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Sunday, April 18, 2021

Try It, You’ll Like It: My Nontraditional Madeleines

 

Only a small amount of chocolate needed

Friends were dubious. Their first response was that substituting orange zest for lemon sounded fine, but they drew back in horror at the idea of chocolate. Nevertheless, she (I) persisted. What is cooking and baking without experiment or risk? This is, after all, a pretty small risk in the larger scheme of life. 

 

So here are the ingredients and amounts I used, which you would be wise to double, since I had cut the original traditional recipe in half before trying it the first time and just stuck with that for my variation. See previous post (here) for details of original attempt at madeleines. 


 

 

1 cup sifted flour 

½ cup fine sugar

salt

½ cup melted butter

2 eggs

½ tsp. vanilla

zest of one large orange

½ oz. baking chocolate

 

 

The small amount of chocolate doesn’t even have to be heated on the stove. When the butter is melted, just pull that little saucepan off the fire, add the chocolate, and stir. It will melt quickly.

 

You may be tempted to increase the amount of chocolate. Don’t. At least, that is, well, do what you want, but I recommend the small amount given here. You don’t want chocolate to overpower the orange flavor, nor do you really want a “chocolate cookie” result. Do you?

 

Sorry there is no photograph here of the results. I was making the chocolate-orange madeleines for a neighbor as a get-well gift and only kept four for us, which we ate immediately after dinner and before I could even think about grabbing my camera. We loved them. What more need I say? 

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Sorry You Can't Eat Pictures!

 

Hot weather brings salads to the table.

Greens are growing to harvest size.


Love the earth tones in this mix of spices for pork loin dry rub!



Light, crispy after-dinner treats when it's too hot to bake cookies.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Madeleines: Who Says They’re “Tricky”?

The pan, or mold, is essential.

 

The essential baking pan with its shell-shaped creusees traveled with me from Michigan to Arizona in November, so there was no reason my first attempt had to wait until April. Was I intimidated because by the reputation of these iconic French dainties, famous not only for their origin but legendary for the literary role played by a madeleine dipped in tea by the narrator of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, the taste of which brings back a rushing flood of childhood memories?

 

Not exactly a cookie, and not anything I would call a pastry, either, the darling little tea cake’s richness is belied by the simplicity of the ingredients. At least one online recipe source, however, referred to the making of madeleines as “tricky.” Luckily, I was spared that added anxiety, as I did not look online at recipes until after having done the deed – and only then to provide a link on Facebook for friends unfamiliar with the madeleine. My own preparatory research was faster and more direct: Prosper Montagne’s Larousse Gastronomique: The Encyclopedia of Food, Wine and Cookery




More than a cookbook, Larousse Gastronomique provides history of various foods and food-related items, all arranged in alphabetical order. Was the inventor of the madeleine Prince Tallyrand’s pastry-cook, or were they known earlier, first made in the town of Commercy? Certain it is that Commercy long guarded its “secret recipe” for madeleines, the specialty that put the town on the map of France, and Montagne gives two recipes, that for a madeleine de Commercy and another for a madeleine ordinaire. You might say I used both, because what I did was to cut in half the proportions given for the ordinary madeleine and add the lemon zest from the Commercy version.




Recipe:

 

And so, to ½ cup of sugar, 1 cup of sifted flour, a pinch of salt, two eggs, and ½ teaspoon of vanilla (amount not specified, but that’s what I used) I added ½ cup melted butter and the zest of one lemon. (Use your own judgment, but I let the butter cool slightly rather than pour it directly into the flour and egg mixture as soon as it was melted, not wanting to have a bowl of floury scrambled eggs on my hands.) Tip: If you find yourself in someone else’s kitchen and don’t have a flour sifter, spoon the flour into a fine-mesh strainer and jiggle it through by hand. It works just fine.


substitute sifter

smooth batter

before...


The resulting smooth batter is then spooned into buttered and floured molds and popped into the oven at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes. I let them cool before popping them out of the pan. Perfect!



Variations:

 

Powdered sugar can be sieved over the warm tea cakes before serving, but I chose not to gild the lilies this time around. I may do so another time. And here’s a possibility from the baker who warned of potential failure: Carefully bring the butter past simply melted all the way to browned, and your finished tea cakes will be darker in color and perhaps with a somewhat nutty flavor. Try it and let me know. You do have to watch the butter every second to ensure it does not go past browned to burnt.

 

Actually, what I have in mind to try sometime is orange instead of lemon zest and a small amount of dark chocolate (!) melted with the butter. Does that sound like heresy? What would Proust say? It would certainly not be a classic madeleine, but something tells me it might be delicious. The "ordinary" ones certainly are. 



P.S. We all have our "madeleine moments." Here's one I wrote about on an earlier occasion.


P.P.S. Here is the subsequent chocolate story.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Why Bother With Cookbooks?

Not a pepper, after all! See postscript.

