Results tagged butter from David Lebovitz

Polenta Crisp Topping Recipe

I am a bad food blogger.
I mean, who would post a picture like this?

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GRRrrrr!Seeing Red…

The most successful and popular food blogs start with a clever idea or beautiful image, and generally follow it with a witty or an emotionally-involving story behind it all.

Instead I’m posting this picture of the room where was to spend the entire weekend locked inside, which was to be my private retreat. Think Edvard Munch and The Scream, and I think you get the idea of my internal torment.

Last week I had left Paris to work on my next book, since it’s impossible to get anything done around here with all the caramels, chocolates, and glasses of red wine interrupting all the time. So off I went to the countryside for the weekend, armed with my laptop, some paperwork, too-little chocolate (which I later discovered, in a panic) and a good book.

So I arrive, start unpacking, and Merde!, I forgot my powercord! No electricity, except for the few hours on my battery, which luckily was new enough to get my through the first day. Since I’m two hours from anywhere civilized, and the hope of finding an Apple retailer is undeniably nil (although there is a nice egg farm & retailer next door) I was stuck doing nothing but reading and baking all weekend. So when you buy my next book, and find the last third of it blank, you’ll know why.

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Seeing Red…Currants

But all was not lost, since the house was surrounded by red currant bushes and the branches were loaded with tiny red berries, I spent a good portion of the weekend picking the little red orbs, relieving the branches of the tiny clusters of gorgeous little fruits.

And as I greedily filling my mouth with the puckery berries, I was overcome with a feeling of having to bake something. So all was not lost, and bake something I did!

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Rhubarb-Red Currant Crisp

For dessert the first night, I made a terrific Rhubarb and Red Currant Crisp with Polenta Topping. I sliced rhubarb into little pieces (about 8 cups), tossed it with some sugar (about 1/2 cup), some flour (about 3 tablespoons), a vanilla bean, and a few big handfuls of freshly-picked red currants, and voila, we had dessert practically right from the garden. Except for the sugar and vanilla and flour, although the house was surrounded by wheat fields, which was too green to pick and mill into flour. And besides, I’m not thatcrazy. Although I did go picked some wheat and cracked it open, but it was too fresh and I’ll sadly have to wait a few more weeks.

Aside from red currants, there were black currants (cassis) too, but they weren’t quite ripe. But the white currants were sweet and lovely but too precious to cook with, so I enjoyed them right off the branches. And next time you, or anyone around you, complains about the price of a basket of berries, go outside and pick a few hundred red currants and tell me what you think each basket is worth.
There’s a few running debates about the price of locally-produced, hand-picked berries, but you’re welcome to post comments here. And if you feel like picking any red and black currants, we’re heading back in a few weeks and could use a few extra hands.
(Warning: The pay stinks, but the rewards are delicious.)

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Seeing White…Currants

Oddly enough, last year I saw a few baskets of white currants in my local convenience store. (You know, the kind of place where you can buy milk or butter or wine on dimanche if you urgently run out.) In their tiny, miserable produce section, just next to the shriveled carrots and brown, wilted lettuce (who buys that?), there were three baskets of plump white currants, so I made a mental note that if it’s ever a Sunday and I need some white currants in an emergency, I’d know exactly where I could get some. But finding a powercord in an emergency?…c’est pas possible.

No, the grapes weren’t quite ripe for picking yet…

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No Wine…Yet.

But the egg farm nearby had lots of fresh eggs, so I made a Tortilla Española with bacon, and pomme de ratte potatoes, which everyone tries to tell me are called ‘fingerling’ potatoes in America, but I don’t think they’re the same thing, since I’ve never tasted any potatoes in the states that were as good as these. But if anyone out there can define what exactly is a fingerling potato, please let me know. Is it just any tiny potato?

