Category Archives: Baking

Citrus Blossom, Pistachio, Meyer Lemon

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It’s not often that I get to capture a season, a moment in time or a childhood memory in a dish that I created. This here is one of those though. It might not look like it, but for me, this dessert is pure Lebanese. It captures the beautiful fragrance of citrus blossoms from many a citrus (usually orange) orchard I had the pleasure of playing in or picking fruit from as a kid. What really started and inspired this dessert are the Meyer lemon blossoms from my backyard. The tree is ridiculously prolific and a few weeks ago it was full of very fragrant blossoms and the bees that come with them. Since I’ve made this dish we actually moved (that’s partially why I have not been updating this blog as much as I’d like) from our home of 10 years , the home that both of our boys came to as babies and grew up in. More than just a beautiful and delicious dessert that I am proud of, this now will always be a reminder of that Meyer lemon tree and all the amazing times we had in that house.

Meyer Lemon Blossoms2

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Sorbet was the best choice for the blossoms but I’ve never made that before and was not sure what the best way to capture the flavor would be. I also wanted to make a sorbet with a perfect smooth texture not just a beautiful flavor. After some research using Modernist Cuisine and Migoya’s Frozen Desserts I came up with a recipe that gave me exactly what I wanted. I steeped a couple of large handfuls of the Meyer lemon blossoms in warm not boiling-hot water for about 30 minutes or so. After straining the blossoms out,  the resulting water was intensely fragrant of citrus blossoms and tasted very nice as well. I formulated a nice sorbet recipe (specifically based on Migoya’s “Method #3: Modern Sorbet Method”) using this water, Cara Cara orange juice and a bit of white wine. The actual recipe is at the end of this post.

Citrus Blossom-Cara Cara Sorbet

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I wanted a pistachio component for this dessert. In the Lebanese kitchen a huge number of recipes use pistachios in fillings. They are usually mixed with sugar, orange blossom water and rosewater. So it seemed like a natural for the aesthetic of this dish and for the taste and emotion I was trying to invoke. The Genoa bread (aka Pain de Genes) I made a while back was delicious and had a great sturdy, but not dry texture. Why not try and make a pistachio version? I used Migoya’s recipe from Elements of Dessert  as a base and prepared the recipe with half almond paste and half pistachio paste. This came out wonderful as well and I am including the recipe at the end of the post. In hindsight, I could probably use up to 3/4 pistachio paste or even 100% pistachio paste. As it is though, it was both a lovely green color and a lot of pistachio flavor.

Pistachio Genoa Bread

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The Genoa bread is very easy to make. However, finding pistachio paste is not as simple as finding the Almond version. Almond paste is readily available in my local grocery store. I could order pistachio paste online, pay a good bit for it and have it delivered. Making my own though is cheaper and more interesting. So, I did a quick search and settled on using this recipe. I used all pistachio and none of the almond meal though. The recipe works great even if the end result is not as perfectly smooth as the store-bought version would be. Below is a picture of both the almond and pistachio pastes and you could clearly see the texture difference. The key to making nut pastes as far as I could tell is to blend the nuts thoroughly in a food processor with a liquid hot syrup (around 115 degrees C). Just blending the nuts alone or with sugar produces a nut butter. Delicious, but not what I was after. So, the only change I made to the recipe is to use a food processor to puree the ground up pistachios while drizzling in the hot syrup. Then I finished it by kneading well. The paste looked great and had a delicious flavor. I still have about half a recipe leftover in my freezer. I might use it to make some Madeleins soon.

