And now, dessert

I stopped making pâte à choux a while ago because I hate working with pastry bags (and cleaning them afterwards), and so watching her make these éclairs so simply just knocked me over. I have not idea why I didn’t think of this.

One hint that Mary left out: when cooking the choux paste, it is done when the bottom of the pan gets a film of the paste cooked onto it. It’s just starch, nothing to worry about, but it indicates that you’ve cooked the rawness out of the flour. Turn off the heat and that’s when you would start to beat in the eggs. And yes, you can do that part in a mixer or using an egg beater.

But wait! There’s more:

You can make a savory version of this adding some cheese to the paste (literally it is a cheesepuff)—and skip the pastry cream and chocolate. Or you could gild the lily and put some smoked salmon and cream cheese inside the finished puff for a more substantial nibble.

It makes a great hors d’ouevre for a cocktial party, and it really is not hard to make. From start to finish, the savory version shouldn’t take you more than 30 minutes, and probably less.

Thanksgiving Prep

While I wait for my stuff to arrive from California, I’m contemplating Thanksgiving in a new home. It just sort of begs for something special to mark the occasion.

I’m not a fan of turkey, which I know means that the terrorists have won, but I do know how to make an excellent one following the advice from Julia Child, where you deconstruct the bird. It seems a little weird at first, but put your bird in an experts hands and you will find easy success.

I mention this several days ahead of Thanksgiving because if you do decide to go the deconstructed route, you have one great advantage over all the amateurs: you can make turkey stock NOW and have excellent gravy for the big night. Here’s how:

  1. Gather the bones and trimmings from when you deconstruct the turkey. You should have the neck, the back, wing tips and other misc. bits. (I always remove the wishbone now to make carving later easier.). Roast them, skin and all until deeply brown. All that color is flavor and it will make your turkey stock more delicious.
  2. Take all the roasted bones and put them into a big stock pot and cover them with water. Deglaze the roasting pan. If you like to cook with wine, now is the time to do it. Heat the roasting pan and pour in enough liquid to give about ¼ inch of depth. Scrape all the browned bits up from the pan — that’s where the flavor is, and pour this liquid into the stock pot with the bones and the water.
  3. Add some onions, carrots, celery and so forth. Bring the pot to a simmer and let it cook without boiling. It sounds sort of crazy, but if you let it boil, your stock will become cloudy and the fat will emulsify with the water. Just let it perk along and try to not let it boil. I usually let it go overnight. Taste it whenever you think about it. It is done when you think it is well flavored.
  4. Strain the beast. Line a colander with several layers of cheese cloth, and put a large container underneath to catch the stock. If the stock has bits of meat or vegetables floating in it, then strain it again with some more fresh cheesecloth. By now it should be sparkling.
  5. Chill the stock. Bring the stock down to room temperature and then put it in the fridge. The fat will float to the top (taking any other impurities with it) and congeal, making it really easy to remove and discard.

That’s really it. You are essentially done and you now have restaurant-quality stock that is ready to be used for your gravy while your turkey rests before carving. All you need to do now is to make a roux with some flour and the fat from the turkey roasting pan and then then it with your excellent stock.

Of course, here’s the best advice from my teacher Tante Marie: Just put the f***ing turkey in the oven.

Bon Appetit!

I believe several Scissorheads have professed their undying love to Mary (full disclosure: I know her, have taken classes from her, adore her) following her epic video Just put the F****in’ turkey in the oven, and so here is her recipe for Chocolate Turtles.

These things are fantastic, crunchy pecans, gooey caramel, decadent chocolate, and if you are a good shopper, you can make scads of these things at very little cost. I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t love them. The big deal is the pecan: find the best, freshest pecans you can. Right now is an excellent time to buy them. The harvest is in, the shelves got cleared out for Pecan Pie at Thanksgiving.

Here’s the thing to note: if you do not have a candy thermometer–buy one–or really study the color and behavior of the caramel in the video. You really can tell the stage of the candy by color. It talks to you, too: there is a sound it makes when it goes from one stage to another. Use all of your senses. (Except touch, and even then there are some Chefs who do touch the stuff. Don’t be one of them.)

Take the pan off the heat a little earlier than she says if you are using Enamel/cast iron or cast iron only. Cast iron (with enamel) will continue to cook long after you remove it and achieve the right color. Darker will not wreck it by any means, but it freaks people out. It still cleans up with hot water as she demonstrates.

If you make them, let us know your experience. I checked out the Big Candy Chain store and they sell turtles for a buck each (one pecan!) — you can do this.

