Tag Archives: Butter

Challenge #16: Julia Child’s Cinnamon Toast Flan

17 Aug

Julia Child, the American queen of French cooking, would have been 100 on Aug. 15. In honor of her birthday, I declare a French-themed baking challenge.

A while back, I checked out “Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom,” one of her last, and I would say most accessible to the everyday chef, cookbooks. It’s full of simple recipes, explanations of French terminology and instructions for how to perfect the basic French techniques.

Tucked away in the chapter on “Breads, Crepes, and Tarts” is Cinnamon Toast Flan–A Bread Pudding. I wanted to do something different than just the standard cake or crepes, and this seemed like just the thing. I may try cutting the recipe in half, because I definitely do not have 6 to 8 people to serve, or maybe it’ll be a good excuse to entertain. We’ll see. A caveat, it takes a lot of eggs (10 total), but surprisingly not that much butter.

I’ll leave you with two awesome things I learned (or was reminded of ) about Julia this week.

1) The woman liked Goldfish.

2) If you’re fan enough, you can even visit her kitchen at the Smithsonian in D.C. (Chris, we are definitely going here when Hannah and I visit).

I’m excited to see how this turns out. Bon appetit!

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(Brains’) Cornflake-Chocolate Chip Mallow Cookies: Portland

17 Aug

First off, Happy Birthday, Brains! (That’s what I call our friend Blaine who lives in Chicago. Other aliases include Beezy, Beez Knees and Balvarez).

These Cornflake-Chocolate Chip-Marshmallow Cookies can be described in three words: buttery crunchy caramelly. I’m so glad Hannah suggested this recipe. After she said her cookies had turned out kind of ridiculous, I somehow naively thought I would be able to avoid disaster (read: one giant blob cookie). Not so. In hindsight, this recipe requires a bit of tinkering to make it work, which I’ll explain as we go. Once again, this recipe was a another lesson for me in the basics of baking.

I also broke out the Homemade Vanilla Extract for this recipe. It has a very subtle flavor, surprisingly, because the base is vodka. Basically, you put two vanilla beans in some vodka in a dark place and let it sit for 5 months. I made this for Hannah’s birthday, so it’s been waiting since the beginning of February for me to test it.

First in the process was to cream the butter (2 whole sticks?!) and sugar. This is the first place the recipe went awry. Including the Corn Flake Crunch (shown at the beginning of this post), these cookies have 3 sticks of butter, which I hate to say it, is waaaaaaay too much. For the crunch, I would’ve cut the amount by at least half. And in the regular recipe I would’ve either cut the amount of butter, or added 1/4 to 1/2 cup more flour to the cookie dough at the end. This would have given them less of a buttery consistency in the dough itself, and it would’ve made them hold together better after baking.

Here’s the cookie dough with the Corn Flake Crunch, mini chocolate chips and marshmallows mixed in. It looked amazing, but upon molding it into 1/3 cup cookies, it already felt super buttery (greasy even). I naively followed the recipe to the letter, instead of following my instincts.

When I had the cookies all set out, they looked great, but I should’ve guessed they’d be too big and run together in the oven.

Here’s the first batch, which I refrigerated for 2 hours before baking, but I think they needed longer in the fridge and needed to be more spread out because they turned into a giant giant monster cookie.

Below is the final batch of cookies, which I sent to Blaine. These I left in the refrigerator overnight and made sure to space them out enough so they wouldn’t blob together. Still, they were HUGE when they were done. So really, I learned a lot from this (almost failed) recipe:

1) Don’t follow recipes exactly. You have license to improvise and experiment.

2) Use less butter and more flour for more coherent cookies.

3) If in doubt, refrigerate dough for longer so it keeps its shape.

4) Make the cookies smaller rather than larger, and space them out more than you think necessary.

It’s basic, yes, but it’s good to have a recipe that challenges you to think about your methods in a new light. In any case, they tasted great, and I hope Brains enjoyed them!

Happy Birthday, Brains!

Sucre a la Creme: Denver

12 Oct

Full disclosure: I am dating a French Canadian man.  This provides for a fair amount of joke fodder (think: mooses and Mounties) and he is, overall, a good sport about my Canada teasing. Not that he doesn’t bring it on himself sometimes: this last weekend, I had to wait with my pancake batter for him to go out and get some maple syrup, because we were out of it and powdered sugar simply would not do.  ANYWAY, my personal life is beside the point. The point is: when Nora and I lived together, I always had backup on my Canada jokes, and I miss her sassy style.

Actually, I realized as I was cooking it that Sucre A La Creme is actually the filling of a Québécois dessert that the Boy has made me before: Sugar Pie.  The first time I had sugar pie, I realized that it was basically pecan pie without the pecans – so, basically, the best food ever.  However, based on the Québécois cuisines I’ve eaten so far, it is a mystery to me how French Canadians don’t have the world’s highest rate of heart disease.

