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It was kind of fun at the beginning – good for working out aggressions – but very soon I gratefully turned the job over to the mixer. After 10 minutes of powerful slapping around, the dough had smoothed out nicely and showed a distinct preference to stick to itself rather than anything else it touched.

The dough then had to rise in a warm place (80-85° recommended) until doubled in bulk. My kithen is nowhere near that temperature, so I put the bowl in a slightly warmed oven. When I checked on it after two hours it had risen tremendously and looked energetic enough to go even higher.
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unrisen-and-risen

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I didn’t let it, though. I gently coaxed it down, covered its bowl tightly, and put it in the refrigerator overnight.

The next morning it hadn’t risen nearly as much as the first time, which worried me a little, but it had to be shaped while it was still very cold, so I went ahead. It behaved beautifully. This was a completely different animal from yesterday’s sticky mess. I was able to shape it into balls and topknots without using a speck of flour.

shaped

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Then they had to rise again, covered, but in such a way that the covering wouldn’t touch the rising dough. Using a lot of glasses and plastic wrap, I built them a sort of greenhouse:

greenhouse

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This time I didn’t let them rise in as warm a place as for the dough’s initial rise, because I’d read somewhere that too high a temperature could cause the butter to start seeping out. As a result, my shaped rolls took 3½ hours to barely double in bulk. Several of the topknots had slipped sideways as they rose (they always do, for me), but as I applied egg glaze to them just before baking, I was able with a careful brush to nudge them back toward the middle.
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final-rise

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My brioches were a little bigger than the recipe anticipates (I have only 8 tins, not 10), so they took more than the indicated 20 minutes to bake. They seemed almost done at 30 minutes, but I kept them in for 10 more, for better browning. In the final oven rising, the topknots slipped sideways again, but not too badly.
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baked

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And so on to the next day’s breakfast – where the brioches were excellent. They had the proper fine, dense crumb and a luscious butter-and-egg richness.

served-2

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Are they worth all the trouble? To us, yes: Fresh brioche spread with homemade strawberry jam, alongside a good espresso – that’s a great way to start your day.

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Science has shown that you can make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. Sometimes kitchen arts can do that too. It worked, this week, for me.

Beloved Spouse had innocently brought home a new variety of bread to try – a large baguette-style loaf listed by our usually reliable market as Italian Bread. It looked reasonable, though it felt a bit hefty. When sliced into, it proved to be essentially commercial white bread: The dense, fine, slightly sweet crumb had to have been due to more ingredients than the flour, yeast, and salt that a proper Italian loaf uses.

loaf

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When we want white bread in our house I make the White Bread Plus recipe from Joy of Cooking, and it’s a very different animal. So this travesty was going to be useless unless I found something decent to do with it. Resourcefully (she modestly said), I did: Bread pudding.

From a few unfortunate restaurant experiences, I know it’s possible to produce a boring bread pudding, but all the ones I’ve ever made are wonderful simple desserts – easy enough for everyday use, interesting enough to serve to guests. So I set to work on this one, using only ingredients that I had on hand.

My bespoke knife man (a big bread pudding fan) cheerfully reduced the loaf of bread to cubes. It made almost six cups’ worth.

cubed

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The next thing I needed was two cups of milk. I didn’t have any fresh, so I made up some with nonfat dry milk powder, boosting its butterfat with a leftover half cup of heavy cream. I scalded that liquid, melted in half a stick of butter, stirred in ⅓ cup of sugar, poured it over the bread, and left it for 15 minutes to be absorbed.