Pistachio-Almond Pastes

Pistachio Paste

In the Alinea book there is a recipe for flexible chocolate ganache where a mixture of sugar, cream and a few other ingredients is formed into a ganache that can be twisted like a ribbon of sorts. I wanted to go for the same effect but instead of chocolate, I wanted to use lemon curd. The problem is these types of preparations are finicky and ingredients are not easily substituted for others while maintaining the texture. I was ready to formulate my own recipe based on the Alinea version when a quick internet search lead me to a recipe by Johnny Iuzzini for exactly what I was looking for, a Meyer lemon “flexi-curd”. The preparation eliminates the eggs from the curd and uses a combination of Iota Carageenan, High Acyl Gellan, Agar and Pectin to get the desired flexible texture. The process is straightforward even without the Thermomix that the recipe specifies. I mixed the dry gums mixture into some heavy cream and then melted butter is added while the mixture gets heated to 185F and stirred all the time. Then I added fresh Meyer lemon juice from the backyard tree and the mixture is taken up to 212F before it gets poured into a plastic wrap lined square pan and allowed to set in the fridge. When ready to serve, the “flexi-curd” can be turned out on a cutting board and cut into strips. These are flexible enough to tie into a knot and the flavor is pure rich lemon curd.

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The dish definitely needed some crunch. So, I added both crunch, a contrasting color and a different pistachio flavor by making a pistachio brittle. The recipe for this simple confection is straight from the Alinea cookbook. Sugar is heated till it caramelizes and then chopped roasted pistachios and baking soda are added in. The brittle is then poured on a Silpat to cool. I used a ruler to trace some lines on the partially cooled brittle. This made it easier to cut some of the brittle into even rectangles and the rest I just broke into random irregular pieces.

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I plated the dish in a couple of different ways. I think my favorite was cutting the Genoa bread into neat rectangles and topping with a knot of the lemon curd and topping that with a few shards of the brittle. For garnish I had prepared a jar of candied kumquats (they taste great on their own as well or on top of ice cream or thick yogurt), so I used a few halves of those. They just seemed like a another natural citrus element that goes well with everything else. Other garnishes included more citrus; segments of peeled Cara Cara and blood oranges. I just wish I had the forethought to order some Pectinex enzyme. That would have perfectly peeled those segments and given them an even more elegant shape. I also used some pulverized pistachios and a few fresh Meyer lemon blossoms to finish the dish.

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Citrus Blossom-Meyer Lemon-Pistachio

The Recipes

Meyer Lemon Flexible Curd

Adapted from Johnny Iuzzini

  • 75 gr. Sugar
  • 2.5 gr. Salt
  • 1.5 gr. Iota Carageenan
  • 1.5 gr. High Acyl Gellan
  • 1.5 gr. Agar Agar
  • 4.8 gr. LM Pectin
  • 200 gr. Heavy Cream
  • 50 gr. Butter, melted
  • 150 gr. Meyer lemon juice

Line an 8 or 9 inch square pan with plastic wrap or use a flexible silicone pan with no lining. Combine the sugar, salt, Carageenan, Gellan, Agar and Pectin together and mix very well. Start heating the cream in a sauce pot stirring constantly. Slowly pour in the dry ingredients into the cream and keep whisking gently. When all the dry ingredients are incorporated completely, pour in the melted butter. Keep stirring and heat the mixture to 185 F, then slowly pour in the lemon juice. Heat the mixture to 212 F and immediately pour into the lined pan.

Allow the curd to set at room temperature. Once cooled, gently press plastic wrap on the surface of the curd an refrigerate till service time. When ready to serve, flip the curd out on a cutting board and with a very sharp knife (or pizza wheel) cut into shapes or strips.

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Citrus Blossom-Citrus Sorbet

Based on Modern Sorbet Method #3 from Francisco Migoya’s Frozen Desserts

Yield: 1000 gr.

  • Large handful of Citrus blossoms
  • 500 gr. Water (enough to barely cover the blossoms in a narrow container)
  • 222 gr. Sugar
  • 50 gr. Atomized Glucose
  • 3.6 gr. Sorbet Stabilizer
  • 275 gr. Citrus juice (Orange, Madarin, Tangerine,…or a combination)
  • 75 gr. Boiled white wine (Basically boil some white wine for a few minutes to burn off some of the alcohol BEFORE weighing it)

Put the cleaned and picked over (for bugs and such) blossoms in a small narrow bowl or pot. Warm the water to about 110 F and pour it on the blossoms. You want the water to barely cover the blossoms. Cover the bowl and let the water steep for 30 minutes. Stir the blossoms gently halfway through the steeping time. Strain the blossoms out and measure 376 gr of the fragrant water.

Whisk the stabilizer in with the sugar and glucose. In a pot, start heating the juice and white wine till it reaches 104 F. Whisk in the sugar mixture carefully and steadily and keep whisking. Let the mixture come to a 185 F while whisking and hold it there for 2 minutes. Cool the mixture down to about 40 F and stir in the fragrant blossom water. Let the mixture mature in the fridge for at least four hours before churning.

Pistachio Genoa Bread

Adapted from Francisco Migoya’s The Elements of Dessert

Yield: One 8 inch cake

  • 90 gr. Almond Paste
  • 90 gr. Pistachio Paste
  • 116 gr. Eggs
  • 16 gr. Trimoline
  • 1.5 gr. Salt
  • 28 gr. All purpose Flour
  • 51 gr. Butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350F. Spray an 8 inch square pan with baking spray (Pam for Baking is what I like to use).

Combine the the almond and pistachio pastes in a bowl and mix with a handheld mixer to get a homogenous mixture. Add the eggs a bit at a time and mix well. Add the Trimoline and and salt and mix to incorporate completely. Add the flour and mix slowly until just combined. Add the butter and also mix until just combined.

Put the mixture in the prepared pan and smooth the top evenly. Bake until the cake springs back when gently pressed, about 15 minutes. Cool the cake to room temperature and then refrigerate. It cuts much cleaner once cold.

French Laundry: ‘Coffee and Donuts’

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Yeah, foam is a crazy new fad. Afterall, no chef was making any food with “foam” ten or 50 years ago. Right? Well, no. Wrong. Foam in cooking, baking and beverages is everywhere. Sometimes it is obvious like a nice froth on a cappuccino. Other times, like in this dessert, it’s a bit less recognizable. This dessert (part 2 of my French Laundry meal) is composed of several foams. Five types to be precise. As the name suggest and the picture shows this is a sort of coffee with a nice froth on it served alongside some perfect donuts. This is a classic French Laundry dessert that is much more than it seems.

Donuts-Sugar

The coffee part is actually a coffee semifreddo topped with steamed frothy milk to give it a traditional cappuccino look. Semifreddo literally means semi-frozen or half frozen and it is a very traditional Italian dessert made by mixing three foams. A custard foam made from egg yolks, sugar and flavored with instant espresso powder is mixed with stiff-whipped sweetened cream and a simple meringue (whipped egg whites and sugar). The three are gently folded together and portioned out into small coffee cups and then frozen. The frozen product has a wonderful smooth rich texture similar to frozen mousse. It is allowed to warm up for a few minutes and then it is topped with hot frothy milk. The effect is both lovely to look at and just delicious with the fantastic juxtaposition of hot and cold.

Semifreddo1

Bread and cakes are filled with air bubbles. They are also a type of foam that we bake, steam or fry to trap those air bubbles. As the air in those bubbles heats up it expands  producing airy products that are at the same time light and sturdy. These donuts belong to the category of yeast-risen doughs as opposed to cake donuts which are a quick bread leavened chemically with baking soda and baking powder. Chef Keller’s donuts are rich and almost like a brioche dough. they are made with flour, sugar, eggs and butter. After I made the dough I put it in the fridge to allow it to rise slowly and develop flavor. A couple of hours before frying, I rolled the dough and cut it into 2-inch rounds and then used a much smaller round cutter and punched holes in those rounds to get both donuts and donut holes.

Coffee and Donuts-Horz

When ready to serve, I fried the donuts and holes. It’s really neat seeing them go in the oil then bob up when they puff with the heat. While they are still hot, I rolled them in a mixture of cinnamon and sugar and plated a donut and a donut hole alongside the “coffee”. The combination, just like the braised pork cheek dish that preceded it, is comforting, familiar and refined. The semifreddo gets soft enough to even dunk the donuts in it. I highly recommend you do that if you decide to try making this. The recipe makes a good bit of donuts and that’s a good thing because one is not enough.

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Pear, Caramelized Genoa Bread, Chocolate Veil

Pear-Genoa Bread-Chocolate Veil

Francisco Migoya from the CIA (the Culinary Institute of America, not the other CIA) is a superb pastry chef and judging from his books, an excellent teacher. He has 3 books and I got a hold of two of them so far, Elements of Desserts and Frozen Desserts. While I have many high end, modern and professional cookbooks, until I got Migoya’s books, I really did not have any pastry and dessert books that target the professional cook. If you want to go beyond desserts tailored for the home cook and learn the way modern pastry chefs compose and create desserts, these are the books for you. They are geared towards the professional chefs and deal with everything from the basics of desserts, the professional tools of the trades, running a pastry kitchen and of course many beautiful modern desserts. I love reading through those books, looking at all the gorgeous pictures and learn a few things about the creative process, especially for plated desserts like this one here.

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The flavors are not strange or foreign , just a few primary flavors that work very well together and a modern unique plating. Migoya instructs that no more than three primary flavors should be included in a dessert or else the palate would be overwhelmed. This plate combined pear in the form of ice cream and poached fruit, almond Genoa bread accented with caramel and chocolate in the form of a cool “veil”.

This was my first time trying Genoa bread (aka Pain de Genes) even though I’ve read about it from many sources. It is a cake of sorts made with a lot of almond paste that gives it a wonderful flavor and a dense almost fudgy texture. This makes it ideal as a refined “cake” or building block for plated desserts. It can be flavored with anything from pistachio to black sesame or chocolate. This particular one is flavored with almond praline. I made the praline by cooking almonds with caramelized sugar and pulverizing the mixture. After baking the cake in a sheet pan I cut it into rectangles. Right before serving the bread gets a nice layer of caramel. The process sounds easy but is a bit tricky. It involves melting sugar till it is a dark amber caramel and then rolling the bread rectangles in it to get a thin coating of caramel on all sides. Well, rolling pieces of cake in a liquid lava is no easy feat. I managed to do it but the caramel was a bit thicker than it should be. Still it was a delicious crunchy counterpoint to the sweet soft cake it enveloped.

Almond Genoa Bread

The recipe also includes a pear ice cream (in my book almost any dessert recipe should include a frozen concoction of some sort!). It’s a straightforward ice cream made using pear puree, cream, yolks,…I had no pear puree and decided to make my own. I just cooked some peeled Bosc pears sous vide with about 10% of their weight sugar until fully tender. Then I pureed them, weighed what I needed and froze the rest for another batch later on. The other pear element is caramel-poached Seckel pears. These are those cute small pears about the size of a large chicken egg. To caramel-poach them I made a caramel using sugar and pear cider. I peeled and cored the small pears then cooked them in the caramel until soft and took on a lovely deep color. These were cut into quarters and reserved until serving time.

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Chocolate Veil

It’s really fascinating to me how a final small touch could elevate a dessert of poached fruit, cake and ice cream. I’m referring to what Migoya calls a “veil” here made of chocolate. He uses this techniques in a few recipes in the book incorporating a variety of flavors. It’s basically a solid sauce that covers the dessert components and adds it’s own texture and taste. To make the veil a cocoa nib stock (cocoa nibs steeped in hot water) is mixed with cocoa powder, sugar and low-acyl gellan gum (a gelling agent). This is then poured in a sheet pan until set and then cut into large squares that get draped over the plated components. I was really worried about this step and figured it might get to be very tricky but overall it was pretty straightforward and worked well. The cut chocolate veil squares keep very well for a few days between squares of acetate in a tightly closed container in the fridge.

Pear Ice Cream-Genoa Bread

To plate, I put a pile of crumbled caramelized genoa bread and almonds next to a piece of the cake and used that as an anchor for the ice cream. The whole thing gets covered in a chocolate veil and topped with a piece of the fruit. A small cut with a paring knife on the veil reveals the ice cream underneath it. The finished plate is as delicious as it is beautiful. It has a perfect combination of textures and flavors from the bitter to the nutty and sweet.

