A look at the best way to cook duck breasts


Boneless Pekin (otherwise known as Long Island) duck breasts are readily available frozen, although you might find a poultry provider in your town with access to fresh ducks. Muscovy ducks are larger, and the meat is more gamey with less fat. A Moulard duck is a cross between a Muscovy drake and a Pekin hen, and has a hefty breast. I have not had the opportunity to try a Moulard duck, but I know that D’artagnan https://www.dartagnan.com sells Muscovy, Moulard, and Rohan (a cross between Mallard and Pekin) breasts.

When I see duck on the menu of a relatively upscale restaurant, it is often a presentation of medium rare duck breast and a confit of duck leg, which is my favorite way to have duck. I often find that restaurants that serve duck are more typically presenting a half duck, usually overcooked, with well done meat and flabby skin. What a shame. Half the fun of eating duck is to crunch through the beautiful crispy duck skin!

Maple Leaf farms is a very common source in many supermarkets for half ducks and duck breasts https://shopmapleleaffarms.com/ , and I have had their half duck from the supermarket (and occasionally Costco). The half duck is vacuum packed after being cooked, so all you are doing is rewarming the duck. It is not bad, but the meat comes out well done and can be dry (but tasting good). I will use this as a shortcut for a quick meal, but it is no where close to what one can achieve with cooking a duck from scratch.

There are many recipes for duck leg confit, cooking the leg quarter by poaching in duck fat, and I am not going to talk about that now. Let’s spend some time discussing cooking duck breasts, which can be easily accomplished.

I watched Thomas Keller’s Masterclasses, and he had a segment on pan roasting duck breasts. I also watched a bunch of YouTube on cooking duck breast. My technique is an amalgam and is very easy.

If the duck breast are frozen, put them in the refrigerator to defrost. After they are defrosted, remove any packing material and dry the breasts with a paper towel. Let the breasts sit uncovered skin side up in the refrigerator for several hours to allow the skin to dry. Keller has his sit for 3 days! Remove any silver skin from the breasts. With a very sharp knife, score the skin in a diagonal cross hatch pattern, with the knife cutting down to but not into the meat. Keller’s alternative is to prick the skin with a “sausage pricker.” Either way, this will allow the fat to render from the skin more readily.

The various techniques fall in two categories: a hot pan or a cold pan.

Keller tells you to start with a pan on medium heat with a thin layer of oil (canola, grapeseed, etc not olive oil). Cook skin side down until about 80% done, then baste the top of the breasts with the rendered duck fat in the pan. Cook until medium rare (temp of 123o F), turn over the breasts and cook the meat side just long enough to color it.

I like the cold pan start. Season both sides of the duck breast with salt and pepper. Place skin side down in the pan (I used a non-stick pan), and turn the heat to medium. Cook without turning the breast for 8 minutes. The fat will render and the skin will not stick. Using tongs, turn the breast 90 degrees to cook for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes on the side, then an equal amount on the other side and finally 1 1/2 minutes on the flat meat side. The goal is an internal temperature of 125o F for medium rare. Remove to a plate and let rest for 5 minutes. Cut through the meat side down to the crispy skin in 3/8 inch thick slices. This method is adapted from Douglass Williams, the chef/owner of Mida in Boston. He suggests placing a pyrex dish to act as a weigh on top of the duck breast while cooking on the skin side to help force out the rendered fat from under the skin, with draining the excess fat from the pan periodically.

You can make an orange sauce gastrique to go with the duck very easily. Dice one shallot and saute with 20 grams of unsalted butter. Add 30 grams of sugar and 1 tablespoon of honey. Then add 80 milliliters of red wine vinegar and 20 milliliters of cognac. Zest one orange into the pot, and then add the juice of the orange. Reduce and remove from the heat. Mount the sauce with 20 grams of unsalted cold butter. Serve on the side of the duck breast.

Thomas Keller’s orange gastrique:

50 grams honey
150 grams orange juice
150 grams roasted veal stock
10 to 15 grams lemon juice
A couple of scrapes of orange zest
5 to 10 grams butter (optional)

Put orange juice and honey into a medium saucepan, bring to a simmer over medium heat, reduce until the orange juice and honey reach a syrupy consistency. As the bubbles
increase in size, the gastrique becomes more viscous. Increase the heat slightly to speed up the cooking process, looking for large bubbles around the edges of the pot and light caramelization. Swirl the gastrique to check the changing consistency. Be careful not to let it caramelize or burn.

Slowly add the veal stock, swirl to mix, and return to simmer, cooking until the sauce is reduced to your desired flavor (by about one third). Add in orange zest, adjust with lemon juice or vinegar if you find that the gastrique needs more acid, and season with salt to taste. To finish the gastrique, remove from heat and stir in the cold-cubed butter, which will soften the flavors (if desired) and provide a velvety texture and mouth feel.

Try this cold pan start roasting technique. It is a quick way to prepare an elegant and very tasty entree.

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A new take on the no-knead bread


In August of 2020 (if you can remember before COVID-19 hit), I published my thoughts on Jim Lahey’s no-knead Sullivan Street bakery creation as written about by Mark Bittman in The NY Times. I’ve made this bread and it is wonderful. But not everyone has a large Dutch oven or a clay cloche bread baker, and I saw an interesting YouTube by J. Kenje Lopez-Alt that used more common kitchen equipment and a modified recipe. I thought it was worth trying and sharing so here is the recipe.

almost no-knead white bread

Equipment

Medium Aluminum mixing bowl

Large Aluminum mixing bowl

Half sheet pan

Digital scale

 

Ingredients

400 grams bread flour

300 grams water (100° F)

2 Grams Fast acting yeast

8 grams Kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon White vinegar

 

The flour amount determines the quantity of the rest of the ingredients. Use 75% of the weight of the flour as water, 0.5% as yeast, and 2% as salt. Mix the flour, yeast and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the water by mixing all of the water into the dry ingredients with your hands to get all the flour incorporated into one ball, then cover the dough ball with the medium mixing bowl, and put the sheet pan on top of the inverted medium bowl to help create a seal. Using cool water will result in a slower rise (18 hours versus 5 to 6 hours). Use of a dash of vinegar (1/8 teaspoon) will help gluten form.

