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Posts Tagged ‘pastry’

A very big birthday – one ending in zero – befell Beloved Spouse this week. We considered declaring it to be fake news and paying it no attention, but in the end we decided to celebrate it. In our house (as should be common knowledge by now), celebration requires dining on excellent food and wine, so that’s what we did – with a menu chosen by Himself.

We made a bold start with caviar and champagne. In addition to the relatively inexpensive American “osetra” that we’ve bought online in the past, the birthday boy snuck in a tiny jar of Russian osetra, for comparison. Alas: It was noticeably better than the domestic one, making it a costly taste to try to avoid acquiring. The champagne was Krug, a gift from a very good friend. And very Krug it was, a big, vigorous, richly flavored companion to the caviar.
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This luscious start, Himself averred, already began to ease the sting of the birthday’s bigness.

For the main course, he had requested saucisson en croûte, a large sausage baked in a pastry crust. I’d never made one before, but with a little help from Julia Child, in Mastering, I set to work. Early in the day I simmered a one-pound cotechino sausage in water until fully cooked and made up a batch of pâte brisée. Later I rolled out an oblong of the pastry dough, brushed the center with mustard, and set the cooled and skinned sausage on it. I encased the sausage in the dough and rolled out another strip to lay over the top, decorated it modestly and brushed it with egg glaze.
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The stuffed pastry baked in a hot oven for 45 minutes.

For a vegetable, the birthday celebrant joined me in the kitchen and washed, parboiled, drained, and sauteed a bunch of fresh Swiss chard in butter with chopped onion. As a condiment we served mostarda di Cremona, fruits poached in mustard syrup, which we bring back from our trips to Italy. The combination was excellent. Though the pastry crust tried to fall apart at the slicing, it was very tasty, seeming to have imbibed some meaty essence from the juicy, spicy sausage.
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In keeping with the developing binational theme of the meal (American and Russian caviar, Italian sausage in French pastry, Italian fruits and Swiss chard) Tom selected two bottles from his wine closet to drink with the main course, one each from Italy and France, both vintage 2004: a Barolo riserva from Giacomo Borgogno and a Nuits-St.-Georges from Drouhin.
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He was curious to see which one would go better with the food. Here he is with the result.

The two wines behaved remarkably similarly with all the elements of the dinner, both feeling soft, even velvety, on the palate, and tasting of earth-and-mineral-inflected dark fruit. Neither wine was anywhere near its peak, but both showed well, enjoyably drinkable and fresh, while hinting of the greater complexity they’d be capable of in the future. The Barolo evidenced a bit more tannin, the Burgundy a bit more acid – but either wine would have served comfortably as the consort of the dishes. Another illustration of why so often Barolo and Burgundy are compared!

(In a rare fit of birthday moderation, we didn’t finish either wine; nor did we finish the champagne.)

To conclude this festive meal we indulged in a pair of purchased chocolate delicacies: a square of opera cake and a chocolate mousse tartlet.
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(We didn’t finish either of them, either.)

And so ended another decade of the culinary and enological adventures of Himself and his adoring spouse. We mustn’t wait too long to have Russian osetra again and another bottle of Krug. After all, who knows how many more decades we have in us?

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As a first course for my most recent dinner party – on what was predicted to be an extremely cold night – I wanted something warm and savory but not too heavy, to precede a cassoulet: good stick-to-the-ribs fare. I considered a large Alsace onion tart or individual cheese tarts; both very tasty but also things that I make fairly often for dinner guests. The two concepts coalesced in my brain, with a slight variation: Let’s do individual leek tarts!

Leeks are a great winter vegetable, and even though I’d never made or eaten leeks in a tart, I was confident they’d be good that way. None of my cookbooks had recipes for it, but a little online research produced many, all quite similar. As the main difference among them was the relative proportions of the ingredients, I decided this was a do-it-however-you-like deal. So I did.

