Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

This year we had a bigger Thanksgiving, 14 adults, one two-year-old and a three-month-old, and that turns out to be a lot more than the 10 adults we had last year. With careful planning, and knocking off three dishes a day, I was able to get a huge amount done in advance and was looking forward to a restful Thanksgiving day.

Until the turkey! I made it the same way as I did last year - deconstructed, then breast cooked upside down in a saute pan, and finally all cooked over the stuffing. But this year I dry-brined the turkey (salt plus baking powder) for two days, instead of wet-brining the breast overnight. And this year's turkey weighed in at 18 pounds instead of 14. For whatever reason, the breast just wouldn't get done and it was so fat that it had dried out on the outside by the time it had cooked through on the inside. In addition, it took 45 extra minutes, thereby throwing off the entire schedule. Finally it got done, and looked pretty good,

Turkey breast ready to be carved
but I ended up with the Thanksgiving nemesis - dried white meat - and a disorganized meal.

That being said, everyone had fun and enjoyed the meal, which did have some real highlights.

Here's what I cooked:

Thanksgiving Dinner
 November 27, 2014

Salmon rillettes (from a class at Atelier des Chefs in Paris)
Slow poached garlic shrimp (from Tyler Florence's Ultimate TV show)
Mustard and tapenade palmiers
(from Dorie Greenspan, Around My French Table)
Feta with sumac, black sesame seeds and olive oil (from Bon Appétit)
Bar nuts (from The Union Square Cookbook)

Turkey with cornbread and turkey sausage and dried apricot stuffing
(from Cook's Illustrated for Turkey, Food and Wine and myself for stuffing)
Cranberry mostarda (from Food and Wine)
Sweet potato gratin with sage (from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook)
Brussels sprouts (from Food and Wine)

Bourbon caramel pumpkin tart (from Fine Cooking)
Chocolate hazelnut torte (from Gourmet)
Marie-Hélène’s apple tart
(from Dorie Greenspan, Around My French Table)

And here's what some of it looked like:

Hors d'oeuvres were served in the living room, around our old art deco table.

Slow poached garlic shrimp
Feta cheese with sumac and black sesame seeds
Then to the dining room, spectacularly arranged as always by J,

for a buffet dinner:
The turkey, deconstructed and carved
Sweet potato gratin
Roasted Brussels sprouts with caramelized onions

Thanksgiving plate, fully loaded
Finally, three desserts that I whipped up earlier in the week:

Chocolate hazelnut torte
Pumpkin tart with bourbon caramel and toasted candied pumpkin seeds
Marie-Hélène's apple cake
A good time was had by all, I think, except for myself during the turkey breast crisis.

Bobby Jay

Sunday, November 9, 2014


Well, the cold weather's here and it's time to get back to baking. In truth, I bake in most months, but desserts in summer are most often fruit with ice cream (especially homemade lemon verbena or ginger) or yogurt (homemade and flavored with shredded coconut or cardamom, vanilla and sugar) or luxurious crème fraîche.

Over the years I have made hundreds of apple tarts and am always working on ways to improve them. I recently invented the killer apple tart: apples over ginger caramel and minced candied ginger with ginger caramel sauce.

Apple tart with ginger caramel and candied ginger
For the crust, I use Clotilde Dusoulier's pâte sablée (short pastry), which, being a hand-shaped crust, solves the problem of dealing with brittle rolled sweet dough, as well as the need for pie weights when blind baking. Then I made a ginger caramel from a recipe that I found in Maximum Flavor, by Aki Kamozawa and Alexander Talbot, who run the amazing Ideas in Food blog. I slice the apples thin and heat them for 2-3 minutes in the microwave in 1/2 apple clumps of slices, to get rid of the excess liquid that can kill a crust.

I blind-baked the crust, then when cooled painted it with a thin coat of caramel. On this I placed a layer of minced candied ginger, the dry, spicy kind, and then the apples. Baked at 400 until ready, about 35 minutes, and voilà, a wonderful tart ready for eating, dressed with more ginger caramel or not.

What makes this tart special is the ginger, with an assist from the ginger caramel. I love ginger in all its forms and it really worked here. My only residual question is whether to add some ginger powder to the crust, for an apple ginger three-ways tart.

While on the subject of baking, I recently got Dorie Greenspan's brand new book, Baking Chez Moi, hoping that it would be as good as her Around My French Table. Too soon to tell, but first signs are good: the same excellent organization (including metric measurement!), logical recipes and lush photos. Most important, the recipes are extremely inviting and not intimidating. I made the very first one in the book: "Brown-Butter-and-Vanilla-Bean Weekend Cake": a simple cake that's a perfect vehicle for ice cream, fruit or compote, among other things.

Brown-Butter-and-Vanilla-Bean Weekend Cake
Happy Baking!

Bobby Jay