 

This is where the recipe is a little more “hands on” than the original Sullivan Street bread. After 15 to 30 minutes, remove the sheet pan and the medium bowl, and stretch the dough by reaching underneath a quadrant with your fingers moistened with water, pulling the dough up stretching the dough, then folding it to the center, repeating with the other 3 quadrants.  Pick up the dough ball and reshape it into a ball, recover the ball with the medium bowl and sheet pan, and let it rest.  Repeat this process 5 or 6 times, thus forming more gluten structure and makes the dough smoother.  The dough can then go in the refrigerator overnight for a slow rise (or can sit on the counter for 6 hours for a faster rise, but slower is better).  Remove from the refrigerator and let sit on the counter for a minimum of 1 hour before shaping and final proof.

 

Dry the medium bowl with a towel.  Using a dish towel, dust the towel heavily with flour to coat the towel center.  Stick the towel in the medium mixing bowl, flour side up.  Do one last quadrant pull and shape, pulling the dough ball onto a floured board, pinching the folds into a seam.  Flip it over and using the sides of your hands, help stretch the ball to get a nice smooth surface and a nice ball shape (30-45 seconds).  Put the dough ball (seam side down) on to the floured towel in the medium mixing bowl.  Cover the bowl with the half sheet pan.  Let sit at room temperature until the dough has doubled in size (about 1 to 2 hours depending on ambient temperature).

 

Preheat the oven to 500° F for at least ½ hour. Flip the bowl with the sheet pan on top so the dough rests on the sheet pan upside down, and carefully remove the floured dish towel. Take the large mixing bowl, and put water in the bowl, swish it around and dump the water out, leaving a little moisture on the inside. Flip this onto the dough ball sitting on the sheet pan, and put the sheet pan with the dough covered by the large mixing bowl in the oven. The moisture on the inside of the big bowl will steam, helping to form the crust of the bread. Lower the temperature of the oven to 450°, and bake for 20 minutes. Then, remove the bowl and bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes to a golden brown color. Let rest for 30 minutes.

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The monster of a cookie–attempts to recreate the Levain cookie


Updated 4/2/21

trustforce

The Levain bakery in New York City is famous for its 6 ounce chocolate chip cookie, and this has spawned a number of imitators and copycat recipes. I found 3 recipes that are similar in ingredients but vary in amounts and techniques.


These cookies are humongous and are meant to be shared.  The edges are crisp, and the centers are soft and chewy.  The nuts are an integral part of the cookie, and cannot be omitted, so nix for those with nut allergies.

In April, 2019, Stella Parks published a Levain style cookie https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2019/04/super-thick-chocolate-chip-cookie-recipe.html and in November, 2019, Delish contributors June Xie and Makinze Gore put their version on the Net https://www.delish.com/cooking/recipe-ideas/recipes/a46396/copycat-levain-bakery-cookies/.  Also, in November of 2019, the team at Cupcake Jemma came up with their attempt to recreate the monster cookie.  These versions are not alike, and differ in technique, so as a public service, here are the…

View original post 33 more words

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Making the misnamed “brownie tart” (really, another good flourless chocolate tart recipe )


I watch (by taping with the DVR) Saturday morning’s Food Network program, the Kitchen. I don’t know why I bother, as the recipes presented on the show are mostly not appealing to me, either in their components or their lack of complexity. This is not a show aimed for sophisticated chefs, or ones aspiring to be, but rarely, the show has a recipe that sparks interest. We make a chicken stir fry with ramen from the show as well as an interesting Greek lamb and beef meat loaf. So when Geoffrey Zakarian presented a “brownie tart” I was intrigued enough to try it.

It is a bad label or name for this tart, as it is really a flourless chocolate tart. It is rather simple to make, and it tastes quite good. It is fudge like in density without the gooey texture of a brownie. Obviously, this could be make for Passover, but could be made anytime of the year.

Like other flourless cakes, this one uses nuts to support its structure. Rather than almonds, hazelnuts are used here.

Hazelnut Flourless Chocolate Tart

Recipe courtesy of Madeline Zakarian, Anna Zakarian, AND Geoffrey Zakarian

Show: The Kitchen

Level: Easy

Yield: 8 servings Total: 1 hr 30 min

(includes cooling time)

Active: 35 min

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup hazelnuts, lightly toasted
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon instant coffee dissolved in 1 tablespoon of hot water
  • 1 1/2 pints raspberries
  • Powdered sugar, for garnish, as needed Vanilla bean ice cream, for serving

Directions:

1. Pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees F. Spray a fluted 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom with non-stick cooking spray.

2. In a food processor add hazelnuts, unsweetened cocoa powder, salt and 1/4 cup of sugar and pulse until finely ground. Set aside.

3. In a medium saucepan, melt unsalted butter over medium heat, then cook swirling the pan occasionally, until nutty-smelling and deep golden in color, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add the bittersweet chocolate chips. Let stand until melted, about 2 minutes. Whisk the butter and chocolate until smooth, scraping up any browned butter solids from the bottom of the pan. Let cool slightly.

4. In a mixing bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs with the remaining 1 1/4 cups of sugar and coffee mixture on medium speed, about 5 minutes. With mixer on low, add the chocolate-butter mixture, followed by the cocoa- hazelnut mixture. With a spatula scrape batter into prepared pan and bake for about 35 minutes, or until the top is glossy and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs. Let cool until slightly warm.

5. Remove the outer ring from the tart pan. In the center of the tart, place the raspberries in a circle or in the shape of a heart. Garnish with sifted powdered sugar. Serve with ice cream.

Adapted from “The Family That Cooks Together: 85 Zakarian Family Recipes From Our Table to Yours” by Anna Zakarian and Madeline Zakarian â Little, Brown and Company 2020.

SDR notes. The use of coffee, often included in many chocolate recipes to enhance the chocolate flavor, is totally unnecessary here, as the cocoa powder and chocolate pieces provide plenty of chocolate intensity. The hazelnuts give a slight granular texture to the tart, which I liked, but my spouse did not. The nuts could be ground more, but with the risk to creating a hazelnut butter. Unlike many other flourless chocolate cakes, there is no need to beat the egg yolks and whites separately, but be sure to get enough air into the beaten eggs and sugar.

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German Chocolate Cookie Bar


I don’t know what it is about the combination of coconut, pecans, and chocolate, but it certainly works for me. But first, a little history. German Chocolate Cake originated in 1957, when a Dallas Texas housewife, Mrs. George Clay, had her recipe for “German’s Chocolate Cake printed in the “Recipe of the Day” in the Dallas Morning News. The recipe used the baking chocolate created by Samuel German for the Baker company in 1852. This sweet chocolate was marketed as “German’s Chocolate” but didn’t gain widespread use until Mrs. Clay’s recipe was reprinted widely, but with a loss of the apostrophe “s” leading to some to assume that German chocolate cake has a German origin. The common link today is the use of chocolate, coconut flakes, and pecans in a dessert. Which brings us to the subject of today’s post.