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There Was No Apple Store, But There Was An Egg Store

So since this is summer, I’m becoming obsessed with making a lot of fruit crisps (instead of earning a living). One of my favorite ways to top them, and to ensure they live up to their crispy moniker, is to make a topping with polenta, coarsely-ground cornmeal. It can be difficult to find in Paris, and although instant-polenta is available, I bought it once…and that was one time too many. (C’mon folks, we’re friggin’ right next door to Italy!) But I was happy a few years back to find a good source for coarse polenta at the Arab markets that I like to prowl through, which they stock in abundance.

Fruit crisps are perhaps the best and easiest of desserts to make during the summer, when all the great fruits and berries are at their peak. They’re incredibly easy to put together if you’re anything like me and keep a bag of Polenta Crisp Topping in the freezer, so you can make one at a moment’s notice. In general, I find that 2 to 4 tablespoons of sugar, and 1 tablespoon of flour, plus a dash of vanilla is just about right for almost any mix of fruits and berries. Mix it all together and put it in a 2-quart baking dish. Cover with crisp topping and bake in a moderate oven until the fruit is bubbling and the top is crispy and nicely-browned.

If using plums or apricots, double the amount of sugar, since they get rather tangy once baked. Although I used rhubarb and red currants in mine, you can use any mixture of peaches, nectarines, apricots, cherries, and plums. Add a few raspberries or blackberries as well. Although I wouldn’t necessarily use white currants, you’re certainly welcome to. But if it’s Sunday and you’re fresh out, go check at your corner store to see if they have any in stock.
There’s something nice about living in a country where it’s impossible to find a powercord in an emergency, but white currants are available whenever you need them. Talk about priorities!

(More pictures from the country are on my Flickr page.)

Polenta Crisp Topping

Enough for about 8 cups of fruit filling

3/4 cup (105 g) flour
2/3 cup (90 g) polenta
1/2 cup (55 g) almonds or walnuts, lightly toasted
1/2 cup (110 g) firmly packed light brown or cassonade sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
8 tablespoons (115 g) salted butter (chilled), cut into 1/2-inch pieces

Put the flour, polenta, almonds or walnuts, brown sugar, and cinnamon in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a couple of times to mix everything together.

Add the chilled butter pieces and pulse until the butter is finely broken up. Continue to pulse until the crispy topping no longer looks sandy is just beginning to hold together.

If you don’t have a food processor, chop the nuts finely with a chef’s knife then work the butter in with your hands or use a pastry blender.

Storage: Topping can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Can also be frozen in a zip-top bag for up to one month.

Recipe Adapted From: Ripe For Dessert.

California Caramels: Little Flower Candy Company

Last year I read about a pastry chef-turned-candymaker in Los Angeles. She was becoming known around those parts for her tender caramels, blended with wisps of sel de mer (sea salt.)

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Inspired by the amazing CBS, caramel-beurre-salé caramels produced by the master himself, Henri LeRoux, Christine Moore’s caramels are indeed the best I’ve had in the US.

A friend drove me out to the Silverlake region of Los Angeles. It’s a rather funky area, full of shoe shops, stores with second-hand clothing racks on sidewalks, just-opened bakeries, and a music studio that Flea (from the Red Hot Chili Peppers) opened for the young folks of the neighborhood.

And there’s the The Cheesestore of Silverlake, a small shop with wheels of cheese piled high on the counter, and a carefully chosen selection of ‘gourmet’ foods…although I hate to use that word, which seems so pretentious, and this shop is anything but. They’re incredibly friendly (and yes, I seem to be the only one who truly likes LA…) and we spoke a bit about what they carry, their cheese and wine selection – and, of course, the creamy, wonderful caramels.

Although a few might consider them a tad salty for their taste (I love them), The Little Candy Company caramels were cooked to just the right temperature…not too tough, not too sticky and meltingly-soft, cooked just enough to that chewy stage to give them some ‘bite’. As we ripped open the package, unwrapped a few tender morsels and popped them in our mouths, we did concede that it was impossible to reproduce the French caramels exactly. But boy, those caramels sure were good. No matter where they’re made.

