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Poached Eggs Hold The Vinegar

January 4th, 2012 by Cocolat

I do love poached eggs. I eat one almost every day for weeks on end before I decide to take a break, and after a while I start up all over again. I eat them plain on whole grain or levain toast year round with or without asparagus in spring, tomatoes and basil in summer, and wild mushrooms in fall.
I also love vinegar. My vinaigrette errs on the tangy side but I’m okay with that.
Though I love it, I never ever add vinegar to egg poaching water! Here’s how I see it:

The usual problem with eggs is that the whites often end up too firm or tough by the time the yolks are ready. This is because egg whites are mostly protein, and protein starts to set (coagulate) as soon it meets heat. Yolks cook slower to begin with, and even more slowly when they are surrounded by their whites. Adding vinegar to poaching water makes the whites firm even faster to prevent them from dispersing in the water. But that extra firmness comes with a slightly grainy texture and an odd flavor. I want my poached eggs with lovely tender yolks and whites. So I say, hold the vinegar.
With or without vinegar, a little bit of each egg white always floats alway from the yolk and it may look a little messy at first, but most of it stays cuddled up with its own yolk as the egg cooks. When you lift the egg from the water, just trim any minor ragged edges between the edge of the spoon and the side of the pan and voilà! A shapely oval poached egg without vinegar or even swirling the water into a whirlpool.

I poach eggs in a wide shallow pan rather than a deep saucepan and I turn the heat off under the pan as soon as the eggs are in the water. The fresher the egg, the more it holds it’s shape: I love a fresh farm egg, but ordinary supermarket eggs also work quite nicely.
Should you want the taste of good vinegar on your eggs, by all means drizzle a little over them after they are cooked. That way you can have your perfect tender poached eggs and your vinegar too.

POACHED EGGS MY WAY
Perfect poaching is harder to write about than it is to execute. Poach one or two eggs for yourself in a small skillet for a few days running until you get the hang of it, and fine-tune the timing to your taste. You’ll learn to gauge doneness how tender and quivery the whites look when you lift the egg from the water. You can always change your mind mid-lift; just lower the egg back in the pan for another 30 seconds or so.

Here’s what you need:
Eggs
Toast

A skillet and cover: 8-inch for 1 – 3 eggs or 12-inch for 4 – 10 eggs

A large slotted spoon with generous-sized holes

A clean folded tea towel or a couple folded paper towels
Here’s what to do:
Fill the skillet with at least 1-¼ inches of water and bring it to a simmer.
If you are nervous, you can start with training wheels and break all of the eggs into separate cups before you start. (Soon you won’t need the cups.)

When the water is simmering crack one egg (or pick up one of the “training” cups). Starting at the 12 o’clock position over the pan: hold the egg very close to the surface of the water before letting it slip in. Don’t drop the eggs from a height—this is not a parachute jump or Liberace at the piano. Moving clockwise without delay, continue adding eggs to the water. The last egg or eggs can go in the center of the pan if necessary. The eggs may seem as though they are not holding shape, but don’t panic. When all of the eggs are in the water, turn the burner off and cover the pan. Leave the lid slightly ajar if the skillet is filled to brimming; otherwise, cover it completely.

Three to 4 minutes after adding the first egg, slip the slotted spoon under it and trim any ragged edges by pressing the edge of the spoon against the side of the skillet. Lift the egg from the water and nestle the spoon into the folded towel to absorb excess water; tilt the spoon into the towel to coax even more water from the egg (because nobody likes watery eggs) before sliding the egg onto a piece of toast. Continue clockwise, trimming, lifting, blotting, and setting the eggs on toast. The last egg out should be the last egg in. That’s all!

Want to see a photo? Check out my post From February 27, 2011.

Squeezing Hanukkah Potatoes

December 15th, 2011 by Cocolat

After Hanukkah for each of the last 15 to 20 years I’ve make a mental note to send my brilliant potato squeezing tip to Cooks Illustrated Magazine in time for the following year’s Latke Issue. And every year I let it slide until it is (again) too late.
 