Let me freely admit, I am a food snob. I dislike using recipes that use shortcuts, mixes, and commercially prepared products, as I like to be sure of the content and sources of my ingredients.  This also tends me to dismiss recipes from places like Parent’s magazine and Family Fun and Reader’s Digest. But my wife saw this recipe (originally from Family Circle Magazine) mentioned in a House and Garden email, and I thought “well, maybe.” https://www.parents.com/recipe/german-chocolate-bar-cookies/

Of course, my cooking sensibilities could not allow me to make this recipe as written, so I made some changes (more work, but the results should be much better). Some of them feel free to ignore (like making your own chocolate wafer cookies, using bittersweet chocolate instead of semi-sweet) but I did not advocate making sweetened condensed milk from scratch.

German Chocolate Bar Cookies by SDR

  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

This recipe has 2 components. The first is to make scratch chocolate wafer cookies to use as the base of the bars.  The second is to make the bars themselves.

The recipe for the chocolate wafer cookies is adapted from Alice Medrich’s “Pure Dessert” by Deb Perelman at smittenkitchen.com and is much better than the commercial alternatives.

Ingredients:

  • 1½ cups All-purpose flour (6.75 ounces)
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (dutch processed)
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar (18 tbs total)
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 14 tablespoons unsalted butter (1¾ sticks), slightly softened
  • 3 tablespoon whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions:

  1.  Combine the flour, cocoa, sugar, salt, and baking sod in the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times to mix thoroughly.  Cut the butter into small pieces and add them to the bowl.  Pulse several times.  Combine the milk and the vanilla extract, and with the food processor on, add this to the mixture and continue to mix until the dough forms a ball and clings to the side of the food processor.  Transfer to a large bowl and knead the dough to make sure it is evenly blended.
  2. Form the dough into a log about 14 inches long and 1¾ inches in diameter.  Wrap the log in wax paper, and refrigerate until firm.  Like many other cookie doughs, it is better to refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours.
  3. Put the racks of the oven in the bottom and upper thirds, and preheat to 350°F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.  Remove the log from the refrigerator, and cut slices 14/ to 3/8 inch thick.  (If you are trying to duplicate the commercial cookies, cut them thinner and decrease the baking time.)  Place the slices 1 inch apart on the baking sheets.  Bake, rotating the baking sheet from top to bottom and back to front about halfway through baking.  The cookies will puff up, and then deflate.  The average baking time is 12 to 15 minutes.  They are done about 1½ minutes after they deflate.  In my oven, the cookies were done in 13 minutes.  Do not under or over bake–the cookies should be crisp when they are cool.  Remove the sheets from the oven and leave the cookies for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.  The cookies can be stored in an airtight container to 2 weeks or frozen for up to two months.  They can be eaten with some milk, used to make ice cream sandwiches, or as we are using them here, to be mixed with butter and become the base of a bar cookie or a cheesecake.

Chocolate wafer cookies

Now, onto the making to the bars themselves:

Ingredients:

  • 13 ½ ounces of chocolate wafers, ground up in a food processor
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
  • 12 ounces chocolate
  • 1¼ cups sweetened coconut flakes
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped pecans

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 350° F.  Butter a 13X9 inch baking pan, and line with a sling of parchment paper (also buttered).Buttered pan lined with parchment paper
  2. Grind the wafer cookies in a food processor until they are fine crumbs.  Transfer to a bowl and melt the ½ cup of butter, and mix thoroughly. Press the mixture into the baking pan, using a spatula and a flat surfaced measuring cup to evenly spread the crumb mixture.
  3. Combine the coconut flakes, pecans and chocolate pieces in a bowl.  Pour the condensed milk into the bowl and mix thoroughly with a spatula. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan.
  4. Bake for 25 minutes.  Cool completely and then refrigerate for at least 2 hours.  Using the parchment paper sling, lift the bars and place on a cutting board.  Cut into 36 pieces.

Notes:

I used a 70% cocao bittersweet chocolate from Scharffenberger because you need to balance the sweetness of the condensed milk and coconut flakes.  Semi-sweet morsels would not work as well.  I chopped the mini-blocks of Scharffenberger with a knife. Since you want everything to mix together well, that is why I elected to mix the coconut flakes, pecans and chocolate together first, and then added the condensed milk to bind everything together (rather than a layer of condensed milk, topped with chocolate first, coconut second, and finally pecans).  This is a very intense bar and a small serving is enough.

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The monster of a cookie–attempts to recreate the Levain cookie


The Levain bakery in New York City is famous for its 6 ounce chocolate chip cookie, and this has spawned a number of imitators and copycat recipes. I found 3 recipes that are similar in ingredients but vary in amounts and techniques.


These cookies are humongous and are meant to be shared.  The edges are crisp, and the centers are soft and chewy.  The nuts are an integral part of the cookie, and cannot be omitted, so nix for those with nut allergies.

In April, 2019, Stella Parks published a Levain style cookie https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2019/04/super-thick-chocolate-chip-cookie-recipe.html and in November, 2019, Delish contributors June Xie and Makinze Gore put their version on the Net https://www.delish.com/cooking/recipe-ideas/recipes/a46396/copycat-levain-bakery-cookies/.  Also, in November of 2019, the team at Cupcake Jemma came up with their attempt to recreate the monster cookie.  These versions are not alike, and differ in technique, so as a public service, here are the 3 recipes in one place, and hopefully this will inspire everyone to try and experiment with them all and determine their preference.  Please let me know what you think!

