The Maiden Voyage of La Sorbetière

26 02 2010

Caramel Apple Ice Cream with Bourbon-Pecan Caramel Sauce

Today’s gray, rainy, and windy morning somehow managed to turn into a still windy but wonderfully sunny, blue-skied afternoon.  Since it was Friday, and I already had the pictures edited and recipe typed for today’s post, I thought I’d take a walk up in Montmartre after work.  I mean, what’s the point of living in Paris if you can’t take some time to get out and enjoy it every now and then?  Besides, I’M ON VACATION!  (WHOO-HOO!  Excuse me.)  It just seemed like an appropriate celebration of a sunny, almost-Spring day to take a walk in one of Paris’ hilliest, most convoluted neighborhoods.  Oh, I had a reason, and a purpose to my visit, which you’ll learn about soon enough, but I resolved not to just head-down, look-at-the-Google-map-on-my-phone my way to where I was going.  No, I wanted to get a little turned around (which I definitely did), look at some beautiful architecture (I think my favorites are the elaborate apartment buildings built in the first decade of the 20th century), and maybe even get some exercise (thank you, rues Lamarck and Caulaincourt and your intervening staircases).

Custard, left; caramelized apples, right.

Sorry, none of this really has anything to do with ice cream.  I made ice cream.  I’ve done it before.  But not in my own ice cream maker in Paris.  I wanted to try something new to christen the new appliance, and I wanted to use apples, because that’s the only fruit we get in the CSA this time of year, and they tend to pile up.  So I caramelized a whole bunch of them, and pureed them with a standard, less-sweet vanilla custard, to which I’d added a soupçon of bourbon.  The sorbetière worked its magic, and now I have a big container of original ice cream in my freezer.  I wanted a sauce to go with it, so I whipped up a quick caramel sauce with toasted pecans.  I didn’t write the recipe, because it’s too simple: caramelize sugar, add cream, stir in toasted pecan pieces and salt.  Spoon over ice cream and eat.

Digging in

Click on through for the ice cream recipe, if you want it.

Read the rest of this entry »


A Sourdough Attempt, and Why I Cook

23 02 2010

Michael Ruhlman recently posed the question, “Why do you cook?”  I believe I touched on a bit of the answer in my post about his rolls, and I definitely remember having to write an essay in the topic towards the end of my tenure as a culinary student.  I’d like to go back and read that now, seven years later – I’d be interested to see how my answers have changed, and in what ways they remain the same.

Why do I cook?  Well, that’s actually a complicated question, as cooking is both my job and my hobby.  But it was a hobby first, one I developed a passion for to the point of making it my career.  I guess the most interesting question, to me anyway, is “Why do I still cook at home when I do it all day at work?”

I know plenty of chefs, cooks, and bakers who don’t do any cooking at home, which is perfectly understandable.  Me, I come home and cook because it relaxes me, believe it or not.  After a day filled with deadlines and production goals, it’s nice to come home and cook what I want to cook, not what the schedule or the orders or the inventory say I need to cook.  I like being able to make all the decisions, and making last-minute changes when the mood strikes.  I cook because it’s relaxing and fun.

Another thing I enjoy about cooking, that I don’t always get to enjoy at work, is the creativity.  Being able to cook at home keeps those creative muscles in shape.  From coming up with dinner every night, to the challenges posed by the CSA grab-bag, to the wacky ideas that I simply must give shape because they won’t leave me alone, cooking at home prevents me from getting bored with food.  I cook to stretch my imagination.

In any given cooking job, there are always tasks you do more often, and ones you don’t do at all, and these change from job to job.  When I cook at home, I practice those techniques that I am not using at work, because you never know when you’re going to need to butcher a chicken, bake bread, or chiffonnade some basil in a future job.  I cook to hone my skills.

Finally, I love to eat, and I love to eat well.  I certainly can’t afford to dine out every night, and cooking at home is a much cheaper option.  (The downside to this is that after a certain price point, I get irritated if the food is nothing better than I could cook myself.)  I also like knowing where my food came from and what’s in it, and I feel good serving lovingly made food to my family and friends.  I cook because I care what goes into my body.

All of which ties in nicely with my attempt to bake sourdough bread last weekend.  I got it in my head Saturday night that Sunday would be a good day for bread baking.  I asked Nick what kind of bread he wanted (“You can have ANYTHING you want!”) and he asked for sourdough.  My starter was healthy, so I fed it to bulk it up and while it waited on the counter, I looked into some recipes.