Tengrain’s Little Cooking School: soft dinner rolls

A while ago our friend and un-indicted co-conspirator GRS was looking for a recipe for making a soft bread for his daughter (who, like most daughters totally owns her daddy), and I tried and failed to come up with a bread that would suit his needs.

Today I stand before you triumphant, if not immodest.

This is an adaptation from one of those artisian-breads-in-5-minutes-a-day thingies. The secret to those things, by the way, is to make so much dough on the weekend that you pull off only what you need during that 5 minutes each day the rest of the week. More on that later, in the Bonus.

I stumbled upon this bread dough when trying to work through a baking problem for a friend of mine who runs a small diner in town. He does some lobster rolls during the summer and he was unhappy with the standard issue hot dog bun you can find at the market. Anyway, after much plodding along we developed a pretty fool-proof bun recipe than I think not only works for his lobster roll, I think it will work for GRS’ little girl.

The secret here, not surprisingly, is the potato flour and the dried milk. These yield very soft breads. Experienced cake bakers will often add a small measure of potato flour to their batter to make an even more tender cake crumb. The other secret is to not overwork the dough. You don’t want a high gluten product in the end, you want something Wonder bread soft. Err on the side of under-mixing it. You just have to trust me on this.

As always, I measure by weight, but I know most people don’t. Still, if you have a scale please use it.

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups (17 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) sugar (or more if you like a sweeter product)
  • 
2 teaspoons salt
  • 
1/4 cup (2 ounces, 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, diced into bits. Keep it cold
  • 
6 tablespoons (2 1/4 ounces) potato flour (or 1/2 cup (1 ounce) dried mashed potato flakes if you cannot find the ‘tater flour)
  • 
6 tablespoons (2 ounces) non-fat dry milk
  • 
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) water
  • 
1 teaspoon instant yeast

Make it:

  1. Combine all of the ingredients into your mixer and mix until it makes a shaggy blob.
  2. Let the dough rest for about 15 minutes so that the flour absorbs all the moisture.
  3. Resume kneading the dough for about 5 minutes or until it looks smooth, elastic, and kind of sticky.
  4. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover and put in the fridge to rise overnight. The next day you will shape and bake off the rolls.

If you are making hot dog, hamburger buns, dinner rolls:

  • Hotdog buns are about 3 oz. of dough and shape it like a play dough tube about the size of the hot dog.
  • Hamburger buns are about 4 oz of dough that you shape into a ball and then flatten.
  • Dinner rolls are about 2 oz of dough rolled into a ball.

I roll these things out on a silpat mat or on a baking parchment, which I then cover with a piece of plastic wrap that I have sprayed with oil and let it rise, until about double in height. I slip the parchment/silpat onto a baking sheet when risen and remove the plastic wrap.

Slide into a 375° over for about 10 – 12 minutes for buns/rolls. Because of the sugar, the tops will brown nicely, but are not crunchy. Think Thanksgiving dinner rolls, sort of like that.

This recipe makes about 36 oz. of dough, which is enough for 12 hotdog buns or 8 hamburger buns. I think this will make at least 2 regular sized loaves of bread. I would put them in a well-buttered pan and check on them at the 20-minute mark and then every 5 – 7 minutes thereafter until I thought that they were done.

BONUS:

You knew this was coming, right?

The 5-minutes a day thing: Because of the low amount of yeast-to-flour ratio in this recipe, the yeast will continue to feed on the flour for quite a long time before dying or making that bad sour smell. This means you can pull of some dough and bake this daily and have fresh rolls with dinner nightly. My last two batches of this were good for 6 days. It is becoming a habit here at the hut.

The Oregon Spruce Goose Cocktail

OK, it is not spruce, but a fir-tree based drink, but let me elaborate.

Some of you may remember that I periodically wander up to the Pacific Northwest, and that last year I was in Portland Oregon, and you may even recall that I spent a hazy afternoon at Clear Creek Distillery.

I know, hard to imagine given that I am *temperance* personified.

Anyway, one of the best things I tasted during that trip was an eau-de-vie of fir tree (the little green tips, harvested by hand from organically grown trees in a remote, privately owned woods) distilled by Clear Creek into an eau-de-vie. It is the sort of thing that you immediately say, “Wow! But what do I do with it?”

