The doctor is in (5¢)

My best mate had a pretty bad week last week, so I suggested she take a couple days off and visit – for the cure. Part of that was her first visit to The Butterfly Place, where I took plenty of photos yesterday that’ll be in my next post (update: it’s here), and then the delectable popcorn shrimp and catfish at Border Cafe, a small chain that first opened in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Another part was a delicious dessert we hadn’t made for years, James Martin’s Croissant Butter Pudding with white chocolate and bourbon. Costco had a great deal on their high-quality all-butter croissants a couple weeks ago – their “let’s clear just 3 or 4 cents per croissant” price was US$4.99 a dozen – so I had those in the freezer and brought four out for this. Like most breads, croissants freeze and thaw beautifully.

Post-blowtorch with a bruléed crust; click for a larger version

This is how Martin serves it in a restaurant setting; click for a larger version

I first saw Martin make this in his BBC “Sweet Baby James” series in 2007, so we reviewed episode 4 last night and I dug out his Desserts cookbook for the weights and measures. The croissant portion of that episode happens to be on YouTube:

He hasn’t changed it much over the years – here he is making it again in his 2013 series “United Cakes of America” on the Good Food Channel:

Song of the South

Flying Biscuit with sawmill gravy and poached eggs; click for a larger version

FLYING BISCUITS

Excerpt from The Flying Biscuit Cafe Cookbook [my comments in brackets]

With some hesitation, I am revealing our greatest secret: the biscuit recipe. The hesitation comes from the fact that people will realize when they read this recipe that there really is no great secret — just a lot of patience and technique. [Well, not really…the recipe takes just six or eight minutes to prepare and twenty minutes to bake.] We make an average of 700 of these fluffy pups on a weekday at the Biscuit and 1,200 on a weekend day. Many different people have made the biscuits since the restaurant has been open. Our biscuiteers arrive before the break of dawn to produce these tender little morsels. If by chance you happen to drive by early some morning, you may catch a glimpse of them through the window, hunched over a table, flour everywhere. If you look even closer you might see the sparkle of the biscuit cutter and a little white ball of dough flying through the air and landing on a sheet pan, ready to be baked for our loving patrons.

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (a soft winter wheat flour, such as White Lily, works best) [White Lily is found mainly in the Southern U.S.; an all-purpose flour with a decent protein percentage is fine to use]
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons [caster] sugar [I usually cut this back to 1 1/2 tablespoons]
  • 6 tablespoons [3 oz.] unsalted butter, at room temperature (it should be the consistency of shortening)
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream [double cream]
  • 2/3 cup half-and-half [aka light single cream in the UK, or just go wild and use single cream, which is about 18% butterfat compared to about 12% for U.S. half-and-half. For a triple recipe, one pint each of double cream and light single cream. And one big-ass bowl, of course.]
  • 2 tablespoons half-and-half for brushing on top of biscuits
  • 1 tablespoon [caster] sugar for sprinkling on top of biscuits

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 375 F [190 C]. Line a sheet pan [or insulated baking sheet] with parchment paper.

Place flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Cut softened butter into 1/2 tablespoon-sized bits and add to the flour. Using your fingertips or a pastry cutter, work the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal. [I use fingers. This takes just two or three minutes.]

Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in all of the heavy cream and the half and half. Stir the dry ingredients into the cream and mix with a wooden spoon until dough just begins to come together into a ball.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead 2 or 3 times to form a cohesive mass. Do not overwork the dough [always important to prevent things like biscuits, pancakes, brownies, &c. from having a specific density higher than lead’s]. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough to a 1-inch thickness. The correct thickness is the key to obtaining a stately biscuit. Dip a 2 1/2-inch biscuit cutter in flour, then cut the dough. [I use a 3″ cutter and get 7 or 8 biscuits.] Repeat until all the dough has been cut. Scraps can be gathered together and rerolled one more time. [She says this because two or more regatherings and rerollings can result in overworked dough, but I find that as long as you do it gently enough, you can do two rounds after the first cutting instead of just one. The last round will get you one or two more biscuits from the scraps. They might turn out a bit misshapen, but they still taste good.]

