French Beignets

Since we’re on the subject of beignets, I spotted these enticing looking pastries at one of my favorite out-of-the-way boulangeries in Paris.
It must be a global trend.

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Boulangerie au 140
140, rue de Belleville
Paris
Tel: 01 46 36 92 47

Métro: Jourdain

Amateur Gourmet Survivor II: Round #2

We made it to Amateur Gourmet Survivor: Round II!

The fierce competition already managed to raise so far $2750 thanks to many of your generous donations.
This time, for Round II, it’s all about beignets, those favorite deep-fried pastries from New Orleans. Melissa, my dedicated Survivor contestant, made two separate batches: due to a successful whining campaign by yours truly, in addition to caramelized-apple beignets, she whipped up a batch of chocolate-filled beignets just for me!

Melissa’s baking adventures are featured on her Flickr page, which can be viewed as a hilarious slideshow. She fired up the deep-fryer, rolled out some might-fine looking dough, and re-assembled her panel of super-beignet-tasters.

Voting ends Tuesday night at 10pm (EST) so vote for Melissa to keep her in the game (and so I can stop getting intimidating messages from Derrick and the other Melissa!)

Please vote here.

Each vote is just $5 and all proceeds go to the American Red Cross Hurricane Relief Fund which, and you can vote more than once (ie: $20=4 votes for Melissa).
(Don’t you wish you could have voted more than once in a certain presidential election?)

When you vote, you MUST put in the comments field Melissa’s name to keep her (and me) in the game.

(Plus I’d hate to lose, which I’d blog about incessantly for months, and if you don’t want to have to wade through months of sour-grapes postings, do you?)

And now….here’s Melissa’s entry for Amateur Gourmet Survivor: Round II…

“Beignets?”

Beign-yay! I love fried dough in all of its forms – funnel cakes, elephant ears, donuts… (Mmmmm….donuts…)

I found two recipes: a generic fried-dough-type recipe, and one that claimed to be the beignet recipe from Cafe du Monde.
(The one that didn’t involve, “Buy a box of Cafe du Monde(TM) Beignet Mix and add water!”)

I gathered up all of the ingredients for two batches of dough: flour, vegetable shortening, active dry yeast, eggs, sugar, and a bit of salt. The generic recipe called for heavy cream, while the alleged Cafe du Monde recipe called for evaporated milk.

The first thing I did in both cases was to activate the yeast by sprinkling it into warm water and then leaving it alone. After settling for ten minutes, the mixture doubled in size.

I added the other ingredients as called for. I’d been hoping for a chance to break out the dough hook on my KitchenAid, but both recipes were very explicit: stir with a wooden spoon, only!

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Once the mixture became too thick to stir, I finished mixing it with my hand. At this point, the generic dough was ready to be rolled out, while the CdM recipe called for the dough to set in the fridge overnight in a greased bowl covered with plastic wrap.

In each case, when it came time to start rolling, I first lightly floured the rolling surface. Next, I laid the dough on it and gently pressed and stretched it until it resembled a rectangle. I rolled it to a thickness of approximately 1/8 inch, flipping the dough and flouring the board in between passes. Next, I cut it into 2×3 inch rectangles, which I gently dropped two at a time into the hot oil.

My first two beignets came out flat as coasters!

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I worried that I’d messed up something in the yeast…

However, the second two popped right up to the surface of the oil and turned a lovely golden brown! I was so excited, I couldn’t help but taste one as soon as it was cool enough to touch.

It was delicious!

So were the next three…

But then, I remembered that I should leave some for the competition, and restrained myself. I ended up with about a dozen and a half beignets, which I sprinkled with powdered sugar using my grandmother’s spring-loaded flour sifter while singing Jingle Bells, and then fed them to my neighbors – who made short work of them.

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The next evening, I retrieved the CdM dough from the fridge, noting that it had more than doubled in size. I floured the board, and set to work rolling and cutting. This time, however, I decided to get a little creative. In addition to the traditional “plain” beignets, I decided to add some international flair. After all, the recipe (allegedly) came from Cafe du Monde.

Alors, mesdames et messieurs, je vous presente: les Beignets du Monde!

I diced an apple and mixed it with butter, cinnamon, and brown sugar in a saucepan, and stewed it for awhile. Not only did it make a tasty dipping sauce, but it also served as a fabulous filling!