Here is Stella’s recipe:

Super Thick Chocolate Chip Cookie

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces unsalted American butter (about 1/2 cup; 113 g), softened to about 65°F (18°C)
  • 4 ounces light brown sugar (about 1/2 cup, firmly packed; 113 g)
  • 3 1/2 ounces white sugar, preferably well toasted (about 1/2 cup; 100 g)
  • 1/2 ounce vanilla extract (about 1 tablespoon; 15 g)
  • 2 teaspoons (8 g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use about half as much by volume or the same weight (plus more for sprinkling, if desired)
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch of grated nutmeg
  • 2 large eggs (about 3 1/2 ounces; 100 g), straight from the fridge
  • 10 ounces all-purpose flour (about 2 1/4 cups, spooned; 283 g), such as Gold Medal
  • 15 ounces assorted chocolate chips (about 2 1/2 cups; 425 g), not chopped chocolate; see note
  • 8 1/2 ounces raw walnut pieces or lightly toasted pecan pieces (shy 1 3/4 cups; 240 g)

Toasting white sugar will give a more caramel tasting note to the cookie, and is worth the trouble.  Here’s how to do it:

Use a 4 pound bag of granulated sugar.  Adjust oven rack to center position and preheat oven to 300°F. Pour sugar into a 9- by 13-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. Toast until the sugar turns ivory, about 1 hour. Stir thoroughly and continue roasting, pausing to stir every 30 minutes. The sugar will produce steam as a byproduct of toasting, so it must be stirred well to allow that moisture to escape. Stirring should also help move hot sugar from the edges toward the center, and cool sugar from the center toward the edges, for even toasting. Continue toasting and stirring every 30 minutes until the sugar has darkened to the desired degree, from a light beige to the color of traditional brown sugar, between 2 and 4 hours more.

Smaller amounts of sugar can be done, but watch the sugar and toss more frequently.

The Delish copycat recipe for monster cookies

  1.  Weigh 100 grams of walnut pieces.  Raw walnuts have a skin that can be a little bitter, so bake the walnut pieces for 5 minutes at 350° F (convention) on a tray, then place the pieces wrapped up in a clean kitchen towel and rub the pieces to remove the skins.  Set aside.
  2. The 400 grams of chocolate can be any type you wish–milk, semi-sweet, bittersweet, chips or chunks, or a mixture.  The Jemma team used all milk chocolate chips.
  3. 230 grams of butter (8.09 ounces) must be cold.  Put in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle, and beat for 30 seconds, just to break it up a little.  Then add the 2 sugars (160 grams=5.6 ounces of caster (superfine) sugar (regular cane sugar can be used), plus 160 grams of light (not dark) brown sugar).  Mix for 30-45 seconds.
  4. Add the chocolate and the walnut pieces and mix just to combine everything (about 15 seconds).  Next add the dry ingredients.  Note–if you don’t have self rising flour, take 1 cup of all purpose flour and mix with 1½ teaspoons of baking powder and ¼ teaspoon salt.  This recipe uses 200 grams self rising flour, so to make your own self rising flour, just combine 2 tsp of baking powder for each cup of all purpose flour.  For the King Arthur flour that I use, one cup=150 grams, so 1 1/3 cups=200 grams plus 2 tsp+½+1/8 tsp (just under 2¾) of baking powder. Combine on low speed for 30 seconds.
  5. Whisk 2 eggs together.  Pour into the mixture and combine to mix throughout the dough.
  6. Weigh dough balls to 125 grams.  Press gently into a ball (do not roll them tightly) onto a parchment lined baking sheet and freeze for 90 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 180°C fan (355°F convention) with a baking sheet lined with parchment paper in the oven.  Bake 6 cookies at a time with good space between, as the cookies will spread.  Bake for 17 minutes for a gooey center and crisp outside.  Cool for a least 5 minutes before eating.

Please let me know if you try either (or someone else’s copycat of the Levain cookie). Most important, are these monsters cookies better than the tried and true chocolate chip cookie benchmark, The NY Times modified winner from my prior posting?

Update 12/30/2020:  I made the Cupcake Jemma recipe.  It is very interesting as the use of cold butter and short beating times creates a very untypical cookie dough that only comes together as you mold the mixture in your hands to make a mildly compressed ball.  The freezing of the balls of dough before baking probably prevents them from flattening and spreading as they bake, so I will try to flatten the ball of dough before baking next time.

3 Different bittersweet chocolates

The cookie itself, eaten after 15 minutes out of the oven, has crisp outsides and crumbly insides that (due to the amount of chocolate) is very gooey.  

The cupcake jemma cookie 125 grams (4.41 ounces)

The combination of dough, walnuts and multiple chocolates tastes great, and I can see why this monster cookie has such a reputation.  I’ll update again after trying the other two recipes.

Update 4/2/2021

I had cookies from the Georgetown branch of Levain, so I can comment on the “original” vs the copycat.  I liked the Levain cookie (I got the chocolate chip walnut one so it is a direct comparison).  I think the Cupcake Jemma version is very close, but with a little more cakelike center in the Levain cookie.  So much depends on the cooking time of the cookie as to the degree of doneness of the center of the cookie, and the 15 minute time for the Cupcake Jemma version seems right.  The Levain cookie is bigger, so I have to see how the Stella Parks and Delish versions stack up. 

The big question should still spark some conversion.  I think the NY Times cookie (with the addition of walnuts and the 3 ounce version–so that it is a direct comparison) is a better cookie.  It doesn’t have as gooey a center, which I prefer.  Now, to be fair, I still have to try the Stella Parks and Delish versions of the monster, but I have tried the Levain version, and the monster loses to the NY Times version cookie.

Has anyone tried these yet?  I’d be interested in your comments. 

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A Different Kind of Brisket, complete with a story behind it, just in time for the Holidays


This is a revisit to the post I made on September 21, 2017. I made some slight changes in our version of the Ferst Brisket, and I included the back story in this post.

The Ferst Family Brisket history was originally published in The Forward.  Here is the story:

The Brisket That Traveled from Europe to Philadelphia and Back to Stockholm

Shared by Walter Ferst

Recipe Origins: Germany > Stockholm; Riga, Latvia > Philadelphia

In the late 19th century and just before World War II, when Jews in Eastern Europe started to scatter, recipes were carried with relatives to different corners of the globe. That was the case with Walter Ferst’s family brisket, a simple preparation plugged with garlic and laced with onions that his grandmother made for holidays in Philadelphia.

Unbeknownst to him as a child, the recipe also remained in Europe. While much of the family came to the United States around the turn of the century, a set of cousins stayed in Germany until the mid- to late-1930’s. “They were out for a Sunday picnic when they were accosted by Brown Shirts who roughed them up and turned their car over,” he recalls. “The family righted the car and drove north until they got to Sweden. They never went home, they just drove.”

