Meatloaf 101

John Bowman, a musician friend and lover of good food, recently posted on FB asking for best meatloaf recipes. I confidently pulled up the blog and found… Nada. Hard to believe, but true. Then my friend Tracy, who writes for her blog, The Culinary Jumble, recently posted a great recipe, noting that meatloaf just isn’t made much in the U.K. We traded some tips, but I didn’t have a posted recipe to share, so I’m going to send this one to her without a doubt, (And do check out her blog!) in any case, it’s time to correct that omission. We love meatloaf, even though 5 year old Monica locked herself in the bathroom and had to be extricated by the landlord because mom was making meatloaf again, (True story; it was the cook’s fault, not the meal’s).

Meatloaf is a perfect example of the adage, ‘great cooking is almost always simple, but not always easy.’ There’s a bad meatloaf story in every kitchen. While simple it may be, it’s also a dish rife with opportunities to screw up. So today we’ll explore a little history, a little science, some technique, and finally, a great recipe.

In plainest terms, meatloaf is just that – seasoned ground meat, most commonly beef in this country, though pork, lamb, game, poultry, and even seafood are also used – what is a crab cake, other than meatloaf? Combinations of meats are quite common as well. The loaf is formed in various shapes and cooked; usually baked, but sometimes smoked. There are schools of thought for cooking in a loaf pan, and also on a baking sheet.

While notably popular in North America, meatloaf isn’t a native per se. The earliest published variant I’m aware of came from a 4th or 5th Century AD Roman cookbook. There are modern versions from Ireland to Russia, Norway to Portugal, Greece to the Middle East, as well as Northern Africa, the Philippines, and South America. Immigrants to the U.S. brought all these here, and we’ve heartily adopted it. The first American recipes showed up in the late 1800s.

Now, before we talk ingredients, a bit of the science behind the dish. Because we’re dealing with ground meat, quite a bit of the natural connectivity present in whole cuts is lost; as such, cooks rely on binders to keep a meatloaf together, but that’s really only half the equation. What happens to meat when it’s cooked is equally important to the success or failure of a meatloaf. Let’s assume we’re baking at 350° F. When the internal temperature of our meatloaf hits 120° F, proteins in the meat begin to coagulate, making it firm up. When that temperature rises to around 140° F, coagulation becomes more pronounced, and notable separation of solids and liquids commences. At around 150° F, a fairly catastrophic breakdown of collagen occurs, and our meatloaf releases a whole lot of moisture while becoming distinctly chewier. Some of that is good, too much is bad; so this is where a stabilizer comes in handy, helping retain some of that cast off moisture. At 160° F, collagen begins to convert into gelatin. The fairly firm mass of solid meat relaxes a bit, and even though things are technically drier than they were twenty degrees ago, those changes make our meatloaf tender and juicy – The sweet spot, if you will, but also, the root of a couple of potential problems.

First problem – Most recipes don’t list a suggested final internal temperature, so most cooks don’t cook to one – They use time alone, and as an old boss of mine was fond of saying, “Hope is a poor formula for success.” Secondd problem – A whole lot of meatloaf recipes I found that bothered to mention a final internal temperature for meatloaf cited 165° F as the cook-to temp to reach before you pull it out of the oven to rest.

Overcooking is easily the number one cause of meatloaf failure, and almost all cooked meats need a post-cooking rest. Meatloaf is no exception, and many a fine effort has been ruined by the lack thereof. Resting achieves several things, one of which is the completion of cooking. Think of your meatloaf as a heat sink, and you get the picture; if you’ve baked a meatloaf made with 2 pounds of flesh at 350° F, it will take a good 50 to 60 minutes for the internal temperature to reach 155° F. Pull it out of the oven, set it on top, and the heat built up does not dissipate quickly. Ten minutes later, the internal temperature will read right around 165° F; leave it for 15 minutes and it’ll be higher yet. A big roast of beef or pork wants a good 30 minute rest before carving – With that in mind, ask yourself this: How often do you wait that long, and how often has a big roast like that not turned out as you wished, if your answer was, “Not often?” The other important aspect of a rest is that it allows the meat to cool down. While that may seem counterintuitive, it’s absolutely necessary. We don’t eat meatloaf at 160° F, unless we want second degree burns. An internal temperature of around 120° F is ideal; this cooling time allows your meatloaf to firm up and recover some of its moisture retaining capability. The moral of this story is that, regardless of what you put in your recipe, improper cooking and resting will certainly ruin it, while proper technique will make the best of any reasonable effort.

Onward to content; what should go into the perfect meatloaf? At your local supermarket, they probably offer a pre-made meatloaf grind. My advice is to avoid that; we’re making this at home, from scratch; we don’t want somebody else’s idea of ideal. That ubiquitous grind, by the way, is often comprised of beef, pork, and veal. That mix, while great for meatballs, just doesn’t hold up that well in a notably larger meatloaf. I’ll state without reservation that the best mix is beef with a bit of pork, in the form of bacon. We grind our own here, using our trusty Kitchenaid mixer attachment. If you have one of these mixers, I strongly urge you to snag the grinder attachment; this allows you to custom mix absolutely fresh grinds for anything you like – The difference between that and store ground is night and day; (Just like coffee, meat starts to degrade notably as soon as it is ground). For home grinders, consider that meatloaf is supposed to be a fairly economical meal, so avoid expensive cuts; they’re unnecessary for this application, and the fact that you threw Wagyu in is likely to be lost in the melange anyway. Our formula is 50% – 50% Chuck to Round, (I like Top Round best). Chuck is inexpensive, has the fat content you’re after, and great flavor when used right. Round has great density, decent flavor, relatively low fat content, and is usually cheap. This combination, twice ground, (course plate, then fine plate), yields a beautiful meatloaf base. We’ve often ground the bacon in as well, which is very nice; if you do, use a tablespoon of Avocado oil for sautéing your veggies. I’m also a fan of adding your dry spices to the mix just prior to second grind; it yields great dispersion of those additional flavor notes.

If you don’t own that grinder toy, ask your store’s on duty meat person to grind a couple of cuts that you select; any decent outfit with a sense of customer service will do this for you. Unless you really know and trust your meat folks, don’t believe a package that says ‘Fresh Ground,’ especially in a large chain supermarket – I’ll guarantee you that stuff is bulk grind from God-knows-where that they’ve re-ground in the store. It’s not fresh, and it’s likely not all that good.

Now we come to the mix – what else should or should not be in there. The most common additives, eggs and bread crumbs, are really a stabilizer and an extender, respectively. I agree wholeheartedly with the use of both, and here’s why. As mentioned above, the meat for this dish has lost significant connectivity due to being ground; eggs help to stabilize some of that lost structure. Bread crumbs help by absorbing some of the moisture shed by the meat during cooking, as well as providing a subtle, smoother mouth feel without compromising flavor.

There is one more critical additive, and that’s a moisturizer. Eggs are often thought of as performing this function in meatloaf, but in fact they don’t. Many recipes use some form of dairy, but I’m not a fan of that, because it adds too strong a flavor note. While tasty, that dairy note bring stroganoff to mind, and that’s just not what we’re after. What you want is stock, which will add ample moisture and compliment the flavor of the meat. What kind is up to you, though I strongly encourage it to be homemade. Store bought will work in a pinch, but it lacks the fat and gelatin content of homemade, with its wonderful richness and enhanced mouth feel. Beef, chicken, or vegetable will do; all add certain notes to the final product, so use what you wish to emphasize. Beef stock will deepen the meatiness of your loaf, and some folks find that overkill. Veggie stock adds moisture with the least flavor. Chicken stock will add subtle richness without too many major notes. In any case, stock, eggs, and bread crumbs provide the perfect matrix to keep your meatloaf juicy and flavorful – try it, you’ll like it.

Next, we have seasoning. This should be comprised of flavor notes you really like, that are complimentary to beef. Some of these need to go into the mix, naturally, and some need to go on top, (Some form of glaze is a must). We’re of the opinion that certain veggies absolutely belong in great meatloaf, because without them, you’re simply making seasoned burger. The recipe that follows is our go-to combination, but I encourage you to alter, add, or delete as you see fit. As Bob Ross would say, “That’s your meatloaf…”

Finally, le coupe de grâce – The glaze. In keeping with the simple is best principle, this is where certain prepared sauces get used a lot. We’ve tried straight ketchup, Heinz 57, A-1, Pickapeppa, Tiger sauce, Thai sweet pepper sauce, seasoned tomato sauce, seasoned tomato purée, and even fruit purées. All of these were good, but if I had to pick a top three, I’d vote Pickapeppa, Tiger sauce, and Thai sweet chili sauce, (Thai Kitchen makes a decent bought sauce, but you can make your own – Hit me up if you’d like a recipe.) As for what goes into this version, we’ll stick with a classic doctored ketchup; while you can make your own ketchup, it’s incredibly tomato intensive, far more than you’d imagine, so buying something decent is much more practical for the majority of us. Muir Glen and Annie’s make decent organic versions, and even Heinz and Hunts make no HFCS or preservative versions now. While lots of folks add more sugar to their ketchup based glaze, we don’t – that noble condiment has more than enough already, and it’s the tangy end we’re looking to bolster with our sauce.

So, here you go, our guaranteed spectacular recipe.

Build Notes: We don’t put cheese in ours; it’s meatloaf we’re making here, not cheeseburgers, (But if you like it, do it – sometimes I just like being snarky.) We bake on a rimmed baking sheet, not in a loaf pan; you get a nice caramelized crust this way, which helps seal in moisture a bit, and contributes a textural element to the dish.

 

Urb&Monique’s Meatloaf

2 Pounds 85%-15% Ground Beef

1/4 Pound thick cut Bacon

2 large Eggs

1 small sweet Onion

1/2 small Carrot

1/2 stalk fresh Celery

3/4 Cup Stock, (Beef, chicken, or veggie)

1/2 Cup plain Bread Crumbs

1 teaspoon Sea Salt

1 teaspoon Smoked Sweet Paprika

4-5 sprigs fresh Cilantro

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground Pepper

4-5 shakes Hot Sauce, (Tabasco, Franks, Cholula, etc)

 

For the Glaze

¾ Cup Ketchup

¼ Cup Malt Vinegar

2-3 dashes Worcestershire Sauce

2-3 dashes of Hot Sauce

 

Prepare glaze; in a small bowl, combine ketchup, vinegar, Worcestershire, and hot sauce and whisk to incorporate. Set aside, uncovered, at room temperature.

If you’re grinding your own, grind beef and set aside in the fridge.

Preheat oven to 350° F

Heat a sauté pan over medium heat.

Cut bacon into lardons, roughly 1/4″ square pieces.

Add the minced bacon and sauté, stirring steadily, until most of the fat has rendered out and the bacon is nice and crisp, about 3-4 minutes.

With a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon onto several layers of clean paper towel. Leave the bacon fat in the pan and return it to the burner.

Rinse, peel and trim onion, garlic, cilantro, carrot and celery. Fine dice onion, carrot, and celery, mince the garlic, and chiffonade the cilantro.

Add onion and carrot to the hot fat and sauté until onions begin to turn translucent, about 2 minutes. Add celery and sauté for another minute or so, then add garlic, incorporate, and sauté for another minute. Lightly season this blend with sea salt and a few twists of pepper. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, crack eggs and whisk lightly to a uniform blend. Add broth and bread crumbs, and whisk to incorporate. Add the sautéed veggies and combine.

Add measured quantities of sea salt, pepper, paprika, pepper sauce, and cilantro. Whisk all to thoroughly incorporate.

Now add the ground beef and bacon, and combine by hand until well incorporated.

Line a heavy baking sheet with parchment.

Carefully empty the mix from your bowl onto the sheet pan.

Form a uniform loaf shape, roughly 10″ x 6″. Slightly flatten the top of the loaf, and make all exposed surfaces as smooth and even as possible.

 

Bake loaf at 350° F for 40 minutes.

With a basting brush, apply a nice thick layer of baste to the entire loaf, and return to heated oven – Because the baste is rather sugar intensive, adding it now helps to keep it from burning, and allows the added flavor notes to be more pronounced in the final product. Set any remaining baste aside to use as a table condiment for service.

Bake for 10 minutes more and check internal temperature with a quick read thermometer, (You can also use a probe thermometer, as we do, which allows you to leave it in while baking.)

When temp reads 155° F, remove meatloaf from oven, turn off heat and slide plates into oven to warm.

Allow loaf to rest for 15 minutes.

Slice roughly 1″ thick, and serve with roasted potatoes and a crisp, green salad.

 

 

Oops

 

“Cooking is creating a big fucking problem and learning how to solve it”

Craig Thornton

 

“Learning to cook like a great chef is within the realm of possibility. However, it is something that is rarely taught; it must be caught.”

Karen Page & Andrew Dornenburg

 

“Great chefs rarely bother to consult cookbooks”

Charles Simic

 

Forewarning; this piece is a muse, albeit one that does contain a recipe. Bear with me, I promise you it'll be worth it. It's really about Craig Thornton's quote above; one of the most succinct and honest evaluations of what cooking is all about. I put the other two up because they have bearing on what I'm going to talk about as well; I'll tell you why shortly. Onward.

So, I made shortbread last night. I dig shortbread. I'm part Scots. I've easily made shortbread a thousand times in my life. I screwed this one up. I was building my own recipe, which is something I often do, but this one, I blew. It was chocolate almond shortbread. I did a couple things extra in creating it, and changed a process step as well. It didn't come out very well. Shortbread is so simple, trained weasels could make it; hence one of my favorite quotes – 'Great cooking is almost always simple, but not always easy'. If you're wondering about the quote source, it's me. I said that a few years back.

I've always been an intuitive chef. I cook from heart and hip. That said, any good and curious cook is going to want to read what others know. I started, long ago, with Irma Rombauer, Julia Child, and James Beard. Over the decades, I've read hundreds of books about food and cooking, and gleaned great ideas and inspiration from many, but the list of what I consider truly go-to cooking books hasn't expanded all that much. Since my deepest cooking roots are French, I added Auguste Escofier, Larousse Gastronomique, and Saulnier & Brunette. Harold McGee, Claudia Roden, Marcella Hazan, Diana Kennedy, and Michael Ruhlman have also joined that initial group of three. These are the sources that I return to, time and again, when I'm stuck for ideas.

Charles Simic, while a wonderful poet, isn't a great chef to my knowledge, so my guess is that he was snowed by the ego of someone else when he said great chefs don't consult cookbooks. When it comes to our basic repertoires as a chef, we generally can do it in our sleep; we need no consultation for that, or for most variations on familiar themes. That said, we're all human, and pressure, fatigue, boredom, or a myriad other things can cause any chef to blow the easiest of recipes, just like I did.

What Page and Dornenburg refer to is nothing more than passion, in essence. On top of that, you need chops and practice. From knife skills to standard practices, classic combinations to the ability to turn out food at a high level of quality and at speed, all takes a lot of work. What I do now professionally isn't haute cuisine by any sense of the word. Yet I tell youngsters who are obviously interested in food and possibly in a career, that there is much they can learn in our little cafe. Repetition, focus, mis en place, attention to details, producing consistent quality under significant time pressure – All these things will stand you well in any professional kitchen, and all of them can sink you if you don't have them down pat. Fast casual isn't fine dining, but a busy lunch, one that runs around $3,000 to $4,000 over 2 hours time, turning out plates that retail for roughly $12 each is a lot of work. Get used to that, and the pressure won't seem such a daunting thing, regardless of what genre you work in down the line.

Those constraints really aren't any different for a home chef. Whether you're turning out food for your family or for guests, there's certainly pressure to perform; no cook wants to make bad food, and no cook wants to see or hear other people disappointed in what they've made. For an inexperienced chef trying new or complicated things, that pressure can achieve critical mass. My Sis is a spectacular cook; she's written cookbooks, and she's always a wizard in the kitchen – She blew exactly one meal I'm aware of, back in the '60s, and fact is, she still gets razzed about it from time to time…

A few of you know that I make and play guitars. I build instruments the same way I cook, grounded in basics and science, but definitely from the artistic side. As a musician, I've played professionally for several years. There are definite parables in cooking and musicianship, in a couple of critical regards;

Many people think they can cook as well as a Pro, and many people think they could play on stage; in most cases, they're wrong – If it was easy, everybody would do it. It's not. It takes passion, dedication, practice and persistence; that's what makes it so rewarding when we succeed, and such a joy to pursue.

Many beginners in either pursuit quit before they have a chance to be good; in either case, it's often reaching too far too fast that causes that. You're not going to be able to cut a perfect dice the first time you pick up a knife, and you're not going to be able to play the lead riff from Reeling in the Years after your first guitar lesson.

Those things said, I think it's important to keep in mind that not everyone has to be great, nor wants to be. Good is often good enough. Sound in the basics that really interest you may be all you have time and energy for, and that's just fine. I tell new guitarmakers the same thing I tell new cheesemakers; anybody can make good cheese, (guitars), with a little knowledge and effort – To consistently make really great cheese or guitars takes a significantly greater investment. Wherever you lie on that spectrum is an OK place to be.

Certainly at some point, chefs discover or invent. Ferrari Adrià is widely hailed as the Founder of molecular gastronomy, but Harold McGee wrote his book long before Adrià was big on the scene. Granted, McGee isn't a chef, and Adrià was clearly the first Chef to turn it into an art form and create one of the most successful restaurants in the world. Thomas Keller didn't invent haute cuisine, he's just way better at it than all the rest of us.

Before I started this blog, writing about food and cooking for magazines, and talking about it on live radio, I was a great cook, but I didn't write down my recipes. If you'd asked me back then how I did something, I'd look blankly at you for a moment and then answer, “I dunno, I just did it.” When I was 15, I became a ski instructor. I remember Danny, one of the guys who taught me to teach, saying, “Man, you really tore up those bumps, I mean you ski really well!” I mumbled a thanks, and then he said, “How'd you do it? 'Cause if you can't explain that, you can't teach.” Bingo, the light bulb came on…

I've had to learn how to make recipes that are accurate, repeatable, clearly explained, and that make great food – If I couldn't do that, we wouldn't be here now.

So back to Craig Thornton's blisteringly honest synopsis, and what happened with the shortbread – What did I do to understand and fix my mistake? It turned out that my ratio calculations weren't correct, and I didn't handle the butter correctly, so I tossed the bad batch and made another that came out just right.

When I was composing the recipe, I didn't subtract some flour in lieu of the added almonds, so my wet to dry ratio was off. I also didn't handle the butter correctly. Shortbread wants relatively warm butter creamed into the sugar with a spatula. Doing that allows the sugar crystals to form tiny air bubbles in the butter, and those allow the shortbread to rise when it's baked; skip this step, and you get the denser finished product I made first. It was good, but not good enough to post here and pass on to y'all. I needed that ethereal, melt in your mouth shortbread. I adjusted my ratio, and altered my method to get what I wanted.

For the record, the word 'Short', has very specific connotations in baking. Short bread/cake/etc, implies a specifically high ratio of fat to flour. These doughs and batters are always non-yeast raised, and characteristically produce a rich and crumbly finished product. Thorough and properly executed incorporation is critical to achieving great results.

The moral of this ramble is that you can become a good, or even great chef if you want to, but don't ever doubt that even great chefs make mistakes, some times on simple things. They also certainly do study their errors in an effort to understand their mistakes and avoid them in the future. Anybody who says otherwise is pulling your leg. Here's that recipe – It's a subtle, complex shortbread that's not too sweet.

 

Chocolate Almond Shortbread

1 Cup Whole Wheat Pastry Flour

1/2 Cup raw Almonds

1/2 Cup sweet cream Butter

5 Tablespoons Bakers Sugar

2 Tablespoons Dark Cocoa Powder

1/4 teaspoon Sea Salt

 

Have butter at or near room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350° F.

In a skillet over medium, toast almonds until lightly browned.

Remove from heat and place in a food processor; process until reduced to a rough meal consistency.

In a mixing bowl, combine butter and sugar; cream with the side of a spatula until evenly mixed.

In a second bowl, combine flour, cocoa, salt, and almonds and blend throughly.

Add sugar/butter Belen to dry and mix by hand until thoroughly incorporated.

Press dough into a 9″ x 9″ baking pan, (or thereabouts – you want the dough about 3/4″ high). Prick the dough evenly across the entire surface, all the way through its thickness; this allows excess steam to escape and promotes flat, even baking.

 

Bake at 350° F for 12-15 minutes, until shortbread looks dry and has pulled away from the pan edges slightly.

Remove and cut into 3″ squares. Allow to cool before serving – Really hot shortbread is delightful, but it's also molten, so beware!

 

 

Coffee & Dark Chocolate Crème Brûlée

If it seems that I'm dessert obsessed lately, I sorta am. Fact is, my recipe files were sadly lacking in desserts, and an honest assessment lead to the realization that my chops were too – So I'm out to fix that; suffer through it if you can.

Crème Brûlée, Crema Catalana, Flan, Créme Caramel, and Burnt Cream, is essentially a custard. While many variants add the hard caramel or burnt sugar top, there's nothing at all wrong with putting that caramel on the bottom, and/or making it liquid rather than hard. Some might argue that this would not technically be a brûlée, based on the contention that theFrench verb form brûlée literally means 'to burn'. I'd counter that making a caramel is more or less burning sugar, hence such arguments are quibbling at best.

Crème brûlée in its more or less modern iteration first appeared in a 17th Century cookbook by François Massialot, though he is not the originator of the dish; regardless of claims, custards go back farther than Chef Massialot did. Interestingly enough, a later edition of his cookbook changed the name to Crème Anglaise, a pouring custard not usually associated with this dish. Later iterations fully anglicized the name to Burnt Cream. The derivations mentioned above come from England, Spain, Portugal, and Mexico. There are certainly other names for what is a quite universal treat, and whatever you call it, it's delicious.

The classic version is flavored only with vanilla; remove the chocolate and coffee, and reduce the sugar by one tablespoon from our version below, and there you are. That said, it'd be a shame not to try the full Monty as we did.

For the Crème

2 Cups Heavy Cream

6 Egg Yolks

2 Tablespoons fresh ground Coffee

5 Ounces 60% Cacao Chocolate

3 Tablespoons Bakers Sugar

1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract

 

For the Caramel

2/3 Cup Bakers Sugar

1/4 Cup brewed Coffee

1/4 teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Pinch Sea Salt

 

Have ramekins right at hand.

