Favorite Breakfast

Whenever it is my husband’s turn to have his birthday breakfast he always chooses the same thing.

Eggs Benedict.

Of course, I don’t mind one bit because it’s one of my favorite breakfasts, too.

And even though it is just four ingredients (English muffin, ham, poached egg, hollandaise sauce,) I used to dread doing the poached egg part because I didn’t really like the poaching pan I had. It was kind of like this one:

When I was growing up my grandmother poached eggs a lot and she always used one of these pans and an egg timer – you know, the hourglass kind? So when it came time to poach eggs, that’s how I did it. But my non-stick pan was pretty sticky and the little egg cups were too small…so by the end of it there were egg whites overflowing everywhere and the eggs were nearly impossible to get out without breaking the yolks. Not fun.

So I threw the pan away.

This is much easier.


photo from Delia Smith/guardian.co.uk

I didn’t remember to take photos while I was poaching…but this is what it looked like. Doing it this way makes the whole Eggs Benedict process much, much easier.

You want a nice-sized pot of salted, boiling water. Once it is boiling, add a couple of TB of white vinegar. Then reduce the temperature to a very gentle simmer so you can add the eggs. I like to use a large soup ladle, but you can use a bowl or any small container, to gently place the eggs into the water one at a time. Let them float around and cook for 3-4 minutes and then remove with a large slotted spoon.

Let them rest and dry a little before plating them. One of the nice things about poaching is that it is a pretty healthy way to prepare an egg – no butter, no oil, no bacon grease. We’ll have to do something about that, of course…so, let’s talk about Hollandaise sauce!

Easily one of my favorite sauces.

A little bit of work. Yes. Yes. It is.

Now a traditional Hollandaise sauce starts with a reduction of white wine vinegar, shallots and peppercorns and sometimes white wine. However, I’ve seen plenty of recipes for this sauce that skip that reduction process entirely. Including Tyler Florence’s recipe. So feel free to skip that part if you aren’t particular about the sauce having all the authentic flavors…I mean, if it’s OK for Tyler, it’s bound to be OK for the rest of us, right?

This recipe is from one of my favorite kitchen resources, “The Professional Chef” by The Culinary Institute of America. At more than 1000 pages, it easily qualifies as one of my kitchen Bibles. Mine is 7th edition, but I believe there is an 8th edition out now. Good thing the classic stuff doesn’t change too much.

Hollandaise Sauce

1 TB chopped shallots

1/2 tsp cracked peppercorns

2 oz white wine (or cider) vinegar

2 oz water

4 egg yolks

12 oz clarified butter (or just melted will do)

2 tsp lemon juice (if you skip the reduction part of the recipe, do NOT leave out the lemon juice.)


white pepper

pinch of cayenne (optional)

Combine the shallots, peppercorns and vinegar in a small pan and reduce over medium heat until nearly dry. Add the water to the reduction and strain into a stainless steel bowl.

Add the egg yolks and set over gently simmering water. (If you have a double boiler, you can use that…or use a pot of simmering water – just make sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of your bowl and that the water isn’t really boiling. You just want a lot of steam coming up from the water’s surface.)

Whisk eggs* constantly until they triple in volume and will fall in ribbons from the whisk.

Remove the cooked eggs from the water and gently ladle in the butter (preferably at about 145°) in a thin stream, whisking constantly. The sauce should begin to thicken. (If it gets too stiff you can add a little water to help the eggs absorb all of the butter.)

Add the lemon juice and salt/pepper to taste. Add cayenne if you like. Hollandaise is best used as soon as it is made.

*If I have a bottle of white wine open, I will also add a few tablespoons of wine to the egg yolks before the whisking begins. Which kind of makes it a hybrid between a Hollandaise and a Béarnaise. But, really, no one in my house is paying that much attention.

Hollandaise is considered one of the “mother sauces” and can be easily varied to make countless other sauces. So it’s a handy recipe to have in your repertoire. Here’s a great explanation of all the mother sauces.

If you fold in whipped cream you have a Mousseline Sauce. If you add orange juice and zest you have Maltaise Sauce. Béarnaise Sauce is basically a Hollandaise with tarragon and wine and chervil added to the process. And if you add about an ounce of tomato paste or tomato purée to a Béarnaise, then you have created a Choron Sauce. Goodness that’s a lot of sauces.

When the Hollandaise is finished, I poach the eggs and toast the muffins and warm the Canadian Bacon, assemble on plates, drown in the sauce and sprinkle with paprika or cayenne. Hmmmm, it just occurred to me that this meal is quite an international feast: ENGLISH muffins, CANADIAN bacon and a sauce which is reported to be FRENCH and DUTCH. I, for one, am very happy all these countries combined their efforts. YUM.


A French trend continues with Daring Bakers

In keeping with my apparent French theme, here’s some more food made with lots and lots of butter.  The September 2009 Daring Bakers’ Challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon.  She chose the French treat Vols-au-Vent based on the puff pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.


I use puff pastry on occasion, but haven’t ever made my own and I expected it to be much more difficult than it was.  The dough is some of the smoothest and silkiest I’ve ever worked with – very, very nice.  And, just in case you were wondering, it’s the perfect dough to make when you have an extremely fussy newborn in your house.  It’s OK if you have to stop and start one million times because this dough needs to go back in the refrigerator through the whole process to get cold again between “turns,” which is the technique of incorporating the layers of butter into the dough.

Typically these little vols-au-vents are filled with something savory, but they lend themselves nicely to sweet as well.  By the time the pastries were finished, my boys had decided that my time in the kitchen was up…so I didn’t really get a chance to experiment will filling options like I wanted to.  I did manage to get some berry filling and cream into one of them.

filled vols-au-vent

I only baked a few of these since I knew I wouldn’t really have time to do multiple fillings…and once baked they will only last a day or so in an air-tight container.  However, this dough freezes beautifully, formed or not, and is great to have on hand since it can be used for so many things.