My fudge was gooey, and that’s also a mystery, because I was sure to let it boil long and hot enough. I wonder if I added too much evaporated milk – it comes in 12 oz. cans here, and the recipe called for 5 oz, so I eyeballed it.  No matter what it was that went wrong, my Sucre A La Creme was a little goopy. This is not to say that  I am above eating it with a spoon…ha.  It would make a good ice cream topping.  It just didn’t cut into nice, clean, squares the way I wanted it to.

I melted some glorious butter:

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And then I added the rest and let it all boil together. This went smoothly but I forgot to take pictures because I was busy thinking about my brand-spanking-new golden pan that I had just purchased:

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Then, presto! It was ready to go in the pan.

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While it was taking the first fifteen-minute chill, I enjoyed the scalding hot spoils of my whisk, and then decided to start on a pomander, because it just isn’t autumn without these lovlies hanging around the house.

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It’s too bad it didn’t turn out perfectly, but it was still delicious.  Mmm!

Sucre a la Creme: Portland

10 Oct

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving to one and all!
And what easier way to celebrate than brown sugar, butter and cream melted into a delicious maple concoction, then mixed with more sugar and left to set.

The most difficult part, and I mean only part where I needed to pay attention, was the stage at which you bring the brown sugar, butter and evaporated milk to a boil — and then boil for almost 10 minutes, stirring constantly.
I’ve never really worked with sugar-butter syrups before, so this was a new consistency of sauce for me. Things got a bit messy, as I sloshed and spilled, inevitably, all over the st
ove, but smelling that syrup come together was worth the time and the cleanup.
And after it’s done boiling, all it needs is to chill out for 15 minutes in the fridge (you can tell it’s fall because everything in my house is pumpkin something or other).
Once again, the French (Canadians) know how to make me happy (hint: it’s with butter).

Challenge #3: Sucre a la Creme

6 Oct

It sounds super fancy, but really, it’s just French Canadian fudge. I’ve always wanted to make fudge, and now I have an occasion: Canadian Thanksgiving.

Instead of celebrating Columbus Day on Monday, we’re having a Canadian Thanksgiving game night, featuring poutine (something Hannah’s already tackled and converted me on) and a Quebecois maple fudge. And I’m assuming LaBoris, in all his French Canadian glory, will enjoy the homage.

With only five ingredients, this fudge seems like a pretty simple sweet tooth satisfier.

Brioche: Portland

3 Oct
There’s a reason why everything Julia Child made tastes amazing: butter. And with a bunch of Tillamook butter, this bread gets even more flaky and pastry-like.
Because I’m a nerd, I wanted to see where the term “brioche” came from, so I looked it up on good old Merriam Webster. Here’s what I found.

light slightly sweet bread made with a rich yeast dough

French, from Middle French dialect, from brier to knead, of Germanic origin; akin to Old High German brehhan to break

First Known Use: 1826

Makes sense, right? You have to knead the dough substantially to get all the butter to integrate properly, and it does indeed break a bit on the top when it’s done baking. Interesting that it was “first used” in 1826, though I’m assuming that’s because there weren’t many cookbooks before that time.

This recipe doesn’t take a whole lot of ingredients, but the trick is the timing of the thing. With four rounds of rising, including the initial sponge, this can take more than 24 hours. I started yesterday before going on a hike so the dough could have all day to rise.
It’s a bit messy without a KitchenAid or a doughhook mixing device (and my mixer is wholly inadequate), so I decided to use my hands. I figured this is the way things used to be done anyway, so all I can do is make it more authentic, right? Maybe. Hand-mixi
ng dough is fun, yet sticky. It got all over everything, especially my hoodie, my computer and my mouth.
The best part of the whole hours-long process, though, was integrating the butter (one and a half sticks’ worth). I appreciated the phrase “beat it into submission,” which I promptly did with my trusty coffee thermos (having not yet acquired a rolling pin). I will probably use this method in the future for softening butter because it brought it to the perfect consistency without melting it or making it oily. I actually appreciated not having a stand mixer for this part because it was fun to feel the textures and watch everything come together. Sometimes I forget how much of a sensory adventure cooking can be.