In a sauce pan over medium high heat, add brewed coffee and reduce by 50%. Add sugar to reduced coffee and combine thoroughly. As blend starts to melt, reduce heat to medium, add vanilla and salt, whisking steadily. When the blend is smooth and consistent, pour equal measures into the bottom of each ramekin and tilt to coat the entire surface. Set ramekins aside. Note: blend will foam quite a bit when vanilla and salt are added, so be careful with heat, removing pan from burner when necessary to keep things under control.

Preheat oven to 300° F.

In a heavy sauce pan over medium heat, bring cream to a simmer.

Remove from heat, stir in ground coffee, cover, and allow to steep for 15 minutes.

 

Run cream mixture through a double mesh strainer, or doubled cheesecloth, returning steeped cream to sauce pan, and discard the coffee grounds.

Over medium heat, scald cream, (heat until small bubbles form around the edge of the pan); remove from heat.

Place chocolate in a steel or glass mixing bowl; pour cream over chocolate and allow to steep for 5 minutes.

Gently whisk cream mixture into the chocolate. Go slowly and feel the process out so that the chocolate doesn't seize. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla; whisk to incorporate.

Add the cream and coffee blend to the egg mixture and combine thoroughly; go slowly – you want to combine without adding air bubbles to the blend.

Divide mixture among 6 ramekins or custard cups; you want to fill each to within about 3/4″ of the tops.

Place ramekins in a baking dish as or nearly as tall as they are; leave about an inch of space around each ramekin.

In a kettle or pan, boil enough water to fill the baking dish to at last 3/4 the height of the ramekins.

Note: I violated my no bubbles rule, as you can see – They're purely a cosmetic issue, so…
Bake until custards set around the edges, but still jiggle a bit in the center when gently shaken, about 40 to 50 minutes.

Remove from oven and leave in the water bath to cool; when cooled to room temp, transfer to fridge and cool at least 2 hours before adding caramelized sugar top.

When ready to serve, run a thin knife around the edge of a custard, then quickly invert onto a desert plate.

 

Cheese Rice Soufflé

Cheese rice soufflé

 

Had quite a few requests for the recipe behind this Instagram pic, so here it is. It's a simple cheese rice souffle, (and they really are simple.) Here's my spin on this classic.

The soufflé is generally attributed to Marie-Antoine Carême, a founding father of French grande cuisine. Carême's first iterations were made in the early 19th century, in stiff, straight sided pastry casings that are the inspiration for the modern soufflé dish.

Technically, a soufflé is a cake consisting of a cream sauce or pastry cream combined with beaten egg whites. Soufflé is actually a tense of the French verb 'souffler', to blow or puff,; an apt description of the cooking process involved. The base cream may be sweet or savory. The beaten egg whites, incorporating a lot of tiny air bubbles, provides the classic rise that defines this delicious dish.

Soufflés can be made in containers of all shapes and sizes, but the traditional vessel is a straight sided, white glazed porcelain soufflé pan, round with a glazed or unglazed bottom and fluted sides. The porcelain transmits heat quickly and well, the unglazed bottom anchors the dish, and the straight, glazed sides allow an unfettered rise in the oven.

The keys to a grey soufflé are;

a pre-heated oven,

Eggs at room temperature,

Very gentle folding of the beaten egg whites.

You want as much energy as possible to go toward the rise of the soufflé, as opposed to heating ingredients, so the preheated oven is a big help, as are eggs at room temp. Very gentle folding of the egg whites ensures that all that air trapped in the egg white matrix is available to the soufflé – again, that's the fuel behind the rise, and rough handling kills it quickly.

I've made this with all kinds of rice; I get the best results with long grain or wild. It's easily the most elegant use of leftover rice I can think of.

 

Cheese Rice Soufflé

2 Cups cooked Rice

1 1/2 Cups Extra Sharp Cheddar

3 large Eggs

1 1/2 Cups whole Milk

2 Tablespoons All Purpose Flour

2 Tablespoons unsalted Butter

1 Tablespoon minced Shallot

1 teaspoon Lemon Thyme

1/2 teaspoon ground Grains of Paradise

1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt

Dash of Tabasco Sauce

 

Have eggs at room temperature before starting.

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Crack and carefully separate eggs whites and yolks into two mixing bowls.

In a heavy sauce pan over medium heat, melt butter. Add flour and whisk to combine.

Allow roux to cook for 2-3 minutes until lightly browned.