Then I considered fruit for the filling. My fruit bowl contained several bananas, a pear, and an apple. Any of them would have been good. I chose the apple, peeled and chopped it, and added ¼ cup of raisins to it.

fruit

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When the bread was thoroughly moistened, I mixed in the fruit, along with two eggs beaten with a teaspoon of vanilla extract and a pinch of salt.

mixture

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The pudding mixture went into a heavily buttered baking dish and then into a 350° oven for about 45 minutes, until the top was lightly browned and a knife inserted into the center came out clean.

baked

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It was a delight, as always – warm and fragrant, lightly fruit-sweet, moist enough not to need a sauce (though it never objects to a ladleful of crème anglaise). Of course, there was far more than two of us could eat at a sitting, but one of the beauties of bread pudding is its resilience. It keeps well, reheats well – even freezes well, though mine rarely lasts long enough for that.

served

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Best of all, in any of its homely or elegant variations, bread pudding is a thoroughly comforting thing to eat. And given the way things have gone this fall, we all need as much comfort as we can get. Beloved Spouse and I may eat a lot of bread pudding this winter.

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Roman Rosette Rolls

A great pleasure of hotel breakfasts in Rome are the invariably offered rosette – firm, crusty, delicious rolls that you break open and slather with butter and jam. I’ve often wanted to make them at home, but I thought it’d be impossible, because – in addition to having a distinctive shape, taste, and texture – rosette are almost completely hollow. I couldn’t imagine how a plain flour and water yeast dough was made to puff up in the oven like popovers.

I’d never seen them in the US until, at a recent lunch at restaurant SD 26 in Manhattan, the bread service included perfect, authentic rosette. When the headwaiter stopped by our table I asked if they were brought in from Italy and he said no, they were made here. I mentioned my wonder at how they were made, and in a little while he came back with some information from the chef: three risings of the dough, very hot oven, press the rosette shape into the rolls with an apple cutter. I was inspired to try it.

A Google search provided a lot of information about making rosette, all the sites admitting that it’s very hard to get the rolls hollow. But nothing ventured, nothing gained, so I bookmarked a fully illustrated recipe on a website called VivaLaFocaccia and got ready to work.

Please note: The rest of this post is going to be about a lot of baking technicalities, possibly of interest mainly to people who like to make bread. Skip it if the prospect doesn’t appeal to you. (Or just scroll down to see whether I succeeded.)

First I had to get the right kind of flour. The recipe calls for Italian 00 flour, specifying one with 12% gluten.  That’s a protein content higher than most all-purpose flours, lower than most bread flours. It’s not hard to find 00 flour in my neighborhood, but no brand lists its gluten content. I chose one whose Nutrition Facts label gave the highest protein content per serving.

???????????????????????????????A day in advance I made the initial dough, briefly kneading together 2⅔ cups of flour, 6 ounces of water, and a scant ½ teaspoon of yeast. The recipe warns that this will be a tough dough, “not very refined.” I’ll say! It came out looking like a head of cauliflower. I left it to sit at room temperature for 20 hours.

The next morning, the dough had softened quite a bit, though it hadn’t expanded much. I proceeded with the recipe. Finishing the dough involved just another 3 tablespoons of flour, a scant 2 ounces of water, ¾ teaspoon of salt, and a scant ½ teaspoon of sugar – no more yeast. It was to be kneaded on the heavy-duty mixer for 6 minutes at the lowest speed before adding salt, then, with salt, 7 minutes at the next lowest speed. Actually, I had to knead it much longer, because at first my dough just slopped around in the slush at the bottom of the mixing bowl, refusing to absorb the water or gather on the dough hook. I don’t know why that happened.

Eventually it did turn into a smooth, elastic dough, very lively looking. In fact, it never needed a speck more flour during all the many manipulations that followed. And they were many: From start to finish, I spent most of four hours making these rosette. Obviously, you undertake something like this only if you love the process or love the result or both – or if you are, as Tom sometimes maintains I am, latently masochistic.

I shaped the dough into a ball, covered it and let it sit for 10 minutes; flattened it with a rolling pin, folded it in 4 parts, covered again and let it sit 15 minutes; and did the flattening, folding, and resting twice more. To my surprise, the dough rose noticeably during each of those short rests. I shaped the dough into a ball again, brushed it with olive oil, covered it with plastic wrap and a towel, and let it sit for 30 minutes. Again it rose well. (BTW, I didn’t take photos of all these stages; the dough looked just like the pictures on the website.)

