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  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

PRALINE MAGIC

Fat Tuesday is almost here, and with it the perfect occasion to conjure with Praline.  I’m all set to take a standard Sweet Potato Pie recipe and give it the ‘praline treatment’ in next week’s classes. Wait, what kind of  ‘praline’ do I have in mind?   

With all due respect, it is not the New Orleans praline, pronounced, praw-leen.  That city’s gift to the confectionery world is a stand alone product: pecan halves embedded in a cookie-like circle of sugar, butter and cream.  What I have in mind is equally addictive and contains just two ingredients.

  

 Praline, the confectionery ingredient, consists simply of a nut (pecans, almonds or walnuts) coated with caramelized sugar.  It is coarsely ground and blended with other pastry ingredients where it has a synergetic effect but keeps a low profile.  Even when identified in a chocolate filling or buttercream, praline acts to enhance rather than stand out.

I like to think of caramelization as treating sugar to a controlled burn that leaves it with an agreeable bittersweet finish that accentuates the aroma of the nuts.   It’s a technique that has stood the test of time.  The original sugar glazed almond was created to aid in seduction in 17th century France.  Are you surprised?.  It was introduced to Louisiana from France as the Praslin in the 19th century.  Americans replaced the almond with the abundant native pecan and the rest is history. 

Here is the pie almost ready to bake.  I wanted to show the generous coating of praline on the bottom of the unbaked pastry shell.  The pie crust recipe is vintage Julia Child. I have mixed both butter and shortening into the flour for a tasty, easy to handle dough.  (The glass pie plate was buttered in advance to avoid sticking.)   After the puree of sweet potatoes, sugar, spices and eggs are smoothed over the praline, the pie will be ready for a 30 minute bake at 375 degrees.  At that point I remove the pie and sprinkle on another generous layer of praline powder.  The pie will bake at 350 degrees for another 30 minutes or until it is fully puffed and the crust is golden brown.

 

 A pie this festive deserves a garnish.  Ice cream and whipped cream are too sweet for my taste so we will fold several tablespoons of creme fraîche into Greek yogurt and spoon a generous amount over each serving.

 If there are leftovers, remember the day after Fat Tuesday this year is Valentine’s Day.  Better yet, make two pies!

Link to Sweet Potato Praline Pie recipe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

COMFORT FOOD FROM ALSACE

What you see before you may look like a misshapen pizza created by a crazed German. Take a closer look.  This is a splendid flatbread from Alsace, Tarte Flambée,  made of thin layers of fresh cheese, onion and bacon on a cracker crust.  It is comforting cold weather fare for supper and the perfect appetizer for a crowd over the holidays.  The best part?  You can assemble a tarte flambée in the time it takes to preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

 

Step 1: Mix the dough in the traditional way:  blend dry ingredients, make a well for wet ingredients and stir wet together before incorporating them into the dry.  Use a fork to mix, a mixer isn’t necessary.  Add more flour by the tablespoon in the bowl until it no longer sticks to the sides.  Knead briefly on a lightly floured surface.  Let the dough rest while you prep the topping.
Step 2: Thinly slice a white onion and cut thick-cut bacon into small pieces. (ChezM tip: Lightly salt the onion slices with kosher salt to create a thin layer of moisture that will protect them from oxidizing and developing a sulfurous aroma.) 

Sept 3:  Blend together equal parts Neufchatel (cream cheese) and creme fraîche, then lightly seasoned with salt, white pepper and nutmeg.  This step is not illustrated, but you get the point. 
Step 4: Roll out the dough on a lightly floured work surface and slide it onto a sheet of parchment.   Cover the dough with cheese mixture to within one-half inch of the edge.  Scatter on the thinly sliced onions and bacon in an even layer. 
Step 5:  Bake for 7 - 10 minutes, until the edges of the dough are highly browned.  Cut into pieces with a pizza wheel, and serve with salad for supper, or cut into small squares to serve as an appetizer.  Pour a glass of semi-dry Alsatian wine, hard cider or beer to enjoy with your tart.

   

Backstories:  Some accounts say this tart was created to check the temperature of a baker’s wood burning oven before thermometers came into use.  The time it took for the thin crust to darken was a gauge of the oven’s heat.  Other sources report the tart was baked in the hot oven after the baking was finished.  In either case, the baker would slather it with heavy cream so as to make a tasty treat.  It was never baked until it actually flamed as the name implies. 
 ChezM Tips: For best results make sure your oven is at 500 degrees.  My favorite tool for this purpose is an infared thermometer that reflects the heat off the back of the oven.  Second best is a mercury thermometer that hangs from a rack in the middle of the oven.  Baking on a pizza stone is undoubtedly the best way to simulate the original recipe.

Link the recipe:TARTE FLAMBÉE Recipe

  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

A TRIBUTE TO CAST IRON COOKERY

  

 

“What stories these pans could tell,” a student commented as she surveyed the assortment of cast iron cookware in which we were about to prepare Thanksgiving dinner.  She wasn’t referring to the impeccable black Lodge skillet that would hold the cornbread.  It was three weathered, enamel-coated dishes that drew her attention.  

This was the first time anyone had shown any interest in these utilitarian objects that I routinely regard as empty pots waiting to be filled.  How thoughtless of me.  It’s time I wrote a tribute to the cast iron pots and pans that have served and continue to serve me so well.

The large, rectangular roasting pan pictured at the top of the page takes me back to my first dinner party as a young bride in the ’60’s.   I was still working my way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art, when I cooked and served a pheasant pie in it.   I clearly remember cutting up frozen artichoke hearts along with root vegetables. Artichoke hearts seem a strange choice to me today. I also have no recollection of how I managed to cover the entire surface of the dish with a pastry dough. 

 

 

The Le Creuset  casserole pictured above is a favorite because it’s broad shape makes braising easy to see and control.  I enjoy watching ingredients meld together.  Now a confession.  Hidden beneath the surface of turkey thighs simmering in white wine and vegetables, the pan's enamel sides and bottom are stained almost black.  Sorry, there’s no horror story to be told.  The discoloration is the result of cooking black beans years ago.  I like to think of it as cast iron patina.

 

 

This two quart oval gratin dish is another favorite for layered vegetables and fruit cobblers.  The cranberry and apple crumble  pictured above is a good example.  The enamel has chipped away from the handles over the years giving it a rustic look that is not intentional.   I've got to stop now. My memory is on overload thinking of the many times this pan has seen sliced potatoes, grated cheese and chunks of cold roast.  The thought of steamy, cheesy gratins is making me hungry.

This year I am grateful for cast iron and all the utilitarian objects that allow me to be productive in the kitchen.  I’m also grateful for those of you who read my blog and share my passion for life in the kitchen and at the table.  Best wishes for a most satisfying Thanksgiving holiday.

 

Link to the recipes:

Roasted Root Vegetables

Braised Turkey Thighs with Peanuts

Cranberry Apple Crumble