Irish Coffee

Originally published March 18, 2012.

Cream, rich as an Irish brogue;
Coffee, strong as a friendly hand;
Sugar, sweet as the tongue of a rogue;
Whiskey, smooth as the wit of the land.

-a traditional toast accompanying Irish coffee

 

Irish Coffee with Floated Cream

The Irish coffee typically served in restaurants here either has cream stirred into the drink, or whipped cream floating on top.  The traditional way to enjoy the drink is to gently pour heavy cream onto the surface of the coffee so that it floats, then sip the coffee through the cream.

Let’s discuss ingredients.

The Coffee – Use good coffee.  Brew it strong.

The Sugar – Irish coffee is made with brown sugar which has a distinct, cooked, molasses-like taste.  I use demerara, which is a very dark brown sugar.

The Whiskey – You can make a fine Irish coffee with Jameson or Bushmills, but for a superlative cocktail I suggest Redbreast.  It’s aged in oak barrels and therefore has more of the toasty vanilla and caramel notes that pair well with brown sugar.  I know many will cringe at the idea of pouring such a fine whiskey into coffee and sugar.  In fact there’s an old joke that Irish coffee simultaneously ruins three great drinks: coffee, whiskey, and cream.  The way I see it: how often do you make Irish coffee at home?  Maybe twice a year.  Use the good whiskey.

Sidenote: In Scotland and Canada they make “whisky.”  In Ireland and America they make “whiskey.”  I don’t know why, but that’s how it is.

The Cream – What we call heavy cream is usually around 33% milk fat.  I find it very difficult to float this cream on the coffee and maintain a clean separation between the two liquids.  I prefer to use a higher fat cream, closer to 50% milk fat, something the British would call double cream.

Vital Green Farms is an independent dairy producer in Picture Butte, AB.  You can buy their milk at Planet Organic.  The Vital Green whole milk is some of the best milk I’ve ever tasted.  They also sell an organic heavy cream that is 52% milk fat.  Heavy cream is one of the few exceptions to the kitchen adage “fat is flavour.”  If you sampled a range of dairy products, from skim milk, through 1%, 2%, whole milk, coffee cream, and heavy cream, you’ll find that while whole milk is much more flavourful than skim, heavy cream has very little flavour.  I don’t know why, but that’s how it is.  Perhaps the fat in the cream somehow obscures the flavour of the lactose.  Despite its muted flavour, Vital Green heavy cream has the fat content we need to properly float our dairy.

Sidenote: people often refer to whole milk (3-4% milk fat) as “homo milk.”  In dairyspeak “homo” is short for “homogenized,” which means the milk has been processed to prevent the separation of fatty bits from watery bits.  All commercially-produced milk is homogenized, not just whole milk.  The next time someone asks you to pick up some homo milk, you should clarify this with them.

These sidenotes are ruining what should be a nice, succinct post.  Sorry.

Notes on Floating Cream – Fill the glass with the coffee, sugar, and whiskey mixture to within 1/2″ of the top of the glass.  Filling the glass very full will allow you to keep a spoon close to level as you add the cream.

Touch the tip of a large spoon filled with cream to the inside of the glass, just above the coffee.  Gently (gently!) tip the spoon so that the cream slides down the side of the glass and onto the surface of the coffee.  If the cream mixes with the coffee, you have ruined St. Patrick’s Day.

Since you’re going through the effort of floating cream, Irish coffee should be served in a glass, not a ceramic mug.  If you’re a sucker for tableside theatrics, as I am, bring the glasses to the table filled with the black coffee, sugar, and whiskey, then spoon the heavy cream on top in front of your guests.