And I am here today to tell you that you make a very specific cocktail from it. This is not a cheap drink, there are no substitutions offered, and you must stick strictly to the proportions. I will not tell you how I know this; I will tell you that I am enjoying a celery-green cocktail on St. Patricks Day that uses a Scottish gin, French Vermouth, and Oregon eau-de-vie that I am sure will surprise even the most discerning Scissorhead.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 oz. Hendricks Gin
  • 3/4 oz. Lillet
  • 1/4 oz Clear Creek Fir Eau-de-vie
  • dash lavender bitters
  • Orange peel for garnish

Make it:

  1. Put the gin, Lillet, and eau-de-vie in a cocktail mixing glass that is 3/4 full of ice, cracked if you can manage that. Shake in the bitters.
  2. Stir vigorously with the straight end of a bar spoon. 30 seconds will be fine, but no less.
  3. Strain into a stemmed cocktail glass that is well-chilled. I recommend in the freezer for at least 10 minutes, longer if possible.
  4. With a lit candle between you and the cocktail glass, twist the orange peel to caramelize the essential oil from the peel as it sprays into the top of the cocktail. Move the candle out of the way, rub the rim of the cocktail glass with the peel, and drop into the glass.
  5. Sip and enjoy the Oregon woods.

Comments:

  • I thought about using orange bitters, but it seemed sort of obvious.
  • I recommend Hendricks Gin for this cocktail because it has a strong floral element, I think some of it is lavender. Anyway, it is lovely stuff and plays really well with the Fir eau-de-vie.
  • Lillet is a very floral and not-too-dry French White Vermouth. I highly recommend it anytime you want a softer cocktail.
  • There is nothing–Nothing–NOTHING I know of to substitute for the Fir eau-de-vie, and at $50 for a tiny bottle, it is the priciest thing I think I’ve ever had in my bar. It has mystified me for nearly a year: I keep sipping a teaspoon of it at a time trying to figure out what to do with it. This cocktail is the first time I’ve found success.

My birthday cake!

My Mother used to drive to SF to Union Square to buy one of these cakes for my birthday when I was growing up. There is nothing better. Nothing. I’ve been looking for this recipe for much of my adult life, I’m going to have to give it a try. Oh, and unlike what Mary says, the cake is better in layers with the crunchy stuff in between. It is worth the effort to do it.

(And for those of you keeping score at home, Mary is my cooking school teacher, and yeah, I had a birthday already this year. I’m the oldest I’ve ever been!)

Making Schweddy Balls

OK, I’ve been busy. Tonight is the big annual cookie party in the neighborhood. The idea is that everyone shows up with a tray of home-made cookies, and then everyone leaves with a tray of assorted home-made cookies. It seems to be some sort of old Italian tradition, and it is really kind of nice.

Anyway, today I made my famous Schweddy Balls:

OK, actually they are Rum Balls. The thing about rum (or bourbon balls) is that the dough has to be able to absorb the moisture from the booze, and the chocolate needs to be strong enough flavored to not be overwhelmed by the rum. And so as you can guess there is a secret to it, but surprisingly it is not about technique, well not much anyway.

Here’s the secret: You start by making a batch of your best brownies from scratch. Please don’t use a mix, you need real semi-sweet chocolate. And here’s the technique part: make them in a very, well-buttered large sheet pan (in the trade these are called half-sheets) so they cook quickly and come out very thin. You want to do this for two reasons: 1) they cook really fast, maybe 10 minutes and 2) they turn out more cake-like than brownie-like. This is important because the cake-like brownie can absorb liquid, where the thick traditional brownie cannot.

Now comes the fun part: after the thin brownies have cooled (at least 10 minutes for me), you want to rip them up into tiny bits and put them into the bowl of your stand mixer; I used two forks and just shred them into crumbs. Once you have the whole sheet pan in crumbs in the bowl of your mixer, use the paddle and start pouring in rum. Dark Rum, the best you can afford.

The hard part is knowing how much rum to add, so pour slowly and when the whole mass starts to form a ball, stop. I find that it is usually between 1/4 cup and 1/2 cup, depending on the weather.

Now break off pieces of the rummy dough and roll them around in the palms of your hands to make, well, balls. You want to make dense, single-bite balls. Put them on a sheet pan and into your fridge for a couple of hours to firm up. If you want, you can roll them around in sprinkles BEFORE you put them in the ice box, but if you did not roll them in sprinkles right after forming them, you can now roll your balls in powdered sugar or cocoa powder if you believe in gilding the lily.

Always let people know that there is booze in these things. You don’t want to cause a relapse if your guests have addiction issues.

Anyway, enjoy my Schweddy Balls this Holiday Season.

Tengrain’s Little Cooking School: our daily bread

Last year, a Scissorhead wrote me and asked me what I thought about the no-knead bread article in the NYTimes. I think I said “not much, but I have not tried it yet.”

I’m suspicious of things that say you can have it all without any work. It makes me think of that swine, Graves.