-Sea Salt Caramels from The Little Flower Candy Company can be ordered via their website.

-Check out the recipe for Christine Moore’s Chocolate-Caramel Tartlets.

How to Prevent Cookies From Spreading

Triple Chocolate Cookies

Here are some helpful tips to prevent cookies from spreading:

Don’t Overbeat the Batter

Far too many recipes advise bakers to simply “Cream butter and sugar until smooth”. So many people just turn on the mixer and go check their e-mail.

When you beat butter and sugar, those little crystals of sugar create air pockets between the butterfat. The more you beat, the more air you incorporate (those trapped air pockets steam open and expand in the oven). That’s great for a nice, light cake…but not for most cookies. So when the recipe says, ““Cream or beat butter and sugar”, just mix them for about 30 seconds, until well-combined.

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Pecan-Brown Sugar Shortbreads from Ready For Dessert

Use Ungreased Baking Sheets

Unless the recipe says so, bake cookies on an ungreased or unbuttered baking sheet. You’re creating a slippery surface if you do, which causes cookies dough to slide. I use parchment paper, which has just enough friction for cookies to stay-put without sliding around, but they don’t stick.

Measure Ingredients Properly

I know this is a big duh!, but adding more liquid or less flour than a recipe indicates makes a big difference. When people tell me, “I can’t bake”, I never understand that. I mean, how difficult is “8 ounces of butter” or “3 large eggs”? It’s not like a piece of meat that you need to guess and adjust cooking times. Baking is a no-brainer.

Don’t change ingredients either. Using extra-large eggs in place of large eggs means you’ve added more liquid. Using anything other than all-purpose flour (or whatever is called for) can also be problematic.

Check Your Fat

Most butter is about 80% fat, meaning the rest is roughly 20% water. When used in a batter, that water liquefies, and voila!. You can use a ‘European-style’ butter, which has a higher percentage of fat and remains more stable when baked. Examples of this include Plugra.

Some recipes use vegetable shortening instead of butter, which is another alternative (although I don’t personally use vegetable shortening). Vegetable shortening is 100% percent fat, which means there’s little water so things stay in place better when baked (it’s why pie dough made with shortening is flakier…there’s little water to saturate and toughen the flour.)

If you choose to replace butter in your recipe with vegetable shortening, find one without trans-fats, which are now available.

Check Your Oven Temperature

Every oven is completely different. I had a someone call me at 11pm one night to tell me her Peanut Butter Cookies took 10 minutes to bake instead of 9 minutes, as indicated by the recipe. Buy an oven thermometer and check the accuracy of your oven.

If you put cookies in an oven that’s not hot enough, they’ll droop and spread before firming up.

You can find more tips at my post: Tips to Keep Cookies From Spreading



Related Links

Is sifting necessary?

Chocolate FAQs

Cocoa powder FAQs

Why you should use aluminum-free baking powder (and how to make your own)

Recipes for using up leftover egg whites

American baking ingredients in Paris

French sugar

Tips to keep cooking from spreading

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?

Kouign Amann Recipe

Is there anything more fabulous than something created through the wonder and miracle of caramelization?

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Is there no means and ends that one won’t go to to experience that sigh with relief when one triumphantly pulls this perfectly caramelized melange of butter, sugar, and salt out of their oven? I think not.

Those butter-loving Bretons invented this unique gâteau for delivering the maximum dose of caramel: an all-encompassing dessert, which does double-duty at tea time. And I’ve been obsessed with figuring out how to make a perfect Kouign Amann, one of my favorite caramelized things in the world. And here are my results.

I searched long-and-wide for Kouign Amann recipes, which are rare…either they’re really sketchy, assuming that no one will actually dare to make it, or they didn’t work at all and I was left with a wet, buttery mess.

This week, I pulled disk-after-caramelized-disk out of my oven in a obsessive attempt to master this dessert that I love so much. This was also much to the delight of friends and neighbors, who never thought they could get enough Kouign Amann. After all my tinkering, by now they have.

