Monday, February 20, 2017

Valentine's Day at Home

Joan and I are never home for Valentine's Day, but this year we were. So I decided to make a special romantic meal for the two of us, incorporating some luxury ingredients that I don't use every day.

We started with slices of foie gras from Comptesse du Barry, from a can but still delicious, served on toasts from my recent challah efforts. Traditionally brioche toast is used, but challah, though a bit less rich, is pretty similar. Served with Champagne Gosset Brut Grand Reserve.

For the appetizer, tiny Nantucket Bay scallops sauteed on skewers and glazed with a sauce of soy sauce, white pepper and red wine vinegar, courtesy of the great Joël Robuchon (from Simply French, written by Patricia Wells). Served with a simple salad of micro greens from the Sunday farmer's market behind the Museum of Natural History, dressed with a thinned version of the same glaze.

Then a simplified version of poulet en demi-deuil (chicken in mourning), so named because a layer of black truffles cooked under the skin is thought to resemble a widow's mourning dress. Buttered and roasted in foil with a little cognac and Madeira in the cavity. Not as truffly as you might expect, but delicious and succulent in any case; a simple cooking method that I might try again. Served with buttered egg noodles and sauteed asparagus wrapped in prosciutto. A nice Côte-Rôtie Brune-et-Blonde de Guigal1999 accompanied the main course.

Truffled roast chicken, egg noodles and prosciutto wrapped asparagus
Finally, a decadent chocolate dessert -- Rose Levy Beranbaum's Choccolate Oblivion Torte, made with only three ingredients; Schaffenberger's 62% chocolate, eggs and butter. No flour, no sugar. Instead of cutting wedges I cut out rounds with a heated cookie cutter. Served with crème fraîche, raspberry sauce and raspberries. A pretty presentation, including the red notes appropriate to Valentine's Day.

Rose Levy Beranbaum's Chocolate Oblivion Torte
I hope you, too, had a happy Valentine's Day, no matter what you were doing or eating.

Bobby Jay

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Changing Bread Gears -- The Challah Chronicles

A slice of challah from Breaking Breads recipe
 I have been having fun for a number of years baking country style breads. First, Jim Lahey's no-knead bread, as taught at length in his My Bread, then Chad Robertson's, as taught in his Tartine Bread and Tartine Book No. 3. Lahey's bread uses 1/4 teaspoon of yeast per loaf, abnd relies on a long, slow (12-18 hour) rise to get the necessary gluten development. Robertson's uses natural leavain starter instead of yeast. Lahey's is easy and produces excellent bread: Robertson's is hard, but produces a loaf of great complexity and interest, worth the trouble.

Recently I read Molly on the Range, in which Molly Yeh, who is half Jewish and half Chinese, has a number of challah recipes, and determined to make one or more of them. Then Molly recently said on her blog, My Name Is Yeh that she had encountered the challah made by Uri Scheft, owner of Lehanim Bakery in Tel Aviv and Breads Bakery in New York City, and concluded: "it was the best challah ever and i swore off my own challah recipe. byeeeee."

Enough said. I bought Scheft's newly released Breaking Breads, and set off to make challah his way. Here is my first effort, topped with a mixture of nigella, poppy and sesame seeds:

Challah from Breaking Breads recipe
Not bad looking, but I did not use enough egg wash so the loaves did not shine they way they should have. More important, although the taste was fine, the texture was not quite right, a bit dry and not the "very tender bread that pulls apart in cottony strands" that Scheft describes. I made the loaves with butter instead of oil, which is traditional because challah is generally eaten with meat dishes and dairy and meat don't go together in Kosher tradition. While Scheft says using butter makes for a richer and more tender loaf, I wonder whether that choice was wise. Even good European style butter has about 16% water, so using the same weight of butter as oil results in less oil in the bread. I determined to use oil next time.

Today I tried again changing two things. First, I put a heavier coating of egg wash atop the bread, and yes, it was shinier, although I have room to improve on that score. A side benefit of a heavier coating of egg was that more seeds adhered to the surface.
Challah from Breaking Breads recipe - second try
My second change was to use grape seed oil instead of butter, which, as I had guessed, resulted in a delicate and tender crumb.

Challah from Breaking Breads recipe - second try: crumb
Scheft's challah tastes great and keeps well if stored in a plastic bag with the cut end covered. And compared to Robertson's natural leavain bread, which requires daily feeding of your starter and 22 hours once you decide to make the bread, its simplicity itself. Less than three hours from start to finish.

Scheft's book has many variations on challah, then an extensive chapter on babka, many exotic flatbread techniques, etc. Lots to think about and try. In the meantime, more challah is definitely in the picture.

Bobby Jay

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Dark Chocoolate and Coconut Macarons

Chocolate coconut macarons
Each year J is an exhibitor at New York's Winter Antiques Show, one of the best art and antiques shows in New York, and I have a tradition of supplying macarons for her to share with clients and fellow dealers.

Inspired by our flavor discovery at the renowned Berthillon, on the Île Saint-Louis -- sorbert cacao amer with glace noix de coco -- I set out to make chocolate coconut macarons this year. I found two credible recipes in my cookbook collection, one by Pierre Hermé, the king of macarons, and the other by the excellent pâtissier Christophe Felder. The problem with both was that they used milk chocolate, which J does not like. While I sensed that milk chocolate might be better in theory, the way hazelnut gianduja is better with milk chocolate, I decided to stick with dark. But not too dark: I used Ghirardelli's 60% baking bar to avoid the potential clash between the bitterness of very dark chocolate with the gentle sweetness of the coconut. Also, the texture of very bitter chocolate when melted is not as smooth as that of more moderate choices.

Macaron shells are made by folding a soft meringue into a mixture of confectioner's sugar and powdered almonds. The meringue may be French style, made by mixing granulated sugar into egg whites as they get whipped to soft peaks, or Italian style, made by mixing hot sugar syrup into the egg whites and whipping until the whites cool down. Italian meringue is much harder to make but results in a meringue that has a denser texture and is more forgiving to cook with. So I went with Pierre Herme's Italian  meringue mixed with unsweetened coconut flakes and, to my amazement, it came out perfectly.

Uncooked coconut topped macaron shells
Baked macaaron shells, interior
Baked macaron shells, tops
 For the filling I made Pierre's chocolate coconut ganache, using the aforesaid 60% chocolate and this, too, came out well. But this was no surprise, since a ganache is very easy to make.

There remained only the assembly, making little chocolate ganache sandwiches with still more coconut flakes sprinkled on top, and then a couple of days in the fridge. This improves the texture dramatically, and two days later they were perfect. Here's a nice one:

Chocolate covered macaron
Technically, they were the best I have ever made, by far, as attested by a number of my "customers." Personally, though, I would have preferred an even darker chocolate ganache made without coconut in order to recapture the satisfying chocolate hit that I remembered from Berthillon.

Next time I hope to reach chocolate coconut macaron Nirvana!

Bobby Jay