Living in Israel for a summer in his early 20’s, Walter used a family directory to reach out to a distant cousin Mary Bagg in Stockholm to say he would be in town and would like to meet. “In [the 1970’s], the way you got mail when you traveled in Europe was through American Express,” he says. “Anyone could mail you a letter to their office and they would hold it. When we arrived, they had a letter for me.” Mary insisted that he stay with her and introduced him to another cousin Jorge.

After a day of sailing around Stockholm, drinking Slivovitz to stay warm, Jorge brought them to his mother’s home for dinner. When Walter walked into the house, he recognized the scent coming from the kitchen: his grandmother’s brisket with paprika, onions, and white wine. His grandmother had died eight years earlier. “You have to picture being a 21-year-old kid living out of his backpack and he sits down to this meal and it’s the same one his grandmother made for him as a kid. I can remember it vividly.”

The brisket recipe is still the one that graces the Ferst family table on cold nights, particularly on Hanukkah, but it suits the Rosh Hashanah table as well.

*A version of this recipe first appeared in The Forward, then in the Jewish Food Society, and reprinted in Hadassah magazine.

Kauffman/Ferst Family Braised Brisket

 

The finished brisket The Finished brisket

Serves 12 to 15

Time:  At least 4 hours cooking

Ingredients

  • 7 to 8 pound whole brisket, flat and deckle attached
  • 14 or more garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1½ teaspoons Hungarian paprika
  • 1 teaspoon fresly ground black pepper
  • 4 medium (2½ pounds) sweet onions, cut crosswise into thick slices
  • 3 cups dry white wine
  • 1½ cups water

Equipment needed:  large roasting pan or Dutch oven, wooden toothpicks.

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.  Rinse the brisket and trim any excessive hanging pieces of fat, but leave the rest of the fat intact for cooking.  Make 14 or more ½ inch incisions through the fat into the meat and insert garlic cloves in the slits.
  2. Season both sides of the meat with salt, paprika and pepper, then place in the center of the cooking vessel, fat side up.  Pin whole slices of onion to the meat with toothpicks to completely cover the meat, scattering the remaining slices around the bisket.
  3. Mix the water and wine together and pour over the brisket.  Cover the pan tightly with foil or the cover of the Dutch oven.
  4. Cook until the meat is tender when pierced with a fork, about 3 to 3½ hours, then uncover and cook for an additional 45 minutes, basting with the pan juices every 10 minutes.
  5. Remove from the pan and let rest for 20 minutes.  Remove the onions and toothpicks.  Carve and serve with the pan juices.

Now here are our modifications.  Start the cooking at 375º F for 15 minutes per side, then reduce the heat to 350° F and follow the rest of the directions.  After cooking is finished, reserve the juices and the onions and allow the fat to separate.  Remove about 1/4 of the onions to add to the finished gravy, and pureé the liquid and the rest of onions together in a blender or food processor (blender is better to achieve a nice homogeneous sauce).  When the meat is cooled, slice it against the grain in ¼ inch thick slices, and put it in a storage container.  Cover with the gravy and refrigerate overnight.  Warm gently the next day, and serve with the gravy/reserved onions.

Now I know many of you are fans of a sweet brisket (including my wife).  This is a very nice version of a more savory brisket, and the garlic, paprika and onions make it a standout, particularly the treatment of the reserved juices and onions to make a pureéd sauce.  The sauce perfectly accompanies the well cooked and tasty brisket.  We also think the brisket tastes better and is more tender when sliced cool, and reheated the next day in the gravy.

L’shana Tovah.

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Chocolate Truffle Turtle Cake, a mashup of a brownie and pecan turtles


Hi chocolate fans!  This is a recipe from an article in Gourmet magazine from October, 1992, written by Zaan Early Zakroff entitled Forbidden Pleasures.  This dessert is not really a cake, but it is not a candy either.  It is taking the chocolate coated pecan caramel cluster (aka Pixie or Turtle), and mounting it on a brownie like base.  I was somewhat surprised that I could not see this recipe on the Gourmet archives at Epicurious.com, and I am happy to publish it so that it does not get lost forever.  I did find some individuals who have posted this recipe on the net.  My post is from the original article, with some helpful suggestions.

Chocolate Truffle Turtle Cake

Cake base

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ¼ cup tightly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  •  2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped pecans
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

Caramel

  • ¾ cup tightly packed light brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice

5 ounces pecan halves

Ganache

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 12 ounces bittersweet chocolate chopped fine

Optional Rum-burnt sugar sauce

  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • ½ cup hot water
  • 1/3 cup dark rum

Procedure

    • Make the base: Line the bottom of a buttered 8 1/2 inch springform pan, or tart pan with a removable fluted rim, with a round of wax paper and butter the paper. In a small heavy saucepan, melt the butter over moderate heat and add the cocoa powder while stirring, until smooth. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in brown sugar until smooth, and then let mixture cool. Beat in the egg, then stir in flour, pecans, salt and vanilla extract. Spread the batter in the prepared pan, bake the base in the middle of a preheated 350 degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes (until it is just firm to the touch, and pulls away slightly from the side).  SDR–this may require more than 10 minutes depending on your oven, it is done when the center is set but still a little underdone.

      Brown sugar and butter

      Mix the cake base

      Ready to pour into the pan

      Let the base cool in the pan on a rack for 5 minutes, then remove the sides of the pan and invert the base onto cooling rack, discarding wax paper. While still warm, fit it into 8 inch springform pan (will slope up the sides slightly).

    • Make the caramel: In a small heavy saucepan combine the brown sugar, the corn syrup, the butter and the salt, cooking the mixture over moderate heat stirring and washing down any sugar crystals clinging to the side of the pan with a brush dipped in cold water, until the sugar is dissolved.

      Boiling the caramel

      Boil it undisturbed for 8 to 10 minutes, or until candy thermometer registers 260 degrees F. (Be careful not to extend the caramel heat as this will create a hard caramel, which in the finished cake will be hard to cut and eat.)  Remove the pan from the heat and add cream, vanilla extract, and lemon juice, stirring to incorporate. Let cool to room temperature (it will thicken).  SDR–if the caramel cools too much, it will not pour.  Do not wait until the caramel cools to room temperature. Arrange pecan halves end to end onto the cake base in concentric circles to cover the base completely. Pour cooled caramel in the center of the pecan layer, and allow gravity to spread it.