A complete recipe, if you’re interested:

 

Irish Coffee (for four)

Ingredients

  • 14 fl oz. strong, quality coffee
  • 3 1/2 tbsp demerara sugar, packed
  • 4 fl. oz. Redbreast Irish Whiskey
  • 3 fl. oz. heavy cream (52% milk fat)

Procedure

  1. Add the sugar and whiskey to the hot coffee.  Stir briefly to dissolve the sugar.
  2. Divide the coffee mixture into four glasses, ensuring the liquid comes to within 1/2″ of the top of each glass.
  3. Float a portion of heavy cream in each glass (see Notes of Floating Cream, above).
  4. Consume immediately, sipping the coffee through the cream.

 

Sampling a glass of Irish coffee

A friend experimented with dunking oatmeal poundcake into his Irish coffee.  Initial impressions were favourable, but more rigorous study is required.

Dunking oatmeal poundcake into Irish coffee

Squash and Barley ‘Risotto’

Squash and barley risotto with roasted autumn vegetables.Risotto is a traditional northern Italian dish of short-grain rice cooked in broth and finished with butter and grated hard cheese, usually parmigianno.  The “ris” in the name refers to the rice, so “barley risotto” is sort of an oxymoron.  There happens to be an Italian word for barley cooked in the same style as risotto: orzotto.[1]

Anyways, this morning I prepared a squash and barley risotto on Global Edmonton and promised to post the recipe here.  This is a dish we do at Elm Catering throughout the autumn, a re-imagining of the traditional risotto using some local fall ingredients.  It would be a great addition to a Thanksgiving dinner, perhaps in lieu of mash potatoes.

You can use either pot or pearl barley.  Both of these have had most of the bran removed from the grain, so they have smooth, creamy textures.  The barley is cooked just like a traditional risotto, only using a light squash purée instead of plain chicken broth.  Any type of winter squash can be used, from butternut to hubbard to pumpkin.  We use kubocha squash for its deep orange colour.

Though it isn’t on the marquis, the real star of this dish is the cheese.  We use the hard, aged Grizzly gouda made by Sylvan Star.  If you’d like more info about Sylvan Star I have a post about them here.

The full recipe follows.

 

Squash and Barley ‘Risotto’

Ingredients

  • 4 L light chicken stock
  • 1300 g peeled, seeded, cubed winter squash
  • 150 g unsalted butter, cubed (first quantity)
  • 500 g pearl barley
  • 150 g finely minced yellow onion
  • 20 g finely minced garlic
  • 300 mL dry hard cider or dry white wine
  • 100 g finely grated Grizzly gouda, plus more for garnish
  • 150 g unsalted butter, cubed (second quantity)

Procedure

  1. Combine light chicken stock and squash in a pot.  Cook over medium high heat until squash is very tender.  Puré with an immersion blender.
  2. In a separate, heavy, medium pot, melt the first quantity of butter.  Add barley and cook over medium heat until aromatic and starting to turn golden brown.
  3. Add the minced onions and garlic and cook until the onions are soft and translucent.
  4. Add hard cider or wine.  Cook briefly.
  5. Add the squash purée to the barley a ladle at a time, stirring periodically.  Maintain a simmer until the barley is tender, about 20-30 minutes.  You may not use all of the squash purée produced by this recipe, but it’s better to have a bit too much than too little.
  6. Once the barley is tender, remove from heat and let stand for 5-10 minutes.  Stir in Grizzly gouda and the second quantity of butter.  Stir until the butter is melted and both the butter and cheese are incorporated thoroughly.  The risotto should have the consistency of a loose porridge.
  7. Garnish with black pepper and more finely grated Grizzly gouda.

Yield: about 4 L squash and barley risotto, enough for at least 12 people!

 

True risotto often accompanies braised meats like ossobuco, garnished with a mixture of garlic, parsley, and lemon zest called gremolata.  At Elm we sometimes do a play on this and make a “gremolata” out of dried cranberry, walnut, and celery leaves.

 

 

  1. “Orzo” is the Italian word for barley.  The pasta orzo is so-called because it resembles grains of barley.  Isn’t that fascinating?

Liptauer

A pot of liptauer with chives.This is a tasty spread I often serve at Austrian cooking classes.