As American as Apple Pie! (Or something like that…)

Next, inspired by the great chocolate powerhouses of Europe (as well as by a suggestion made by a certain Parisian), I put together a couple of chocolate-and-Nutella-filled beignets and drizzled them with melted dark chocolate.

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Pure heaven!

I even filled some with some strawberry preserves.

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Ich bin ein Berliner!

Inspired by the fine Indian cuisine prepared by my British friends, I made a beignet filled with – and drizzled with – spicy hot mango chutney, and washed it down with a cup of Darjeeling.

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In the end, the recipe yielded about two dozen biegnets.
They were much lighter and puffier than the ones made with the generic recipe, and I’m wondering if it was the evaporated milk, the overnight stay in the fridge, or a combination of the two.

Once again, my guinea pigs-er, I mean tasters made short work of it all!

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(Ok folks, vote here for Melissa and her fabulous culinary efforts!)

Culinary Confessions

I often cook pasta in not enough water.

I wash mushrooms.

I don’t grind my own coffee beans.

I melt chocolate in a bowl set in, not over, simmering water.

I hate soup as a first course.

I buy store-brand butter for baking.

I try to use as few pots and pans when I cooking as I can.

I lift the lid when cooking rice to see how it’s doing.

I don’t like trying to pull off that stubborn and tough little dangling thing on the bottom of the meat on a chicken leg, either before or after it’s cooked.

I don’t know anything about tea.

If I had to choose between a fancy Michelin 3-star restaurant and a plate of perfectly fried chicken, I would choose the perfectly fried chicken.

I crave chocolate all the time. And I act on it.

Chocolate is the best thing in the world.
So is foie gras, Sevruga caviar, stale candy corn, Château Y’quem, dead-ripe figs, warm sour cherrie pie, hot corned beef on rye with mustard, Comté cheese, fleur de sel, Italian espresso, Korean barbequed pork ribs, any and all chocolates from Patrick Roger in Paris, French fries correctly salted, pretzel-croissants from City Bakery in New York, and those toasted-coconut-covered marshmallows with the queen on the bag.

I don’t understand people who don’t like chocolate.

I prefer chunky peanut butter.

I don’t like when I’m staying at someone’s house and they don’t have one decent saucepan or sharp knife.

I don’t like other people using my knifes.

I don’t understand being particular about having, or not having, nuts in your brownies (unless it’s an allergy). Is it really such a big deal?

I don’t like it when people make up food allergies in restaurants. If you don’t want something, just say you don’t want it.

My freezer is crammed with frozen cranberries, forgotten baguette halves, and chicken stock that I neglected to put the date on. And some chocolate chocolate-chip cookie dough and two different batches of espresso granita. One is better than the other.

I refuse to go to restaurants where the reservations person is an asshole on the phone.

Waiters should only be rude to customers if the customers are rude to them first.

I like when the newest, hottest, self-important restaurant closes within two years.

Anything with tentacles is gross.

I don’t like hand-washing silverware.

It’s hard to make money in the culinary business. Leave Emeril alone. Really.

If I have cookies or brownies around, I will eat them before breakfast.

I hate those cheap Turkish dried apricots. They have no taste. And I don’t know why anyone uses them when the California ones are so incredible.

I can’t remember the last time I spent more than 4 euros on a bottle of wine for myself.

I love the idea of organic, but I just can’t bring myself to spend $5 for a beet.

I just spent $18 dollars on a farm-raised chicken this week, which was delicious.

I hate when people don’t toast nuts.

I really don’t like to eat fish, especially when there’s lots of little annoying bones that you have to eat around and pick out of your mouth.

I like getting something extra for free when I go out to eat.

I hate when people grab at free samples of food.

I don’t like Evian water. It’s thick and viscous.

I like filling up on good bread in restaurants.

I refuse to eat standing up.

I like the process of getting drunk, but I don’t like being drunk.

I hate the tip system in restaurants.

I never cook beef at home. It never tastes as good as when you order it in a restaurant.

I prefer my own cooking to most of what I get in restaurants.

I crave bitter, wilted, sautéed greens with olive oil, salt, and perhaps some garlic.

I never count how many eggs I eat in a week.

I read food blogs while I eat.

I floss every night.

Ok those are some of mine…and yours?