I also learned why it was so hard to find a good Kouign Amann, it’s a bit of a challenge. So if you’d like to make a Kouign Amann, here’s a few tips I learned that will help you out before you get going…


  • Use the best salted butter you can find. I use Breton salted butter, which is easy to find in France. But use whichever good salted butter you can find and flick few grains of coarse crunchy salt before folding the dough in layers and across the top before baking. It’s a pretty good approximation of the real thing.

    (There is actually only one stick of butter in the recipe, 1 tablespoon per serving, so the resulting cake seems more buttery than it actually is.)

  • This is a very sticky dough. You should have a metal bench or pastry scraper or a metal spatula handy to help with turning, as well as to keep the dough from sticking to the counter top.

  • Work fast. Letting the dough sit on the counter and warm up is not a good idea. Roll quickly.

  • Although I recommend waiting about 1 hour between rolling out the pastry layers, you can wait several hours (or overnight) for example, if you have a bit of extra time.

  • It is strictly forbidden to think about diets while your making a Kouign Amann.

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Kouign Amann

About 8 to 10 servings

  • 1 tablespoon (12 g) active dry yeast, not instant
  • ¾ cup (175 ml) tepid water
  • 2 cups (260 g) all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup (200 g) sugar (which will be divided later)
  • (Plus additional sugar for rolling out the pastry)
  • 1 stick salted butter (110 g), cut into ½-inch (2 cm) cubes and chilled
  • 2-3 tablespoons additional salted butter, melted

1. In a medium bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water with a pinch of sugar. Stir briefly, then let stand for 10 minutes until foamy.

2. Gradually stir the flour and salt. The dough should be soft, but not too sticky. Lightly dust your countertop with flour and transfer the dough onto it.

Knead the dough with your hands until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 3 minutes. If the dough is very sticky, knead in just enough flour, one tablespoon at a time, until the dough doesn’t stick to your hands.

3. Brush a medium bowl with melted butter, put the dough ball into the bowl. Cover, and let rest in a warm place for 1 hour.

4. Meanwhile, line a dinner plate with plastic wrap and set aside.

5. On a lightly floured countertop, roll the dough into a rectangle about 12″ x 18″ with the shorter sides to your left and right.

The dough may be sticky and difficult to handle. Use a metal pastry scraper to coax the dough into shape, and a minimal sprinkling of flour, as necessary. (It will all be beautiful later, trust me.)

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Distribute the cubed butter in the center of the dough and sprinkle with ¼ cup (50 gr) of sugar. Grab the left side of the dough, lift and fold it over the center, than do the same with the right side (like a letter). You should have what resembles a 3-level pastry.

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6. Sprinkle the entire length of the dough with ¼ cup (50 gr) of sugar and (without rolling) fold again into thirds, as before.

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Place on the plastic wrap-covered dinner plate and chill for 1 hour.

(At this point, wipe excess flour from the countertop and dust the countertop with a rather liberal handful of sugar for rolling out the pastry again.)

7. Once chilled, remove dough from refrigerator.

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Ease it away from the plastic onto the sugar-covered countertop.
(Use more sugar than shown. I was busy doing double-duty as the photographer and baker.)

Top the dough with ¼ cup (50 gr) of sugar, press it in a bit with your hands, and roll into a rectangle for the last time.

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Now wasn’t it easier this time?

Again, fold into thirds and let rest in the refrigerator for 30-60 minutes.

8. Preheat oven to 425° F (220° C) and brush a 9-inch (23cm) pie plate, preferably non-stick, with melted butter.

9. Remove dough from refrigerator. Roll dough into a circle about the size of the baking pan. It will be sticky; dusting the top with a sprinkle of sugar will help.

Once rolled, lift the dough and coax it into the pan. (It will want to break. If so, fold it in half and quickly slide something flat under it, like the metal bench scrape AND a metal spatula and quickly slip it into the pan. If it does break, just piece it back together in the pan.)

