Sep 042012

Kentucky bourbon French toast with bourbon-triple-berry coulis and bourbon whipped cream

There’s something I discovered about The Hubs’ family last year: they really love bourbon. And really, they have a point: there is something extremely compelling about the scent alone that evokes all sorts of warm and woodsy mental images.

So, last summer, there was a family reunion out at one of his relative’s houses in Kentucky, just on the outskirts of bourbon country. We took some time to visit the Maker’s Mark distillery, which was the point at which I discovered The Hubs’ and his dad’s mania for good bourbon. I kind of fell in love with the stuff myself: I could pitch a tent in the aging room with all the barrels and live there quite happily for years, methinks. I wouldn’t need food or water or anything else in particular, really: I could just live off that aroma.

So here’s where my dirty little secret about bourbon comes in. I don’t particularly like to drink the stuff. I really, really wish it tasted as good as it smells, but for me it’s just like Scotch in that I’ll happy sniff up that aroma all day but wouldn’t think about, say, drinking it straight. The lone exception is the time my parents and I found ourselves in the midst of a twenty-car pile-up on the freeway between Phoenix and Tucson in the middle of a giant you-can’t-see-six-inches-in-front-of-your-face dust-storm known as a haboob, narrowly escaped death and/or serious injury three separate times, and somehow managed to get out of that version of hell without a scratch. Once we got home, you bet your ass I poured myself a generous helping of Maker’s straight-up. But I digress.

You may be wondering how I am able to enjoy the scent so much when you can burn your nasal passages pretty well when you go in for a sniff. I learned this trick at the Maker’s distillery: put your nose in the glass and then inhale through your mouth, not your nose. This has allowed me to enjoy that amazing aroma to my heart’s content and has been especially helpful during my pregnancy, since it’s not really cool to drink massive quantities of bourbon when one has a bun in the oven.

Cooking with bourbon is ideal for someone like me: it burns off that ouch-burning alcohol but leaves the warm, vanilla-y, woodsy flavor behind in whatever you add it to. So when I discovered at the end of August that September is National Bourbon Heritage Month and that someone had compiled a list of recipes that used bourbon, I got really excited. I wasted no time planning out the first of our forays into a bourbon-soaked menu, and this amazingly delicious breakfast was the result. We’ll see how long we’re able to keep this up, since the end of my pregnancy is going to mean the end of cooking for a while, but hopefully we can get another couple of recipes made before that happy event!

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Nov 082009

This week the Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge brings us a concoction that I had really been looking forward to trying out. Brioche has a decadent reputation: it’s known as the butteriest of breads, more similar to pastry than even, say, challah. Be it due to its reputation or its availability, to the best of my knowledge, this bread had never passed my lips.

The book offers three variations: the rich man’s (in which the butter is a whopping 87 percent of the flour’s weight), a poor man’s (the butter is a scant 25% of the flour), and the middle class brioche (where the butter only matches half of the flour’s weight). Having heard about the utter decadence of the rich man’s version – and knowing/fearing my self-control around freshly baked bread – I opted not to go that route. That said, I still wanted a real brioche experience, so treating this as a special occasion, I settled on the middle class bread. Plus, I figured, since I made this on my birthday, if I happened to over-indulge I could just skip dessert after dinner. Awfully fitting, since Marie Antoinette is rumored to have actually said “Let them eat brioche” instead of “let them eat (birthday) cake!” I’d rather have bread than cake any day anyway.

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May 112008

Artisan French dough is an interesting animal. On one hand you have four – count ’em, four – ingredients. Not so hard, right? The thing is, it’s not the number of ingredients, it’s their proportion to each other. It’s a very hydrated dough compared to the multitude of sandwich loaves I’ve posted here previously, yet many of the requirements are the same.
The tricky requirement here is the kneading. Yes, this dough is a wet, sticky monster. And yes, you have to develop the gluten yourself. You don’t get to rely on a ridiculously long autolyze to do the hard work for you like you do in the famous no-knead bread (but it’s worth it – the pre-ferment makes for a far superior flavor). So how does one get the gluten to develop?

Some of you may quickly point out that KitchenAid stand mixers are proof that a god loves us and wants us to eat good bread. But I’ll point out even more quickly that the French have been making this bread before mixers were a twinkle in a baker’s eye, so there has to be some way to do it. And being the do-it-yourself-er that I am, I’m going to teach you how.