So at last, here’s the scoop: Your potato ricer—that former darling of cooking magazines that now languishes in the back of your cupboard—is actually a Potato Squeezer. It will forever change your life with latkes.
 
Here’s what to do: Grate your potatoes as usual, with or without the onions or other veggies you are including. Scrub the dust from your ricer and fill it with as much of the grated mixture as it will hold. Squeeze hard: actually rest the ricer against the edge of the sink and lean on it. A little leverage goes a long way: you won’t believe how much water even a small or weak person can get from a few potatoes! Dump the squeezed stuff into a bowl and repeat until done. This is so easy (and kind of fun) that an obsessive person might be tempted to repeat the whole process a second time. Talk about dry potatoes!

Happy Hanukkah.

Rules and Ratios

August 27th, 2011 by Cocolat

I had tea yesterday with a very young friend who wants to bake. He asked if I would teach him one of my best basic ratios! This got me thinking.
 
I love the idea that cooking and baking has rules and ratios that define the perfect this or that (butter cake, crème anglaise, sponge cake, whatever). But many of the best and most interesting desserts defy the rules. The indescribably decadent flourless and nearly flourless chocolate cakes (upon which I built an entire career) are notoriously lawless (so flexible and forgiving and fun) and aren't they are some of the best desserts you will ever eat? And, wasn’t the recipe for brownies a mistake? You might argue that these recipes are not real cakes.
 
But the Bundt cakes and rich coffee cakes that we bake in tube pans are real cakes. These sweet rich moist crowd pleasers flaunt basic cake ratios too…they usually have too much fat or sugar to perform properly in any pan but a tube pan. It’s the tube that saves them from falling by giving them enough support to rise and stay risen. Just try baking some of these cakes in a regular round spring form pan, without a tube, and watch them sink in the center and become just another “cake failure”. The tube enables us to break the ratio rules. Small pans and cupcake pans do the same. And there are more tricks too.
 
My next book, Totally Easy Sinfully Delicious Melt-In-Your Mouth Desserts (Artisan 2012) is about to go to press and I just discovered that my gingerbread has a tendency to sink in the center. It seemed perfect when I tested half batches in half-size pans several months ago. But even so I made a note reminding me to retest the full recipe before publishing. From experience I know that even if a sample in a small pan works perfectly there is no guarantee that the full recipe in a full size pan will be equally successful. People think baking is all about the chemistry, but what about the physics? So here I am, at the eleventh hour, with delicious but sinking gingerbread. Clearly the recipe is unbalanced: too much sugar or liquid or not enough flour. But when I balance the ratios to prevent that sinking, the cake doesn’t taste as delicious. So I start thinking of ways to fix the problem without “fixing” the ratios. It occurs to me that extra beating (normally to be avoided because it causes extra gluten to develop) might be exactly what’s needed here. Maybe physics can trump chemistry. Maybe two wrongs can make a right.
 
I put all of the ingredients into the food processer and let it rip for a long 15 seconds. I’m rewarded with a cake that rises perfectly and does not sink. It is deliciously sweet and spicy and has a tender velvety texture. AND IT’S SIMPLER THAN EVER TO MAKE!
 
I’m just saying…. Ratios and rules don’t always get you where you want to go.
It would seem appropriate to publish the recipe here, but I can’t do that yet. Wait for it in Totally Easy Sinfully Delicious Melt-In-Your Mouth Desserts coming next spring. And forgive me.

The Best Old Things

April 5th, 2011 by Cocolat

I have mixers and processors, ice cream machines, an infrared thermometer, digital scale and my share of electric or electronic gadgets in my kitchen. But some of my best, most often used tools are old and simple. Good looking too. And filled with memories. A few date from l972, acquired in Paris, at La Samaritaine, or a street market or corner quincaillerie (hardware store). If I need a cup or two of grated carrots or beets, I'd rather reach for one of my tin (not even stainless steel) Mouli graters than bother with the food processor. One has a rotary barrel, the other slightly larger, Mouli Julienne, has three disks with different size holes. They remind me of finely shredded veggies dressed in vinaigrette, the ubiquitous salades de crudites we ate in modest French restaurants and cafes long ago.