At last it was time to divide the dough into eight pieces and shape them into balls. There was a special technique for that (again, see the website photos if you’re interested), apparently intended to create a potential air cavity in the center of each roll, though I have to admit it didn’t do much for mine.  When the smooth balls had been covered and let rise for 30 minutes, it was time to give them their rosette shape.

I’d bought an apple corer just for this job. I pressed it into each ball (­“gently but not too much,” the recipe said, which wasn’t entirely helpful). I tried to make cuts that looked about as deep as the recipe’s pictured ones. Here are mine:

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I turned the rolls upside down and covered them again. At last it was time to preheat the oven to 500°, while the rosette rose once more, for an hour. This time they didn’t rise very much, which worried me somewhat. Had all that manipulation with the rolling pin, and all those rising times, worn out the yeast? Also, my kitchen timer had chosen this day to go wonky on me, so several of those short rises were actually longer than they should have been. Worry worry worry.

Resigned to my fate, whatever it might be, I laid a piece of parchment on my pizza peel, placed the rolls on it right-side up, and dusted them with flour as directed. I poured boiling water into a shallow pan in the oven on the shelf beneath the one holding my baking steel and transferred the loaded parchment to the steel. I also sprayed water into the oven every minute for the first 10. Slowly, slowly, the rosette rose.

After 15 minutes I turned the oven down to 400°. The rosette should have been done in another 10 minutes, according to the recipe, but they hadn’t browned at all in that time, so I kicked the oven back up. It took almost 15 minutes more to get the rosette well browned.

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They were nicely puffed, very light in the hand. I could see that I hadn’t made the cuts deep enough to get the proper appearance of rosettes of flower petals, but there was the suggestion of them, anyway. And I really had hopes that they’d prove to be hollow.

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Alas, no. There was just a small cavity in the middle of each roll, with a lot of soft crumb all around. However, they did come out with exactly the right Roman flavor and crustiness. Absolutely delicious with sweet butter and homemade strawberry jam. So, despite the amount of time it takes, I’ll probably bake rosette again some day. Maybe I’ll figure out how to get them hollow: I have a few theories . . .

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Whose Focaccia?

As regular readers of this blog know, I love a good mystery and have taken many a tasty dish from fictional detectives, but here’s a non-lethal mystery that boggles me: Whose recipe is this?

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I’ve been making this excellent, simple focaccia for years, using what is the best recipe I’ve ever found for the soft variety of the popular Italian flatbread. Having decided to write it up for my blog this week, I surprised myself by discovering that I’d been attributing it to the wrong source for all that time.

Here’s how it happened. I have a lot of cookbooks (247 at the moment), and I like to buy new ones. To keep them from taking over the whole house, I weed the collection occasionally. If there’s a book that has only a few recipes that I like, I make photocopies for my recipe binders and dispose of the book. From one of those I saved nine straight pages of focaccia recipes, all variations of toppings and fillings for the same basic dough.

river cafeI have a perfectly vivid recollection of copying those pages many years ago from The River Café cookbook (the London restaurant, not the New York one). I clearly remember the dark blue cover of the book. But it seems I couldn’t have gotten the recipes from there: In tiny print at the foot of every other one of the nine pages (which I’d never paid any attention to) are the words angeli caffè: pizzapastapanini.

angeli caffe bookI had no recollection of a book of that name. I looked it up on Amazon, and the cover image rang no bells with me. I could swear I never owned a copy of that book, nor ever borrowed it from anyone. Further online hunting produced a focaccia recipe attributed to its author, Evan Kleiman, but the proportions and procedure are different from those in my binder. To quote the king of Siam, “Is a puzzlement.”