Like palmiers…or mini-palmiers:

mini palmiers

I love these pastry cookies.  We used to get them at the awesome bakery across the street from the Pike Market in Seattle.  These are tiny because I just used the pastry scraps to make them.  But I have 2/3 of the dough still in the refrigerator…and according to my husband, palmiers is what I am doing with the rest of it.  He may be right.

mini palmiers

I was delighted to do this challenge – fussy-baby-interruptions withstanding – because I love having a fundamental like this on-hand, and it’s so much better when I’ve made it myself!  I can’t wait to see what’s next in the French culinary adventure…you’ll be the first to know!

puff pastry items

For tons of photos by other bakers and the full recipe and tips, visit The Daring Kitchen.

How do you say “pot luck” in French?

We went to the coolest dinner party ever this weekend.  Seriously.  And I’m kind of joking about the “pot luck” reference – no one in their right mind would ever refer to this caliber of dining experience with the same term used for tables full of casseroles and no-bake Cool Whip pies.  However, it was a French-themed dinner and each of the guests was responsible for bringing an assigned course with appropriately paired wine.  We provided dessert:

Apple Tarte presentation

Apple Tarte Tatin…a really classic rustic French dessert.  With kind of an interesting story.

There were six couples at this lovely evening and the table was beautifully appointed and located on a courtyard deck that was fantastic…so fantastic we didn’t even really mind the occasional bug who happened to be lucky enough to cross one of our plates.  So here’s the menu:

A potato and leek soup, garnished with cream and parsley that was so good I could seriously eat it every single day with not one complaint.  YUM.

The vegetable course was Mediterranean-inspired leeks with tomatoes and olives.

Oh…this next course.  I’m still dreaming of this course.  Seared foie gras on an herbed beignet with macerated white grapes.  Best. Bite. Ever.  And no wine with this course – a seriously crafted beer – a surprise and delightful.  (This from a girl who doesn’t even like the way beer smells.)

Palate cleanser: melon in a tarragon honey milk.  Sublime.

The main course was a deconstructed beef Bourguignon which included one of the most perfectly cooked pieces of tenderloin I’ve ever had.  If I’d had a butter knife, I could have used it.  My oh my.  Keeping that beef and sauce company were carrots and green beans and potatoes in the spirit of deconstuction…delicious in their own right.

How can you not love a culture with an entire course devoted to cheese?  I, for one, do not know.  There was a plate with baguette slices, apple slices, grapes and four types of cheese.  I can’t tell you anything about three of the cheeses, although I do remember enjoying them…the triple cream brie completely stole the show for me.  I could swim in it.

Dessert was ours.  A slice of apple tarte tatin with a cran-raspberry sauce and fresh cream. Paired with a chilled Sauternes.

plated tarte tatin

I think we were eating off and on for about 3 hours.  Maybe 4.  And, surprisingly, I wasn’t really as stuffed as I expected to be…I think all the breaks between courses helped.  And the laughing.  What a super fun group of people.  It was really one of my favorite nights since we’ve moved back to Texas.

Oh, right, the recipe.  Here you go:

Apple Tarte Tatin

Tarte Tatin

an adaptation of two recipes from Guichard and Robuchon

1/2 cup sugar

1 stick (4oz) unsalted butter, cut into thin slices

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

5 pounds apples, peeled, cored and sliced (I used organic Golden Delicious and Fuji…and did not use all five pounds)

Flaky pastry recipe (follows)

Creme fraiche or whipped cream

Berry sauce of your choice (I would include my version of cran-raspberry sauce with this recipe, but I totally made it up as I was going along and have no idea what was finally included!  You just need a little bit of sour to contrast the sweet.)

Spread the sugar evenly in the bottom of a 9-inch cast iron skillet.  Scatter the butter over the sugar and drizzle with the vanilla.  Arrange the apple slices in circles around the skillet – remember that the bottom layer will become the top of the tarte.

Set the skillet over moderately low heat and cook the apples until the surrounding syrup becomes thick and golden brown.  (45 minutes to an hour)  Baste the apples regularly with a bulb baster.  The liquid should remain at a gentle bubble.

Preheat the oven to 425.  Set the skillet on a baking sheet and bake the apples for 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven.  Set the pastry on top of the apples and carefully push the edge down inside the skillet all the way around.  Return the skillet to the oven for 25 to 30 minutes until the pastry is golden and the juices are bubbling.

Remove tarte from oven and when the bubbling stops immediately invert onto a platter (one with a little lip is safest in case some of the caramel runs out.)  If any of the apples stick to the skillet, just remove them and place them on the tarte – as it cools the caramel will become stickier and hold them together.  Serve warm or at room temperature with berry sauce and creme fraiche.

Classic Pastry

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 stick (4oz) cold, unsalted butter, cut into cubes

3 tablespoons ice water

Blend the flour and salt in a food processor.  Add the butter and process until blended (about 8 seconds.)  Add the water and process until absorbed and the mixture looks like wet sand.  Transfer pastry to a lightly floured work surface and knead lightly until it comes together.  Pat the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least an hour.  Roll pastry out into an 11-inch round and keep refrigerated until ready to use.

Look how light and flaky it is...all that butter, how could you go wrong?
Look how light and flaky it is...all that butter, how could you go wrong?

This whole dinner party experience has me thinking about other possible dinner party ideas.  One of the very first conversations we had when we arrived was about doing a party of “kid food.”  Imagine amped up mac and cheese and hot dogs on brioche…maybe we should spend some more time on this idea, it sounds like fun!

Bon appetit!!