Rolling pins? I have my great grandmother's tapered maple pin, with which my mother made her Thanksgiving apple pie, before she decided it was more convenient to make apple crisps instead of apple pies. I have a small slender pin made of dark wood, that's only 12 inches long and just an inch in diameter. More like a fat dowel than what we consider a rolling pin, this pin is used to roll out crackers or flat bread in I-forget-which country, and was given to me by a friend from Indiana. It is surprisingly versatile. Actually it's the sports car of rolling pins: I find it remarkably easy to manoeuvre and it turns on a dime. I also have a beautiful, and hefty, hand-turned ash and walnut pin crafted recently by another friend. I use whichever suits the task and my mood.

The slotted spoon is employed several times each week to lift perfect poached eggs from their hot (not-even-simmering) bath. I love my micro plane and vastly prefer the original design, without a handle to distract from the essential beauty of a perfect functional tool. I use the grooved mortar and pestle often to make, among other things, a ground coriander, fennel, and pepper corn crust for seared tuna (From Paul Johnson's book, Fish Forever).

The mystery tool that resembles a miniature jaws of life is one of my very best old things. In lieu of an oven mitt, it's used to grab a hot cake pan or dish from the oven, or at least slide it into view, without gouging the contents with the gigantic thumb of my oven mitt. Tell me that never happens to you… I bought this grabby thing at at the Bazaar de l'Hotel De Ville, (known as BHV, pronounced "bay ahsh vay" of course) for less than 5 francs when France had francs and francs were only 5 to the dollar! I'm afraid it will break some day and I have no idea what it is called or whether one can even still buy them in France (are you listening David Lebovitz and Dorie Greenspan?) I loved photographing these beloved and useful old tools and remembering when and where I got them. Not that I would object (at all!) to having a Pacojet

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

Cocoa Curiosity

March 31st, 2011 by Cocolat

About 10 years ago, the late Robert Steinberg (who, with John Scharffenberger, founded Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker) called to ask if I wanted to come over that evening and taste the first samples of what would later become Scharffen Berger natural cocoa powder. I did. I suggested that Alfred Peet join us. Neither John nor Robert knew Alfred and I relished the idea of introducing the man who changed coffee in America to a couple of new guys that I knew (even then) would change chocolate. Alfred, the late founder of Peet’s Coffee, was well over 80 at the time. When I phoned him, he said,“I’m just back from Holland, too jet lagged to drive to San Francisco”. I took a chance and said, “what if I drive?”. He never hesitated, “what time should I be ready?”
 
In Robert’s kitchen that night, I introduced the elder game changer to the two up-and-coming. I was the only female watching these boys figure each other out, joke with each other, and eventually find common ground, and even show a little respect. I had a wonderful time and left with the guy what brought me, that is, the guy that I brought… Memorable evening.
 
Ultimately Scharffen Berger cocoa was memorable too: aromatic, chocolaty, fruity, filled with a range of complex flavors. Because it was such a pleasure to work with, I began to pay careful attention…
I started to notice that simmering or boiling seemed to destroy some of its bright fruity flavors and sometimes produced unpleasant flavor notes. For that reason, my recipes for cocoa frosting and cocoa sauce call for heating but no simmering. Lately I’ve wondered if some of my older recipes, like Sicilian Gelato or chocolate pudding, would be improved by not boiling the cocoa.
 
So I tried the gelato without letting the cocoa simmer: I simmered the base mixture (Straus organic milk, sugar, and cornstarch) just enough to eliminate the raw starch flavor. Then I whisked the base into the cocoa at the very end. I was rewarded with better, brighter, and more complex cocoa flavor. That recipe was good before, and now it’s better. If you try it, remember that home made ice creams have no gums or additives to keep then from freezing rock solid. Once frozen, you will need to soften the gelato slightly in the microwave or fridge before scooping and serving. Then again, if your gang is available at the critical moment, this stuff makes irresistible soft-serve, right out of the machine. You’ll end up eating plenty that way, so be happy it’s relatively guilt free.
 