I ended up winging it, using Ruhlman’s ratio (5: 3 flour to water), assuming that my starter was 1:1.  I didn’t use any commercial yeast, only the starter, and it didn’t take nearly as long as I thought it would.  (Must finally be getting warmer out!)  But here’s the thing: I had no idea if this recipe I had slapped together would work the way I wanted it to, but I did it anyway.  I paid close attention to the development of the dough – I didn’t let it get too excited because I wanted a fairly dense crumb, something good for sandwiches.  And you know what?  It worked.  It didn’t taste very sour, but the texture was just what I was looking for.  In fact, it tastes a lot like French pain au levain, which I guess it technically is.

fresh-baked bread

But there you have it: I experimented, I learned something, and I was rewarded with tasty homemade bread.  Plus the immense sense of satisfaction I get from turning ingredients as simple as flour, water, yeast, and salt into something as wonderful as a loaf of bread.

On this day in 2009: When in Alsace…

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Belated Birthday

19 02 2010

Yesterday, this blog turned two.  Time sure flies when you’re having fun.  It would appear that I have also just passed the 300 post mark, which, wow.  who knew I was so prolific?  (Granted, in Croque-Camille’s first six months I posted five times a week, so I’m sure that helped.)

Like I did last year, I want to celebrate with a rundown of favorite posts, month-by-month.  It’s fun to go back through the archives now and again, because there’s always something I’d completely forgotten about!  So without further ado…

February 2009: Well, it was Alsace month, so I baked flammekueche and went to Strasbourg, but the meal down the street at Astier was probably the highlight of the month.

March 2009: Ah, Savoie month, with its potatoes and cheese.  And more cheese.  A light, lemony dessert was just what the doctor ordered for Nick’s birthday.  (If you click that link, be sure to go to the next post when you’re done.  It’s Enchiladas Robuchon!)

April 2009: Exploring the regional cuisine of Brittany (Bretagne, en français) yielded many fun finds, including a very interesting and delicious buckwheat soup, but my favorite post of the month is the one where I fail and then succeed in making cauliflower into a main dish.

May 2009: Un peu de dépaysage.  I wrote about Basque cuisine and my trip to London.  And fell in love with Fergus Henderson.

June 2009: Posts were sparse, because I was on vacation in the States, but I did manage to write my most popular post ever – Cheesy Poofs Kick Ass.  (If you haven’t already read it, do.)  The highlight of the month for me, though, was cooking a fabulous meal for my dad for Father’s Day.

July 2009: We spent a weekend in Rouen for Normandy month, and discovered the delights of Norman cheese and cider.  I also battled the WiiFit and my jeans after excessive vacation eating.  (And sitting!  Nobody walks anywhere in the USA!)  This key lime tart didn’t help, but it sure was good.

August 2009: The month of Provence (boules!  bouillabaisse!) and baking with tea.

September 2009: We ate some delectable Corsican charcuterie, cheese, and honey.  I also caught pork fever, which resulted in homemade breakfast sausage as well as xiaolongbao.

October 2009: Celebrated Burgundy month with a trip to Dijon, a beautiful city filled with delicious food and wine.  It turns out they even make tasty beer in Burgundy!

November 2009: Thanksgiving may have been overshadowed by Languedoc month, my homemade duck confit, and the resulting cassoulet.

December 2009: Perigord month was a gutbomb.  Mouthwatering, but a gutbomb.  (Still, I’m not sure I ever want to do Christmas without a whole lobe of foie gras again.)  I also got started on a pickling kick, one of the results of which was an awesome (if I do say so myself, and I do) loaf of jalapeño-cheese bread.

January 2010: Trying to get back into simpler cooking.  And I started a new series, Around Paris, thanks to which I discovered a wonderful Korean restaurant in Paris.

And that’s the year in clips!  I hope you had as much fun with it as I did.  I have one more treat for Croque-Camille’s second birthday – This Day in History.  From now on, providing there is one, I will post a link to a previous year’s post that fell on the same date as the current post.  (Wow, that was a lot harder to explain than I anticipated.)  So…

On This Day in 2008: Cuban Stuff is Legal Here (my first full-length post!)

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Coffee Toffee!

17 02 2010

Inspired by one of Hannah’s many chocolate tastings over at Wayfaring Chocolate, I decided to make some of my very own coffee toffee.  Then crush it up and bake it into brownies.