Be that as it may, this focaccia is really good, and perfectly easy to make. The dough contains the usual: flour, salt, yeast, olive oil, and water. After kneading, it rises once in the bowl, is turned out onto an oiled 9- by 12-inch baking pan, stretched to fill the pan, covered and given a brief second rise. Then you dimple the dough all over with your fingertips and give it a third, longer rise before it’s topped and baked.

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That’s a lot of rising time, which isn’t always easy to fit into a full day of other activities, so I experimented with starting the dough in the late afternoon, letting it do its last rise in the refrigerator overnight, and baking it the next morning. That works fine.

The last step before baking is to dimple the dough again, sprinkle on salt (and any other topping; chopped rosemary is a common one), and slather the entire surface with extra-virgin olive oil. I’ve taken to heart the recipe headnote that says “There is almost no limit to the amount of oil you can drizzle on a focaccia. The more you use before it is baked, the more flavor and crunch the top crust will have.” With that permission, I let all those dimples fill with oil and make sure the rest of the dough is also glistening with it.

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The focaccia bakes at 425° for half an hour. It’s delicious still warm from the oven, keeps well for another day or so, and freezes well. A very useful bread, whether to eat by itself, pair with cheese, cured meats, or pâté, or slice horizontally for a tasty sandwich. My beloved husband, the Antoni Gaudi of sandwich making, swears by it.

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I’m still having the wintertime craving for soup and bread that I wrote about here recently. This week I found a way to enjoy the combination in a single dish: a panade, a.k.a. bread soup.

The Soups volume of the Time-Life Good Cook series contains a chapter on panades, calling them “a time-honored marriage of bread and broth.” Several varieties of the type are described in detail, with step-by-step photo spreads of the procedures. As with all the volumes in this series, full recipes for the featured preparations are given in the recipe section at the back.

The first panade illustrated is a fairly simple one, with only a few ingredients other than the broth and bread.

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The recipe is credited to La Cuisine de Madame Saint-Ange, a source the T-L series has used elsewhere, one of whose other recipes I’ve written about here. I decided to try this one, and thought it would be fun to see how closely I could replicate the photos as I made the dish.

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???????????????????????????????I softened sliced leeks slowly in butter in an earthenware casserole. (Madame hadn’t specified earthenware; I guess T-L thought it looked attractive. But then it had to call for a fireproof mat between the pot and the flame. My sturdy La Chamba didn’t need that.) Then I poured in simmering broth. (Madame would have been content with plain water, but T-L suggested broth. Mine was Tom’s mixed meat-and-vegetable broth, a staple in our house.)

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???????????????????????????????Off heat, I broke three slices of lightly staled bread into the casserole, crusts and all. (This was my own Toasting White, from Bernard Clayton’s Complete Book of Breads – a sandwich loaf that I make occasionally as an alternative to Joy of Cooking’s White Bread Plus.) I covered the casserole and let the bread soak up the broth for 10 minutes.

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???????????????????????????????I thoroughly whomped the softened bread with a whisk, then covered the casserole and simmered it for 30 minutes, stirring once or twice. (Madame didn’t want the bread pureed yet, and she said not to stir at all until the end, or else the bread would stick to the pan. Again, I followed T-L, except that it wanted the soup cooked uncovered. There was no sticking.)

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???????????????????????????????At the end, I whisked in a chunk of butter, two egg yolks, and some salt. (The salt was a reminder from Madame; T-L had neglected to mention adding any.)

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pic 5And here’s my soup, ready to eat. It was very good; unusual too. Thick and rich-tasting, but not like a cream soup; not totally smooth (as Madame said hers would be) but not like a flour-thickened liquid either. The egg and butter seemed to have just melted into the overall flavor, which was subtly sweet, hinting almost more of corn than leek.

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The T-L chapter’s introduction says “No matter what ingredients are incorporated into a panade, the taste and texture of the finished soup depend primarily on the quality of the bread itself.” So I have to credit my good hearty loaf, as well as my husband’s good hearty broth, for this very successful soup.

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