Liptauer is originally from Liptov, in Slovakia, formerly part of the Austro-Hungarian empire.  The dish became quite popular in Austria-proper, and is now considered a classic part of that country’s cuisine.

In Austria Liptauer is made with a soft, fresh cheese called Topfen.  Topf is the German word for pot, so Topfen can be translated as “pot cheese”.  It goes by the name Quark (pronounced “KVARK”) in many other parts of Europe.  Austrians will scoff, but the recipe below approximates Topfen by using a mixture of cream cheese and sour cream.

Besides cheese, the other essential ingredient in Liptauer is paprika, which is ubiquitous in several Eastern European cuisines.  The paprika that has been on your shelf for two years has no flavour and a russet colour.  Fresh paprika from quality-conscious merchants will have a much better flavour and a bright red colour, giving the Liptauer a friendly, salmon colour.

In Austria Liptauer is served with rye bread, as a snack, an appetizer, or Brettljause at a Heuriger (see this post on Heurigen).  This is not even remotely traditional, but I also use it as a spread on sandwiches.

 

Liptauer (an approximation…)

Ingredients

  • 510 g cream cheese
  • 120 g full fat sour cream
  • 50 mL sweet paprika
  • 1 tbsp caper, minced
  • 1/2 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 anchovy fillets, the tinned variety preserved in oil, minced
  • 1/2 a small shallot, minced
  • 1/2 tbsp smooth Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp parsley, minced
  • 1/2 tbsp cider vinegar
  • black pepper to taste
  • chive to garnish

Procedure

  1. Combine the cream cheese and sour cream in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Beat with the paddle attachment until very smooth, about 2 minutes on high speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl part way through.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and beat until thoroughly combined.
  3. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.
  4. Serve with rye bread.  Liptauer is also good with radishes when they are in season.

Sylvan Star Cheese Farm

Sylvan Star owner Jan with a wheel of Grizzly aged goudaI have purchased, without exaggeration, tens of thousands of dollars of Sylvan Star cheese. Not for personal consumption, of course, but for the restaurants I’ve worked for over the past few years.  The mac and cheese served from the Nomad food truck, for instance, was made with Sylvan Star medium Gouda.  The grilled cheese sandwiches at Elm are currently made with a blend of medium, smoked, and aged Gouda.  Rarely does a week pass without my purchasing at least a whole wheel of cheese from Sylvan Star.

Jan Schalkwyk is the owner of Sylvan Star, and he was already a champion cheese-maker when he left Holland and came to Canada in 1995.  He had fully intended to leave cheese-making behind him and simply run a dairy farm.  He says he was compelled to return to the craft because of the quality of Gouda available in Alberta at the time.  If that seems immodest, I direct you to the cheese section of your local supermarket.

The Sylvan Star Cheese Farm is a short drive off Highway 2, west on Highway 11 for about five minutes.  I went there with some of the other cooks from Elm Café and Catering last week for a tour.

Behind every great cheese is great milk, and so it is with Sylvan Star: right outside their back door, maybe 100 meters away, is the Lac La Nonne Dairy, operated by Jan’s son.  All of the milk for Sylvan Star cheese comes from here.  It is a kind of vertical integration that gives Jan intimate knowledge of what the cows eat and how clean their stables are.  He emphasizes that dairy cows must be fed only hay and silage, never grain, to produce the sweet, “soft” cream necessary for making quality cheese.

A holstein dairy cow at Lac La Nonne Dairy

The milk for Sylvan Star cheese is not pasteurized, technically.  It is heated to 60°C, which kills pathogens but doesn’t destroy all-important enzymes.  Standard dairy pasteurization would heat the milk to 74°C or higher.

The cheese-making vat at Sylvan StarOn cheese-making day the milk is warmed in a heat-exchanger to 30°C, then transferred by pipe into an 8,000 L vat.  As soon as the first bit of warm milk enters the vat, Jan adds a bacterial culture.  It takes 45 minutes for the heat exchanger to warm enough milk to fill the vat, and by this time the culture is already actively metabolizing lactose to create lactic acid.  Once the vat is full, Jan adds rennet and lets the milk sit for about 45 minutes to coagulate and separate into curd and whey.

The curd is cut by grates of sharp blades that are mounted on rotating shafts that move back and forth over the vat.  The blades gently pirouette through the soft curd, breaking it into smaller pieces and releasing whey.

At this point of the process some of the whey is pumped out of the vat and replaced with hot water from a tank.  This raises the temperature of the solution, making the curds firmer, and also washes the curds and dilutes the whey around them.  I didn’t know this until our tour, but this washing process is actually what makes Gouda Gouda.  The washing removes some of the lactose and allows the bacterial culture to metabolize all of the remaining lactose without creating too much lactic acid, making a “sweet” cheese that is entirely lactose-free.

After the washing, two perforated steel sheets are placed into either end of the tank and mounted overhead.  They slowly move towards the centre, gathering all the curds into the middle of the basin.  Then another heavy, perforated sheet is rested on top of the curds to work out a bit more whey and make the curds drier and more manageable.

Then the curds are scooped up with fine mesh baskets, which are set into perforated buckets.  In the mediocre photo below the baskets are at the far end of the table.  They look like cream-coloured bowler hats.

Gouda molds at Sylvan Star Cheese

The buckets are stacked and then weighed down by a pneumatic press.  Jan says that the pressing doesn’t actually wring whey from the cheese: only rennet can do that.  The pressing is to shape the cheese into the familiar wheels.

Once removed from the molds the wheels are recognizable as Gouda, but they are naked: pale white, without the friendly yellow waxing.  At this stage they are also completely without salt.

To remedy this sodium deficiency the wheels are lined up on racks and submerged in a brine solution for up to two days.  The brining inhibits the bacterial cultures, and of course seasons the cheese.  Jan shoots for 1.5% salt content in his Gouda.

Brining flavoured gouda at Sylvan Star Cheese

Next the cheese is covered with a breathable yellow wax.  The waxing process actually takes four days.  First the top half of the wheel is brushed with wax.  This layer is allowed to dry, then the next day the wheel is flipped and wax is applied to the other side, after which the process is repeated.

The cheese is aged for anywhere from 2 months to 2 years, depending on the style.  Mild Gouda, for instance, a soft, creamy style, only ages 2 months, while Grizzly Gouda, similar in texture to Parmigiano-Reggiano ages 2 years.  The wheels sit on pine boards as they age, and every so often they need to be flipped and wiped with a mild chlorine solution so that mould doesn’t form under the cheese against the wood.

Shelves of gouda aging at Sylvan Star Cheese

After aging, the famous Grizzly Gouda is sealed with a non-breathing black wax.

Sealing wheels of Grizzly gouda at Sylvan Star Cheese

What is most remarkable about the Sylvan Star operation is the tiny labour force that is able to produce so much cheese.  Jan personally does all the cheese-making – culturing, cutting, molding, et c – himself.  He has a handful of part time employees that answer phones, flip the wheels in the warehouse, package finished product, and so on.

Here are some lightening-quick notes on a few of the Sylvan Star products.

Curds – I am a curd fan.  I grew up in Ontario, and on road trips between Bright’s Grove and Brockville we would stop at a cheese factory in Belleville for bags of curd to snack on.  I was thrilled to see Sylvan Star start selling cheese curds.  To get the characteristic squeak leave them out of the fridge for a couple hours before consuming.  I know that’s not technically food-safe.  Just do it.  For some reason the refrigerator kills the squeak.

Smoked Gouda – Sylvan Star smoked Gouda comes in mild and medium forms.  They both have fantastic smoke flavour.  They are best enjoyed on their own, on cheese boards, as the smoke flavour easily gets lost in sandwiches.

Mild and Medium Gouda – These are “everyday cheeses,” and I literally eat them every day.  Relatively mild, they have great melting and baking properties.  I use them in mac and cheese, grilled cheese, scallop potatoes, and sandwiches.

