Beer Brioche

12 04 2013

Which came first, the bread or the beer? And what happens if you use beer as the liquid in bread? I can’t answer that first question with any certainty, but I can tell you that the second is a worthy experiment.

shapingbrioche

Curious about the flavor that a beer might impart to bread – whether the hops would be discernible, what the yeast would think of the alcohol, how gluten development would be affected, etc., yes, I’m kind of science-nerdy sometimes – I went about adapting a brioche recipe because I had a hankering for fresh hamburger buns and also because I like the way it sounds: beer brioche. It’s just as nice in French: brioche à la bière.

after proofing, round 2

My first attempt was not a success. I waited and waited, but the dough simply refused to rise. I worried that I may have killed the yeast with the alcohol in the beer, but then I told myself that beer doesn’t usually reach the alcohol concentrations required to kill yeast. So it probably wasn’t that. But it was definitely something. The yeast were there, they were moving, but so slowly that even after four hours in a warm, humid space created just for their liking in my oven, my rolls had barely puffed at all. I went ahead and baked them, and ate them, but they were heavy and dense and nearly cakelike. I considered that too much butter may have been the culprit – brioche is notorious for making life difficult for yeast with all that added fat requiring heavy lifting – and made a mental note to adjust the amount.

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Paris Pastry Crawl 2013: Chocolate Mousse Omnibus

9 04 2013

Perhaps I was a touch ambitious with my plans for the Paris Pastry Crawl. Eating all that pastry is not for the faint of heart, nor is it for people who are used to working in kitchens but now find themselves leading a much more sedentary lifestyle, nor is it for people who are trying to write their own baking books and therefore need to be baking and recipe testing (read: eating) at home, nor is it for anyone who can’t afford to replace her entire wardrobe with bigger clothes. Which is not to say I’m quitting.  But I think the monthly format might be a bit too much, despite my slowly increasing jogging and yoga habits.

I had wanted to talk about chocolate mousse for February, because of Valentine’s Day, but I think I was a little pastried out, and then that holiday came and went, and a few others, and here I am, two months later, finally ready to write about this incredibly versatile dessert.

You see, chocolate mousse is rarely seen as a stand-alone dessert in Parisian pastry shops. (It’s a different story in restaurants.) But it plays an important role in many of the elaborate tarts and cakes for which French pâtisseries are known. The one where I used to work, for example, had at least five different chocolate mousse recipes – not counting the milk and white variations – all with specific destinies as parts of various entremets. But we’ll talk about recipes another day. Today we’re playing catch up with the handful of chocolate mousse-based treats I’ve eaten over the last few months.

swoops of mousse

I wasn’t too impressed with Laurent Duchêne’s éclairs, but this chocolate-caramel tart went some way towards redeeming his work. The artful swoop of mild, smooth milk chocolate mousse concealed a filling of gooey caramel, cooked nice and dark, just like I like it. The crust was firm and crisp, but didn’t bring much chocolate flavor to the party. At 4.50, it’s one of the more expensive pastries in Duchêne’s shop, but still very reasonably priced.

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Beer Month, and the Return of Worthwhile French Beers

3 04 2013

Longtime readers of this blog (and pretty much anyone who’s ever met me) know how much I love beer.  So when I saw (via the always awesome Jenni, aka Pastry Chef Online) that Sophia of NY FoodGasm had gotten a group together to blog about beer this April, well, obviously I asked if I could participate. And, gracious hostess that she is, Sophia welcomed me to the group.

BeerMonth-logo

For the last couple of months I’ve been working on a project for Paris By Mouth, which has had me buying lots of beer in shops and bars (great work if you can get it!). But despite all the tasting, I was so focused on the places themselves that I never took any notes on specific beers. So last weekend Nick and I decided to go on an adventure in our own city, and rode bikes all the way across town to the Butte aux Cailles neighborhood in the 13th, a place we’d heard about but had never been. We wandered the cute, village-y streets and happened across a charming little organic shop with some beers in the window.

Brasserie Artisanale du Luberon

Naturally, we bought a bottle of each and brought them home for tasting.

Now, perhaps I should mention that Nick expressed some doubt about organic beers in general, which I dismissed as remnant of a bias we may have developed years ago, when the only non-industrial French beers we could find were usually organic, and tended to lack a certain finesse. At any rate, I figured they were worth a try.