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Bouchon Bakery: Pain de Campagne

pain de campagneIt’s been a couple of years or so since I posted a gratuitous bread post and picture on my little corner of the web. This particular one is just so beautiful that I had to post it up here and use it as a desktop wallpaper as well. This also gives me the opportunity to praise this inspiring and freaking gorgeous book from the Keller/Ruhlman team, Bouchon Bakery. The credit here also goes to the pastry chef and master baker for Bouchon Bakery, Sebastien Rouxel and Matt McDonald respectively. reading through it I literally want to make and consume every cookie, tart, cake, pastry, confection and bread recipe! It’s one of those inspiring books that makes one want to jump in and start baking. That should be no surprise though since the previous installments in this series were all fantastic from the classic The French Laundry Cookbook to the approachable Ad Hoc at Home. I know I will be making puff pastry soon and certainly trying out Bouchon’s croissant recipe to see how it stacks up to my latest favorite.

pain de campagne2

This first recipe I tried is this simple Pain de Campagne (country bread). It’s made with levain (liquid sourdough starter), all purpose flour, rye flour and whole wheat flour. Master baker McDonald instructs us to mix in the mixer on low for 20 minutes, longer than I’ve ever mixed a dough I think and then allow for a long 4 hour or so rise with periodic folds of the dough. I deviated from the recipe in the manner of baking though. I baked the loaf, like most loaves I prepare now, in a Le Creuset pot as opposed to on a baking stone. Really, if the loaf fits in my oval pot I bake it in there. It traps the moisture and gives the loaf a brilliant crust that is glossy, crackly and has just the right thickness.

French Laundry: Chocolate Cakes and Gelato with Toasted Hazelnuts and Syrup

I love it when a book never disappoints, whether I am doing a complete verbatim recipe or in this case using it for a template and making parts of a recipe. The book I am talking about is of course the French Laundry Cookbook. This lovely plate of confections is based on the recipe for Chocolate Cakes with Red Beet Ice Cream and Toasted Walnut Sauce from Keller’s book. Like most of my desserts this actually started off with ice cream or gelato. One of my absolute favorite things both to make and eat, ice cream comes first most of the time and then the rest of the dessert follows…or not. Afterall, a bowl of homemade ice cream and a good movie is just perfect sometimes. This was for a nice dinner party though for a few good friends so I wanted to make something elegant.

I prepared two gelato recipes, a salted caramel one and a caramelized cocoa nib one. The first is straight out of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream. The second one uses Jeni’s ice cream base where I steeped a bunch of Theo’s cocoa nibs. Cocoa nibs are basically small pieces of the shell of the cocoa pod. They taste of slightly bitter and intense cocoa with a bit of an edge. During churning I mixed in some more of the same nibs but these ones were caramelized giving them a great bitter-sweet taste and very crunchy texture. Making caramelized cocoa nibs is no different than making caramelized almonds or peanuts. You start of with the nibs and sugar in a pot and you keep stirring and heating until the sugar melts and caramelized around the nibs.

The cake in this recipe is a flourless chocolate cake where most of the structure and the leavening comes from whipped egg whites. All the flavor is from the dark chocolate and cocoa in the mix. I baked the individual cakes until set but still a bit soft. These are delicious cakes that can be used in many recipes where a nice elegant cake is required that is both light and satisfying.

The French Laundry recipe makes a couple of components based on walnuts. Instead of walnuts I went with hazelnuts. First I toasted the nuts, then I candied them. To candy the roasted nuts, I simmered them in a mixture of sugar and white wine. The nuts are then sprinkled with salt and allowed to dry while the cooking liquid is reduced until we have a hazelnut syrup ready for serving.