Stack o' coffee toffee brownies

Using my now-regular brownie recipe,  I made my first batch of coffee toffee brownies (it’s just fun to say) for the Super Bowl.  A week later, after dinner at our place, a friend who had been there asked if I would make more brownies.  He wanted chili ones, and Nick wanted coffee toffee.  Since I am a master of compromise, I made both.  In the same pan.  And they were fantastic.

The toffee recipe comes from (who else?) David Lebovitz.  I found it in my copy of The Perfect Scoop, where he makes it with toasted almonds and coats it with chocolate.  He posted it on his blog, too.  For the coffee toffee, I halved the recipe and substituted 50 grams (about half a cup) of coffee beans for the nuts.  I also omitted the chocolate, since they were going in brownies anyway.  I crushed the coffee beans a bit before pouring the toffee over them, but you could leave them whole if you wanted to.  Once the toffee had cooled, I broke it into a few pieces and put them in a plastic bag.  Then I whacked it to pieces with a rolling pin, which was great fun.  For the first batch, I stirred about 1/2 cup (70 grams) of crushed toffee into the brownie batter before baking.  The second time around, a regular batch of chili brownies got a sprinkling of toffee bits on top before going in the oven.

Would you believe there’s still some coffee toffee left over?  It makes great snacks, but you can’t eat too much at once – at least I can’t.  Wondering about the festive background in that picture?  That was my birthday present, a brand-new ice cream maker!  Perhaps the last of the toffee will find its way into a batch of ice cream… or the top of a sundae.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Mashed Potatoes, and a Confession

12 02 2010

It occurred to me when I picked up this week’s CSA panier that in nearly two years of writing a food blog, I have never written about one of my favorite – and most frequently made – dishes: mashed potatoes.  I plan to rectify the situation today, but first I’ve got to get something off my chest.

A confession, if you will.  (My Catholic conscience is hoping this will help.)  The chef was on a bread training course this week, which means I was running the show from Monday to Thursday.  We had a stage this week, which, as usual, nobody bothered to tell me about in advance.  By stage I mean a junior high student who is spending a week in the pâtisserie to see what it’s like, and if he (it’s almost always a he) is interested in doing an apprentissage there later.  Well, this week’s kid was lacking in the common sense department.  On the first day I asked him to find the pastry cream in the walk-in (success), grab the small mixer bowl (success), and put the pastry cream in the mixer bowl (failure).  He put the ENTIRE bowl right into the mixer bowl.  I couldn’t help but laugh, and then wonder how I was going to get it out of there, which luckily didn’t turn out to be too much of a problem.  It was a real lesson in giving VERY specific instructions.  Which can be trying on the patience of someone who is just trying to get some work done.  Generally the mishaps were along these lines, though – not a big deal, but enough that I had to drop what I was doing to solve problems. 

There was one incident that really pissed me off, though, and that was when I sent the kid downstairs to take the sheets of biscuit over to the oven (don’t get me started on the impracticalities of my workplace layout).  I figured it would take him a while, guessing that he would carry the sheet pans over one at a time instead of two, but by the time I had scaled and spread out nearly six more sheets of biscuit and he had neither returned nor sent up the dumbwaiter so I could refill it, I got irritated.  I went downstairs and found him sitting down next to the empty dumbwaiter, eating a warm pain aux raisins, and chatting with one of the salesgirls.  Grr.  I shot him a nasty look, slammed the dumbwaiter closed, and stomped back upstairs, grumbling about how I hadn’t had my breakfast yet, either.  And I was hard on him for the rest of the week.  That’s what I feel bad about.  I mean, he’s just a kid.  He’s not being paid.  He’s there to learn, true, but maybe I should have been nicer.

What do you know?  I think that worked.

So, mashed potatoes.  I’ve got these down to a science.  I’m sure that there are loads of people who will disagree with me, but this is how I make them, and they always taste good.  Whether or not I’m peeling them, I always cut my potatoes into small pieces.  This is mainly a time thing – diced potatoes cook so much faster than whole ones.  Then I simmer them in copiously salted water until very tender.

drying the boiled potatoes

Read the rest of this entry »

Kitchen Chinese

9 02 2010

A novel about food, family, and finding yourself

I miss Isabelle. 

Let me back up a little.  One of my fellow American expat food bloggers in Paris, Ann Mah, has written a novel.  It’s called Kitchen Chinese, and it’s loosely based on some of her experiences as a Chinese-American woman navigating the quarterlife in Beijing.  And it’s a delight.  From the intriguing and informative quotes on classic Chinese food that begin each chapter, to the mouthwatering descriptions of traditional (and not-so-traditional) Chinese meals, to the immediately lovable characters, the book is both fun and thought-provoking.