10. Sprinkle with the remaining ¼ cup (50 gr) of sugar and drizzle with 1 tablespoon melted butter.

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Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the top is deeply caramelized. Let stand a few minutes, then run a spatula around the edges to release the Kouign Amann and slide the cake from the pan onto a cooling rack.





Kouign Amann Links

Since this is an unusual recipe, readers may appreciate a few links and photos from people who’ve made it successfully:

Kouign Amann (Flickr stream)

Another Kouign Amann, made using American ingredients.

Served with Love makes this Kouign Amann.

French Letters shows-off a buttery example as well.

Brittany’s Butter Bonanza

Of all the regions in France, one of the most peculiar is Brittany. The cuisine is hearty, earthy, and dynamic…like the terrain…

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The coastline is a virtual lunar landscape of jutting rock formations, with pristine beaches tucked in between. Consequently, upper Brittany is somewhat remote and not a popular tourist destination. Most of my days began at a almost-deserted beach with a dip in a frigid, clear water, and finished at a lively crêperie, picking through a mound of moules frites, steaming-hot mussels simmered with white wine and local shallots, served with a overly-generous pile of frites that I thought I’d never be able to finish. (But of course, I always did…mustn’t be rude.)

Ah, summer vacation in Brittany. There’s not much to do here except swim in the chilly water, and eat seafood, red onions (more about them in a later post), and…the delicious salted butter.

Unlike the rest of France, the Bretons don’t eat much cheese…in fact, there’s no local cheeses that I can think of that are produced there and I didn’t see one fromagerie in ten days. But they make up for it by offering up lots of butter, which they’re justifiably famous for. When you compliment a local pastry shop or restaurant on their cuisine, they will invariably respond proudly, “C’est la buerre de Bretagne!

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There’s also not so much wine wine consumed either, since the locals drink plenty of sparkling, lightly-alcoholic apple cider. A fizzy bottle is popped open before each meal and served in a traditional bolées, similar to a squat coffee cup with a handle.

But back the butter—it’s the best I’ve ever tasted. Breton butter is notable since it’s almost always flecked with large, coarse grains of salt that crunch when you bite into them. I spread some on my toast each morning before drizzling it with bitter chestnut honey. Much of the salt used is harvested on ponds and marshes in the Guérande, where the famed fleur de sel is harvested as well. And unlike the rest of the country, Bretons often butter their bread, which is never done elsewhere in France except with oysters, which are customarily served with buttered rye bread, pain de seigle. (So next time you’re in Paris and that waiter gives you a disapproving sneer when you ask for butter, tell him you’re from Brittany.)

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Naturally much of this butter makes its way into buckwheat crêpes, or galettes de blé noir (when made with buckwheat flour, or blé noir, they’re normally called galettes rather than crêpes. You can buy crêpes at most of the local pastry shops, and if you’re lucky, they’re still warm.

One night I picked up a stack and for simple dessert, I heated a bottle of hard apple cider in a skillet, added a handful of unrefined cassonade sugar, a modest knob of Breton salted butter and some delicious prunes from Gascony. Once the cider was sweet and syrupy, I added some folded crêpes, a pour of Calvados, and voila!

Perhaps the most famous dessert of the region is the Far Breton. Far is the Breton word for ‘custard’, and the Far Breton is remarkably similar to a custard tart sans the crust. Like everything, there are good versions, and not-so-good versions (like pretzels on the streets of Manhattan). You’ll find Far Breton everywhere in Brittany; in supermarkets, outdoor markets, restaurants, and pastry shops. Like flan in Paris (which is a wedge of custard tart, and not the inverted caramel custard that many of us are used to,) a slab of Far Breton with prunes is often a mid-afternoons snack, or le goûter for hungry folks.

Although I find most of them rather dense and heavy, I knew that if I tried as many as possible like Goldilock’s, I would certainaly find the version that was “just right”. And sure enough, the best was from a pastry shop in Lesnevin called Labbé, a few steps off the main square.