      Pecan halves added, ready to pour the caramel

    • Make the ganache: In a small saucepan, bring the cream just to a boil, and remove the pan from heat. Whisk in the chocolate and the salt until the chocolate is completely melted. Cool to room temperature, then beat the ganache with an electric mixer until it just holds soft peaks (don’t overbeat, as it will become granular). Spread the ganache evenly over the caramel layer, and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight. (The cake can keeps for 1 week chilled and wrapped in foil). Run a thin knife around teh edge of the cake, remove the side of the pan, and transfer carefully to a plate. Let cake stand at room temperature for 30 minutes prior to cutting, so that the ganache is a little soft.
    • Optional Sauce: In a dry large deep heavy skillet, cook the sugar over moderately high heat, stirring constantly with a fork until melted completely and a deep golden caramel. Remove the skillet from the heat, into the side of it pour the water carefully, a little at a time, and cook the mixture over moderate heat, stirring, until the caramel is dissolved. Add the rum and simmer the sauce for 2 minutes. Pour the sauce into heat-proof dish and cool, then serve on side of cake.
  • Servings: 12
  • Preparation Time: 2 hours
  • Recipe Type Cakes, Chocolate, Desserts, Gourmet Magazine
  • Source Author: Zaan Early Zakroff (Forbidden Pleasures, Gourment Oct 92)

Since this is a very sugary dessert, a small portion is ample.  Enjoy!

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The French Laundry’s Butter Poached Lobster Mac and Cheese


Our daughter gave my wife a birthday present of one year’s access to Masterclass, the internet site for world class experts to talk about their fields.  Thomas Keller, the famous chef owner of the French Laundry in Yountville, California, as well as the ridiculously expensive Per Se in New York City, and sous vide innovator, has a series of classes on the site, and one of them shows how to make his famous lobster dish.  Part of the reasoning behind this dish is the ability to present freshly cooked lobster “a la minute” in his restaurant, so for a home cook, this is a technique not as necessary when compared to steaming a lobster and serving it immediately with drawn butter (Yum).  None the less, it is an exercise in fine cuisine that with a fair amount of effort, can be done at home.  The least intuitive issue is the cooking of the lobster itself, but by cooking the lobster initially to 10% done, and poaching the meat later in a butter emulsion, this removes any issue of poorly cooked crustacean.  For a restaurant, this is of primary importance (with the secondary issue of plating convenience), but for the home cook, it prevents a litany of possible errors.  Yes, this is a lot of work, but the results are spectacular.

You start by boiling water with some white vinegar, and then, using a pan or plastic container big enough to hold 2 lobsters, cover the lobsters with the boiling water for several minutes.  After 90 seconds, remove the lobster from the water and twist off the tail, twist off the claws at the body and toss the claw arms back in the water for 2 more minutes.  Have a dish with ice prepared, and remove the tail meat, cut it lengthwise and remove the digestive vein, and place the 2 pieces on the ice.  Next, remove the claw arms and crack the claw to remove the claw meat, removing any cartilage from the large claw piece, and using scissors and crackers, remove all the meat from the knuckles.  Place all this meat on the ice.  Finally, try to remove the little bit of meat from the 8 legs by rolling it out after tearing the distal end of the leg off.  You end up with 2 pieces of tail, 2 claws, 2 knuckle portions and a bunch of little bits of leg meat per lobster sitting on ice.  This meat is still raw but will keep well on the ice for use later.  What is left is the lobster body with its liver (known as tomalley) which is green, and if the lobster was female, there may be black eggs (roe) which will turn red when cooked.  (Both the tomalley and the roe can be cooked and eaten if desired.)  Grab the back end of the lobster thorax and pull up to separate the exoskeleton with the head from the rest of the thorax body (minus the legs)  This body is then cut up by a longitudinal cut, and then the halves are cut into small pieces (about 4 per half).  These body parts are used to create the lobster stock.  I suppose that one could throw in the tail, claw, body skeleton and knuckle pieces as well (like one would do for lobster americaine), but Chef Keller did not.