Aside from her knowledge about and skill in describing food, Ann’s greatest strength is creating characters.  The protagonist, Isabelle Lee, feels like a friend after only a few pages, which make her disappointments all the more crushing and her triumphs all the more cheer-inspiring for the reader.  Isabelle’s relationships with her family, friends, and coworkers ring true, and the changes those relationships go through feel natural and real, never forced for the sake of plot advancement.

I know I’m not the first, nor will I be the last person to read this book and wind up craving Chinese food.  I tried not to dwell too long on the part about that elusive specialty of Shanghai, xiaolongbao, because my Parisian hunt for them has so far turned up fruitless.  But the moon festival party scene, with its piles of steaming dumplings, sent me almost immediately up the street to the Restaurant Raviolis.

It's not soup dumplings, but it'll do

Where I proceeded to gorge myself, as per usual, with dumplings.  Dumplings floating in flavorful broth, and dumplings pan-fried to a crisp golden brown and dunked in soy sauce and black vinegar.

One of the best dumplings in town.

I am also now in search of a restaurant in Paris that serves Yunnan cuisine, which I never knew about before, but having learned of it, must taste.  Chinese cheese?  Sign me up!

I could definitely relate to Isabelle’s struggles as she finds her way in a new culture – while China and France are obviously very different places, there are certain elements of the expat experience that are universal.  And connecting to a culture by way of its food is one of them.  Dining being the convivial experience that it is, it is one of the best ways to build friendships, which is hugely important when you’ve transplanted yourself thousands of miles from home.  A country’s cuisine can also tell stories about its values and showcase its aesthetics.  Isabelle has the good fortune to get hired as the dining editor for an English-language magazine, which immediately plunges her into the world of Chinese cuisine, from Beijing’s street carts to Hong Kong’s dim sum.  As a result, she is forced to improve her language skills from the titular “kitchen Chinese,” as well as figure out how she fits into a country where she doesn’t look foreign, but feels it.

I feel lucky to have been asked to receive an advance review copy of Kitchen Chinese, but having finished the book, I miss my friend Isabelle.

You can get your own copy through my Amazon store, Ann’s blog, or at one of her upcoming book events.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Ruhlman’s Buttermilk Cluster Rolls

7 02 2010

To answer the age-old question, “Why on Earth would you bother baking bread when you live in Paris?” I say, first, “Because I enjoy it,” and second, “Because it’s something I can’t buy here.” Like jalapeño-cheese bread, for example.  Or these dinner rolls.  Michael Ruhlman posted a recipe for soft, pull-apart, oh-so-American buttermilk dinner rolls a couple of days ago, and since I had just bought a carton of buttermilk for Saturday morning’s carrot cake pancakes, I figured it was a sign.  When I told Nick I would be baking some rolls for dinner on Saturday, and asked him what would go well with rolls, he immediately responded “hot ham water.”  Which is what we call Fergus Henderson‘s boiled ham with parsley sauce – a recipe that sounds horribly English in the worst way, but is actually so simple and so delicious (and you get leftover ham for sandwiches and the leftover stock for cooking beans!) that it became an instant classic in our kitchen.

But I was talking about rolls.  Ruhlman developed his recipe based on one from Saveur magazine, because he didn’t like the volume measurements and wanted to do it by weight.  I agree with him 100% – baking by weight is far more accurate and likely to produce consistent results than baking by volume, plus there’s the added bonus of not having to fuss around with measuring cups, the dipping and sweeping and getting flour all over the counter.

Scaling, scaling
1. Scaling 1, 2. Scaling 2

See?  Tidy as can be.  Flour, yeast, salt, and honey (I ran out of regular honey making a batch of granola and had to use chestnut honey – life’s rough) weighed straight into the bowl, followed by the buttermilk (which I actually measured out into a separate jug so I could microwave it for 30 seconds to take the chill off).

Seeing as my KitchenAid is tucked safely away in storage at the moment, I mix and knead all the breads I make in my Parisian kitchen by hand.  I start with a wooden spoon and proceed to finish mixing and kneading with my hands.