CHOCOLATE SICILIAN GELATO REDUX
Sicilian gelato contains no eggs or cream; it’s made with milk and thickened ever so slightly with starch to give it creaminess and body. When it’s done properly and with good ingredients, it is satisfying and flavorful and refreshingly not-too-rich. It’s simple and delicious, and I often like it better than richer and fancier ice creams.
 
Ingredients:
2.4 ounces (3/4 cup) unsweetened natural (my preference) cocoa powder
3 cups milk (whole, low fat or nonfat!)
4.6 ounces (2/3 cup) sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch.
1/8 teaspoons salt
 
Equipment:
Ice cream maker
 
In a medium large bowl, whisk the cocoa with just enough of the milk to form a smooth loose paste. Set aside, near the stove. In a medium saucepan, mix the sugar with the cornstarch and salt. Whisk in enough of the remaining milk to form a smooth paste. Whisk in the rest of the milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a silicon spatula or wooden spoon, scraping the sides, bottom and corners of the pan to avoid scorching, until the mixture thickens and bubbles a little at the edges. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, for two minutes longer. Scrape the mixture over the cocoa paste. Whisk until thoroughly blended. Let cool. Cover and chill several hours or overnight. Freeze according to the instructions with your ice cream maker. Note: the mixture is thick to begin with and may take less time than average time in the ice cream maker. Makes about 1 quart.
 
POSTSCRIPT: Just to muddy the water a little, just to prove that “consistency (really) is the hobgoblin of small minds” (apologies to Ralph Waldo Emerson) and that logical conclusions are not always logical, when I tried my best chocolate pudding recipe without boiling the cocoa, it wasn’t as good as the original. What’s good for the gelato is not good for the pudding? Go figure!

Duck Duck Duck Eggs

March 20th, 2011 by Cocolat

My friend Josh brought a dozen fresh eggs from his ducks. How could I be this old and never have tasted duck eggs? Never mind. I scrambled one immediately so he could share my first taste. I thought, “rich, not as egg-y (by which I guess I meant chicken egg-y) tasting as chicken eggs, hmmm”. Some people think they taste cheesy according to Josh. I didn’t and still don’t taste cheese, but the rich texture is somewhat reminiscent of scrambled eggs with cheese. And that extra richness does have its own flavor, which mutes what I would ordinarily consider to be an “egg-y” flavor. But I was hooked by the time I had finished my half of that first egg, which I had cooked hot and fast (but very soft) in brown butter and eaten with whole grain toast.
 
Over the next few days I ate a scrambled duck egg (often cooked in peppery extra virgin olive oil) everyday for breakfast. These have been so delicious I haven’t been able to make myself branch out and poach, fry sunny-side-up, or make custard with even one of them.
 
Last night, my cousins came to dinner. Duck egg virgins! What to do? I made a little appetizer: scrambled duck eggs with crunchy toasted baguette slices and chopped parsley on the side (a good call as it turned out), so we could each assemble our own little tastes. We had flakey Maldon salt and a pepper grinder at hand. Interestingly, the pepper overwhelmed the good duck egg-y flavor and the parsley was completely distracting. All that was wanted was a little salt after all.
 
This morning I was at it again. I scrambled my solitary egg in extra virgin olive oil, on low heat instead of high, and stirring constantly so the eggs came out very moist and creamy, very oeufs brouilles (someone please tell me how to get an accent egu over that last “e” please). I ate them with toast and salt. They were the best yet.
 
There are only a couple duck eggs left now. Tomorrow I might finally be able to poach one. Or maybe not.
 
 

Dulce Dulce

March 19th, 2011 by Cocolat

A couple of readers reported an unpleasantly graininess when they tried my dulce de leche from Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cookies. I had good results when I tested for the book, so I was curious about the feedback. I made the recipe several times in the last few days, paying close attention to what might be going on.
 
Before I get into the details, let me admit that the recipe takes more like 60-90 minutes than the optimistic 45 minutes that I said it would take. And, you might as well use a bigger pot than I called for so that the mixture won’t flow over the moment you turn your back.
 