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One Last Wintry Soup

21 03 2013

Lately, I’ve been working on clearing out the stockpile of root vegetables from the CSA in my refrigerator.  I turned a backlog of potatoes, turnips, black radishes, parsnips, and leeks into a lovely vegetarian tartiflette (or veggiflette, as it was dubbed around here).  I’ve got plans for the approximately five kilos of carrots – I’m going to make this lentil hummus and serve it with a mountain of carrot sticks for a party this weekend.  I’d been meaning to make this Jerusalem artichoke soup for a while – I remembered that I had once made one with a little miso and that it was delightful – and then I got a box of shiitake mushrooms and their fate was sealed with the topinambours.

I glanced at Robuchon’s recipe for topinambour soup, and he suggested caramelizing a bit of honey with them before adding the liquid.  I thought a touch of sweetness sounded right, but I only have really strong, unique-flavored honeys at the moment, and I didn’t want to muddle the flavor too much.  A flash of inspiration hit me, surely by way of my dear friend Hannah: maple syrup!  I think it hit just the right note.

topinambour-shiitakesoup

It is probably one of the healthiest things I’ve made all winter – with so much flavor from the topinambours and the shiitakes, and a velvety texture from the potatoes (yeah, I snuck some potatoes in there, too… and some leeks) it didn’t even need a drop of cream to finish it off, just a sprinkling of wonderful meaty mushrooms.

In slightly related news, I am pleased as punch to announce my participation in Ann Mah’s fun and helpful Tuesday Dinner series on her blog.  I shared one of my favorite clean-out-the-vegetable-drawer recipes, a mouthwatering spicy Indian dal.

Now here’s to warmer days and spring vegetables!

Sunchoke Soup with Miso and Shiitake

Earthy, hearty, and oh-so-healthy, this soup warms chilly nights. If you wanted to serve it with poached eggs or grilled tofu to up the protein content, well, I think that would be a lovely idea. Jerusalem artichokes are also known as sunchokes or, in France, topinambours.

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 medium leeks, cleaned and sliced
1½ lbs. / 700 g Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed clean and cut into chunks
3 small potatoes, scrubbed and roughly diced
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. miso
2 tsp. maple syrup
1½ quarts / 1½ liters water

1 Tbsp. grapeseed oil or other neutral oil
9 oz. / 250 g shiitake mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
splash of sherry
splash of soy sauce

  1. Melt the butter in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the leeks and a pinch of salt and pepper and cook until softened. Add the Jerusalem artichokes and potatoes, season again, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables start to brown. Add the miso and maple syrup and stir to coat the vegetables evenly. Pour in the water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the Jerusalem artichokes and potatoes are soft, about 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil, then the mushrooms. Cook until the mushrooms release their water, the water evaporates, and the mushrooms begin to brown. Deglaze the pan with a splash each of sherry and soy sauce, and continue cooking until the liquid has once more evaporated. Scrape half the mushrooms into the soup pot and save the rest for garnish. For the most mushroom flavor, pour about ½ cup / 120 ml water into the skillet and scrape up all the brown fond from the bottom of the pan. Tip this into the soup pot as well.
  3. When the vegetables are soft, purée the soup, either in batches in a traditional blender or directly in the pot with an immersion blender. (You know which way I go.) If it’s thicker than you want, thin it out with a little water. Taste and adjust the seasoning, and serve piping hot with a few of the reserved mushrooms spooned on top.

Serves 4-6.

On this day in 2008: Baking Extravaganza, Act III (in which I make molten chocolate cakes in a toaster oven)

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Pantry Cake, with a Beautiful Ratio

12 03 2013

Who among us has opted not to cook or bake something because the ingredients aren’t at hand?  I am especially guilty of this, mainly because I wait until I want to eat something before I decide to cook.  Leave the apartment?  Go shopping?*  No, I want something to eat NOW.  On the up side, this forces me to be creative, and tests my understanding of the way ingredients work (science!) on a pretty regular basis.  Here’s an example from yesterday. I was catching up on my blog reading, and found this delightful post about olive oil cake from The Hungry Dog.