Café Malongo

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Café Malongo is Fair-trade and made from Arabica coffee beans



Café Malongo
50, rue St-André des Arts
Tél: 01 43 26 47 10

Other Café Malongo bars at:
-53, rue Passy
-Lafayette Gourmet 46-48, Boulevard Haussmann
-Monprix, 14 rue du Départ

Read more at my post: Where to find a good cup of coffee in Paris.

German Chocolate Cake Recipe

chocolate enrobage

Although Germany is famous for tall, multi-layered torten with alternating layers of cream, cake, fruit, nuts, beer, sausages, etc…German Chocolate Cake is decidedly the result of good-old American ingenuity. Deep, dark chocolate cake is layered with a rich filling of toasty coconut and pecans, then glazed with a slick, bittersweet chocolate icing. It’s based on a recipe using Bakers™ Chocolate, a company which employed Samuel German in 1852, hence the name. The first version of German’s Chocolate Cake—of which the apostrophe is part of the original name, was created in the mid 1950′s.

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This is the best version of this classic dessert by far. It’s a slight variation of the fine recipe from my pastry pal Mary Jo Thoresen, who I worked with for many years at Chez Panisse.

German Chocolate Cake

One big, tall 9-inch cake; about 16 servings

For the cake:

  • 2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chopped
  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 6 tablespoons water
  • 8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 ¼ cup + ¼ cup sugar
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the filling:
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup sugar
3 large egg yolks
3 ounces butter, cut into small pieces
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped
1 1/3 cups unsweetened coconut, toasted

For the syrup:
1 cup water
¾ cup sugar
2 tablespoons dark rum

For the chocolate icing:
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 ½ ounces unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream

1. Butter two 9-inch cake pans, then line the bottoms with rounds of parchment or wax paper. Preheat the oven to 350°.

2. Melt both chocolates together with the 6 tablespoons of water. Use either a double-boiler or a microwave. Stir until smooth, then set aside until room temperature.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, or by hand, beat the butter and 1 ¼ cup of the sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the melted chocolate, then the egg yolks, one at a time.

4. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

5. Mix in half of the dry ingredients into the creamed butter mixture, then the buttermilk and the vanilla extract, then the rest of the dry ingredients.

6. In a separate metal or glass bowl, beat the egg whites until they hold soft, droopy peaks. Beat in the ¼ cup of sugar until stiff.

7. Fold about one-third of the egg whites into the cake batter to lighten it, then fold in the remaining egg whites just until there’s no trace of egg white visible.

8. Divide the batter into the 2 prepared cake pans, smooth the tops, and bake for about 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool cake layers completely.

While the cakes are baking and cooling, make the filling, syrup, and icing.

To make the filling:

1. Mix the cream, sugar, and egg yolks in a medium saucepan. Put the 3 ounces butter, salt, toasted coconut, and pecan pieces in a large bowl.

2. Heat the cream mixture and cook, stirring constantly (scraping the bottom as you stir) until the mixture begins to thicken and coats the spoon (an instant-read thermometer will read 170°.)

3. Pour the hot custard immediately into the pecan-coconut mixture and stir until the butter is melted. Cool completely to room temperature. (It will thicken.)

To make the syrup:

1. In a small saucepan, heat the sugar and water until the sugar has melted. Remove from heat and stir in the dark rum.

To make the icing:

1. Place the 8 ounces of chopped chocolate in a bowl with the corn syrup and 1 ½ ounces of butter.

2. Heat the cream until it just begins to boil. Remove from heat and pour over the chocolate. Let stand one minute, then stir until smooth. Let sit until room temperature.

To assemble the cake:

Remove the cake layers from the pans and cut both cake layers in half horizontally, using a serrated bread knife.
Set the first cake layer on a cake plate. Brush well with syrup. Spread ¾ cup of the coconut filling over the cake layer, making sure to reach to the edges. Set another cake layer on top.

Repeat, using the syrup to brush each cake layer, then spreading ¾ cup of the coconut filling over each layer, including the top.

Ice the sides with the chocolate icing, then pipe a decorative border of chocolate icing around the top, encircling the coconut topping.

(It may seem like a lot of chocolate icing, but use it all. Trust me. You won’t be sorry.)

Go Ahead, Have a Croissant

The recent issue of Elle à Table reports that eating a croissant may be a healthier and a more diet-friendly alternative the breakfast tartine, a split baguette spread with butter and jam.

Perfect Butter Croissants

A croissant ordinaire or croissant au beurre (made with pure butter) has 200 calories, and 25 grams of carbohydrates.