Place the biscuits on the prepared sheet pan, leaving about 1/4 inch between them. [Why so close? Well, first, these biscuits expand almost exclusively vertically. Second, they retain more moisture when they’re baked closer together, so this measure helps keep the biscuits fluffy instead of crumbly.] Brush the tops of the biscuits with 1 tablespoon of half and half and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of sugar. [That’s 1 tablespoon distributed between all the biscuits, by the way. The half-and-half here is to make the tops a little browner than they might otherwise turn out and to make the sugar stick. I usually don’t bother with the extra sugar on top, though. It really isn’t necessary because they’ve already got sugar inside.]

Bake for 20 minutes at 375 F [190 C]. Biscuits will be lightly browned on the top and flaky in the center when done. [And still almost the original colour on the sides.]

Makes 8 to 12 biscuits, depending on the size of the cutter.

SAWMILL GRAVY
By Alton Brown

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound bulk breakfast sausage
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • Salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS

Cook sausage in a cast iron skillet. When done, remove sausage from pan and pour off all but 2 tablespoons of fat. Whisk flour into the fat and cook over low heat for 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat and whisk in milk a little at a time. Return to medium-high heat and stir occasionally while the gravy comes to a simmer and thickens. (Be sure to scrape up any brown bits that might be stuck to the bottom of the pan, that’s where the flavor is.) Check seasoning [I use lots of freshly ground pepper], add crumbled sausage and serve over toast or biscuits.

Cave Prep

I’m having arthroscopic knee surgery on Tuesday to clean up a large lateral meniscus tear – I tripped over a power cord sixteen months ago and landed hard on my right knee – and don’t much fancy microwaved and canned stuff during recovery. It sounds like I’ll have limited mobility, likely unable for a while to stand in the kitchen for hours, so I was busy yesterday and today, making:

  • Four quarts of French onion pot roast beef stew with a chuck eye roast
  • Quart-and-a-half of four-hour pasta sauce
  • Two Comfort Diner meatloaves; one’s in the freezer
  • Approximately one boatload of mashed potatoes
  • Couple pounds of glazed carrots
  • Homemade mayonnaise – specifically for meatloaf sandwiches – using the very cool, very fast immersion-blender-in-a-jar method
  • New York Times chocolate chip cookies with Maldon sea salt and toasted pecans

Of course, I’m already unable to stand for extended periods without pain, so I kind of screwed up the knee in the last 48 hours, but the above will be worth all the wincing and shouts of “Ow!” to no one in particular today. Those plus my best friend keeping me company through Thursday plus the Percocet ought to see me through just fine.

Garlic bread the French way

I’m making lasagne tonight and of course need garlic bread, so I decided to do it in a different way this time, featuring a version of the butter-braised and supremely mellow garlic that starts out Julia Child’s recipe for purée de pommes de terre à l’ail (garlic mashed potatoes). I don’t much like the taste of raw garlic that too often comes through in others’ garlic bread, and this is a fine way to tone down that harshness.

Directions

Braise the peeled cloves of two whole heads of garlic (yes!) in a small pan with a stick (8 tablespoons, 110g) of unsalted butter. Keep it on lowest heat so it’s barely bubbling – you don’t want to color either the butter or the garlic, so keep an eye on it. Braise until the garlic is quite soft and squishable, 20-30 minutes. I squished some of these with the back of a spoon to check them after half an hour.

Note: After baking and tasting the bread, I determined that you could get away with one head of garlic just fine, using the same amount of butter. The bread was good, but the garlic could be taken down a notch or three with no ill effect.

Mash:

Pass through a fine sieve – I found I had missed four bits of skin – and mix in some fresh unsalted butter while it’s still warm. I eyeballed it and decided that about a half-stick more would be enough for the entire Italian loaf I had.

Mix in a handful of fresh chopped parsley and a pinch of salt, then allow to cool for a little while for easier spreading:

Slice an Italian loaf 3/4 of the way through so the loaf stays together, then spread the garlic mixture between the slices, being more generous than a cardiologist would because you’re not making this every day. Wrap tightly in foil and store in the fridge until ready to bake.