Olive oil cake is one of those things I’ve always wanted to try, and this recipe sounded pretty great.  Until I started looking at the ingredients, and making mental substitutions: “Let’s see, I don’t have blood oranges, but I do have a jar of sour cherries I should use, maybe I could substitute those. Oh, wait, you need the juice, too, and I think the syrup the cherries are in will be too sweet. It would be easy to go get some oranges, but wait, it’s Monday and the fruit stand on the corner is closed. Besides, it’s sleeting…”

So I started casting around for another olive oil cake recipe. My cookbook collection was surprisingly silent on the subject.  I found a couple more recipes online, but they wanted me to separate the eggs and whip the whites and fold them in and it all sounded like kind of a hassle. But it occurred to me at some point that the olive oil is simply playing the role of the fat in a regular cake recipe. And I started to wonder if I could make an olive oil pound cake (quatre quarts in French) with a straight up 1:1:1:1 ratio of eggs, sugar, oil, and flour.  So I preheated my oven to 180C, weighed my eggs and got to it.**

My three eggs weighed in at 200 grams, so I scaled out 200 grams each of granulated sugar, cake flour, and extra virgin olive oil (pretty good stuff, but not the very best) in separate containers, and I drained that jar of sour cherries, which gave me about 2 cups of fruit, weighing about 350 grams.  I wanted some insurance that the cake would rise, so I added a teaspoon of baking powder to the flour, along with 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  Eyeballing the ingredients on the counter, I guessed that this cake was going to fit best in my 10″ tube pan, so I oiled it and dusted it with flour.

Mise en place done, I started whipping the eggs in my second biggest bowl with my new hand mixer (I didn’t want to buy it, but now that I have it, I’m really glad I did), adding the sugar as I whipped.  I kept whipping the eggs and sugar until they lightened in color and  got thick and creamy looking.  (In some circles, we call this the “ribbon stage”, where drizzling the whipped eggs over themselves results in a thick ribbon that remains distinct for at least three seconds before melting back into the whole.) Whipping the whole time, I slowly drizzled in the olive oil and a teaspoon of vanilla extract.  I thought it looked like airy mayonnaise, which it basically was, and all of a sudden those cakes made with mayonnaise made more sense and sounded less disgusting.  Finally, I sifted the cake flour, baking powder, and salt together over the batter and folded them in with a rubber spatula until the batter was smooth.

I spread about half of this in the tube pan, sprinkled about two-thirds of the cherries over it, and topped with the remaining half of the batter and the rest of the cherries.  At this point, I thought it might be nice to put some pistachios on top for crunch and because they’re so good with cherries.  So I grabbed a handful of shelled pistachios and scattered them over the cake.  And a sprinkling of cassonade for added sparkle.  After 45 minutes in the oven, the cake was a lovely golden brown, springy to the touch, and a toothpick stuck in the center came out clean.  I let it cool a bit and dug in.

a sunny cake on a snowy day

The cherries had sunk to the bottom, as I feared they might, but the cake is still marvelous.  The crumb is velvety-fine and tender, with just a hint of crunch on top from the pistachios and cassonade.  The olive oil lends a subtle, earthy fruitiness, and the sour cherries offer bright bursts of juicy flavor.  It was as great for dessert as it was for breakfast, and makes a fine snack as well.  Interestingly, the flavors seemed to solidify overnight, so the olive oil notes are more pronounced the next day.

I’m kind of in love with this cake.  Only problem is, now I’m out of olive oil and sour cherries.  I suppose a trip to the store will be in order soon…

*In Paris, this can be a serious time commitment.  It’s rarely the case that you can just pop out really quick and grab that one ingredient you’re missing, because even though the shop downstairs always has the kind of flour you’re looking for, the one time you really need it fast, they’re out. So you walk to the next store, probably a few blocks away.  They don’t even carry what you need.  And it goes on like that, until you finally find the flour, but in the meantime you’ve thought of a bunch of other things you need, and then you call home to make sure you’re not forgetting anything, load up your shopping bag and lug it home.  By then any energy you had for cooking is sapped, so you scrap the whole idea and decide to try again tomorrow.

**I weighed the eggs first because they are the least flexible of the ingredients – I can weigh out any amount of flour, sugar, or olive oil I wish, but if I arbitrarily decide I want to use, say 150 grams of each, and then my eggs weigh 60 grams each, well, it’s not going to work so well.  Weighing the eggs first means I can just scale everything else to match their weight.

On this day in 2010: Wadja (A cool little bistro.)