To serve I plated a cake on a small puddle of the syrup and topped it with two candied hazelnuts. A scoop of gelato goes between the two hazelnuts (some plates got salted caramel there, others the cocoa nib). On the side goes another scoop of gelato on top of caramelized nibs. The whole thing then gets drizzled with a bit more of the hazelnut syrup. This was a big hit and rightly so. It’s complex, beautiful and delicious.

Oh, here is what preceded the dessert too; beef tenderloin in red wine sauce, kale and rich potato puree

Sticky Toffee Pudding, Rum Ice Cream, Caramel

Sticky Toffee Pudding, a classic British dessert, has quickly become one of our favorite sweet dishes. The first time we tried it was at Feast restaurant in Houston where they make an outstanding version. It’s gooey, rich and sweet with deep mildly bitter toffee flavor. Feast’s version has become our gold standard and none we’ve tried have come close.

The recipe for the cakes is one I had seen in an old Food and Wine issue years ago. For some reason that recipe stuck with me and I finally got around to giving it a try. Basically Sticky Toffee Pudding consists of a cake made with lots of dates then the cake gets soaked in a rich toffee (caramel) sauce. I also like that the recipe from F&W uses no spices in the batter mix that could overpower the flavor of the dates and caramel. Options to how the cake is baked, in what pan and how the toffee is incorporated vary a bit. You could bake the cake in a baking dish and top it with toffee while warm. Another option is to introduce the sauce in the bowls only when serving the warm cake. The pudding can also be baked, un-molded and then somehow dipped in toffee, covered with it and returned to the pan.

My favorite option is the one where the puddings are individual cakes. This way you get a very nice serving that looks neat and more importantly it has a nice ratio of cake to toffee sauce. I used my dome shaped stainless steel molds to bake the cakes and I unfortunately filled them a bit too much it seems. So, the batter overflowed on most of them while baking. That’s mostly a shame since it wasted what could’ve been one more delicious dome-shaped cake. As far as aesthetics, the cakes needed to be trimmed anyways and those trimmings sure did not go to waste.

I made the toffee sauce while the cakes baked by simmering a load of butter, cream and sugar together  until the mixture caramelized. Then more cream is added in until you get a deep dark and insanely delicious caramel sauce. I made half the amount of sauce in the recipe and still ended up with an extra jar of toffee sauce that I saved and am using for ice cream topping, brownies or just to eat with a spoon.

This pudding is typically served with clotted cream, lightly sweetened cream or maybe even custard. I wanted to serve it with ice cream that would complement it perfectly. Something that is a bit sharp but that would work well with the flavors of caramel and dates. I’ve been using the recipes from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams At Home book almost exclusively for a while now. Her flavors are great but more importantly her base recipe is simple, uses few ingredients and results in ice cream with a perfect texture right out of the freezer. I opened the book for ideas and found her recipe for Cognac Ice Cream. Bingo! Alcohol sounds great with this dessert, but instead of cognac I went with dark rum.

At service time, I cut the cakes in half horizontally and put a tablespoon of toffee sauce in each of the metal molds that I used to bake them in. I then layered the cakes back in the molds with toffee in between the layers and on top. These went back in the oven for a short while until they got bubbly and soaked up the toffee. I served them with a nice oval of ice cream, some more toffee sauce on the plate and a smear of store-bought Dulce de Leche (the lighter colored sauce). How did it compare to our favorite pudding from Feast? It is pretty much a perfect match. The taste and texture were just about perfect and the rum ice cream worked just as well as I imagined.

Cassoulet and Green Salad, Country Bread and Red Wine, Walnut Tart – A Dinner from Southwest France

A long titled post suitable to a properly labor-intensive and delicious cold-weather meal. Both the Toulouse-style Cassoulet and the Walnut Tart are based on Paula Wolfert’s recipes in her book “The Cooking of Southwest France“. The bread is the Pain de Campagne (country bread) recipe from Peter Reinhart’s “The Bread baker’s Apprentice“.