Kneading, kneading
1. Dough, pre-knead, 2. Kneading 1, 3. Kneading 2, 4. Sticky dough

I like to knead the dough right in the bowl for a couple of reasons: one, it keeps the counter clean and all the dough and flour in one place; and two, I can do it one-handed and take pictures with the other hand.  Ruhlman’s recipe, which uses a standing mixer, says it will take about 10 minutes of kneading.  By hand, it took a little over 15 minutes before I had a relatively smooth mass that passed the windowpane test.  I have one little quibble with Ruhlman, though.  One of his complaints about the original recipe he followed was that he didn’t know what the dough was supposed to be like when it was ready – soft, firm, sticky, dry?  And yet his modified recipe gives no indication, either.  While it’s true that using weight measures takes a lot of the guesswork out of baking, there are always the confounding factors of humidity and temperature.  I found the dough to be quite sticky, but didn’t add any additional flour because I figured we were going for a soft, airy finished product, and I know that the doughs for softer breads are usually sticky.  But then, I’m a pastry chef.  The average home baker might not have that knowledge.

Anyway, I transferred the kneaded dough to another bowl (I needed the big one to continue the granola project that I had going simultaneously), covered it with a towel, and set it aside to rise for a little over two hours.

Read the rest of this entry »

Around Paris: 12th: Blé Sucré

5 02 2010

Artsy B&W photo of the sign

The name means “sweet wheat.”  (Hey, it rhymes in French AND in English!  Neat.)  And Blé Sucré is sweet indeed.  Having had the place recommended several times by one Mr. David Lebovitz,  I knew the quick jaunt down to the charming Square Trousseau near the Place de la Bastille would be more than worth it.

Beautiful, shiny gâteaux at Blé Sucré

On my first visit, I sampled one of their incredibly flaky croissants and a dense, rich rectangle composed of chocolate and peanut butter (a daring combination in Paris).  And on my second visit…

Read the rest of this entry »

M&M Cookies and Other Super Bowl Treats

2 02 2010

Well, the Big Game is coming up on Sunday.  Who are you rooting for?  And more importantly, what will you eat?  I’m looking to help out on that second one.  I don’t follow sports religiously, but I do enjoy playoffs, and I have my teams.  What I enjoy the most about the Super Bowl, though (this is going to come as a huge shock to my regular readers) is getting together with friends and eating while we watch.  I also like the commercials, but really it’s the conviviality of the experience that I look forward to.  I like to plan out a menu, or just a dish if it’s a potluck-type thing.  I like preparing it, knowing that it means a fun time is just around the corner.

M&M cookies

I made these cookies a while ago, with a bag of M&Ms Dark that somehow wound up on my shelf after Thanksgiving.  I thought they were quintessentially American, and hence perfect for nibbling during the USA’s most-watched sporting event.  If you’re the superfan type, you could probably get the candies in your team’s colors for an even more festive cookie.  Stay tuned after the recipe for more crowd-friendly Super Bowl party food ideas.

M&M Cookies

I like these made with the Dark M&Ms, which taste more like the semi-sweet chips I’m used to in chocolate chip cookies.  This is a small batch which can easily be doubled.

2½ oz. / 70 g unsalted butter, softened (or use salted and omit the salt later)
3 oz. / 85 g brown sugar
1½ oz. / 43 g granulated sugar
¼ tsp. fine sea salt
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
5 oz. / 140 g all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp. baking soda
5 oz. / 140 g M&Ms (a heaping half-cup)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F/175C.
  2. Cream the butter, sugars, and salt together until smooth.  (You can do this by hand, as it doesn’t have to get to that “light and fluffy” stage.)  Add the egg and vanilla and beat until smooth once again.
  3. Combine the flour and baking soda, then add them to the bowl.  Stir gently until evenly incorporated.  Stir in the M&Ms.
  4. Drop by rounded tablespoons – by which I mean the spoons you use to eat off of, at the table – onto an ungreased cookie sheet.  (I like to line mine with parchment paper, but it’s not strictly necessary.)  Bake about 14 minutes, until the edges are golden brown.  It’s ok if the centers still look a bit moist – they’ll set up as the cookies cool.

Makes 15 cookies.

But a Super Bowl party cannot subsist on cookies alone.  Here are some ideas to round out the spread.

Dips and Snacks

Caramelized Onion-Bacon Dip
Great Grilled Guacamole
Sweet and Salty Spiced Pecans
Cheesy Poofs

Heartier Fare

Pizza (Or any of these variations: Flammekueche, Endive, Potimarron, Pissaladière, Calzone, Broccoli)
Cauliflower “Cake”
Jalapeno-Cheese Bread (Makes great sandwiches!)


Date Crumble Bars
Apple Cake
Spiced Pear Coffee Cake
Chili Brownies (These have been a huge hit at two football-watching parties already!)

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

%d bloggers like this: