Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Beurre Plate, anyone?: Galettes Bretonnes (Shortbread)

I'm imploring a brave chef out there to start offering a butter course, à la a cheese course, except as an appetizer and not at the end of the meal. So not really like a cheese course at all. I'd like there to be at least three varieties - an extra creamy, a salty, and a wild card (like maybe feral goat milk butter or some such). Whatever... just give me an opportunity to eat pure unadulterated butter and not feel like a weirdo freak about it.

I love butter. I can eat it strait off the stick but doing so makes me feel like said weirdo freak referenced above. So I'm asking a forward thinking restaurant to go out on a limb and offer just butter. As in no bread required. Maybe in dainty little ramekins with one of those cutesy caviar spoons so diners can feel even more special about the hand churned, artisanal, Hawaiian black sea salted butter they're lapping up. Heck, there's probably already some restaurant doing so right now. If anyone knows of such a place, please pass the name along. The closest I've seen is Cyrus which serves a variety of butters with their bread offering. I could have done without filling up on bread but I needed something to slather their amazing butter on.

Needless to say I was in heaven in France. I don't know what they do to those cows but French butter is to die for. One of my fellow LCB students had the temerity to ask our chef why the butter was so good. He rattled off a string of much gesticulated French about the superiority of French cows vs. American cows. I got that much (but not much more). The translator's brief explanation of the the chef's lengthy diatribe was, "It's because we have real cows in France." She said so in the most matter of fact manner, with udder (really, I've held back on the puns lately) finality. End of discussion.

Because it still isn't socially acceptable to eat butter en solitaire, I made the next best thing: shortbread.

Before I left for pastry school, I decided I needed some practical experience in a commercial kitchen. I made a short list of pastry chefs I wanted to work under and went around knocking on doors offering free labor in exchange for experience. You would be surprised (or maybe not) at how many chefs will turn down free labor. At the top of the short list was Mark Chapman, the former Executive Pastry Chef at the Driskill Hotel, who had just opened the Cookie Lounge with a few partners. Mark took me in, even paid me, and offered advice freely. I worked at the Cookie Lounge for a few months on Saturday nights making custom cookies for (mostly) drunk and stoned college kids. It reminded me that I went to college to avoid such jobs but it was a good experience, even so. I had heard that Mark left the Cookie Lounge early last summer but I was still sad to learn it closed today.

Mark made a lot of good cookies but my favorite was his Scottish shortbread with dried blueberries and cherries. I decided to make a French version and used the Brittany shortbread recipe we were taught at LCB and added dried blueberries and cherries.

Galettes Bretonnes

375 g flour
3 g baking powder
225 g salted butter
1 1/2 eggs
150 g sugar

Mix all dry ingredients in a large bowl. Chop cold butter and sablage (sand w/hands) into dry ingredients. Pour onto table and use a pastry scraper to cut in eggs and vanilla. Homogeneously incorporate butter but do not overwork. Add dried blueberries and cherries, if desired. Roll dough into a ball, flatten, and chill overnight before baking. Form dough into two slightly squared logs and slice thinly. Bake sliced shortbread at 325° for 10-15 minutes.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

And Then There Were Four: Dulce de Leche Brownies

So I finally made one of David Lebovitz's recipes, his dulce de leche brownies. The man lives up to his rep- these brownies are awesome! As a testament to their yummy deliciousness, you can see how rapidly they went. I made a batch of 20 on Sunday and today there are four left. I meant to share them with the neighbors because Eric and I rarely make it through a batch before I'm baking up something else. When I tasted them, I quickly changed my mind. Good thing- I might have had to go ask for them back. According to my math, we've eaten at least two apiece per day (and I'm pretty sure one of us had more than two a couple of days).

Speaking of Mr. Fancy Pants, he made Sunday dinner last weekend. Some people are such showoffs!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tart Queen: Le Cordon Bleu's Tart aux Pommes

I confess- I have a monkey on my back. I think I'm obsessed with tarts. I made another one- this time Tarte aux Pommes, a French classic that we made on our second day in the kitchen at LCB. This simple apple tart was one of my favorite things that we made. It's understated, with great flavor, and isn't loaded up with sugar, booze, or buttercream. All pluses in my book but not very representative of the desserts we usually made. I'm daring to share the recipe here- hopefully I won't wind up on LCB's blacklist.

Classic apple tart

200 g flour
100g butter
4 g salt
20 g sugar
5 ml (1 tsp) water
1 egg

2.5 apples
30 g butter
30 g sugar
30 ml water
vanilla (despite my complaints about boozy desserts, Calvados would be a nice substitution)

unbaked tart shell
2.5 apples
brown sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. To make PÂTE BRISÉE SUCRÉE, add flour, sugar, and salt to a large bowl. Chop cold butter and sablage (sand w/hands) into flour mixture. Add egg, water, vanilla and mix. Pour onto table and use the heel of your hand to finish working the butter in. Form dough into a ball, flatten and chill. When dough is cold enough to work with, dust a work surface with flour and roll out the pastry to a round about 3 mm. Roll the pastry up onto the rolling pin and then unroll over the tart pan.
2. Press the pastry into the pan with your fingers. With a thumb and index finger, mold a 1 cm horizontal lip around the inside of the rim, then roll the rolling pin over the rim to cut off the excess pastry.
3. Pinch the lip of pastry into a decorative shape with pastry pinchers or your fingers. Prick the bottom of the pastry shell all over with a fork and refrigerate for 10 minutes.

4. To prepare the apple filling, peel and core 2.5 apples and dice into small squares.
5. Brown the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped apples, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon. Only add water as needed depending on water content of apples.
6. Stir the apples frequently with a wooden spoon until soft and golden brown. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.

7. Spoon the filling into the tart shell.
8. Peel and core the remaining apples. Cut each in half. Lay each half flat on a work surface and cut crosswise into 3 mm thick slices. Starting at the outside edge and working inward towards the center, arrange the apple slices.
9. Brush the top of the assembled tart with melted butter and sprinkle with brown sugar.
10. Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes or until the apples are tender and golden brown. Remove and allow to cool on
a cake rack.

Remember my last post about wishing for fall weather? If rain is a harbinger of fall then my request was certainly noted. Today was the first sunny day we've had since last week. It felt like Seattle, not Austin, around here. Now it feels like Miami. The rain is gone but it's steamy and hot.

But last weekend was definitely comfort food weather. Comfort food, for me, means lots of starchy pasta and plenty of cheese. Since I was making lasagna for Sunday dinner, I decided to make Sullivan Street Bakery's foolproof no-knead bread recipe. This is another one of my (now) staples that Jan passed on to me. The recipe is easy but does require a little advance planning. The dough mix needs to rest for about 18 hours and then rise, after shaping, for another two hours. The key is to use a pot with a heavy lid that seals in steam and heat to get a nice crust on the bread.

I use a cast iron kettle pot that looks like a depression era relic from a Hooverville campfire. A lady that Eric worked with gave it to him as some sort of show of kinship when she found out he was born in West Virginia. It was terribly sweet of her but I'm not sure why she associated the pot with West Virginia because it has made in Taiwan stamped on the bottom. Anyway, I never met her but I could kiss her now for giving us that crazy pot. It bakes the bread beautifully.

Monday, October 5, 2009

All Good Things Must Come to an End: Blueberry Tart

Summer has already officially ended but I had to sneak in one last summer fruit recipe. I made a honeyed yogurt and blueberry tart with a ginger and graham cracker crust and I'm going to enjoy every bite before switching over to more fallish treats. I'm looking forward to the season change. Fall comes late in central Texas and I can't really get into cooking for the season until the temperature changes. Maybe the cooler weather is on its way south- according to friends' updates on FaceBook it's already snowing in Toronto and it's chili weather in Missouri.

I was kicking myself about procrastinating and fretting about missing the high blueberry season. Turns out the blueberries were fine and still pretty tasty. This batch of berries is from Michigan, the second largest domestic blueberry producer (Maine is # 1). When I think of Michigan exports cars, Motown, and Michael Moore come to mind, not fruit. I was just as shocked when I ate my first tomato from New Jersey and found it to be better than most others I'd ever tried. I don't know why I was so surprised since Jersey is known as the Garden State (despite the Sopranos-style, mobbed up caricature we've all become accustomed to seeing on our TV screens).

On a sad note, I learned that Conde Nast is pulling the plug on Gourmet Magazine from a link David Lebovitz posted on FB. My magazine stack is rapidly shrinking and not by my choice. It has been a bad year for my favorite periodicals - first Domino and now Gourmet. Happily, a Domino offspring, Lonny Magazine, is now available online. It's not quite the same (see previous post on tactile sensation) but it's better than nothing. Gourmet's website will remain up so that is some consolation. I will so miss the wonderful pictorials the magazine featured every month. The photography and styling was always amazing- Gourmet was like the Vogue of food mags, in my opinion. The November issue will be my last chance to savor those photos. I'll be anxiously checking my mailbox for the next week or so until it arrives.