Then, the waiting game began. This is the dough before the first rise. I enlisted Eileen’s help to transfer it from the top of the fridge to inside the fridge while I was gone, and then I left it to chill out overnight.
The next morning, I woke, let it rise for another couple hours, and then set our gas oven to 25 degrees below what the recipe called for. And sadly, the loaves still turned out brown. But that’s part of trial and error, I suppose, and regardless, they taste delicious! I’m glad I gave them plenty of air time to mitigate all that yeast.
Look at those beauties! I think I could’ve made three wee loaves out of this, but I only have one loaf pan and a square pan, so I decided to go for a big and a small. We might share some with the neighbors, or I might make a big batch of French toast.
Honestly, though, we’ve been enjoying eating it simply with just a wee bit of fake butter. For all the long hours that went into it, brioche turned out to be pretty darn successful.

Brioche: Denver

2 Oct

Mmm, Brioche. I love fresh-baked bread, so I am all about this one.  Plus, I’ve been reading this awesome book called “The Science Of Good Food” (TSOGF), and I am learning all kinds of fun, sciencey things.  I love cooking and I love science, so why not?  I’ll pass some factoids along as I do this.

I started by making the sponge, like our source recipe told me to. I overheated my milk, annoyingly, and I didn’t want to kill my yeast by making my liquid too hot so I had to wait for it to cool.  Once my sponge was assembled, I started to worry; it didn’t seem to make much “sponge” at all, and the extra cup of flour that I sifted on top of it was thick around the sides, as opposed to “sprinkled”…I mean, does this look right to you?:

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Anyway, trust in the process, right? I let it sit and rise for 30 minutes, and while I did so, I read about yeast bread-making.  For example, I was reminded that yeasty beasties are happiest at 95 degrees Fahrenheit (call back to my sophomore genetics class, right?), so that is the temperature at which doughs rise most rapidly.  I know from making challah bread that if you let it rise in the fridge, rising takes longer but bread will be tastier, but I didn’t know exactly why until I read TSOGF: “A fast-rising dough can develop unpleasant yeasty aromas and an abundance of unwanted by-products of yeast metabolism, like alcohols.  Lowering the temperature extends the rise, diminishes off-flavors, and encourages more desirable flavors.” NEAT.  By the time I was done learning about our lovely friends Saccharomyces cerevisiae, it was time to attend to my sponge. And, lo and behold, the flour on top had cracked, so I guess I did something right.

So, I incorporated all of my other ingredients in as directed, and mixed and mixed. Once my dough was cohesive, I decided to start kneading (instead of “mixing” with a machine, like the source recipe says) to get that gluten goin’! Gluten is is the largest composite protein molecule in the world! It’s made out of the two wheat proteins gliadin and glutenin, which get suspended in water (and thus sticky).  When they get mushed around, gluten forms big sheets and strands which is what makes bread (and cake and muffin etc) texture.  HOWEVER, I am honestly a little skeptical about how much our source recipe wanted me to knead this dough, because it’s my understanding that brioche shouldn’t be as chewy as, say, whole-wheat bread. It’s cake-like, right?  I didn’t want my bread to be too tough, so I didn’t knead it for the full 15 minutes.

I don’t have a bread hook or a stand mixer, so I mixed mostly by hand.  I knew that kneading bread had to do with forming gluten strands from the flour, but I’d never thought about air incorporation. According to TSOGF, “The more you knead, the more [incorporated air] is dispersed throughout the dough. For an even finished texture, you want a fine network of tiny air bubbles.” Neat-o. After I mixed in the other ingredients, I mixed in my butter. I was pretty mystified about why I was supposed to mush it all up, so I just kind of worked it over with a fork. I beat it in with my mixer, and then went back to using my hands.

Once I was satisfied, I put it in my oiled bowl, covered it, and went to the gym. Gotta pre-work off this french toast. Sweet dreams, yeasty beasties. Do work:

Before rise 1:

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After rise 1:

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Ta-da!

I punched it down, covered it, and put it in the fridge for four hours.  Blah blah. It rose, and I punched it down again etc, then got it into some loaf pans! Mine actually didn’t make that much dough; it looked like I only had enough for two loaves (the humanity!), so I split it in half and got it in there. By this point, it was about 10:00 on a Saturday night, and we were about to go out, so I figured I’d let them rise overnight in the fridge to lower the odds of yeasty byproducts.  I covered the pans, put them in the fridge, and tried to forget about them until the next morning.

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My alarm went off at 7 the next morning, and I awoke to a slight headache that was easily compensated for by excitement for brioche.  I got my pans out of the fridge, and they looked beautiful!

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A quick egg wash, and into the oven they went.  I stayed up for the half-hour they baked, got them onto cooling racks, and went back to bed.  Lazy Sundays ftw! Here they are, cooling their wee jets.

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The bread turned out delicious, (if a little dense, to be honest). It makes BOSS toast…but, most importantly, my brioche french toast was ungodly good. (Yes, that is a mimosa in the background.)

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If I hadn’t been making french toast out of these, though, I think I would have shaped my dough like this. Aren’t those cool?