Flavoured Gouda – Sylvan Star makes dozens and dozens of flavoured cheeses: Gouda punctuated with everything from green peppercorns to nettle.  I was skeptical at first, as it seemed a bit gimmicky, but most of the flavours are amazing.  The chili pepper Gouda absolutely demolishes the peperonata cheese sold at the Italian Centre flavour-wise.

Cheddar – Sylvan Star is first and foremost a maker of Gouda.  Their Cheddar is tasty but not as good as another Alberta-made cheddar: Franco’s.  (Franco’s Cheddar suffers from drastic inconsistency season-to-season, but that’s a post for another day…)

Gruyère – Again, Sylvan Star is a Gouda-maker.  Their Gruyère is good: it’s definitely sharper than their Gouda (because it doesn’t undergo the washing process described above) but to me it doesn’t have the characteristic flavour of Gruyère.  It may be an esoteric matter of terroir…

Grizzly Gouda – I’m convinced that Sylvan Star’s Grizzly gouda is one of the best craft food products made in North America.  People unfamiliar with Old World aged Gouda would be forgiven for thinking this was Parm.  It is dry, hard, and breaks into fragments along fault lines.  It is studded with incredible, crunchy flecks for which I know of no English word.  In Italian they are called punti bianchi.  I imagine there is a Dutch word as well.  They are actually crystallized amino acids, not salt.

I think the Grizzly is best eaten on its own, broken into small pieces.  It can also be shaved on top of salad or pasta, or it can be grated and baked on top of casseroles.

On most wheels of Grizzly I cut away about half an inch of cheese from the rind because it is too dry.  This trim can be finely ground and blended with other cheese, but it is difficult to eat out of hand.

 

Anyways, thank you Jan and everyone else at Sylvan Star for doing what you do.  I’m lucky to the point of absurdity that part of my job is getting to eat your cheese, and shave it on top of salads, and grate it onto casseroles, and stuff it into perogies…

 

Fresh Goat Cheese – Chèvre

Originally posted July 4, 2013.  Reposted for Eat Alberta.

Fresh homemade goat cheeseWhen I was little there were only two types of cheese: cheddar and marble cheddar.  This was in Ontario, in the 1990s.  Most meals were accompanied by a small plate of pickles and orange cheddar.

Anemic, industrial versions of two classic French cheeses were my first glimpses into the wider world of cheese.  One was “Brie”, and the other “Goat cheese.”  Both were vapid compared to the samples I would eat later in life, but I remember them because they were so different from the blockish, pressed, firm-textured cheddar of my youth.  They were both bland and comforting, yet they both had very interesting textures in their own rights: the Brie was like velvety butter, the goat cheese every so slightly crumbly, maybe even a bit chalky as I moved it around with my tongue.  Plus, oddly, they weren’t orange.

There are many types of cheese made from goat milk, and they come in countless shapes and colours and textures (Valençay, Sainte-Maure de Touraine, Crottin de Chavignol…) but “goat cheese” in North America usually means a cylinder of snow-white, soft, slightly pasty, tangy cheese.

Making fresh goat cheese at home is extremely simple.  It takes about 20 minutes of work, and a lot of waiting.

Fresh Goat Cheese at Home

Master Ratio – 16:1, goat milk to buttermilk, by volume

Ingredients

  • 4 L whole goat milk (eg. Fairwinds Farms, Vital Greens, both available at Planet Organic)
  • 1/4 cup full fat buttermilk (eg. Fairwind Farms, Avalon, Vital Greens)
  • 1/8 tsp liquid calf rennet (eg. Coagulant 300 IMCU, available at Halford’s Hide, just off the Yellowhead)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt, approximately

The procedure is as follows.

Inoculate the goat milk with an acidifying culture.  This could be regular old buttermilk, as in the recipe above, or a culture sold expressly for making chèvre.