Truthfully, I like kneading bread, I find it relaxing, and on bad days, I can take out my aggressions on bread dough rather than my friends and family. There will be a lot of bread around here during the 2012 Goat Rodeo, methinks.

But I’m here today to tell you that this thing does actually work and it makes some decent bread; you will not win a prize at the county fair, but you will have a nice chewy loaf of bread that you can enjoy with your soup or salad, and the effort is minimal.

And if you are diligent, you can have bread every day.

How it works

You were waiting for this part, right?

Essentially what you are making is a sponge, closer to a batter than a dough. You mix this up and you let it sit for 10 hours. You do this for two reasons:

  1. You want the flour to be completely hydrated
  2. You want the yeast to fully proof and develop some character, some flavor.

This sticky mess couldn’t be kneaded if you tried, so don’t try. The author says to drop it onto a counter and fold it a few times – which is essentially kneading it, but Shh! and then roll it onto a well-floured towel (which should be dedicated to this operation, especially if you decide to make this daily), seam side up.

What you are really doing in this step is redistributing the yeast and feeding it some fresh flour, and essentially you are going to give it a second rise at this point. The towel is there to help you move the sticky loaf later and to keep the dough reasonably safe from drying out.

In the meanwhile you have preheated your oven to 450°, and you have put a cast iron dutch oven in it to preheat as well. A word of caution: if you use Le Creuset make sure you have swapped the heat-proof plastic-looking knob for a metal knob. Those plastic ones will explode in your oven somewhere around 500°, and I’d love to tell you how I know this.

When you plop the bread (seam side down) in the now-heated dutch oven, it will sizzle. Remember that it is a very wet dough, and you can shake the oven somewhat to re-arrange it if you think you must. Put the lid on it and stick it in the 450° oven.

What you are actually doing in this step is providing a steamy, hot environment, with the moisture from the loaf enclosed in the dutch oven. Professional bakeries have ovens that inject steam on the loaves, and this allows them to rise quickly before the heat hardens the crust and gives the much-desired crunchy crust of artisan breads.

Cheater’s Method

OK, you knew this was coming, too, right?

I increase the yeast to 1/2 teaspoon and I skip the folding step entirely; it doesn’t need a 2-hour second rise. I just plop the dough out from the mixing bowl right into the oven. It deflates as you handle it, so handle it gently as you can. Yes, it would probably be better if I did all the steps, but when I compared and contrasted them (and I did do side-by-side bake-offs. The things I do for you people!), I didn’t taste a significant difference. The nicely folded version admittedly does look better if you give it the full 2-hour treatment, but it also collapses when you plop it into the dutch oven. They both developed nice crusts, had lots of interesting air bubbles and other structures.

Books for Cooks

Sometimes I’m asked about what cookbooks I would recommend for new cooks and cooks who want to up their game a bit, and as it is the holidays (and I understand that people give each other presents), here’s a short list of books that I recommend. I’ve used all of them this year.

Baking:

  • Baking, by Dorie Greenspan. This is a huge book with nearly foolproof American-style recipes from the author of Baking with Julia. It’s pretty complete for all the sweet stuff, but does not include bread.
  • Tartine, by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson. This is the bakery book from San Francisco’s Tartine, which if you have not gone you must correct that oversight. These recipes are very French and cover the sweet stuff also. They are a bit more challenging than the Greenspan book, but wow!
  • The Il Fornaio Baking Book, by Franco Galli. OK, bread bakers, this is the real deal. You want to make all the classic Italian breads? This is the book. From the restaurant and bakery of the same name, they leave out nothing. Bread only. The recipes are fine, but the technique is the real deal with this book. Read through the recipe steps several times before starting. Try to picture what they are doing. It’s a bit frustrating at first, but once you get it, this stuff will change your baking.

Jams, Jellies, Etc.

This year was a very deep dive at Tengrain’s Little Cooking School for preserves. These are the books I consulted frequently:

  • Mes Confitures, by Christine Ferber. These flavor combinations the renowned French patisserie uses are remarkable. The book was translated poorly to English, but the proportions are accurate. The only fault I can find is that she assumes you know as much as she does, so instructions on canning are quite missing.
  • Putting Up, by Stephen Dowdney. Dowdney is as famous in the US South for his jams, pickles, and preserves as Ferber is in France. The first part of the book is like a master class in preserving. Follow his canning instructions and literally nothing can go wrong. The recipes are distinctly southern and pretty wonderful.
  • The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook, by Rachel Saunders. I met Rachel in Oakland at the Real Foods Festival where she was reading from this book and talking about jams generally. This book is encyclopedic, just amazing and features recipes from her very famous Blue Chair Jam company. The scale of the recipes needs to be changed for home canning, but that’s just math. This has the potential of being the Mastering the Art of French Cooking for jam, and she’s just in her 20s.