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(If you’re looking for a recipe, you might want to try the one by Dorie Greenspan that appeared in Bon Appétit recently.)


Another extraordinary treat is the Kouign amann, which is pronounced (and spelled) a few different ways, depending on your accent. I learned to say it by rhyming Kouign with the word schwing!, from Wayne’s World…which I’ve tried to explain with a sharp thrust of my hips to French people but it doesn’t seem to translate very well, and people were looking at me funny, so I gave up.

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A friend who visited Brittany once wrote me and said, “A stick of butter would seem light in comparison!..” when describing his first encounter withKouign amann. And indeed, the word amann is the Breton word for butter.

I had to try one from several bakeries, since it’s one of my favorite desserts: layers of flaky pastry baked with plenty of salted butter and sugar, until it’s all dark, crisp, and caramelized? Bring it on. Sometimes they’ll sell it by the slab at outdoor markets, and they slice off a hunk for you and sell it by the kilo. But the best thing I ate all week was…

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Ok, I know what you’re thinking. Here I was surrounded by fabulous buttery creations, but then I discovered strawberries from Plougastel. But honestly, these were the best strawberries I’ve ever had. Although usually I judge fruit based on it’s aroma before I buy (and these had little smell), these looked so ruby-red and glistening, that I just had to try them. Each one was sweet-sweet-sweet! Each was juicy with flavor, like a soft piece of sweet strawberry candy and deep red all the way through. I’ve never had strawberries like that before, although I’ve seen them in the markets in Paris, they never looked so appealing as they did at that village fruit market in Brittany.



Related Links and Posts

Alledgedly the Birthplace of Kouign Amann

Le Bateau en chocolat (Georges Larnicol launches a chocolate boat, video)

Kouign Amann Recipe

A Great Kouign Amann in Paris

Kig ha farz

Larnicol: Kouign Amann in Paris

Caramel Corn Recipe

Caramel Corn

I tried various recipes of for caramel corn, some came out too dark, some not dark enough. So I worked and worked, until I settled on this one.

Caramel Corn

Adapted from Epicurious

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/3 - 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
  • 1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter
  • 1½ cups packed light brown sugar
  • ½ cup light corn syrup
  • ½ teaspoon coarse salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup salted peanuts, or use any toasted nuts, such as almonds, pecans, or cashews.

Special equipment: a candy thermometer

Heat oil with 3 kernels in a 3-quart heavy saucepan, covered, over moderate heat until 1 or 2 kernels pop. Remove lid and quickly add remaining kernels, then cook, covered, shaking pan frequently, until kernels stop popping (or until your shoulder gives out), about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and uncover.

I ended up with 6 cups of popped popcorn.

(Premium American-brands of popcorn will yield more than mine did, about 8 cups of popcorn. If so, you may need to prepare 2 baking sheets in the next step.)

Line bottom of a large shallow baking pan with foil and lightly oil foil, or use a non-stick baking sheet.

Melt butter in a 6-quart heavy pot or Dutch oven over moderate heat. Add brown sugar and corn syrup, and salt and bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring, then boil, without stirring, until syrup registers 300 degrees F on thermometer, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove pot from heat.

Using a wooden spoon or a heatproof spatula, stir vanilla and baking soda into the syrup, then quickly stir in peanuts and popcorn to coat. Immediately spread mixture over baking pan as thinly and evenly as possible.

Let cool completely, then break into bits.

Click here for more cookie and candy Recipes.

Too Much (Recipe) Information?

Recently, I was thumbing randomly through cookbooks and came across a recipe. Here was the first ingredient in one…

“One Octopus, cleaned

That’s it. No explanation.
It’s like saying…

“One Whale, de-boned

or

“Three Puffins, feathers and beaks removed

I think those actions require perhaps a modicum of an explanation.
Yes? No?

