Friday, January 6, 2017

The Magic Bean

In France, January 6 is "La Fete Des Rois," which translates to "Festival of Kings," also known as Twelfth Night and the Epiphany, when the biblical three kings came to pay homage to the newborn Jesus. It is celebrated by sharing a "Galette des Rois," or "Kings' Cake," with family and friends throughout the month of January. Just like the song The Twelve Days of Christmas! Galette de Rois is a delicious, flaky pastry made with buttery puff pastry and filled with frangipane (almond cream paste), and includes a hidden "la feve" (originally a dry bean, or "magic bean"), and is sold with a silver or gold paper crown to perch on top. The person who gets the feve in their slice is declared the King or Queen and is allowed wear the paper crown! It is also customary that the youngest child at the table go hide (e.g., under the table) where they can't see the cake. The oldest person then cuts the cake into slices, the child comes back and chooses who will get each slice, just to keep things fair!

Galette des Rois is also known as a Pithivier, named after the town Pithiviers in northern France, where it apparently was created. The distinction between the two is the feve or magic bean. This recipe from Laura Calder, who seldom lets me down, was surprisingly easy and turned out beautiful! Just remember to keep everything as cold as possible. My only comment is that I thought it could be a little sweeter, so next time I will try using store-bought almond paste (sold in cans) instead of the ground almonds. I used the traditional dry bean and I saved a paper crown from our Christmas Crackers. My kids loved their Galette des Rois  (they each ate two slices!), and my youngest got a kick out of hiding under the table, in addition to finding the magic bean and getting to wear the crown! It truly is a tradition worth trying!


Galette des Rois (Kings' Cake)

Serves 8

Ingredients:
For the tart
2 sheets puff pastry, about 1/4" thick, chilled
1 egg, lightly beaten for sealing the pastry
Sifted icing sugar, for dusting (or a few spoonfuls of apricot jam, heated until runny) (I used apricot jam!)

For the almond cream
1/3 cup/70 g butter, softened
1/2 cup/70 g icing sugar
1/2 cup/70 g ground almonds (or almond paste)
1 egg
1 tablespoon dark rum
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 magic bean

Directions:
For the almond cream
Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Stir in the almonds, then the egg, rum, and vanilla extract. Beat smooth with a fork. Cover and chill until firm, for at least an hour.

For the tart
Lay an 8" round plate on one sheet of cold puff pastry and go around it with a knife.


Do the same for the top round, but then roll this one a little with a rolling pin to make it slightly larger than the bottom round. (I found 8 1/2 " to be about right!)


Lay the smaller round of chilled pastry on a baking sheet. (I lined mine with parchment paper and highly recommend it.) Spread the chilled cream over, leaving a good 1" margin all around the edge. Hide a bean somewhere in the cream. Brush the border with egg wash (one egg white mixed with a smidgen of water).


Lay on the top round of chilled pastry and lightly press the edges to seal. Score the edge all around with the blunt side of a knife to seal.


Make a cross in the center for steam to escape and draw spirals out to the edges for decoration.


Brush with egg wash all over the top, avoiding the edges, so that they'll puff up easily. Chill in the freezer until very firm, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450 degrees/230 degrees C. Bake the cake until puffed up high and dark golden in color, about 30 minutes.

Sprinkle with a thin coating of icing sugar and blast under the broiler or melt with a blowtorch. You can also brush with melted apricot jam for a glaze.


Saturday, December 31, 2016

Crustacean Crush and Happy New Year!

Don't tell my husband, although I'm sure he already knows, that I have a major crush on crustaceans; specifically, crab legs! Anyone who's eaten crab legs with me knows that I can plow through them with efficient velocity! (Maybe that's why I prefer to enjoy these babies at home.) King crab is the obvious choice, but I would never turn my nose up to snow crab either. With their sweet, briny flavor and meaty texture, they are an excellent choice for any celebration, like New Year's Eve! However, I'm sure that I am not alone in buying crab legs at the last minute, frozen and without the time to let them thaw overnight. This is the kind of spontaneous purchase you make and then dread when you're not sure what to do with them. Well, I think I can help you out!

(The spoils of my most recent conquest!)

How to Buy, Reheat, and Serve Crab Legs

Purchase at least 1 pound per person.

It is recommended that crab legs be thawed overnight in the refrigerator. If you don't have time, thaw them under cold running water, which is usually what I do.

Unless you buy a live crab, the legs are already cooked. The main goal is to reheat the meat without overcooking or drying it out. Some people like to reheat them in the oven, boil them, or even reheat them in the microwave. My preference is to steam them. 

To steam them, fill a large pot big enough to hold the legs with enough water to come up about 1 1/2" from the bottom. Add half a lemon, one bay leaf, a few peppercorns, and 1/2 cup white wine. Insert a steam basket, like the cheap folding kind available at almost any grocer. If you don't have a steam basket, you can wad up some aluminum foil to hold the crab legs above the water. Bring the water to a boil over medium heat, then add the crab legs and cover. The crab legs should be done shortly after you begin to smell them, about 5-9 minutes total. Remove the legs with tongs and place on a serving platter. Serve immediately with necessary utensils (kitchen shears or shellfish scissors, seafood or lobster crackers, and seafood or lobster forks), clarified butter for dipping, and lemon wedges.