One of my local grocery stores carries excellent big leeks, sold individually rather than prepacked in bunches. I bought three.
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When Beloved Spouse began cutting them up for me, the white and tender green parts of only two of them filled a four-cup measure, so I stopped him there. (No problem about the extra: leeks never go to waste in my kitchen.) I melted butter and olive oil in a sauté pan and cooked the leeks gently until they were just tender.
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At that point the online recipes variously said to add either heavy cream, light cream, or half-and-half, as well as grated gruyère. Instead I stirred in a cup of mascarpone. When it had fully melted and smoothed out, I added half a cup of gruyère, and the tart filling was ready.
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For my pastry shells I used a pâte brisée recipe from Simone Beck’s Simca’s Cuisine. I like it because the dough is made with a whole egg and white wine, which give it a little flavor boost. Three-ounce balls of dough are just the right amount for my 4½-inch fluted tart pans.
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After filling the shells with the leek mixture I distributed another half cup of gruyère over their tops and baked them at 375° for 30 minutes. They were just beginning to brown when I took them out of the oven.
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All this was done the day before the dinner party. Cooled and covered, the tarts sat overnight in a cold room. At dinner time the next day I put them under the broiler for ten minutes to complete the browning.

Alas, I can’t show you the final result. In the bustle of serving the meal I purely forgot to take a photo of the tarts. But they were a great success, and the guests loved them. The vegetal brightness of the leeks, the lush creaminess of the mascarpone, and the warm, buttery crunch of the pastry played off each other beautifully.

If those little tarts had a fault, it was more richness than was perhaps advisable for diners about to tackle a cassoulet – but we all finished them anyway!

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As Thanksgiving approached last week, I had to decide on a dessert that would be my contribution to the festive dinner we have every year at the home of friends. What should it be this time? I’m a traditionalist, so my mind turned to pie – a dish that’s both generally popular and easy to transport.

pie-fixes-everything

Apple pie is always nice, but a little ordinary. Mince pie is too heavy after a rich meal. I make a very good pumpkin pie (using butternut squash), from a recipe in Bernard Clayton’s Complete Book of Pastry, but that’s almost too obvious. Then I remembered a recipe for pumpkin gelatin chiffon pie that I’d tried once from Joy of Cooking. Just the thing – familiar but also slightly unusual, and with a filling lighter than the dense custard of a typical pumpkin pie.

The recipe calls for a fully baked pie shell – kind not specified. With soft, moist fillings I like to use Clayton’s hot-water crust. For this type of pastry, rather than cutting chilled shortening into the flour and then adding ice water, you dissolve butter or lard in boiling water and mix the flour into the resulting cream. You lose the flakiness of a regular short crust, but the crisp shell never gets soggy from the filling, which is particularly useful for a pie that must be refrigerated.

I made the pastry the day before Thanksgiving. Also, that evening I took a pie’s worth of previously baked, strained squash from the freezer and left it to defrost overnight. The next morning I rolled out the crust, baked it, and let it cool.

baked-shell-2

(No, it wasn’t all gray on the left side. My camera was doing some strange things with light.)

For the filling I first soaked a tablespoon of unflavored gelatin in ¼ cup of water and let it hydrate while I stirred ½ cup of milk, ½ cup of sugar, 3 egg yolks, salt, and spices into my squash. Actually, I increased the recipe’s spice mixture. Rombauer calls for ½ teaspoon each of cinnamon and nutmeg. I doubled the cinnamon, went a bit heavy on the nutmeg, and added ½ teaspoon of ginger and a pinch of cloves. The mixture cooked in a double boiler until it thickened, which took only a few minutes.

double-boiler

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Off heat, I stirred in the soaked gelatin and stirred until it dissolved. Poured that mixture into a bowl and put it in the refrigerator to chill. When the gelatin began to set, whipped three egg whites and folded them in. And that was all the “cooking” it needed.

pumpkin-egg-whites

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I filled the pie shell with the light, cushiony curds and put the finished pie into the refrigerator.

It’s only a mile walk from our home to our friends’, so in the cool late afternoon the pie traveled along with us serenely in its plastic carrier. It had another brief stint in the hosts’ refrigerator, while everyone around the table tucked into several courses of an excellent dinner, and then appeared – a perfect (if I do say so myself), spicily rich but palatally light conclusion for the feast.

pumpkin-chiffon-pie

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The tiny portion left over we took home and happily consumed the next day. It tasted just as good. I should make this excellent pie more often (enthusiastic yesses in the background from Beloved Spouse).

last-slice

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Pissaladière has always been one of my staple dishes to put out for large parties. These days I’m happier with smaller sit-down dinner parties, so I probably haven’t made more than one pissaladière in the past decade (that was for my 40th wedding anniversary party).

???????????????????????????????In my younger days I mostly used the recipe in the first volume of Julia Child’s Mastering, and sometimes the one in Mireille Johnston’s Cuisine of the Sun. This week, browsing through my old copy of Julia Child & More Company, a book from her “French Chef” television series, I came across a recipe called Pissaladière Gargantua that was a bit different from both those others, and decided to give it a whirl.

The experience was both good and bad: quite good in the outcome, but with some surprising defects in the procedure. Let’s have the good news first: It made an attractive tart.

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The pastry – just the book’s basic dough, indicated for pies, quiches, tarts, tartlets, and flans – was wonderful; the best I can ever remember making. It was rich and tender and softly crumbly, with a faintly nutty flavor. I don’t know why it was so much better, because the proportions of flour, butter, and lard were only negligibly different from those of my usual recipes (Irma Rombauer’s and Bernard Clayton’s). The only thing I did this time that I don’t regularly do was to smear out the dough with the heel of my hand to make a final blending of fat and flour. I can’t believe that would make such an improvement, but I think I’ll keep doing it in the future!

The problems emerged with my downsizing of the quantities of filling ingredients – and this time they were not the fault of my arithmetic. The recipe called for a full-size jelly roll pan, about 11 by 17. I didn’t want a gargantuan version, so I planned to use a 9 X 13 pan, which holds about 60% of what the larger pan holds. Here are the two sizes.

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The full recipe calls for 4 cups of sliced onions, 60% of which is about 2½ cups. That’s how much I sliced and cooked slowly in olive oil until tender but not browned. I did this in the morning, without any thought for how that quantity would work in my chosen pan. Toward dinner time, when I started assembling everything, I realized there wasn’t going to be anything like enough onion. I quickly pulled out a 9 X 9 pan. When I’d lined it with pastry and spread in the onions, they barely even covered the bottom of that.

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Now, this could NOT have been my error. Here’s the book’s photo of the pissaladière being assembled. Look at the vast amount of cooked onion there. No way could that have started out as four cups raw!

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Nothing daunted, I soldiered on.

To complete my small panful I didn’t even try to calculate amounts of the remaining ingredients. I just arranged some anchovy fillets and black olives on top of the onions and sprinkled on grated cheese and a little more olive oil. While doing that, I discovered another problem with the recipe. There was a teaspoon of oregano or thyme listed among the ingredients. Oh drat, I thought, I’ve forgotten it! Where was it supposed to go? A good question, but no answer. There was no mention of the herbs in the instructions. (I made Tom read through them too, just in case I was not seeing it.) So I skipped the herb.

I have to say the pissaladière came out well enough, considering that we really would’ve liked more onion. The oil-cured Moroccan olives were fine. For the grated cheeses, the recipe encouraged a mixture, so I used Manchego and Podda, which were very nice. And, as I said above, the crust was truly delicious.

I did get a bit carried away with the anchovies. The recipe called for canned filets packed in oil. Mine were large whole ones packed in salt, and even after gutting, boning, and careful rinsing, they were very strong. I used only six filets, but in that small a tart they took over the flavor. Not a big problem, though: we just picked some of them off.

The lesson here, I guess, is that sloppy copyediting can spoil the best of recipes if you aren’t nimble enough to make mid-course corrections. Out of curiosity, I later checked back on the pissaladière recipe in Mastering, volume I. There Julia calls for two pounds of onions for an eight-inch round pan. So I suspect the quantity for this Gargantuan one ought to have been four pounds, not four cups. I’ve marked the correction in my book.

One happy ending, however: I now have a lot of extra excellent pastry dough in my freezer!

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