I’ll post the results later, but the next step is to bake, still wrapped in the foil, at 400F (200C) for 15-20 minutes until the bread inside is hot and beginning to crisp. Open the foil up and bake an additional few minutes uncovered to brown the edges nicely.

Magical fruit

The first part of Christmas dinner is done: Jasper White’s Boston Baked Beans, from this updated version of his recipe originally published in Jasper White’s Cooking from New England. In the updated recipe, he boosts the oven temperature by a hundred degrees to speed baking, but I like the low and slow method in the original recipe, primarily for the extended olfactory hit, so I baked them at 250º F for about five hours.

P1020673w

Click for a larger version

The menu this year:

  • Beautiful burger buns, using this recipe, so we can make…
  • Pulled pork sandwiches from a dry-rubbed shoulder slow-roasted for five hours at 275º F in an oven bag, with condiments of…
  • Cider vinegar barbecue sauce and bread & butter pickle slices – and a little extra pickle juice drizzled on
  • Jasper White’s Boston Baked Beans
  • Maybe a side dish with corn, maybe not
  • Cane syrup pecan pie from John Thorne’s Outlaw Cook, using Lyle’s Golden Syrup, not the corn syrup laughably presented as another choice at the link, because it’s the golden syrup and the rum – or bourbon if you like – that make this recipe special
  • Indian pudding – New England’s corn meal-based adaptation of hasty pudding – with vanilla ice cream

I’ll make most of these ahead of time, with the exception of the buns and the pork shoulder.

A happy Thanksgiving

It must be said that six days off is enough to make me happy even without a holiday.

Thanksgiving dinner

Click for a larger size

Thanksgiving dinner this year was a tasty Bell & Evans turkey with roasting pan instant stock that made a perfect quart of deeply flavourful gravy, mash, some Trader Joe’s corn (frozen but pretty good), light and fluffy freshly-baked Parker House rolls, and just for me, butternut squash with white pepper and nutmeg.

In past years Market Basket has stocked a few Bell & Evans turkeys, but this year they had quite a large selection priced at a little more than twice the price per pound of, say, a Butterball bird. That might sound expensive, but Bell & Evans birds are miles above others in terms of flavour, texture, and a complete lack of injected saline solution. At other shops, they’re most often priced at 3-4 times the Butterball price per pound.

The next time I cook butternut squash, I’m going to try roasting or steaming them. Boiling infuses far too much water into the porous flesh, which forces you to cook down the mashed result for 20-25 minutes on a medium heat to get it to an unwatery state where its flavour is properly highlighted. Two whole foot-long gourds produce just 3 cups/.7 litres of delicious cooked squash in the end.

The first leftover dish, an hour ago, was a turkey sandwich on lightly toasted sourdough with jellied cranberry sauce and herb & garlic boursin cheese:

Turkey sandwich

Click for a larger size

I’ll likely be making turkey noodle soup with most of the remaining bird, but more sandwiches are definitely in my future.

Chips Ahoy

Parislights, in the My Inspiration post, asked:

my god daughter has started at Tufts and she is hopping to start a little cchip cookie business for her fellow students. She has had access to really delicious chocolate chips thanks to a local chocolatier in Normandy ( yeah…I know! France! He makes his own ! )

Hershey just doesn’t cut it for her. What do you suggest? Feel like making a cchip post ? – p’lights

Hershey’s or Baker’s or the more ubiquitous Nestle chips definitely don’t cut it. For delicious but still affordable chips, I switched years ago to Ghirardelli’s 60% bittersweet chips, which are about halfway between a chip and a disc. This photo of mine from 2010, one of about 600 rotating desktop backgrounds I have, shows the wider spread of chocolate you get from that shape:

P1020504

Click for HD size

The Ghirardelli site’s price seems rather high. I think Market Basket sells them for US$3.49, maybe even as low as $2.99, but as you know, they have the lowest prices around. In the Northeast US, these are in maybe one out of three supermarket chains.

You may recall that I switched allegiance to the salted chocolate chip cookie recipe published in the New York Times some years ago. It’s definitely the best I’ve tried, but you may also remember that I found through my own blind taste testing that their 24-36 hour “curing” step is unnecessary. Any perceived difference is imaginary – or perhaps the result of people unconsciously baking for a minute or two longer to produce a darker, more caramelised cookie, thereby fulfilling the aged dough fantasy.