Butter Poach Lobster Mac and Cheese

Recipe type: Pasta
Serves: 6
Ingredients
  • Lobster:
  • 3 lobsters (1 1/2 to 2 pounds each)
  • distilled vinegar; as needed
  • water
  • Lobster Broth:
  • 1/4 Cup oil
  • 3 lobster bodies (3/4 pounds total); cut in quarters
  • 1 1/2 Cups chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 Cup chopped carrots
  • 1 bunch tarragon
  • 2 Cups whipping cream
  • water
  • Coral Oil:
  • 3 Tablespoons lobster coral (roe); reserved from shell
  • 1/2 Cup oil; heated
  • Assembly:
  • 1/2 Cup orzo
  • 2 Tablespoons mascarpone
  • coarse salt; to taste
  • 1 1/2 Cups butter
  • 3 Tablespoons water
  • 1 Tablespoon minced chives
  • 6 Parmesan Crisps; see * Note
Instructions
  1. * Note: See the “Parmigiano-Reggiano Crisps with Goat Cheese Mousse” recipe.
  2. Lobster: Place lobsters in tight-fitting heat-proof container such as stockpot. To determine how much steeping water you will need, add cold water just to cover, then drain it off, measure it and place in large pot.
  3. Bring water to boil and add 1/2 Cup white distilled vinegar for every 8 quarts of water. Pour boiling liquid over lobsters and steep 2 minutes if using 1 1/2-pound lobsters, 3 minutes for 2-pound lobsters. Remove lobsters from hot water, but do not discard water.
  4. One at a time, using towel or rubber gloves to hold hot lobster, grasp tail and twist and pull to detach from body. Twist and pull off claws and return them to hot water for 5 more minutes. Reserve bodies.
  5. Hold tail flat and twist tail fan to one side. Pull off and discard. Gently use your fingers to push through tail end pulling meat out through large opening at other end. Save shell for broth.
  6. Lay tail meat on back and cut lengthwise in half through middle. Remove vein running through top of meat. Lay meat on paper towel-lined plate or platter, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Repeat with each tail.
  7. After 5 minutes, remove claws from hot water. Twist off each knuckle to remove from claw. Hold claw in your hand and pull down to loosen lower pincer. Push to either side to crack and pull it straight off. Ideally, cartilage from inside claw should be attached to pincer and claw meat should remain intact. You may not always succeed in keeping claw meat in 1 piece, but with practice, your success rate will increase. If claw breaks apart, just arrange pieces nicely.
  8. Still holding claw, crack top of shell with heel of knife about 3/4 inch from joint where knuckle was attached. You want to go through shell but not damage meat. Wiggle your knife to loosen and crack shell. If shell does not pop off, turn claw over and repeat procedure. Shake claw to remove meat (if it doesn’t fall out, cut off very tip of shell and blow through hole to release meat).
  9. Cut off top joint of each knuckle, the one that was attached to lobster body. Use scissors to cut away shell along smooth outside edge of knuckle. Use your fingers to pry open shell and remove meat. Add knuckle and claw meat to the tail meat. Reserve shell for broth.
  10. Pull back and discard top shell of each lobster, including heads and antennae, and reserve for broth. Remove dark green coral (tomalley and roe).
  11. Lobster Broth: Heat oil in large, deep, straight-sided braising pan. Add lobster shells and sear over medium-high heat 1 to 2 minutes per side, until they turn red. (If your pot is not big enough to accomplish this easily, do it in 2 batches.) Add tomatoes, carrots and tarragon, cover shells and vegetables with water, and bring to boil. Skim off any impurities that rise to top. Reduce heat and simmer over low heat 1 hour.
  12. Strain stock through large fine strainer, smashing lobster bodies with wooden spoon to extract all liquid, and then strain again through fine strainer into clean saucepan. Return strained stock to stove and simmer until reduced to 1 Cup, about 2 hours.
  13. Add heavy cream, return to simmer and cook, skimming occasionally, until broth is reduced to 2 Cups, about 30 to 40 minutes. Strain through fine strainer into container, discarding any solids remaining in strainer. Cover and refrigerate broth several hours to chill, or up to 3 days. (Makes 2 Cups; 6 to 8 servings of broth)
  14. Coral Oil: Place lobster coral in blender and blend until smooth, 20 to 30 seconds. with machine running on low speed, drizzle in hot oil. Increase to high speed and continue to blend about 15 to 20 minutes, stopping to scrape down sides occasionally. Oil will continue to heat in blender from friction and will take on red-orange color (coral will remain dark).
  15. The longer machine is run, the darker the color will be, but be careful not to damage blender by overheating it. Strain oil by pouring through cheesecloth-lined fine-mesh strainer into container. Cover oil and store in refrigerator. (Makes 1/4 to 1/3 Cup)
  16. Assembly: Bring lobster broth to simmer over medium heat in saucepan and reduce to sauce consistency, about 1 Cup, about 30 to 40 minutes. Set aside in pan.
  17. Cook orzo in boiling lightly-salted water 8 to 10 minutes. Drain cooked pasta in strainer and rinse under cold water. Shake strainer to remove excess water and add pasta to lobster broth.
  18. If lobster pieces have been refrigerated, bring to room temperature. Heat orzo and lobster broth to simmer. Add mascarpone and season with salt to taste. Let simmer 1 minute, then remove pan from heat and keep warm. Mixture should be thickness of risotto.
  19. Heat butter and water over medium-low heat until butter is melted and mixture is very warm, then whisk together to combine. Add lobster pieces; lobster should be almost covered. Heat gently to warm lobster. Stir chives into orzo.
  20. Pipe circle of coral oil in center of each serving dish. Place about 1/3 cup orzo in center of oil, allowing it to spread oil out into larger circle. Arrange piece of lobster tail and claw in center of orzo and top each serving with Parmesan Crisp.

This recipe yields 6 servings.

Each serving: 902 calories; 696 mg sodium; 292 mg cholesterol; 84 grams fat; 14 grams carbohydrates; 28 grams protein; 0.68 gram fiber.

Description: “Butter-Poached Maine Lobster with Creamy Lobster Broth and Mascarpone-Enriched Orzo”

NOTES: Recipe from “The French Laundry Cookbook” (Artisan) by Thomas Keller, chef and owner of The French Laundry, 6640 Washington St, Yountville, CA

Now for some more of my comments

The reason for the vinegar added to the water in the boil of the lobster is the acid of the vinegar acts as an agent to help the hot water to set the albumin in the lobster and pull the meat away from the shell.

The butter emulsion allows you to gently poach the reserved and iced lobster meat to the correct degree of doneness without overcooking it. To create the emulsion, start with the 3 tbs of water and heat it with mild heat. Using a whisk, add the ice cold butter in small pieces, creating an emulsion similar to that of a beurre blanc. In fact, this emulsion is also known as beurre monté. It is vital to keep whisking as the butter is added to maintain the emulsion. The recipe calls for 3 sticks of unsalted butter, but if you are not making 3 or 4 lobsters at once and only using 1 lobster, you get enough butter emulsion to poach the meat of one lobster with just 1 stick of butter. If the emulsion gets too hot and starts to simmer, add more water to the emulsion to prevent it from breaking. Add kosher salt to the emulsion to taste, as this is what flavors the lobster meat while it is poaching.  I add some freshly ground black pepper to the emulsion as well.  Be careful that the temperature of the beurre monté never gets hot enough to a simmer stage. Put the lobster meat in the beurre monté and stir frequently until done, about 15 to 20 minutes. The lobster is done when it is just opaque in the center, and feels just firm.  Be careful not to overcook the lobster meat as it can get tough, but using the butter emulsion poaching gives a wider margin of safety to minimize the possibility of cooking too long.

The orzo should be cooked only 1/3 to 1/2 of the way, and it finishes cooking the creamy lobster broth, so that it absorbs the flavor of the broth into the pasta. As the broth heats up the orzo to finish cooking the pasta, it will thicken to the consistency of a creamy risotto. Add the chives to finish the orzo preparation.

To serve, put a layer of the orzo in the center of the plate. Place the lobster meat on the top of the orzo. Keller then tops this with a Parmesan tuile.  These are created by melting 3 tbs of Parmesan on a silpat for 3 minutes in a 400ºF oven, then cooled (they will harden).

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My Thoughts on making the Sullivan Street Bakery No-Knead Bread


Every since Mark Bittman wrote an article on Jim Lahey and the Sullivan Street Bakery No-Knead Bread in 2006, it has been a phenomenon.  And no wonder, it is an amazingly simple way to produce an artisan loaf of crusty white bread with a great crumb.  The main investment one has to make is time.

My take on the original recipe has reflected the changes Mark Bittman has subsequently published with changes in ingredient amounts, but the technique is unchanged.

Sullivan Street Bakery No Knead Bread

Yield One 1 1/2 pound load

Time 21 hours (active time about 5 minutes)  The long resting time gives the limited amount of yeast time for slow fermentation to create a great tasting loaf.