On the other hand, if a recipe says…

“1 cup almonds, chopped

or

“8 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated

…I don’t think chopped or grated need further explanation. And indeed adding those instructions to a recipe would make it unnecessarily long and daunting. Honestly, any recipe longer than one or two pages freaks me out.

Is it worth the real estate on the page to say…

“Lift the almonds from the bag or storage container and distribute them in an even layer on a clean and dry wooden or plastic cutting surface. Be sure the surface is flat and preferably waist-high. Use your hand to grab the wooden handle of the knife, being sure to avoid the sharp blade end. Lifting from your elbows, direct the knife over the almonds on the cutting board and press downward while gently rocking the knife back and forth, moving the knife as necessary over the almonds, to cut them evenly. If some almonds fling across the counter, set down the knife and retrieve the errant almond pieces. Add them back to the mound of almonds and continue chopping.”

Whew.
Now wasn’t that a mouthful?

A few years back a very talented pastry chef from New York came out with his first book. In the book was a three-page recipe for brownies, complete with full-color step-by-step photos. Holy Mother of Betty Crocker! Is there anyone in America who doesn’t know how to make brownies? It’s one thing to present a recipe, and to show how neat and fabulous they look when stacked on a lovely white Crate & Barrel plate, but do we need to see what the nuts look like when scraped into the brownie batter or an instructional photo of the bowl of melted chocolate and butter?

A writer recently went on a bender about cookbook authors that don’t list water as an ingredient. Often that’s not up to the author, but an editorial decision based on space (space=money, especially in magazines.) Believe it or not, one or two sentences can throw a whole page off-kilter. I’ve had copy editors direct me to go through a page and get rid of 7 words (in editor-speak, the “widows and orphans”.)
But Kate’s right, it is annoying to be making a recipe and find that the 2 cups of water that your supposed to divide between the chocolate cake batter and the frosting, you’ve just added to the mixture, which now looks like a muddy lagoon instead of a smooth, luscious glossy chocolate batter.

While Adam’s on vacation, Lisa’s been dubbed the Amateur Gourmette by Pim and was making a recipe for Butterscotch Pudding and it didn’t come out right.

The recipe calls for “2 cups milk”, but there in her photo is a carton of 2% milk. She is so busted. The recipe turned out to be a disaster. In her defense, the main reason the recipe didn’t taste good is it only calls for ¼ cup of brown sugar, which would add negligible butterscotch flavor. But did the recipe indicate “whole” milk or just say “milk”? Whole milk is normally critical to a pudding recipe. In that case, the recipe writer is so busted.

I decided to let her slide by on this one since she’s just the substitute and everyone likes to pick on the substitute, but I’m sure when Adam gets back, there’s gonna be hell to pay.

So here’s a concise, and photo-free, recipe for Butterscotch Pudding:

Butterscotch Pudding

1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter (salted or unsalted), melted
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 1/4 cups whole milk
½ teaspoon salt
3 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons dark rum or whisky
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. In a large bowl, make the butterscotch base by mixing the brown sugar with the melted butter (note the lack of a picture here.) Set aside.

2. Put the yolks in a small bowl and stir briefly (no photo here eith…Huh? ok, I’ll stop…it’s getting obnoxious.)

2. In a small bowl, whisk the cornstarch with a small amount of the milk until smooth. Pour the rest of the milk into a heavy saucepan and scrape in the slurry of cornstarch and the salt.

3. Cook over medium heat, stirring with a whisk constantly, until the mixture thickens and begins to boil. Whisk a small amount of the hot milk mixture into the egg yolks and then scrape the warmed egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan.

4. Keep cooking and stirring the custard until it comes to a boil again. It will become quite thick and mound up like mayonnaise. Remove it from the heat and pour it into the butterscotch base. Add the rum and vanilla and whisk until the butterscotch has dissolved into the custard. Pour into large serving bowl.

Chill (…in the refrigerator, duh!)

Note: I’ve updated the recipe since several readers thought there was too much butterscotch flavor. Feel free to use light brown sugar in place of the dark brown for a milder flavor.