Warm the milk to the incubation temperature of the the culture.  Recipes vary widely, with temperatures ranging from 68°F-86°F.  The lower end of the spectrum is more common, with slower acid production and a more even curd.  I shoot for 70°F, which is about 21°C, which is conveniently the ambient temperature of my kitchen.  Even so, I gently heat the milk on the stove, in a heavy pot.

Add rennet and let the dairy coagulate.  A very small amount of rennet is used to form a very delicate curd.  I use about 1/8 tsp of a liquid calf rennet poetically named Coagulant 300 IMCU, available at Halford’s here in Edmonton.  This is less than the amount recommended on the bottle, as the rennet is typically used for firmer styles of cheese.

Now the dairy is left at room temperature for 12 hours, during which time it will acidify and coagulate.  Afterwards there will be a clear separation between soft curd and liquid whey, and you will get a clean break when you prod the curd with a knife or curious finger.

Release the whey.  For many cheeses “cutting the curd” is a crucial step requiring great care.  For chèvre it’s more like “mashing the curd”: I transfer the curd with a big spoon into a colander lined with cheesecloth, then lightly press the curd to moosh it into smallish pieces.  A very precise procedure I assure you.

Hang.  Gather the ends of the cheesecloth around the curd and secure them with butcher’s twine.  Suspend the bundle over a bowl and let drain.

The temperature at which you hang the goat cheese has a surprisingly dramatic effect on the final cheese.  Hanging at fridge temperatures produces a very moist cheese, while room temperatures aid in whey drainage and produce a drier, crumbly cheese.  I hang at room temperature, at or around 70°F.

You can actually feel the cheese getting firmer as it hangs.  I find it takes about 7 hours for the curd to properly drain.

I’ve also found that sometimes, especially when hanging the cheese in a warm, dry kitchen, a skin will form around the curd and prevent drainage of whey in the interior.  You can feel this if you palpate the curd.  Simply open up the bundle of cheesecloth, break the skin, redistribute the curd, and hang a bit longer.

Salt and Shape.

Transfer the cheese to a bowl and add the salt.  The exact amount of salt will vary from batch to batch.  Roughly 1 teaspoon for a batch starting with 4 L of goat milk is a good approximation.  I just mash the salt into the cheese with a big spoon.

At this point the cheese can be shaped as desired.  The classic form for fresh goat cheese is a cylinder.  Cut a rectangular piece of plastic wrap and spoon cheese along one of its long edges.  Pull the plastic over the cheese and roll to form a cylinder. Pinch the plastic at either end and roll the log of cheese to tighten up the wrapping.  Secure both ends with a knot of string, then hang the log in the fridge for at least a day, preferably two, before unwrapping and cutting.

Goat cheese with chive stems and blossoms

Ice Cream

Homemade ice cream ready for the freezer.The short version of this post goes like this: remember when we made crème anglaise?  That sauce made from milk, cream, and sugar, flavoured with vanilla and thickened with egg yolks, gently cooked on a double-boiler?  If you put that sauce into a well-chilled household ice cream churn, you can make pretty good ice cream.

The long version of this post is more like this:

There are two broad styles of ice cream: Philadelphia and French.  Philly ice cream typically contains only milk, cream, and sugar, while French ice cream also contains eggs.  In fact, the crème anglaise we made last week is very, very similar to some recipes for French ice cream mix.  The only difference is that traditionally French ice cream mix would be made with whole milk, without the addition of cream.  Even so, if you throw that sauce into a well-chilled household ice cream churn, you can make pretty good ice cream.

Let’s talk about why that is.  What are the characteristics of good ice cream?  Most folks expect ice cream to be very smooth.  The only exception to this statement is Lisa Zieminek, a chick who lives in Edmonton who likes her ice cream just a little bit crystalline.  She feels that homemade ice cream lower in egg yolk that is allowed to develop a slightly icy, granular texture feels colder on the tongue and therefore more satisfying.  Homemade ice cream high in fat and egg yolk, she continues, as well as commercial ice cream with artificial emulsifiers, both feel waxy on the tongue, and somehow not very cold.  Hers is a discriminating palate in ice cream, and men.