 Some people don’t. Don't bother with cookbooks, that is. Isn’t everything on the Internet, and aren’t all the recipes your heart could ever desire a couple taps away on your phone?

 

No, not everything is online -- someone had to upload it, or it isn’t there – but yes, there is probably more at your fingertips than you’ll ever look at, let alone use, which brings us back to my original question, and if you’ve already decided to “bother” with cookbooks no longer, I’m probably not going to convince you otherwise. Don’t they take up precious space that could better be used for cookware? Aren’t they really just – clutter? Since I grew up in a family of readers (as well as a family of letter-writers, but that’s another story), as long as I live I will never see books as clutter. 

 

(When in my early teens I baby-sat for neighbors, the most challenging job was in a house that contained no books. Not a one. There was a TV Guide and a Victoria’s Secret catalog. That was it. On that job, I occasionally did homework but basically watched a lot of television, clear through to the channel sign-off signal -- something that no longer exists. But the young couple, parents of a madcap little Dennis the Menace, stayed out late and they paid well.)

 

So what I’m getting at, in my usual roundabout way, is that cookbooks for me are books first, recipe collections second. I like it best when they either have photographs or give me paragraphs – preferably pages! – of thoughtful prose, and if the author offers me both, that is a dream book. 




The first recipe in Rachel Khoo’s The Little Paris Kitchen (and how could I possibly resist a book with that title? I ask you!) is for a salad of fresh figs and chicken livers. Rather than diving directly into instruction or a list of ingredients, Rachel muses as follows: 

 

When figs appear at my local market (the best figs are available from July to September in France), I just have to buy them. Sweet, sticky, and juicy, they often don’t even make it back to my kitchen – I usually gobble them all up on my way home – but if there are a few remaining, they make a delicious addition to a salad. - Rachel Khoo

 

Oh, be still, my heart! Fresh figs! Growing up in the Midwest, I knew only dried figs and the cookies known as fig bars. When our hostess in the Ardèche offered me a fresh fig right off her tree and I bit into it, I burst into tears! Looking at the photograph of Khoo’s salad, I taste the sweetness and feel the graininess of the seeds in the fruit pulp, and I would give anything for a fresh fig!

 

Alice Waters, besides being the sister of a good friend, inspires me. Alice does not preach precision. She gives a basic idea and then encourages her cookbook readers to make substitutions and try variations. She writes: 

 

Flexibility is an essential component of good cooking. You should never feel locked in to a recipe or a menu unless it involves a basic principle regarding procedure or technique such as those involved in breadmaking and pastry. I don’t ever want to write anything in this book that is so precise that the reader must invoke great powers of concentration on every last detail…. 

 

…When you are faced with the absence of a certain ingredient, don’t panic; formulate your own acceptable or inspired replacement….

- Alice Waters

 

Isn’t that dear of her? To give us hope that our substitutions may be “inspired”? Oh, thank you, thank you, Alice!

 

It's always good to have one or two basic cookbooks on hand, and the basic cookbook I have here in Arizona is Irma Rombauer’s Joy of Cooking. (Back in Michigan I have three or four different basic books, one of them a reprint of the one I grew up using in my mother’s kitchen.) It seems I’m always looking up proportions for simple things like noodles or muffins or a conversion chart for measurements. Things like that. 




I must say, however, that Joy let me down recently when Rombauer wrote (and I believed) that “stone-cold” pans could be used for popovers. Not true! I have a whole story to share about popover failure, but that must wait for another day….




Here in our winter ghost town, I have only one shelf for cookbooks, not a whole bookcase as I have back in Michigan, so there are days when an addition to the shelf prompts me to consider de-acquisition of something else. Tough choices! 




In the Southwest, a Mexican cookbook is a must, isn’t it? So I was happy to add this one to my shelf. But will it surprise you when I say that Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen: Capturing the Vibrant Flavors of a World-Class Cuisine is more intimidating to me than any of my French cookbooks? Basically, it’s the peppers. There are so many of them, and their names change when they are dried (as grape becomes raisin, poblano becomes ancho), and the true Mexican cook is not only a master of capsicum but of so much more!

 

The other day, though, at last I roasted a pepper over a gas flame on the stove, something I’ve been intending to try for years and finally got my courage up to attempt. Blistered the skin, let the pepper cool, scraped off the skin, scraped out the seeds, and chopped up that pepper to add to chopped fresh tomato, white tomato, onion (Mexican cooks prefer the white, I learned from Bayless), and garlic. The pepper I roasted (what was its name???) was not particularly hot, so I did add a few drops of hot sauce. And my salsa was good! So I made a start, at least. Baby steps….









Then, last year I found and bought a German clay cooker, and this year I found the cookbook to go with it! Serendipity! That should help me get back to experimenting with “ancient pot” cooking, because my clay cooker has been feeling rather neglected, I know. A whole book, not just one online recipe at a time.




