Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Best Butter

Is there really a best butter? Experts in France (and who would know better?) seem to agree that it's Beurre Bordier, made by Jean-Yves Bordier in Brittany -- not Normandy (sacré bleu!) -- although the milk he uses comes from cows located in both provinces.

I tried the two pictured here, le beurre doux and le beurre au sel fumé. And yes, it is the best butter. I don't think it's cultured, which would be rare for high-quality French butter, because the sweet butter does not have the characteristic sour tang; it's like the best non-cultured butter imaginable. And the smoked salt butter was little short of divine, on toast and in tiny slices placed in the middle of a split radish.

According to Bordier's web site, the special complex buttery notes are a result of 15-25 minutes of kneading (malaxage) in a teak vessel and the artisanal barattage process, which I don't understand at all. The final bars are shaped by hand using wooden spatulas on wooden tables, by workers who must have "great dexterity and clock-like consistency." Charming if nothing else.

Apart from baking, I don't actually use much butter, but I am tempted to sample every variety of Bordier's, and there are quite a few. Here's the current list from their website:

Les classiques
  • Le beurre doux
  • Le beurre demi-sel
  • Le beurre salé
Les spécialités
  • Le beurre au sel fumé
  • Le beurre aux algues
  • Le beurre au Yuzu
  • Le beurre au Piment d’Espelette
Beurre Bordier is now available in Paris in selected cheese and other gourmet stores. I got mine at Lafayette Gourmet.

Bobby Jay

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Passover 2014

I have been hosting the family's Seder for a few years now, so to some extent the guests are stuck with what I make. Last year, I announced that the 2014 Seder would be sephardic, incorporating foods from at least five Mediterranean countries. (There are many to choose from: Persia, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Italy, Turkey, France, Lebanon, Morocco, Yemen, Libya, Israel (and though not Mediterranean, India). One of the main reasons for this is my love for rice and lentils, which are prohibited during Passover by Ashkenazi tradition but permitted by Sephardic tradition: a flexibility I plan to exploit to the fullest. The family seemed enthusiastic about the experiment.

Maybe I'll make this crusty Persian rice, one of the world's great dishes
So for ten months I have been thinking about this project, and have begun to try recipes. My sources for recipes and inspiration are many:
  • Claudia Roden's amazingly readable, comprehensive and scholarly The Book of Jewish Food - this is one of the best cookbooks of all time - and The New Book of Middle Eastern Food
  • Jennifer Abadi's A Fistful of Lentils, which is focused on Syrian Jewish food, and her terrific blog
  • Poopa Dweck's Aromas of Aleppo
  • Joan Nathan's Jewish Cooking in America and My Search for Jewish Cooking in France
  • Yotam Ottolenghi's Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, Plenty and Jerusalem
  • Louise Shafia's The New Persian Kitchen 
  • Nur Ilkin and Sheila Kaufman's The Turkish Cookbook
  • Ôscan Ozan's Sultan's Kitchen: A Turkish Cookbook
  • Paula Wolfert's The Food of Morocco
  • Mourad Lahlou's New Moroccan
To study Sephardic/Middle Eastern food is to go on a cultural journey as much as a gastronomic one. I have learned much about the migration of Jews to and from Spain, as well as the varied histories of the Jews in the other countries mentioned above. All interesting and many surprises.

The downside to all this, even if I cook a great Sephardic meal, is that we will not get to enjoy some old favorites, notably my sister-in-law's spectacular matzoh ball soup (great soup and balls) nor my mother's very American style but delicious haroset.

I will report back as the planning and meal unfold.

Bobby Jay

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Pourquoi Tarte Tatin?

I love making Tarte Tatin, not because it is the best-tasting dessert or even the best-tasting apple dessert, but because it is a challenging thing to do. Every time, you must consider a number of questions before embarking: which recipe, what type of apples (how firm are they at a given time of year), should the apples be sliced in quarters, eighths or halves, make the caramel first and add apples or put the apples on the sugar and butter and cook them all together, what pastry to use (puff pastry, pâte brisée), and finally, what pan to use (non-stick, copper, cast iron).

After that, you execute, and every time it is different. But no matter the method, there is always the moment of truth when you must turn the tart upside down over a plate and hope that it slides, perfectly intact, onto the plate with no sticky bits left in the pan. I panic about this less than I used to because I have a lot of experience repairing the ones that did not come away perfectly.

That brings me to today and the choices I made.
  • Winesap apples, which are ugly but pretty tart and usually (but not today) rock hard; only available at farmers' markets
  • Small cast iron pan
  • Dufour frozen puff pastry
  • Recipe from the legendary Jamin restaurant in Paris (via Patricia Wells' The Paris Cookbook), which uses halved apples and cooks them atop the sugar and butter for an hour before going to the oven
The choice of the Jamin recipe with halved apples was bold (but, inspired by the Olympics, I decided to go for it). I get a good result about 50% of the time when I use this method, because one half of each piece can turn into apple sauce if you don't pay a lot of attention and get lucky. So the moment of truth was unusually tense.

But it turned out I nailed it! Beautiful color, apples totally intact, no sticking.

Tarte tatin based on recipe by Benoît Guichard, Meilleur Ouvrier de France, from Jamin
Sorry to bore you with all this technical stuff, but the joy of Tarte Tatin is in the details.

Bobby Jay