Ingredients:

  • 3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt
  • 1 5/8 cups cool (not cold) water
  • cornmeal for dusting

Procedure

    1. Combine the flour, yeast and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Stir to mix the dry ingredients.  Add the water and use a whisk or your hands to combine.  The result is a rather shaggy dough that is barely combined.  Cover with plastic wrap and let sit on the counter for 18 hours.
    2. The dough will be double in size.  Put some flour on a work surface, and turn the dough onto the surface.  Put a little flour on your hands and grab the dough at the 12:00 position, and fold to the center.  Do the same thing with 6:00, then 3:00 and 9:00.
    3. Cover the dough with the plastic wrap, and let the dough set for 15 minutes.
    4. Take a piece of parchment paper and dust the center with some yellow cornmeal. Or, use a cotton towel, generously coated with flour.  Turn the dough out onto the parchment paper or towel fold side down.  Dust the top with a little flour (or bran or cornmeal).  Cover with another cotton towel or plastic wrap and let it rise for 2 hours.  The dough will double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
    5. Meanwhile, place a large Dutch oven with its cover in the oven, and heat to 450ºF.  Place the parchment paper with dough after the 120 minute rest (one can invert the dough so that the seam side is now up) into the Dutch oven, put the cover on the Dutch oven and cook for 30 minutes. Remove the cover and cook for another 15 minutes.  Remove the loaf from the oven and place on a cooling rack.  The internal temperature of the loaf should be 200 to 205ºF.

This will produce a lovely boule.  A few caveats however.  If, like me, your Dutch oven is a Le Creuset, it probably has a black plastic knob on the cover.  This is not safe for the 450º hot oven (if it is the metal knob, you are fine).  Use another cover.  You don’t have to make a slash on the top of the loaf prior to baking.

I prefer to weigh out ingredients when baking.  According to King Arthur, 1 cup of the all-purpose flour weighs 120 grams, so 3 1/3 cups would be 400 grams.  Using 430 grams of flour equals about 3 2/3 cups of flour.  However, my Oxo scale records 1 cup of King Arthur flour at 135 grams, and 3 1/3 cups came to 450 grams.  So I use 45o grams of all-purpose King Arthur flour.  The water weighs 345 grams, the yeast 1 gram and as I have instructed above, I used 1 1/2 teaspoons of Diamond Crystal kosher salt.

I also like to make a long loaf instead of a boule, and after the 1st 18 hour rise, I shape the dough on parchment paper after the folding into a longer loaf and put it in the oblong “brotform” rattan proofing basket for the 2 hour raise after the 15 minute rest.  Then I lift the dough out in the parchment paper and transfer it to my preheated oblong clay cloche with cover, and cook it covered for the same 30 minutes covered and 15 minutes uncovered.

These amounts reflect the changes Mark Bittman wrote about.  He also had some addition comments that I’ve appended here:

LAST month I wrote about Jim Lahey, the owner of Sullivan Street Bakery on West 47th Street in Manhattan, and his clever way to produce a European-style boule at home. Mr. Lahey’s recipe calls for very little yeast, a wet dough, long rising times and baking in a closed, preheated pot. My results with Mr. Lahey’s method have been beyond satisfying.

YEAST:   Instant yeast, called for in the recipe, is also called rapid-rise yeast. But you can use whatever yeast you like. Active dry yeast can be used without proofing (soaking it to make sure it’s active).

TIMING:   About 18 hours is the preferred initial rising time. Some readers have cut this to as little as eight hours and reported little difference. I have not had much luck with shorter times, but I have gone nearly 24 hours without a problem. Room temperature will affect the rising time, and so will the temperature of the water you add (I start with tepid). Like many other people, I’m eager to see what effect warmer weather will have. But to those who have moved the rising dough around the room trying to find the 70-degree sweet spot: please stop. Any normal room temperature is fine. Just wait until you see bubbles and well-developed gluten, the long strands that cling to the sides of the bowl when you tilt it, before proceeding.

THE SECOND RISE:   Mr. Lahey originally suggested one to two hours, but two to three is more like it, in my experience. (Ambient temperatures in the summer will probably knock this time down some.) Some readers almost entirely skipped this rise, shaping the dough after the first rise and letting it rest while the pot and oven preheat; this is worth trying, of course.

OTHER FLOURS:   Up to 30 percent whole-grain flour works consistently and well, and 50 percent whole-wheat is also excellent. At least one reader used 100 percent whole-wheat and reported “great crust but somewhat inferior crumb,” which sounds promising. I’ve kept rye, which is delicious but notoriously impossible to get to rise, to about 20 percent. There is room to experiment.

FLAVORINGS:   The best time to add caraway seeds, chopped olives, onions, cheese, walnuts, raisins or whatever other traditional bread flavorings you like is after you’ve mixed the dough. But it’s not the only time; you can fold in ingredients before the second rising.

OTHER SHAPES:   Baguettes in fish steamers, rolls in muffin tins or classic loaves in loaf pans: if you can imagine it, and stay roughly within the pattern, it will work.

COVERING BETWEEN RISES:   A Silpat mat under the dough is a clever idea (not mine). Plastic wrap can be used as a top layer in place of a second towel.

THE POT:   The size matters, but not much. I have settled on a smaller pot than Mr. Lahey has, about three or four quarts. This produces a higher loaf, which many people prefer again, me included.  I’m using cast iron. Readers have reported success with just about every available material. Note that the lid handles on Le Creuset pots can only withstand temperatures up to 400 degrees. So avoid using them, or remove the handle first.

BAKING:   You can increase the initial temperature to 500 degrees for more rapid browning, but be careful; I scorched a loaf containing whole-wheat flour by doing this. Yes, you can reduce the length of time the pot is covered to 20 minutes from 30, and then increase the time the loaf bakes uncovered. Most people have had a good experience baking for an additional 30 minutes once the pot is uncovered.

As these answers demonstrate, almost everything about Mr. Lahey’s bread is flexible, within limits. As we experiment, we will have failures. (Like the time I stopped adding flour because the phone rang, and didn’t realize it until 18 hours later. Even this, however, was reparable). This method is going to have people experimenting, and largely succeeding, until something better comes along. It may be quite a while.

That concludes Mark’s comments.  I concur, this is an easy bread to expand on and experiment with, and you will be delighted with the results.  As Jacques Pepin would say:  “happy cooking.”

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