Other than dropping their waiting period, which seems like cruel and unusual punishment given my testing, my only change to their recipe is to add a boatload of pecans that have been toasted for ten minutes in a 300F oven – an overflowing cup worth for this recipe. After toasting, I break each half into four pieces so they’re on the chunky side and let them cool so they don’t melt the dough.

I was recently delighted to find that Costco sells two pounds of unsalted pecans for US$9.99, much cheaper than any other place I’ve found; others charge about double that. If you buy in that quantity but don’t use them at a fast clip, it’s best to freeze them to stop them going rancid. They thaw quickly.

My Inspiration

Eight-and-a-half years ago, in a forum thread requesting people’s “Favourite Cookery Programme of All Time”, I answered:

“The French Chef” with Julia Child. As a kid, I watched in rapt attention her obvious joy while making baguettes on that show: flinging the dough onto the counter, raising clouds of flour, and warbling her detailed instructions, cracking jokes all the while. The memory of that is what, years later, got me started baking and cooking myself. I have every one of her cookbooks (and use them regularly), about a hundred episodes of her various shows, and I think of her every day. She was one of my few heroes.

The specific episode that I remembered years later when I finally began to bake and cook for myself is on YouTube:

From the time I watched this episode as a kid to the time I did something about it was about eighteen years, so while I may have been a slow starter, I did have a long and impressionable memory. The very first thing I made was French bread, using the first cookbook I ever owned, From Julia Child’s Kitchen. Why? Because I remembered that she made it look pretty straightforward.

Tonight, I thoroughly enjoyed making it again, raising clouds of flour as I kneaded and smiling at the memory of Julia doing the same. Because I’ve concentrated on sourdoughs in recent years – mainly boules because they’re great for sandwiches – I haven’t made this recipe in quite a while, but I found I remembered the ingredients exactly: a pound of flour, 1¼ cup tepid water, 2¼ teaspoons salt, and a packet of yeast – or 2¼ teaspoons out of a large jar in my case – dissolved in 1/3 cup tepid water. I did have to read her instructions on the multiple steps to form the loaves, though. They were clear as a bell, as usual.

P1020415w

Cooling with air circulation all around. Click for a larger version.

These aren’t true baguettes as they lack a few inches of length; my biggest baking sheet, just a few inches narrower than the oven itself, will accommodate loaves of 22″ if I angle them slightly.

P1020419w

Click for a larger version

Improving people’s Saturday

Cinnamon-blackberry muffins to share with friends today.

P1020309

Click for a larger version

The recipe is from the King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion. The variation I baked featured a teaspoon of cinnamon and three cups of blackberries added to the muffin mix, and I sprinkled the tops with a mixture of turbinado sugar and cinnamon before they went in the oven.

I like this recipe because it produces a light, cake-like muffin that’s not very sweet. Most commercially-produced muffins are so sickly sweet that the word most apt to describe them is ‘perverted’. Others agree: The woman whose hens provide my eggs – ‘Egg Lady Ann’ in my mobile contacts – said today, “I love these because they’re not too sweet.”

They already have butter and sour cream in them, but are further improved when hot by a small pat of butter. “What isn’t?” I just said to myself.

All-Star Muffins
Makes 16 large muffins

This all-purpose, basic muffin does very well with any number of garnishes (see suggestions below). The batter will keep, once mixed, for up to one week in the refrigerator. It’s nice to wake up, turn on the oven, make your morning coffe, scoop two muffins, pop them in to bake and by the time you’ve fetched the paper and let the dog back in, you’re ready to settle down for a wonderful, warm, fresh-baked treat.

3-½ cups (14-¾ ounces, 420g) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

8 Tbsp (1 stick, 4 ounces, 115g) butter
1 cup (7 ounces, 200g) sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup (8 ounces, 235ml) sour cream

Preheat oven to 400F/200C and lightly grease muffin cups or use paper liners.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, then set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together with a handheld or stand mixer until light and fluffy and almost white in color. Scrape down the bowl to make sure all the butter is incorporated, add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla and sour cream and mix until incorporated.

Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed just until the batter is smooth. Fill muffin cups and bake for 18 to 24 minutes [18 for regular muffins, 24 for jumbo muffins], until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove them from the oven, cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then remove the muffins from the pan to finish cooling on a rack. (Muffins left in the pan to cool will become tough from steaming.)

Variations:

Apple Cinnamon: Peel and grate 3 to 4 tart apples, such as Granny Smith or Jonathon. Fold into muffin batter with ¼ cup cinnamon sugar (¼ cup sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon). Top muffins with more cinnamon sugar before baking, if desired.

Apricot, cherry, cranberry, date, raisin: Soak 2 cups of any of these dried fruits in 1/3 cup orange juice, water, rum or bourbon, then fold into the muffin batter. Garnish muffin tops with chopped nuts if desired.

Apple, banana, nectarine, peach, plum: Dice 3 cups of any of these fruits and fold into batter before baking. Garnish muffin tops with granulated sugar.

Blueberry, raspberry, blackberry: Fold 3 cups berries into batter before baking; sprinkle the tops with cinnamon sugar or streusel before baking.

Carrot-Ginger-Raisin: Add 2 cups shredded carrots, 1/2 cup crystallized or minced fresh ginger, and 1-1/2 cups raisins to batter before baking.

Cherry Chocolate Chip: Add 1-¼ cups dried sweet cherries (soaked in ¾ cup liquid for 20 minutes if they’re very hard) and 1-1/4 cups chocolate chips to batter before baking.

Peanut butter chocolate chip: Add 1-½ cups creamy peanut butter (it helps to soften the peanut butter in the microwave before combining it with the batter) and 1-½ cups chocolate chips to batter before baking.

Toffee Chocolate Chip: Add a 10-ounce bag of Heath bar bits or 1½ cups of your favorite buttercrunch and 1½ cups chocolate chips to batter before baking.

Apricot almond: Add ½ tsp. almond extract, 1-½ cups diced apricots, and 1 cup sliced almonds to batter before baking.

Banana Coconut: Add 2 diced bananas and 1-½ cups shredded sweetened coconut to batter before baking.

Date Nut: Add 1-½ cups each dates and pecans to batter before baking.

Maple Walnut:  Add ½ cup maple sugar and 1-½ to 2 cups chopped walnuts to batter before baking.

Waldorf: Add 2 tart apples, grated and peeled, ½ cup chopped dates and ½ cup chopped walnuts to batter before baking.

Logic-free thinking

I just found out that there are a lot of people who believe sourdough is yeast-free, and plenty of organisations and companies that encourage that belief by people who for whatever reason want to follow a yeast-free diet.

True sourdough bread does not contain yeast and instead utilizes a lactobacilli based starter culture.[1]  True sourdough bread is also baked at a lower temperature[2] for a longer period of time which protects the integrity of the cereal grains[3] and preserves the nutritional value[4].

[1] No. It’s lactobacilli and a variety of yeasts living in symbiosis, where the bacteria consume sugars in the flour the yeast cannot and the yeast consumes the fermentation byproducts of the bacteria. Lactic acid produced by the bacteria lends the sour flavour; the yeast produces the carbon dioxide that leavens the bread.
[2] Generally speaking, it’s baked at the same or just slightly lower temperature than other breads but indeed for a longer time because the crust browns more slowly.
[3] Integrity of the grains? Come now, they’ve been powdered.
[4] For any reason other than it sounds appealing?

Yesterday, I found that a local bakery that produces a decent sourdough – I’m partial to their sourdough rye – also fails to understand some basics:

The natural yeast itself also has important health benefits for your digestive tract (the good bacteria[1] survive in the center of the loaves where the internal temperature does not get hot[2]).

[1] Yeast is good, but it’s not a bacteria; it’s a fungus.
[2] The good bacteria do not survive. Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis is killed after just a few minutes at 140°F/60°C, and the centre of a sourdough loaf – most breads, for that matter – should reach 205-210°F/95-100°C for at least five minutes before it’s taken out of the oven. Take it out before that and the middle of the loaf will remain unset and gummy. Their loaves are not unset and gummy in the middle.

lactobacillus

Current temperature 140.1F

Edited to correct first link.