About the texture, it turns out that tending the pot and stirring frequently is critically important for a smooth sauce. You must stir any foam into the sauce regularly, as well as scraping the bottom and corners of the pot and around the sides, continually incorporating any thickened sauce from the sides and corners of the pot into the rest of the sauce before those thickened parts congeal and toughen. As the sauce thickens towards the end of the cooking, you must stir more often, and then constantly. I use a silicon spatula mostly, but have also used a whisk, though the whisk tends to cause more foam and if you whisk briskly the finished dulce will be lighter in color and texture, which may or may not be what you want. I’ve revised the recipe below with greater emphasis on stirring and with the additional step of straining the finished sauce for a little extra smoothness insurance. And I’ve added a pat of butter…
 
In one of my samples I ran out of whole milk and had to top off the measure with less than ¼ cup of non-fat milk. So, I added maybe a tablespoon of heavy cream to compensate. It seemed like a negligible amount so I promptly forgot about it. Comparing samples later, I liked the texture of that one best. I concluded that I had just been more careful about stirring. But later, I remembered that tiny bit of cream and wondered if such a small amount of extra fat could have softened the proteins (or something?). So I tested again with whole milk and but added a tablespoon of butter. I got the smoothest sauce of all… Of course I also tended the pot as though it were a baby. Clearly this is a recipe to make when you have time or other things going on in the kitchen meanwhile.
 
 
DULCE DULCE DE LECHE

(Revised from Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cookies)

Makes 1 generous cup

Ingredients:

½ vanilla bean

1 quart whole milk

1 tablespoon butter

½ cup (3.5 ounces) sugar

½ teaspoon baking soda

Pinch of salt (optional but really good…)

Set a fine or medium fine strainer over a heatproof bowl.

With a sharp paring knife, cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. In a large heavy bottomed pot (that holds at least 6-quarts) combine the vanilla bean pieces with the milk, butter, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring frequently, especially around the sides of the pot. At first the milk will foam dramatically, and it may curdle, but will eventually smooth out. Continue to cook, frequently stirring in any foam on top and sweeping the sides, corners, and all over the bottom of the pot with a silicone spatula. Keep the mixture boiling briskly but not furiously without letting it overflow. The mixture will gradually turn a deep caramel color as it thickens. This may take from 60-90 minutes, depending on your stove and the size of your pot. The mixture becomes especially bubbly and foamy in the last stages of cooking: adjust the heat so that it bubbles actively but not violently and stir it very frequently, and then constantly (especially around the sides and corners of the pot) until done. It is done when the mixture is reduced to a generous cup and a little spooned over an ice cube thickens to a soft gel. Scrape the sauce into the strainer and stir and press it through. Be sure to scrape the sauce from underneath the strainer into the bowl. Cool the sauce slightly, then taste and adjust the salt. You can put the spent pieces of vanilla bean back into the mixture if you like. They will either keep on giving flavor or at least look as though they are. May be kept in a covered container in the refrigerator for at least 1 month

Good News and Bad News: Carrot Re-Torte Part Two

February 24th, 2011 by Cocolat

I was so smitten with my Carrot Almond Torte (Carrot Re-Torte) that I decided to try yet another variation. In testing it, I found a typo: the baking temperature for Carrot Almond Torte should be 325 degrees instead of 350. Mea culpa. Good news is that the bad news is not all that bad. I’ve already corrected the original post, but wanted to call out to the first group of enthusiastic readers who said they were going to try the recipe asap and may have printed it out before I corrected it. I hope not…
More good news is that there is a less messy ways to squeeze those carrots. If you have a hinged citrus squeezer for oranges or lemons, or potato ricer, you can use it to squeeze your grated carrots. I was able to get at more than 3 tablespoons of delicious juice from 8 ounces of carrots. You’ll see from the photo that I have the yellow lemon squeezer instead of the larger orange orange squeezer. Still, it took only three batches to squeeze all of the carrots and I didn’t need to use paper towels at all.  And, a potato ricer holds even more carrots…Just remember to squeeze hard and turn the squeezer sideways before you finish, to get those last drops of juice.