Like I said, you obviously can’t knead in the conventional fashion. Pushing, folding, and rotating translates into smearing, smearing, and smearing in the language of French dough. So instead of using force provided by your body, use the force provided by gravity to stretch, relax, and align those gluten strands and turn that yucky, sticky mess of flour and water into a ball of stretchy, supple, super-soft dough. Here’s an illustrated guide for how to do it:

Lay the heels of your hands on the dough, both thumbs pointing to the left (or the right, if you like. Just be consistent). Be sure your hands are positioned so that your thumbs are close to the edge of the dough and there is plenty of dough visible on the other side of your hand. Get your fingers underneath the dough.

Position your hands on the dough properly
Nikon D50 – photo taken by Trisha Moore

Pick up the dough with your thumbs now pointing up instead of to the left. Allow the dough to hang down and let gravity stretch it out.

Pick up the dough and let gravity stretch it out
Nikon D50 – photo taken by Trisha Moore

With a little flip (and without letting go of the top half of the dough), put the dough on the counter so that the side of the dough that was facing you when it was suspended in mid-air is now in contact with the counter. The upper half of the dough will still be in your hands.

Flip the dough onto the counter without letting go of it
Nikon D50 – photo taken by Trisha Moore

With another flip, fold the dough in half and let go. You’ve just completed one knead. As you become more practiced it will become a more fluid motion. Continue to work the dough until it is smooth, elastic, supple, and less sticky than it was originally.

Fold the dough over and let go of it
Nikon D50 – photo taken by Trisha Moore

None of the photos of the fully kneaded dough turned out, but the photo on the right shows it mostly kneaded, becoming smooth on the surface. Notice the huge difference between this and the shaggy unkneaded dough on the left.

Before: a sticky shaggy mess.  After: Smooth, elastic dough
Nikon D50 – photo taken by Trisha Moore

During the kneading process, resist the urge to add too much flour to the countertop. The dough will still be a sticky mess and will get all over your hands, but only add more flour a tablespoon at a time if the dough is totally unworkable. Without a very wet dough you can’t get the irregular, beautiful open crumb that is the hallmark of a good artisan bread.

After kneading, the dough will rise several times. This is another time when you don’t handle the dough in the same way as a sandwich bread. Do not punch it down or deflate it. Instead you will stretch the dough out between your two hands. When you see this in pictures or on video it looks impossible, like no dough should be able to do that, but after a properly kneaded dough has risen for a little while it will be incredibly soft and elastic. It’s very easy to stretch the dough out as shown below:

Stretch the dough out - it's easier than it looks
Nikon D50 – photo taken by Trisha Moore

Once the dough is stretched, fold it into thirds like a business letter. Rotate the dough packet 90 degrees and stretch and fold as before. Return the dough to the bowl and continue with the recipe. Best of luck to you!

Fold the stretched dough like a business letter
Nikon D50 – photo taken by Trisha Moore

Many thanks to my Mom for taking these photos while I handled the dough. This tutorial wouldn’t have been possible without her help.

For more fantastic information on baking artisan breads, buy the King Arthur Flour Baker’s Forum DVD.

Jan 142008

Every year since I can remember, my family has eaten beef burgundy on Christmas Eve. The warm wine and beef flavors, served atop noodles, the meat perfectly tender… this is the food that memories are made of. Which is good, because it means that the substantial effort required to put this meal on the table is worth it. I mean, come on, this is a dish three days in the making – you know it has to be good. This recipe is like the poster child of the slow food movement.

The beef begins its long slow marinate
Nikon D50

Even though this year was the first that I’d ever enjoyed this meal on Christmas itself (it was our tradition to eat this on the Eve), this is the single dish that I associate the most with warm and cozy family dinners around the holidays. We often spent Christmas with extended family, but Christmas Eve was a smaller affair, and beef burgundy, with its warm and sensuous flavor, was the perfect dish for a more intimate setting.

Deliciousness is served
Nikon D50

Now that I’m all grown up, having married and struck out on my own, I find that I’m in a fun situation: I get to make my own traditions with Cory now. Not surprisingly, beef burgundy made the cut. We enjoyed our first Christmas as husband and wife huddled over a bowl (or two), eating the food that will tie the years of our lives together.

Every family deserves a beef burgundy of their own.

For the backpacker’s version of this recipe, scroll all the way to the bottom: it’s posted at the end of the traditional version of the recipe.

I don't want to wait another year to eat this again!
Nikon D50

Click for the recipe →

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