Here are my tips and step-by-step instructions for How To Make The Perfect Caramel.
(You may also wish to read Ten Tips for Making Caramel, which preceded this post.)
This is the post I never thought I’d write.
I never wanted to tackle madeleines. I thought they were something that…darn it…you just needed to eat in France. Like hamburgers and bagels, some things just don’t translate cross-culturally. If you wanted a madeleine, darn it, you came to France to have one. I mean, did you ever have a bagel in Banff? Do you even know where Banff is?
Anticipating the avalanche of questions madeleines inspire, I urge you to simply follow the recipe. The question of baking powder is up to you. If you use it, there’s a greater likelihood they’ll be a hump and the cakes will be fuller and plump. But some say baking powder shouldn’t even be in the same room with madeleines, so I’ll leave that decision up to you.
A few factors make these madeleines humpy…
This past weekend I went to the Marché des Producteurs de Pays, a lively little outdoor event where people come from across France to sell their edible wares here in Paris. Naturally there were lots of mountain cheeses, specialty honeys, and regional wines. But I was on a mission to stock up on les pruneaux d’Agen since I knew les producteurs would be there from Agen who cultivated and dried their own prunes
In America, duck always seems like a special occasion thing, perhaps because it’s not so easily available. But in France, it’s hard not to find duck and braising the meat tenderizes and assures the skin will be dropping off-the-bone succulent. The prunes add a melting sweetness and you can use an inexpensive red wine as the cooking liquid.
Duck with Prunes in Red Wine
Serves 4 to 6
Some folks use a mixture of red wine and stock or water, so you can do whatever suits your taste. Since it’s Beaujolais Nouveau season right now, you can that. I like Pinot Noir, Merlot, Brouilly, or a similar wine.
To begin, cut 4 duck thighs in half, separating the legs and upper thighs. If you have time, rub them all over with about a teaspoon of salt and refrigerate for 1-3 days. If not, that’s okay. Just pat the duck legs dry and rub them with salt.
Heat a large Dutch oven or roasting pan on the stovetop.
When very hot, add in the duck pieces in a single layer, skin side down and cook, disturbing them as little as possible until the skin is very brown. Flip them over and brown the other side for a few minutes too. If they didn’t all fit in a single layer, brown the remaining pieces of duck the same way after you remove the first batch.
Once they’re all cooked off, pour off any extra duck fat (reserve it for another use, like sautéed potatoes) and pour one bottle of red wine into the pan, scraping the bottom with a wooden spatula to unleash all those delicious brown bits.
Add the duck pieces back to the pan along with any or all of the following:
- freshly-ground pepper
- a few strips of wide bacon or pancetta, cut into generous bâtons
- springs of thyme
- a strip or two of orange zest
- one onion, peeled and sliced
- a couple of whole cloves
- a head of garlic cloves, separated from the head, but not peeled
- 2-3 bay leaves
The liquid should be covering the duck up to about the 3/4’s mark. If not, add some water or chicken stock.
Cover the pot and braise in a low oven, 300-325F (150-165C) and cook leisurely for 2-3 hours. The duck is done when the meat is relaxed and comes easily away from the bone. Exact cooking time isn’t important; just check after an hour or so for when the meat slumps and begins to feel tender.
Check and make sure the liquid isn’t boiling while cooking. It should be just steaming and barely simmering every-so-gently. If it’s too hot, turn the oven down.
Flip the duck pieces once or twice during braising. During the last 30 minutes, drop in about 20 prunes. Cover, and let cook until the prunes are tender.
Serving: You can serve with rice, green lentils, beans, or wide noodles. The duck can be made a day or two ahead, refrigerated, then re-warmed for serving.
This dessert is the result of a happy accident. I’ve been working with a liquor company on developing some recipes and after a couple furious days of recipe-testing, I had a zillion containers of various odds-and-ends lying around.
Some had banana, some chocolate. Most were spiked with various quantities of liquor and there were a number of orphans that I had no idea where they came from. And there was that bottle of dark rum that I needed to finish the last little sip of.
So what did I do?
I mixed them all up, tossed them in my ice cream machine and let ‘er rip. After 30 minutes or so, I dug in my spoon in and tasted the most delicious batch of ice cream I’d churned up in a while.
But soon after, I got to work and discovered something—the world’s easiest Chocolate Ice Cream…with no machine required!
‘Tis the beginning of the season for holiday baking. Years ago I gave the much-maligned fruitcake a makeover, dressing it up with plumped-up sour cherries, an overload of chocolate, and a boozy bath of liquor added at the end.
You may remember my fruitcake disaster, so I’m not about to give anyone advice on preservation techniques. And you’ll notice my cake dipped a bit in the middle since I was playing around with French flour, which is softer than its American counterpart. But in looking at it afresh, I like the graceful little dip, which I find rather appealing.
In terms of desserts, it doesn’t get much easier than this.
Affogato means ‘drowned’ in Italian, and any frozen dessert can meet this fate by tippling a little liquor or coffee over it. Classically, espresso is poured over Vanilla Ice Cream, but you’d have to be pretty hard-core to pour espresso over Espresso Granita. If I did that, I’d be ricocheting off the walls around here.
And because I live on the roof, I’m one caffeine-fueled tumble away from meeting my maker. Not my coffee-maker, mind you.
And we wouldn’t want that to happen, now. Would we?
I still have so much to accomplish…like tackling those chocolate marshmallows…
I know you’re wondering why I’m not talking about chocolate since I just posted a slew of chocolate faqs. But I made this recipe for a birthday party last weekend and had to share it.
You can curse me now…but thank me later once you’ve tasted it.
…and yes, you’re welcome. (In advance.)
A recent story on CNN talked about how America’s Favorite French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, was not bourgeois, noting that he didn’t grow up in a rarified family and as the (American) commentator exclaimed…“He didn’t grow up eating pâté!”
I thought that was pretty funny since meaty pâtés and rillettes aren’t upscale delicacies in France, but are considered everyday fare. And some of the best pâtés I’ve had were country-style spreads, or rillettes. Rillettes are usually made with long-cooked salted pork, rabbit, or goose, which is them shredded then mashed with fat to produce a rich, rustic paste for spreading on bread.
If you get a bad one, you’ll think you’re being served something intended for Rover.
But a good one, the best rillettes you find, are nearly buttery-smooth and rich with the taste of fork-tender meat.
During my interview at Chez Panisse, as I sat across the table from Alice Waters in the main dining room at the restaurant, she asked me, “What do you eat at home?”
Since I’m not exactly convincing when lying, I told her.
“I eat popcorn, mostly.” And continued, “I’m a restaurant cook. I don’t have time to eat at home.”
(Although I did conveniently omit the fact that it was microwave popcorn…)
In spite of that, or because of my chutzpah, I got hired and worked at Chez Panisse for a long time. What nailed it for me and endeared me to Alice, years later, wasn’t her politics or her philosophy on cooking. It was when I told her, “I really like to drink coffee leftover from the morning, with milk in it, that’s been sitting on the counter all day.”
And she said, “Me too.”