Clarified butter is also called drawn butter. Clarified butter is melted butter in which the milk solids have been removed. To serve 4-6 people, melt 1/2 pound unsalted butter (2 sticks) in a small saucepan over low heat. Allow the butter to come to a boil. As it begins to "sputter," it will separate into three layers: foam on top, clear liquid in the middle (this is the clarified butter part you want), and milk solids on the bottom. When the top foam subsides, remove the pan from the heat and skim off the top foam with a spoon. Pour the butter into a measuring cup and allow it to continue to cool. When cool, gently pour the butter through a cheesecloth-lined strainer into another measuring cup, stopping short of the very bottom of the butter where the milk solids lie. You can store the clarified butter in the refrigerator until ready to reheat. Reheat in a small saucepan over low heat until returned to liquid state. (Note: I do not recommend reheating in a microwave. I have had it explode numerous times, even when set under 10 seconds. It's makes a terrible mess and you'll have to start all over.)

What to serve alongside? Take your pick: buttered new potatoes, corn on the cob, green salad, toasted bread, etc. Although, if you are a true crustacean aficionado, the answer is always, "More crab!"

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Burn Your Buche and Eat It Too!

Christmas is my favorite holiday! After all, it's the only day of the year that I can splurge with such scrumptious holiday faire such as Boeuf en Croute, Gratin Dauphinois, Chocolate Truffles au Naturel, Seven Layer Jello, and the iconic French Christmas cake "Buche de Noel!" So, why do the French celebrate Christmas with a cake that looks like a log? It actually began as a pagan tradition where the largest log possible (perhaps bearing roots and all) was wrangled inside to provide warmth and blessings on the winter solstice (the longest night of the year). As it burned, the log was pushed deeper and deeper into the hearth to hopefully burn for 12 hours. When the log was finished burning, the ashes were collected for use all through the year. At the time there were strong beliefs that the ashes were magical! Some of the ashes were saved to spread over the fields to ensure a generous harvest, some were used to protect the house from lightning during strong storms, and some were kept to ward off evil!

Booze and fire! What could go wrong?

When Christianity emerged, the Yule log ritual was merged with Christmas and the custom shifted to Christmas Eve. It is rumored that it was Napoleon who spurred the invention of the cake, by outlawing open chimneys in the winter, which he believed was causing disease. Or, perhaps it was the increasing use of small coal stoves as a heat source, which began as a result of wood shortages. Another theory is that it was virtually impossible to drag logs up urban Parisian stairways, if they even had a fireplace. Whichever theory you choose to believe, The Buche de Noel's popularity began in 19th century France and remains an essential Christmas tradition to this day.

This decadent recipe for Buche de Noel is from the brilliant Jean-Christophe Novelli, former personal chef to the Rothschild family and owner of the world renowned Novelli Academy. Who better than a Frenchman to provide an authentic recipe! Don't let this cake scare you. It really is just a simple sponge roulade, filled and covered with buttercream frosting. The recipe calls for chestnut puree, which can be difficult to find in American grocers. You can just omit the chestnut puree, or you can adjust the flavors to your desire, e.g., coffee and Kahlua, almond and Amaretto, cherries and Kirsch, etc. In addition, meringue mushrooms and a snowy dusting of powdered sugar and cocoa make a spectacular presentation!


Buche de Noel

*Get out your kitchen scale! (See Gadgets.)

Ingredients:
For the Cake:
7 ounces/200 grams all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
7 eggs, separated
8 ounces/225 grams castor/granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (I omit.)
6 tablespoons castor/granulated sugar (for dusting tea towel)

For the Filling/Frosting:
1 lb, 5 ounces/600 grams 70% bitter chocolate (or the best quality you can find)
9 ounces/250 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 ounces/140 grams icing/powdered/confectioners sugar
2 ounces/60 grams sweetened chestnut puree (You can omit completely, or alter to your preference, see above.)
5 tablespoons whisky (or whatever you choose)

Directions:
For the Cake:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees, and line a 17x11x1-inch jelly roll pan with parchment paper.

Sift the flour, baking powder, cocoa, and salt together in a bowl, set aside.

In a stand mixer, beat the egg yolks and half (4 ounces) of the sugar with a whisk until doubled in volume. Add the dry ingredients and fold in. Add the vanilla and cinnamon (if using). The mixture will be very stiff. (I transfer the mixture to the largest bowl I have, so I can use my mixer for beating the egg whites.)

In a stand mixer, whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form soft peaks. Add the remaining (4 ounces) sugar and whisk until the egg whites (meringue) form stiff peaks.

Stir 1/3rd of the meringue mixture into the egg yolk/cocoa mixture to soften it. Then gently fold the rest of the meringue mixture in two stages, carefully so as to retain as much air as possible.

Spread the mixture into the lined pan and bake for 8-15 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Dust a tea towel with the 6 tablespoons sugar and turn the cooked sponge onto it. Carefully remove the parchment paper and quickly roll (long side to long side) the cake up into a log. Although it will seem like a lot of sugar, it makes a lovely crust on the cake. Don't worry if the cake cracks a bit as it rolls up, it will all be covered by the frosting. Set aside to cool before filling and frosting.

For the Filling/Frosting:
Melt the chocolate in double boiler. (If you don't have one, set a metal bowl over a pot of simmering water. See Gadgets.)

In a stand mixer, beat the butter and 5 ounces icing sugar together. Add the chestnut puree (if using) and continue to mix to a  smooth, spreadable paste. Gradually incorporate the melted chocolate and allow to cool to room temperature.

Finishing the Cake:
When the sponge has cooled, unroll it carefully. (Again, any cracks don't matter.) Brush with half the whisky (or whatever you desire).

Spread some of the filling evenly over the sponge to within about 2 cm from each edge. Using the tea towel to assist, roll the sponge back up and brush liberally with the rest of the whisky and allow to soak in.

Trim the ends and use these to form branches by placing back onto the log. (You can use some of the buttercream to help "glue" them on.)

Use the remaining filling to generously coat the cake all over. Use the tines of a fork to give a bark effect.

Dust with powdered sugar and cocoa and decorate with meringue mushrooms. Proudly serve with a smile!

Joyeux Noel!