And just on the heels of a gout attack in our household (I was not the victim), which led me to think we should eat less red meat and more chicken, a visit to the FOL bookstore over in Pearce/Sunsites turned up this book: 




What could be more timely or more inspiring? I am excited already, having only looked through a dozen pages! 

 

Inspiration. Encouragement. Memories. Pleasure. That’s what I find in cookbooks. I can’t imagine my life without them.


IMPORTANT POSTSCRIPT! My sister reminds me that the catalog at the bookless household was Frederick’s of Hollywood. Victoria’s Secret did not yet exist. (That shows our age, doesn't it?) Then, a very savvy foodie friend set me straight about chiles and peppers: they are not the same genus! See an explanation here


So much to learn — at least I had that right!


Thursday, February 18, 2021

Going Out on a Continental Limb: Spanish Blood Orange Tarte Tatin

Finished Spanish Blood Orange Tarth Tatin


Spoiler Alert! – Too late! The spoiler appears before the alert, so you’ve already seen the finished product. Now here’s the rest of the story.


Single blood orange and a couple of cups of orange custard


Blood oranges appeared in the grocery store in Willcox, Arizona, last week! Be still, my heart! I associate blood oranges with my first time in Paris, so they are irresistible to me. Their rich, deep color so beautiful! A whole bag seemed extravagant, but sometimes little extravagances an adventure can make.

 

I have a pretty good collection of cookbooks here in our winter ghost town cabin, three of them French (one in French language, the two others in English), but none of the three, I discovered, gives a tarte recipe featuring oranges. Whether any recipe I use – or riff off of, more likely – comes from a book or online, however, the books are my first resort, and they are my basic inspiration. So first I sit down and read about fruit, about desserts, about various kinds of pastry, about custards….


My ghost town cookbook collection


This time around I chose as Internet recipe because (1) there was custard involved (always a plus in my book); and (2) the cook’s backstory referenced Spain, the source of blood oranges. I did not, however, follow her suggestion to use a ready-made, store-bought puff pastry but made my own. It isn’t that difficult. As for croissants, the pastry involves a lot of butter (I used the a cheese grater and grated the cold butter) and multiple sessions of refrigerator chilling, rolling out, and refolding. The folding and rolling, over and over, distributes the butter through the dough. You want it kept cold so that the pieces of butter will burst in the oven to create a flaky finished product. I also used a round rather than rectangular pan, since that’s what I had.


Puff pastry rolled out and stretched over pie pan

Parchment paper and dry rice before pre-baking shell

For whipping cream and crème fraiche, I substituted Mexican crema, which was so successful in my savory clafoutis. No orange blossom water, but yes on the zest and juice. Another recipe I’d read used cardamom, so I added a scant half-teaspon of that and a splash of cream sherry.


Orange zest, orange juice, and cream added to beaten eggs and sugar

Same as above but mixed

Sherry and cardamom added


There are three layers to this dessert, and it goes into and comes out of the oven three separate times: first, the puff pastry crust; next, the custard filling; last, the entire tarte, topped with the caramelized blood orange slices.


Orange slices in clear syrup

Syrup soaked into orange slices, liquid evaporated


Recipes vary as to how the orange slices are prepared and arranged. Some cooks cut off the rind and use hexagonal slices, while others leave the rind on. Some overlap the slices, and some don’t. Leaving the rind on seemed the more adventurous course, but then I overlapped the slices only slightly, to encourage uniform cooking. Here's that finished product again: 




This blood orange tarte tatin is a very rich and fairly elaborate dessert. You’ll want to make it when blood oranges are in season – if you’re going to use blood oranges, it would be hard to do it any other time, but ordinary oranges can be substituted -- and if it’s for a company dinner, you’ll want to keep the rest of the menu simple. Simple in preparation, because the tarte will keep you busy, and fairly light to digest, so guests won’t be overwhelmed by the dessert. My kitchen experiments are not usually this elaborate, but once in a while the Paris kitchen needs to go Continental! I cut very small slices for us and drizzled them lightly with crema, more for the visual effect than because anything more was needed. Another time, we agreed, the rinds will be eliminated. 


Single serving

In fact, though, since it’s just the two of us right now, I decided I could remove the orange slices the next morning, cut off the rinds, and rearrange the fruit slices. Why not? 


Tarte Redux


 


Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Postscript to Bagels

 




Before their bath, the separate round balls of dough made after punching down the risen bulk are formed into bagels. I am revisiting the bagel-making because I was asked a question the other day: do I subject them to a lye bath? My answer is no. How, then, do I achieve a shiny and nicely browned bagel? Two ways: 


1. Add sugar to their bath water before popping them in (above).


2. After their bath, brush them with beaten egg white before adding any toppings. An added benefit is that the egg white helps toppings stick, and if you are topping your bagels with expensive organic sesame or poppy seeds, you don't want to lose them.



To my eye, the finished bagel is beautifully shiny and browned, but if you want to use the lye method, that's your choice.