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Easy Cheesy

27 02 2013

Like we did last year, Nick and I have again given up cooking meat at home for Lent.  Since all Catholics know that fish isn’t meat, our omega-3 levels are rising as we incorporate more fish into our diet.  But what is a meatless couple supposed to do with a jar of homemade olive salad, leftover from a Mardi Gras party?  In a flash of brilliance it hit me.

before the oozing mess

Olive salad tuna melts!  I ran to the shop downstairs for supplies, picking up cans of tuna, two kinds of cheese (emmenthal and mozzarella) and Poilâne bread.  The beauty of using olive salad in your tuna is that you don’t even need to chop an onion, and you can use a lot less mayonnaise than usual.  I made these twice last week, and I expect to see them on the regular weeknight rotation for a while.  But truly, I would eat this no matter the dietary restriction, because a hot, crunchy, melty sandwich with tangy, savory bits of olive inside appeals year-round.

On this day in 2008: Fauchon, or, I May Have a Problem

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Two Birthdays In One

18 02 2013

As you may or may not remember, this blog was essentially on hiatus for most of 2012.  It made me sad to miss celebrating the fourth birthday of Croque-Camille, but work came first.  Now I have a little more time again, so I’m here to right old wrongs and have a proper fourth birthday party!  And fifth.  Because here we are, five years after I started writing here, five years and a few weeks after I moved to Paris, five years and a few days after my own thirtieth birthday, three apartments and two jobs later, and I still love it.  So here goes: a month-by-month recap of the last two years.  When we last left off, it was…

February 2011: There was plenty of exploring, both in town and in the country, and I also started my gig at Girls’ Guide to Paris, where I wrote the recipe of the month for a little over a year.

March 2011: The trip to Budapest was great, and the opening of Candelaria changed the face of Mexican food in Paris, but most of my time was spent looking for yet another new apartment.

April 2011: We did eventually find that apartment (the one we’re in now, and so happy we didn’t have to move last year) and moved in.  I also managed to draw up a post outlining what I think makes a successful fruit salad.  I need to make that kiwi salad again – I have a lot of kiwis right now.

May 2011: I bid farewell to my old neighborhood, still a lively and bustling street that seems to be sprouting new trendy restaurants every week these days.  I also got to spend the day with Katia and Kyliemac, chatting and eating pastries for their podcast.

June 2011: I puzzled over potential career moves (and despite how it all turned out, I don’t think I made the wrong decision) and took a break in St. Malo, eating cheese and kouign amann.

July 2011: Indian cooking, a newfound obsession with vegetable and grain salads, a glorious trip to the Languedoc, and chocolate and candies from Fouquet.

August 2011: The month started with a tour of my new/current kitchen and ended with a delightful meal at Au Passage. (Incidentally, we ate at chef James Henry’s new restaurant, Bones, for my birthday, and loved it.) In between there was Chinese, Mexican, Indian, and Italian eating, and the Four Pounds of Cheese project, where I tried to reduce food waste, and mostly succeeded.

September 2011: In which I try to pretend summer isn’t over yet with a delicious watermelon-basil sorbet.

October 2011: I gave notice at work and announced my new (now former) job as executive pastry chef at Blend.  Speaking of blends, I wrote what I like to think is a helpful post about making your own spice blends.

November 2011: Won a book, made ice cream, ate cheese, started the new (now former) job, and still squeezed in a quick getaway to eat sausage and drink beer in Köln.

December 2011: Opened a restaurant.  Thought I’d share some of my hard-earned knowledge about working with yeast and natural starter.

January-April 2012: Worked pretty much every day.

May 2012: I optimistically thought I would be able to start blogging regularly again.  I made it to one post, a quick, easy recipe for jerk chicken (and some quinoa to go with it) (this was before quinoa was evil).

June-October 2012: Increasingly miserable at work, much-needed vacation, arrange to leave work.

November 2012: Catching up with the blog, defining my life via baking – muffins, wedding cakes, Twinkies.

December 2012: I put the smack down on the “macaron”, and develop some recipes for the McCormick Flavor Forecast.  My friends are still talking about these caramel sage bars.

January 2013: And I started the Paris Pastry Crawl (which I realize I haven’t touched yet for February, but there’s still time). I didn’t mean to rag on Laurent Duchêne quite so much, but I thought it was a valuable lesson, and helpful to show you, my dear readers, what can go wrong when making an éclair.

A huge thank you to all of my readers, past and present, who have kept me going for five (!!!) years.  I might babble into the ether regardless, but it’s so much more rewarding when I know people are out there, reading and commenting and sharing and just generally being interesting people who I love to interact with, whether in cyberspace or real life.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.








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