Making a proper Cassoulet is a good bit of work and to get the most out of this dish you really should not cut corners. Boiling some beans and adding in a couple of sausages might be good, but is really not the same animal. It’s almost “wrong” to make a Cassoulet that does not take a couple of days worth of work (mostly unattended simmering or resting). It’s part of the enjoyment that goes into it when you crack that crispy breadcrumb crust that you know how much work really went into making this sublime dish.

It helps a lot having a freezer and larder that is fully stocked. I already had home-cured pork belly (pancetta), home-cooked duck confit, good rich stock (venison in this case), trimmed and cleaned pig skins, home-made Toulouse-style sausage and a few pounds of wild boar. This means I could dive right into cooking the Cassoulet and putting these items together without having to worry about making confit or shopping for pig skins and duck fat.

So, what is involved in making a Cassoulet?

– Simmer pork shoulder (I used wild boar), pig skin, along with aromatics and vegetables (leeks, carrots, thyme, bay, a little tomato paste…)  until mostly tender.

– Add in a pound or 2 (Wolfert uses two for a HUGE Cassoulet, I used one to make half a recipe) of soaked white beans and cook until tender.

– Seperate the beans and stock from the meats. Store in the fridge overnight or for a few days.

– Enrich the stock by pureeing some of it with garlic and pork fat. Add that to the beans, rest of the stock and the pork chunks. Simmer for a little bit.

– Remember those Toulouse sausages I mentioned earlier? Cook those separately. I cooked them sous vide till done. Cut them into pieces.

– For the duck confit, just remove the skins, take the meat off the bones and leave it in big chunks.

– “Build” the Cassoulet by first laying the flat pieces of cooked pork skin (the one we simmered with the beans) in the bottom of a large pot. I used one of my Colombian Chamba clay pots.

– Top that with half of the bean mixture, then the duck confit. Top with the remaining bean mixture. Use a perforated spoon here so that you can control how much of the bean stock is needed. I ended up using all of it for the liquid to come up barely to the level of the beans.

– Bake the Cassoulet for an hour or two. A skin will form on the surface. Stir that “skin” into the Cassoulet. Bury the cooked sausage chunks in the beans leaving them slightly exposed. Top with a tablespoon or two of breadcrumbs and a drizzle of duck fat. Bake until crispy, bubbly and delicious.

– Let it rest for 5-10 minutes at least and dig in.

It really sounds like much more work than it is. Most of the cooking can be spread out over a couple of days and you will be rewarded with one of the most delicious of French comfort foods ever. It’s one of those dishes that if done right are satisfying and rich but not cloying. It should not be mushy or fatty. To get that result, one needs to pay attention to the small details.

Detail1: DO NOT let the beans boil like crazy. As soon as the stock comes up to a boil lower the heat to a very gentle simmer. This way you can control the cooking process better and can cook the beans perfectly. Rapid boil will almost insure burst beans. This will make for unpleasantly mushy beans, a thick cloudy stock and will emulsify the fat in it making it more difficult to de-grease.

Detail2: A key reason why a good Cassoulet should be stretched over a couple of days is de-greasing  the stock. Storing the beans in the cooking liquid in the fridge will form a thick layer of fat on the surface from all those meats. It’s easy to remove that before continuing with the cooking and baking.

What to serve it with? Other than red wine? You really don’t need much else, but a piece of good bread and a tart salad are excellent accompaniments. I shaped the bread specifically for the Cassoulet dinner into an epis (wheat tip) so we could just break off pieces instead of slicing…and it looks pretty neat. The salad was a simple mixed baby greens mix with a vinaigrette of raspberry vinegar and walnut oil.

It only seemed appropriate that to cap it all off, I would make a dessert from the same region. So from the same book, I made Wolfert’s walnut tart or as she calls it Walnut Tart from Masseube. This is not a typical tart, more of a cross between a cookie and a tart. The filling is a mixture of walnuts and a dark butter caramel. This gets poured into a tart shell lined with a sweet short pastry crust. Another layer of pastry goes on top and then it is baked. When the tart cools the filling sets pretty firm, like a pecan pie filling minus most of the “goo”. We really loved this with a cup of coffee and a touch of whipped cream.