Update 31: New Year's Goal: Become an "official" Gourmess by August 2010

I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate. --Julia Child

Sorry for the delay.  We had a heat wave that lasted for weeks and I've been working late -- no time to bake!

Session 22: Crêpes, Frying Batter, and Brioche was pretty fun -- the house still smells like fresh-baked bread and goodies. Yum.

First was Crêpes Suzette which is a lovely, buttery, orange-flavored treat, and which meant I had to brush up on my crêpe-making skills. I had made them once or twice a few years back and remember that I didn't really have the patience for those thin, easily-breakable pancake-type things. The book says that in classical French cooking, crêpes can be sweet or savory, fried, sautéed, flambéed, stuffed, rolled, folded, etc.

The most important part of getting crêpes right is making the batter correctly.  I began with all-purpose flour, sugar, a pinch of salt, 2 large eggs and milk. I put the dry ingredients in a medium bowl, made a well, and then added the eggs, whisking into the flour mixture, and adding a bit of the milk to make a paste. Once it became smooth, I added in the rest of the milk and whisked until creamy.  Then, I covered with plastic wrap and put in the fridge to chill for at least an hour.

While the batter was resting, I made the orange butter.  I took a bunch of sugar cubes and gently rubbed them over the skin of an orange (washed) until they had absorbed some of the orange oil. Then, I cut the orange in half and squeezed the juice out of it into a small bowl and then warmed it slightly.  I then had to crush the sugar cubes (between parchment paper w/rolling pin) and then set them aside.  After that, I took 9 TBS of room temperature, unsalted butter and beat in the orange sugar with a wooden spoon. I added in some Grand Marnier liqueur (orange-flavored brandy) and the warm orange juice a bit at a time, until the butter had absorbed all the liquid.

Then, I made the garnish by zesting the orange and adding it to boiling water, simmering for a bout 5 minutes, until soft. I removed it from the water with a slotted spoon and let it drain. Then, I put some grenadine syrup and some water in a small saucepan and heated it on the stove (low heat). I added the drained zest and gently simmered it for about 5-8 minutes, then removed the zest from the pan with my slotted spoon and let it rest on parchment paper. (The greandine syrup gave the oranges a bright, almost reddish hue.)  I also cut the remaining orange into suprêmes.

About an hour before I was ready to finish the dish, I took the crêpe batter out of the fridge, uncovered it and let it come to room temperature.  When it had, I whisked in some melted butter (keeps the crêpes from breaking) and then poured the mixture through my trusty chinois and into a clean bowl.  I heated my crêpe pan over medium heat and using a pastry brush, brushed the bottom of the pan with a light coating of clarified butter. I ladled about 1/4 cup of the batter into the pan, lifting it up off the burner and  tilting it so the entire bottom of the pan was coated with a thin layer of the batter.  It cooked for about a minute or so and then started to solidify and color a bit on the bottom. I used my fingers to carefully lift the crêpe and turn it over, cooking for another minute or so, until that side was lightly colored as well.  I then transferred the finished crêpe to parchment paper to cool.  Then, I re-buttered the pan and continued to make more -- making sure not to stack them on top of each other to cool, as they would stick together (separate with wax or parchment paper).

I actually did okay with these -- only a few ripped when I was trying to turn them.  My fingers were a bit burned, but after 22 cooking sessions, I didn't really feel it.   The picture in the book had the crêpes looking a bit marbled, with darker spots throughout, but mine were a pale golden color -- which the book actually says is how they should look if prepared correctly, so I guess it did it right?

Once all the crêpes were made and cooled, I placed the orange butter in a large pan over medium heat, and melted into a saucelike consistency.  Then, using one crêpe at a time, I dipped in the hot butter, and then folded it into quarters and placed on the edge of the pan, repeating the steps for each crêpe. When the pan was full, I added some cognac and flambéed it.  Then, I put two crêpes  on a plate and garnished with the zest and suprêmes. They were buttery and orangey, and sweet.  Terrific!

Next was Beignets aux Pommes, Coulis de Fruit (Apple Fritters with Fruit Purée). This one was pretty fun to make and left the kitchen smelling like a carnival or fair (nothing like powdered sugar, apples and hot oil together!).  First, I made the coulis by straining raspberry purée through my trusty chinois to pull out any solid matter.  Then, I added a bit of simple syrup to thin and sweeten it a bit, and then set aside.  The book also said you can add a bit of lemon juice to "wake up the flavor" but I thought mine was fine as is.  I set the coulis aside.