Specialty Books

  • Ratio, by Michael Ruhlman. This is like being in cooking school. Learn the ratios, you will never, ever go wrong. Wanna make biscuits? Just remember the Chicago area code, 312 (3 parts flour, 1 part fat, 2 parts water). You can scale up or down when you know the ratio.
  • Charcuterie, by Michael Ruhlman. I’ve been making bacon, sausage, and specialty cured meats following his instructions. All of them have come out perfectly. This book demystifies the whole process. It’s fun and frankly, so much cheaper to make these things yourself.
  • The Flavor Bible, by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. I talk about this book a lot, and you need to find a copy. No recipes in the thing at all, it is just lists of what flavors go well together, arranged alphabetically. So when some ingredient goes on sale, you can figure out dozens of ways of using it without it being boring. Trying to work out a new recipe? This is the go-to book.

If I ran a real cooking school, these would be textbooks:

  • Jacques Pépin’s Complete Techniques, by Jacques Pépin. If you want to learn the right way to do something, this book will have step by step instructions with a photograph of each step. You want to learn how to make cornets for piping frosting, he’s got your back. Want to know how to make puff pastry, he’ll show you. There are recipes here that demonstrate the technique, but the real deal is learning how to do it.
  • The Art of the Bar, by Jeff Hollinger and Rob Schwartz. These guys run the bar at San Francisco’s Absinthe Brasserie & Bar, which is the perennial winner of the best bar in the United States, and if you do enjoy a snort now and then, you best make your way to Hayes Valley sometime. Anyway, the drinks listed in the book are pretty amazing, and easy to follow along. They recommend glasses to use, spirits to buy, and how to shake or stir it all up. Try the Bob Tailed Nag – it is like a Manhattan that has died and gone to Heaven.
  • The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, by Judy Rodgers. Zuni Cafe is within walking distance of Absinthe, FWIW. Anyway, this is a cookbook based upon her award-winning café. There is nothing I can say about it except that everything in this book works. Follow her advice to the letter, and you will become a better cook. Judy is an alumni of Chez Panisse, but I think she may have surpassed Alice Waters.

The MPS Speak-Easy: Raspberry-Strawberry Whiskey Cordial

Welcome back to the MPS speak-easy! Here’s another great addition to the holiday cheer list. It’s a raspberry-strawberry whiskey cordial. I base my recipe on one from the Oregon Raspberry and Blackberry Commission. (Yeah, it’s a real thing.) Their recipe calls for vodka, which is fine if you like vodka, but whiskey has more character. When I make a homemade gift, I definitely want it to have character. So here’s my doctored holiday treat:

-3 cups sugar
-1 fifth (3 cups) whiskey
-24 ounces fresh raspberries
-12 ounces frozen sweetened strawberries

Heat the strawberries until they’re almost completely melted in a large pot on the stove. Add the raspberries and mash with a potato masher to help break up and blend the fruit. Next add your sugar. Do not boil or simmer the fruit/sugar mix. You just want it warm enough to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat and add the whiskey. Then add to a container with a loosely fitted lid and store in a cool dark place (basement, closet, garage, etc.). Let it sit for 3 weeks, stirring it every day to keep those sugars dissolved and to keep infusing the flavors. The whiskey will prevent any mold or bacteria from growing and the lid keeps out dust, dirt, and bugs. There will be some off gassing, not a lot, so remember to keep the lid loose. Then bottle it in old, clean wine bottles and you’re good to go! It’s nice for sipping or using as a flavoring for other drinks. Caution: it can get you messed up in a hurry.

I scale this up so I’m using 4 fifths of whiskey (3 liters) and a 5 pound bag of sugar. I have a big seafood pot with a lid that I store mine in while it matures. If you like, you can strain the fruit out of the mixture and just have a liquid cordial. There are some people that don’t like the raspberry and strawberry seeds. You can use cheesecloth or an old, clean T-shirt. I like the fruit, again, added character and it gets your pigeons drunk. I strain out the berries and put them in the bottles first. I use a funnel and the handle of a wooden spoon to jam the berries into my bottles, then top with liquid.

You can get wine bottles at homebrew and home wine making stores just about cheaper than any other place out there. They should have an interesting selection to chose from. Small clear bottles are great for gifts because they show off the great color and berries. Have fun, enjoy, and drink responsibly.