Slowly add milk in small amounts, whisking each into the roux.

Incorporate all the milk without breaking the roux; in other words, it should start out as thick as mashed potatoes and end up as a fairly thick cream sauce, never being allowed to separate into liquids and solids. Slow and steady incorporation is the key.

Add rice, shallot, lemon thyme, salt, grains of paradise, (pepper is Ok), and Tabasco. Whisk to combine.

Remove from heat and transfer to a large mixing bowl.

Whisk egg yolks with a teaspoon of water, until they've thickened slightly and are nice and uniform.

Add yolks to cream and rice mixture and blend thoroughly.

By hand or with a whisk attachment for an immersion blender, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form; you want to be able to flip a bit of the whites it's your whisk and see them stand pretty much straight up and stay there.

Check the temperature of your cream and rice mix. You want it warm, but not hot enough to start cooking the eggs prior to baking.

Working in thirds, gently fold the beaten egg whites into the cream and rice blend. Use the side of a spatula and take your time. The batter should look and feel quite light when fully blended.

Chose a pan sized such that the batter will fill it about 2/3 way up the sides.

Carefully pour the batter into an ungreased soufflé pan.

Bake uncovered for 45 to 55 minutes. Don't open the oven – Let it work!

Soufflé top should be nicely risen and golden brown.

Serve immediately with a nice, crisp salad. Sparkling dry cider is a great accompaniment.

 

 

Mocha Hazelnut Tart with Caramel Drizzle

Mocha hazelnut tart with sea salt

 

We roast our own coffee at home, as recently described herein. This morning, when M was handling brewing duties, the smell of that freshly roasted and ground coffee was intoxicating. I noted hints of sweet things, like cocoa and roasted nuts, and right then and there a tart made with coffee, chocolate, and hazelnuts popped into mind.

As I started to compose the recipe, a couple of things came to mind. The first was the best way to assure that those amazing coffee attributes made it into the finished product. That’s when I figured that steeping the ground coffee in cream would work to maintain the subtler notes that you might lose, were you to just use brewed coffee. I was right; the coffee aroma and taste that resulted was absolutely heavenly.

For the chocolate, a ganache seemed to make sense; it’s been around since the 18th century, though it’s arguable whether it was the French or the Swiss who first came up with the idea. Ganache is an incredibly versatile thing, made by heating cream, pouring it over chopped chocolate, and allowing it some time to steep and warm through. The blend is gently whisked until smooth; extracts, liqueur, or spices can be added as well. The addition of butter imparts a shine and silky smooth texture to the finished ganache. The ratio of chocolate to cream is infinitely variable, imparting a wide range of finished densities. Here, I used what generally comes out to about 2:1 chocolate to cream by weight, which yields a proper density to fill a tart, make truffles, or use as a layer in a cake. A 1:1 ratio yields a much lighter product suitable for glazing. Cool a ganache and whisk it fairly briskly, and you add enough air to lighten it notably, resulting in an excellent frosting. Work slowly and steadily when incorporating the chocolate and cream, and you’ll find this to be a fairly anxiety free method. You’ll note that I don’t call for refrigerating this tart; you can certainly do so, but know that a chilled ganache becomes rather hard. You won’t lose too much flavor, but it will be quite the brick in consistency.

I also wanted this to be a treat that celebrated the more savory aspects of chocolate and coffee, as opposed to being cloyingly sweet; the entire tart recipe has slightly over a half cup of sugar in it. The rest of the sweet notes come through the coffee and dark chocolate, and the overall impression is a very well tempered treat. The caramel sauce contributes a highly controllable degree of sweetness; you can use none, a little, or a lot as your tastes desire.

The tart crust is the only baking you need to do, so it’s really pretty simple to make. I’d go so far as to say that if you’ve never explored making ganache before this will be a fun intro for you. I made this with fresh, local cream and butter; I’d recommend you do the same.

This is truly amazing stuff, incredibly smooth, complex, and powerful. It’s also wickedly decadent, not the kind of thing you just have laying around the shanty all the time. Or maybe you do. Slice it thin and savor every bite.

 

Mocha Hazelnut Tart with Caramel Drizzle

 

For the Crust –

1 Cup All Purpose Flour

1/2 Cup Powdered Sugar

4 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter

1 Large Egg

1/4 Cup Dark Cocoa Powder

 

Have all ingredients at or close to room temperature.

In a mixing bowl, add sugar and butter; whisk until well combined and creamy.

Add the egg, and whisk until thoroughly blended.

Add dry ingredients and fully incorporate.

Form dough into a ball, then flatten to a roughly 5″ disk.

Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

 

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Sandwich the dough disk between layers of parchment or waxed paper, and roll it out to about 1/8″ thick, sized for a tart pan with a 3/4″ to 1″ lip.

Transfer crust to tart pan and press gently to fit. Trim any excess dough flush with the edge of the pan.

With a fork, evenly pierce the dough all the way through to the bottom of the pan, across the entire bottom of the tart.

Bake until tart looks somewhat dry and pulls away slightly from the edge of the pan, about 15 minutes.

Remove and allow to cool completely.

 

For the Ganache –

1 1/2 Cups Heavy Cream

10 Ounces Dark Chocolate, (64% to 72% Cacao is best)

4 Tablespoons unsalted Butter

1/2 Cup freshly ground Coffee Beans

1/2 Cup Hazelnuts

2 Tablespoons Bakers Sugar

Sea Salt

 

If you have a burr bean grinder, grind coffee beans on the coarsest setting. If you use a whirly blade grinder, pulse the beans to a rough grind and that’ll work. If, gods forbid, you have neither, carefully rough chop beans with a santoku or chefs knife.

 

Preheat oven to 350° F.

If you’ve bought shelled and skinned hazelnuts, place them on a dry baking sheet and roast them until lightly browned, about 12-15 minutes.

Remove from oven and set aside to cool. Once cooled enough to handle, carefully rough chop them and set aside.

 

If you have hazelnuts with the skins still on, (Which, by the way, are far cheaper than the former option), here’s the best way to completely remove those.

For every cup of hazelnuts, bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a medium sauce pan.

Add 3 tablespoons of baking soda and stir; note that the mixture will foam quite a bit.

Add hazelnuts and boil for about 3 minutes; don’t be concerned when the water turns quite black, it’s par for the course with this method.

Fill a mixing bowl 3/4 full of ice water.

Use a slotted spoon to remove a test nut and plunge it into the ice water. Gently rub the nut to see if the skin comes off easily; if not, let the nuts boil for another couple of minutes, then try again. Once you’re getting an easy peel, transfer all nuts to the ice water and peel away.

Wrap nuts in paper towels and dry thoroughly.

Roast and rough chop nuts as per above.

 

Have butter at room temperature.

In a sauce pan over medium heat, bring cream to a simmer.

Add ground coffee beans, stir well to incorporate, then remove from heat.

Cover the pan tightly and allow the cream and coffee blend to steep for 30 minutes.

Run cream blend through a double mesh strainer, then return the steeped cream to the sauce pan and discard the ground coffee, (layered cheese cloth will work if you don’t have a strainer).

Place sauce pan back over medium heat.

In a measuring cup, add 2 teaspoons of hot water to the sugar, stir well to dissolve, then add to the coffee cream, and bring the mixture to a simmer.

Rough chop chocolate, then add to a mixing bowl.

Carefully pour hot cream mixture over the chocolate, then allow to steep for 5 minutes.

With a whisk, gently combine cream and chocolate, (going too fast and hard will cause the chocolate to seize – take your time and feel out the proper pace).

When the mixture is about halfway incorporated, start adding the butter a tablespoon at a time; allow each batch of butter to fully incorporate before adding more. Continue whisking until ganache is smooth and glossy.

Pour ganache into tart crust; smooth the top with spatula or pastry knife.

Top with chopped hazelnuts and dust very lightly with sea salt.

Let sit at room temperature for at least 2 hours before serving.

 

 

For the Caramel Drizzle –

1 Cup Bakers Sugar

6 Tablespoons unsalted Butter

1/2 Cup heavy Cream

1/2 teaspoon Vanilla Extract

1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt

 

In a sauce pan over medium-low heat, combine sugar with 1/4 cup water. Stir steadily until sugar dissolves.

Increase heat to medium and boil without stirring, occasionally swirling the pan to aid even cooking. Continue until syrup is a deep golden amber, about 7–8 minutes.

Reduce heat to low; add the butter a tablespoon at a time and whisk to incorporate – Note that mixture will bubble vigorously, so be careful.

Slowly stir in cream, whisking steadily.

Add vanilla and salt.

Whisk until the caramel is smooth and creamy.

Remove from heat and let cool for 10 minutes.

Pour into a glass jar or small bowl.

Sauce will store for a week, refrigerated in an airtight glass container. Warm slightly before drizzling if stored.

Cut a nice slice of tart, drizzle a few lines of caramel over the top, and enjoy. You can make this a day ahead; the flavors will be fully developed, maybe even better than day one. One of my staff at the cafe commented after her first bite, “I’ve just seen God.” Now that’s a testament…