Then, I prepared the apples.  I peeled and cored about 1.5 lbs of Granny Smith apples and then carefully cut them crosswise into rings that were about 1/6 of an inch thick. A few had a wonky-looking hole, so I took one of my mini-circular pastry cutters and re-cut the hole so it was nice and round. I put the rings on a single layer and sprinkled with lemon juice and Calvados (apple liquer) and also some sugar and cinnamon, and let them marinate for about 30 minutes or so, turning over every once in awhile, so all sides were soaking up the liquid.

While the apple rings were marinating, I made the batter.  I put flour in a medium mixing bowl and made a well in the center.  Then, I mixed some beer, an egg yolk, a TBS of peanut oil, sugar and salt in a smaller bowl, whisking until smooth.  The wet mixture went in the flour well and I whisked it all together until smooth. It was a pretty loose, wet batter.  I covered it with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm (above room temperature) spot for about 30 minutes.   After that time had passed, I beat two egg whites until soft peaks formed and then folded them into the batter with a spatula until combined.

Then, I heated about 1.5 liters of vegetable oil in my deep fry pan over medium-high heat until it was about 350 degrees.  Working with a few at a time, I dipped each apple ring into the batter and then into the hot oil.  When the rings came to the surface of the oil and had a nice golden color, I removed them and set on paper towels to drain.

I sprinkled with confectioners' sugar and a bit of vanilla powder (I had some to use up) and placed on a baking sheet.  When all of the apples were fried and sugared, I put under the broiler for a few minutes to take on a glaze.  To serve, I put some of the raspberry coulis on a plate and topped with the warm beignets.  It was like an apple pie doughnut.  Warm and slightly crispy on the outside, cinnamony, apple goodness on the inside.  Yum and yum.

The last Demonstration for this session was Brioche (Egg Bread).  According to the book, it is one of France's oldest breads and dates back to the Middle Ages! It took ages to make, too...

To make it, I warmed 1.5 TBS of milk over low heat and stirred in some sugar and a scant TBS of dry yeast, letting the yeast dissolve for about 5 minutes.  While it was doing that, I beat three large eggs (room temperature) until combined, and set aside.  Then, I combined flour and salt on a clean work surface and made a well in the center.  Into the well went the milk/sugar/yeast mixture and the eggs. I gently incorporated the wet ingredients into the dry--being careful not to collapse the flour wall, which would have sent eggs running onto the floor.  

Once combined, I kneaded the dough for about 15 minutes, stretching it and kneading it until it was elastic and smooth and I could pick it up in a single mass.  Once it was at that point, I quickly added in about 10 TBS of room temperature butter, working it into the dough, making sure it was all evenly combined.  

Then, I lightly oiled a large bowl, put the dough in it, covered with plastic wrap and let it sit for about 3 hours at room temperature until it had doubled in size.  After 3 hours, I punched down the dough, turned it over and re-covered it, then put it in the fridge to rest at least 8 hours or overnight -- up to 24 hours.   The next day, I lightly buttered my special brioche pan and lightly floured my work surface.  I shaped the dough into a round ball, covered it with with plastic film, and let it rest for about 10 minutes until the glutens relaxed.  

I rolled the dough into a gourd-like shape, and using the side of my hand "chopped"the dough almost in half at the neck of the smaller end, forming two balls (one large, one a bit smaller) that were connected by a narrow strand of dough. Then, I put the larger, rounded end of the dough into the brioche pan and, using my fingers pulled the dough out toward the edges, making a well -- the smaller dough ball will automatically fall into the well.  Then, I tucked the smaller ball into the well with the dough from the larger ball, until secure (if not secure, the top will rise up and break off during baking).  

I covered the dough with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature for about an hour until doubled in size.  Then, I brushed with an egg wash, making sure not to let it drip down the sides, which would cause the bread to stick. After that, it was quite simple.  I put the pan in a preheated oven (350 degrees) for about 25 minutes or so, until it was golden brown and a knife inserted into the center came out clean. 

I removed from the oven and unmolded it (if you leave it in the mold, it will get soggy).  It was heavy and golden and a bit spongy. I waited about 5 minutes, then dug in.  It tasted eggy and buttery and yeasty -- a really rich bread.  It was almost cake-like, which is why Marie Antoinette probably was thinking of this when she said "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche!" ("Let them eat cake!").  I can see this making a terrific bread pudding...if it doesn't all get eaten before I have time to make some!

Speaking of cake, on to Session 23: Génoise...


P.S. I finally caught the culprit who has been eating the cloth bookmarks that are attached to my book...it was Boo! (Bad kitty!)