Michel Roux: The Collection

Michel Roux, alongside his brother Albert, have perhaps done more for British restaurant cuisine than anyone. Dragging it kicking and screaming from the mid-seventies horrors of ‘chicken in a basket’, Le Gavroche and The Waterside Inn are landmarks in england’s culinary landscape. Their kitchens have transformed our view of classical french cuisine and have nurtured the careers of numerous future stars, not least Gordon Ramsay; and their sons, Michel Jr. and Alain.

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In his latest book, Michel draws together a selection of his recipes from a variety of areas, including everything from quick breakfasts to desserts. He covers basic culinary staples like stocks and pastry making as well as more classical dishes, like Coquille St Jacques and Bouillabaisse.

The book is beautifully laid out – with lovely photography and detailed explanations of complicated techniques. Measurements are sensibly chosen and ingredients shouldn’t be too difficult to find. I wanted to pick something simple but fun, so I went with croissants.

Recipe – Croissants
Reproduced by kind permission of Quadrille Publishing

Makes 12-14 small croissants (1.1kg dough)

Ingredients
25g Fresh yeast (available from any bakers)
250ml Tepid milk
275g Butter (cold but not too hard)
12g Fine salt
50g Sugar
500g Plain flour
Egg wash (1 yolk mixed with 1tbsp milk)

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Method

Making the Dough

Dissolve the yeast in the milk in a bowl. Put the flour, salt and sugar in an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook and mix at low speed, gradually adding the yeast mixture. Stop working the dough as soon as it comes away from the sides of the bowl, the texture must not become too elastic.

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Cover the bowl with cling film and leave the dough to rise in a warm place (at about 24°C) until doubled in volume; this should take 45 minutes to 1 hour. Knock back the dough by flipping it over with your hand to release the carbon gas, but do not overwork it. Cover the bowl again with cling film and place in the fridge for at least 4 hours, but not more than 8 hours. Knock back the dough in the bowl again, then transfer it to a lightly floured work surface.

Shape the dough into a ball and cut a 5cm deep cross in the centre. Roll out the 4 sides to make flaps. Bash the butter into a rectangle with the rolling pin and place it in the centre. Fold the flaps over the butter to envelope it completely.

First turn – Lightly flouring the surface as necessary, roll the dough out to an 80cm x 30cm rectangle. Fold the rectangle into three. Wrap in cling film and chill for 30 minutes.

Second Turn – Give the chilled dough a quarter-turn, roll out to a rectangle, fold again, wrap and chill as above.

Third and final turn – Roll the dough out in the opposite direction from the previous turn to a rectangle and fold as before. Wrap in cling film and chill for at least 30 minutes (no more than 1 hour).

Shaping and Baking Croissants

You will need a triangular cardboard template, measuring 9cm across the base and 19cm high. Lightly flour the work surface and roll out the dough (after its final turn) to a 65cm x 40 cm rectangle, 3mm thick. Lift it slightly off the work surface and flap to aerate it and prevent it from shrinking. Trim the four sides of the dough with a chef’s knife, then cut it in half lengthways to make two even sized bands. Using the template as a guide, cut the dough into triangles.

Lay a dough triangle on the work surface with the base towards you. Use the knife to make a 2cm deep incision in the middle of the base, pull the 2 points of the bas slightly, then pull the point of the triangle.

Roll up the triangle starting from the base and continue until you reach the point. (For a savoury croissant, lay a slice of ham at the base before starting to roll). Turn the points inwards to form a crescent. Repeat to make the other croissants as quickly as possible.

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Place the croissants on a baking sheet, spacing them apart and lightly brush with egg wash, starting on the inside and working outwards so that the dough doesn’t stick together and prevent the croissants from rising properly.

Put the baking sheets in a warm, preferably slightly humid place (at 25-30°C) and leave the croissants to rise for 1 hour until they have almost doubled in size. When they are nearly ready, preheat the oven to 160°C (Gas 3). Lightly brush the croissant with egg-wash again and bake for 12-14 minutes.

The Verdict
The croissants were gorgeous – light, fluffy and very moist. Next time out I’ll be a little more generous with the egg wash, but I’m really pleased with the result!