A tartine composed of one-fifth of a baguette (about 2 ounces of bread) spread with 1 tablespoon of butter and 2 tablespoons of jam has 270 calories and 42 grams of carbohydrates.

Funny, they didn’t mention my preferred pain au chocolat, buttery croissant dough folded around one or two (if you’re lucky) bâtons of dark chocolate, as being diet-friendly.

I wonder why?

Parisian Pretzels

The best bread in Paris isn’t made in any Parisian boulangerie, it’s made chez Christoph, the home of an affable German fellow who stunned me at a party a few months back when I savored more than my share of his excellent, hearty, homemade multi-grain bread.

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He told me that each Saturday, he bakes just two loaves of multi-grain bread to last him through the week in his tidy Parisian kitchen, overlooking the Pantheon. A biologist during the day, I envision Christoph tinkering in the kitchen until he got his bread just right (he said it took him years). Although I offered to come by on next week to buy bread from him, he brushed me off with a hearty laugh.

(Hey, I wasn’t kidding. I never joke about anything as serious as my pursuit of great bread.)

Working as a pastry chef for 25 years, eating all that chocolate and butter and sugar, I crave all-things salty. And I can’t think of any better vehicle for crunchy grains of coarse salt than chewy, puffy pretzels.

Luckily I was invited to come, roll, and twist away!

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When I arrived, he’d already made the dough (very sneaky, presumably guarding the recipe!) So we kneaded the mixture a bit, then divided up little rounds of the soft dough, rolled and pulled them into snake-like ropes, making sure to keep a moderate bulge in the middle, which he said would help them keep their shape better during baking

Once the dough is rolled, he swiftly gathered the two ends, twisted them twice, then folded them over the chubby dough, creating the classic pretzel.

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The dough rested for a while, then was refrigerated.
Afterward, he told me to be careful, as he took a suspicious little vial from his cabinet, which contained milky-white little pellets.

“It’s sodium hydroxide”, he said. “It will eat a hole in your clothes.”

and we’re going to eat this?”, I’m thinking.

He dissolved a handful of pellets in water by stirring briskly, then floated the unbaked twists in this solution, apparently this is what gives pretzels that familiar shiny coating.

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A few large grains of salt are sprinkled over, and into the oven they went.

Minutes later….

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For some reason, we had to wait a while to eat them.
I’m not sure why. Perhaps it was my American urge to have-it-all-and-have-it-now. It was torture.

After about 30 minutes of watching them resting on the counter (and about 10 unsubtle hints from me…) he finally got the hint and let me sample one. Still slightly warm, yeasty, with that inviting little crackle of salt, they were the perfect pretzel.
Then I had another.

Soon the other guests arrives (I’d already consumed 3 pretzels beforehand, since I have a habit of eating more than my share) and we had a big feast of German food: sauerbraten, Hax’n, Cucumber-Feta Salad (which a woman from Norway brought. It wasn’t very German, but it was tasty), and Alisa’s Mandelbroten.

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And I brought a towering German Chocolate Cake for dessert, attempting to navigate through the crowded buses and hectic sidewalks of Paris. I didn’t have much success, but no one seemed to mind. There wasn’t a crumb left, and when no one was looking, I got to lick the lid.

Links:

Homemade Soft Pretzel Recipe (Alton Brown)

Pretzel Croissants (City Bakery)

Soft Pretzels, Refreshed (Smitten Kitchen)

Chocolate Pretzel Recipe (Derby Pie)

Welcome To France

A couple weeks ago, someone sent me a thoughtful gift from the US.

A few days later, I get a bill from the delivery company; 42 euros for taxes (the gift was valued at 80 euros, making the tax about 55%.)

So I head to the office of the delivery company, where they show me the official rules for gifts sent and received in France:

“If someone sends you a gift, they must write on the paperwork ‘Unsolicited Gift’”, they explain.

I reply, “So next time I receive a gift I should refuse it if it doesn’t say ‘Unsolicited Gift’ on the paperwork?”

No, by then it’s too late. If someone’s going to send you an unsolicited gift, you need to tell them to write ‘Unsolicited Gift’ on the paperwork.”

“Oh.”

I stand there for a moment, looking at them to see if they perhaps detect any bit of irony there.

And do they?


I reach for my checkbook.


Welcome to France.