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The recipe was easy to follow, the ingredients should be in any cupboard (apart from the fresh yeast, which is available directly from the bakers of any large supermarket) and none of the techniques should cause any trouble to even the most timid chef. I do have one top tip for whenever you are doing ‘multiple folds’ for things like puff pastry: make a small dot mark with a finger to show which ‘turn’ you’re on (e.g. two dots for the second turn). It’s very easy to forget when you take it out the fridge!

The book is really lovely and i’m looking forward to trying out a number of other dishes which i’m sure will make an appearance on here over the coming months. If you’re looking for a comprehensive introduction to french cooking – look no further. It’s a miniature Escoffier for the modern age.

Michel Roux: The Collection, RRP £25, is published by Quadrille and is available from all good bookshops.

Dinner Party Dry Run

With a rare quiet Saturday, I decided to try a couple of recipes that I’m hoping to use for a dinner party in a few weeks time.

Oysters

Oysters are great because they are quick to prepare, delicious, and help cleanse the palate. On a multi-course menu it gives you a little more time to prepare.

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Sous Vide Lyonnaise
I’ve been looking for a way to show off what sous vide can do to my friends. This is what I came up with, a classical combination of poached egg, bacon, frisée and croutons.

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I like the way that it looks like a nest, with the egg nestling in the middle – people wonder whether you’ve served them a hard boiled egg or a raw one. They don’t expect to break it and have a perfectly poached egg slide out, silky smooth and rich.

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Steak, Mashed Potatoes and Onions purée
This dish is all about showing off amazing quality steak. It’s not fancy or clever, and its not meant to be, all I’m trying to do is showcase how much good carefully raised, well aged beef can be. The onion purée provides a great umami hit that helps cut the richness of the potato. Given time I’d like to try making a thick mushroom ketchup too.

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Marmalade Pudding
This is one of my favourite desserts. Based on a Hawksmoor recipe, itself taken from a restaurant in Skye, it’s both modern and traditional. It was also supposed to be several small individual puddings until I couldn’t find the basins. I was sure I had them. Luckily it worked great on a larger scale. I’ll post my recipe up in a few days, but until then here’s lots of cool photos.

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I completely forgot to get the ice cream out of the freezer so it could soften. It’s led to a quick head scratch and a light bulb moment. I have a pretty solid melon baller, so out it came. I quite like the result!

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Boutique Baking

My adoration of Peggy Porschen’s fruit cake is well documented in my post here. I resolved then and there that this was a recipe I needed to try out for myself – thankfully Peggy has penned a great set of cookbooks over the years which chronicle her cupcake creations.

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Boutique Baking is the latest in the series – it contains a wide range of treats, cupcakes, layer cakes and other sophisticated baked goods. The book is nicely set out, with great photography and separate guides explaining some of the more detailed techniques. In terms of difficulty there’s a great spread, from simple recipes you could do with children, up to complicated professional looking celebration cakes.

The real test for a cookbook is to use it, so what’s it like to follow?

Light Luxury Fruit Cake

Recipe reproduced by kind permission of Quadrille Publishing.

Ingredients
For the fruit mix:
150g raisins
65g dried cranberries, halved
230g sultanas
120g whole glacé cherries
80g dried figs, chopped
25g sour cherries, chopped
60ml whisky
50g golden syrup
Grated zest of 1 lemon

For the cake mix
120g eggs (approximately 2 eggs)
90g dark brown sugar
115g unsalted butter, softened
25g ground almonds
90g plain flour
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch of ground cloves
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Pinch of salt
30ml whisky for soaking

For decoration
1 tbsp apricot jam, sieved
600g marzipan
800g ivory sugar paste

Special Equipment
15cmx20cm oval cake tin
Newspaper and string

Instructions
Make this cake at least 3-4 days in advance and store it wrapped in a layer of grease proof paper, then aluminium foil, to preserve moisture and flavour. You can make it several weeks, if not months, in advance if stored in a cool dry place. For an extra-moist and boozy flavour, feed the cake with whisky on a weekly basis or several times before icing.

To make the fruit mix
Place all the ingredients for the fruit mix into a large bowl, stir well and cover with cling film. Leave to infuse overnight at room temperature.

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To make the cake mix
Preheat the oven to 140°C/gas mark 1. Double-line a deep 15cm round or oval cake tin with greaseproof paper and wrap the tin with a double thickness of newspaper, securing it with string.

Place the eggs and sugar in a medium bowl and whisk by hand until combined.

In a separate bowl, cream together the butter and the ground almonds until just creamy but not too aerated. Slowly add the egg mixture until you have a smooth emulsion. If the mixture starts to separate or curdle, add 1 tablespoon of flour. This will rebind the batter.

Sift the remaining dry ingredients together and fold through the batter in two batches until just combined.

Add the infused fruit to the cake mix and combine thoroughly and evenly with either a spatula or clean, gloved hands.

Pour the cake mix into the prepared tin. Level the surface with the back of a spoon. Before baking, tap the filled cake tin on your worksurface a few times to release any large air bubbles. This prevents the surface of the cake cracking.

Bake on a low shelf for 2-3 hours, depending on your oven. To prevent the cake from overbrowning, place an empty tray on the rack above. The cake is cooked when the top is golden brown. If in doubt, insert a clean knife or wooden skewer into the centre of the cake: it should come out clean.

Allow to cool for 10 minutes outside of the oven. While still warm, brush the top of the cake with whisky. Remove from the tin and leave the cake to cool completely on a wire rack before wrapping in greaseproof and aluminium foil.

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To decorate
Unwrap the cake and place it upside down on a cake board. Gently warm the apricot jam and use it to adhere the cake to the board. If there are any gaps between the cake and the board, fill them with small pieces of marzipan. Place the cake and board on a sheet of greaseproof paper. Brush a thin layer of warm apricot jam over the top and sides of the cake.

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On a surface dusted with icing sugar, roll the marzipan out to a thickness of 5mm. It must be large enough to cover the cake. Using a rolling pin, lift the rolled marzipan and lay it over the cake. Smooth the marzipan over the cake, flattening the top and sides, using your hands. Trim away any excess marzipan using a kitchen knife. Flatten the top and sides of the cake using cake smoothers until even.

Brush some clear alcohol over the marzipan covered cake to create an adhesive. Roll out the ivory sugar paste and place it over the marzipan in the same way. Trim away any excess as before, reserving the trimmings for covering the cake board. Leave to set overnight.

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Recipe abridged here, in the book there is far more detail on how to create a beautiful stag decoration with damask designs on the sides.

What does it taste like?
Like pudding, with cake the proof is definitely in the eating. This cake is moist. Soooo moist. It’s rich but not cloying, dense but not dry. A perfect fruitcake. I’m definitely going to make it again and on a larger scale.

Conclusion
The recipe was easy to follow and I’ve waxed lyrical about the results enough above, it is definitely my new ‘go to’ fruit cake. It’s representative of the book, a modern, sophisticated slant on a classic idea.

As far as the rest of the book goes – I really like the difficulty range. When a lot of recipe books are ‘dumbing down’ and providing ‘thirty minute meals’, it’s great to see one which offers challenges for all ability levels. The layout is great and there are clear, detailed explanations of complicated techniques. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and it would make a fantastic birthday/Christmas gift for anyone who enjoys spending time in the kitchen.

Peggy Porschen’s Boutique Baking, RRP £20, published by Quadrille, is available from all good bookshops

Pizza Stone Perfection

My sister has long been a fan of her pizza stone. The idea being that you pop it in the oven and, because it is more efficient at transferring heat than air, you get a crisper pizza bottom faster. But I’ve never been that convinced. In his ‘In Search of Perfection’ series, Heston measures the temperature in Neapolitan pizza ovens – the magic number? About 700°C. No domestic oven will safely get that warm but using some common sense you can get close.

Metal is a much better conductor of heat than stone and by warming the base of a thick iron frying pan on a hob before putting it upside down in the grill you can get very very hot. I have a couple of very nice Debuyer frying pans which do this job admirably, but I liked the idea of taking the concept one step further. A kickstarter in America recently funded a trial run of pizza steels, a slab of metal that would do the same job, the price tag? Almost $120 for UK delivery. Being an engineer I snorted in derision and got a 6mm thick slab of mild steel delivered from a metalworking supplier for under £20. A few minutes tidying it up with a file and a perfect pizza stone was born.

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The results speak for themselves – crisp, pillowy soft base and beautifully seared toppings. It cooked three pizzas in quick succession without blinking, each pizza taking about two minutes, start to delicious finish. Yum.

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Over the next few weeks I’m hoping to see what it can do with a more American, New York style, slice.

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Sous Vide Spectacular

Well I’ve had my setup for almost a week now and it’s been hard at work. I’ve done a great mix of foods, most very simple, trying to highlight what makes it different to conventional cooking methods.

Poached Egg
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Slow poached eggs have been around for centuries and are very common in Japan. The texture is very different to a normal poached egg. The white is very soft and velvety, the yolk creamey and light. But the best bit is the presentation. You serve your guests the egg – still in it’s shell – which they then break over the salad/toast/scallops and out slides a perfectly cooked poached egg. It’s a brilliant party trick.

Salmon
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Fish is a really popular sous vide dish as it’s so hard to cook perfectly. All the guesswork is taken out, you pick your temperature and put it in. A few minutes later you have a beautiful piece of fish that just needs a quick brown (with a blowtorch or ripping hot pan). The texture is very different – soft, fudgey and delicious.

Chicken
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Everyone who I’ve spoken to about sous vide has said I need to try chicken. Everyone’s had the same dry chewy disasters before – sous vide chicken is out of this world. Freakishly moist and tender it blows away anything else I’ve tried. Brilliant stuff.

Scallops
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The scallops were good – not incredible – just very nice. There’s two methods and I went for the quick (60C for 10 minutes rather than 50C for 45mins or 40C for two hours) I’ll experiment with a different one in future.

Duck

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The duck was an absolute winner, the sous vide created a very soft texture, deeply ducky flavour and rendered the fat beautifully. A few seconds in a red hot pan crisped the skin and a quick sauce made with the juices from the bag finished it off perfectly.

Scrambled Eggs

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One of Hestons recipes, this was a very easy breakfast. Because its all cooked in a disposable bag, there’s no washing up – just break the eggs, milk, cream and seasoning into a bag, moosh it around and cook for 15 minutes before pouring onto a plate. Simple! The texture is very smooth, almost custardy.

Cod

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Another recipe from Heston – the cod cooks very soft, making neat plating a nightmare. Next time I’ll use a cranked spatula! The texture is lovely, far smoother than you’d expect and the sous vide takes all the guesswork out – its almost impossible to overcook it!

Steak

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This is the big one. I love steak. I’ve eaten steaks all over the place and I’m very particular. The sous vide should allow me to perfectly cook very thick steaks before quickly searing them in a red hot plan. How does practice match up to theory? Superbly. One of the juiciest steaks I’ve ever eaten – perfectly cooked. If anything, 54°C is a tad to warm, I’ll try 52°C next time.

Pears

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One of the few areas where sous vide is underused, desserts are still pretty experimental! The poached pears were delicious, the sauce is sugar, honey and vanilla, I was a bit worried about the quantity if vanilla but it actually works really well. Next time out I’ll go for some alcohol too – whisky/brandy would be amazing.

Burgers

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A lot of internet sites rave about sous vide burgers – I was keen to give it a try! I used some bog standard burgers from the supermarket, and the results were very promising. The paleness is a little off putting, it needs a very very hot pan. I also had the water a little warm, I’ll go for 54°C next time. Even so – it was incredibly juicy, great barbecue potential!

Pork Belly

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This is the longest recipe I’ve cooked (outside brewing/fermenting). A 24 hour salt/sugar/herb cure. 30ish hours in the water bath. The result? Amazing – rich porky taste, the aromatics did a great job on the inside, the texture was lovely – not too soft. To get some texture on the skin you have to essentially deep fry it – putting a big joint like that into a wok of hot oil is an experience!

Carrots

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Carrots are always amazing when they’re not boiled – the flavour molecules are soluble in water, so boiling is not a great idea. These were awesome straight out the bag, but a quick glaze in a hot pan transformed them. Fantastic side dish.

Conclusion
As you can see, I’ve been quite busy! The sous vide is an amazing tool, but like any it needs to be used properly. There’ll always be a place for a quick fried steak. But certainly if you’re entertaining, it takes out a lot of the stress and offers some huge benefits.

When I get a chance I’d like to try cooking some more unusual items – I think game would be amazing. I also want to try poaching in unusual/expensive liquids. Chicken poached in truffle oil? Steak poached in whisky? Yum.