Anyways with the exception of that one person everyone prefers ice cream to be smooth.  The key to having very smooth ice cream is to prevent the formation of large ice crystals during the freezing process.  Fat in the mixture helps in this regard, and in French ice cream the proteins and emulsifiers in the egg yolks also lend a hand.

The texture of the final ice cream is only partly a result of the ingredients themselves: the freezing process is also critical.  Actually ice cream is frozen in two-stages, called churning and hardening.

Churning.  Churning is stirring the ice cream in a tub in which the walls have been super-chilled.  Traditionally this might have been a steel bucket placed in a salted ice bath.  Nowadays you can buy cheap ice cream makers that you put in your freezer to chill thoroughly before adding your mix.

The factors that will affect the consistency of the ice cream during churning:

  • How rapidly the mixture freezes.  The faster the mixture freezes, the smaller the ice crystals, and the smoother the final ice cream.  Both the mixture and the churn need to be thoroughly pre-chilled.  Continuous stirring speeds freezing by constantly exposing new parts of the mixture to the cold walls of the churn.
  • How much air is incorporated by stirring.  Constant stirring will also incorporate lots of air and make for a smooth ice cream with a light texture.  The volume of the ice cream can actually increase dramatically with constant stirring, mostly due to the incorporation of air.  (And possibly because water expands when it freezes?)  The percent of volume increase is called the overrun in ice-cream-speak.

Churning ice cream

Hardening.  Eventually the ice cream will become stiff and hard to stir.  At this point, though, the sweet treat isn’t actually done, because much of the water content is still liquid.  The mixture is then transferred to a freezer for some “quiescent freezing”, that is, freezing without churning.  As with the churning process, faster freezing will result in smaller ice crystals and a smoother mouthfeel.  I transfer my partially-frozen ice cream to a shallow, pre-chilled container and leave it uncovered in the freezer for a few hours.  The image at the top of this post shows the ice cream at this stage.  It looks and feels a bit like soft-serve.

After hardening the ice cream should be covered tightly and stored in the coldest part of the coldest freezer available to you.  Very cold temperatures will prevent oxidation of the fats and absorption of odours from freezer-mates.  Very cold temperatures will also ensure that the ice cream doesn’t partially melt when the freezer door is opened or when it has to sit on the counter for a few minutes.  If you melt the edges of your ice cream then return it to the freezer the part that re-freezes will be very coarse and crystalline.

I am thrilled to finally have some info on ice cream on Button Soup.  It is the supreme accompaniment to many of the dishes discussed on this site, notably: pouding chômeur, sour cherry pie, pie sticks, and a special dessert that we will discuss tomorrow.

 

Burnt Cream – Crème Brûlée

Busting into a crème brûléeWhile crème brûlée is immediately identifiable by the crust of burnt sugar on top, the custard itself has a very particular consistency and flavour.  Since it is eaten out of a ramekin, it can have a much softer, moister curd that, say, crème caramel, which is unmolded on to a plate and is therefore firmer, and eggier.

In fact crème brûlée used to be even more moist than it is now.  According to Harold McGee, crème brûlée used to be completely liquid, like crème anglaise, and was poured into a very shallow dish, dusted with sugar, and burnt. Before blowtorches became the norm the burnt crust was made by taking a heavy, metal plate out of some very hot coals and holding it over the sugar.

I have worked for a handful of restaurants that offered crème brûlée.  They each made it differently, but they were all very staunch and rigid in their methods, almost to the point of superstition.

I’d like to go over some of the details of a good crème brûlée.

 

The Recipe.  4:1:1 – dairy (equal parts heavy cream and whole milk), egg yolks, white granulated sugar

On flavouring.  I guess there’s no reason you can’t flavour a crème brûlée with whatever you want: butterscotch, mint, orange, chocolate, quinoa, and so on.

But…

Imagine that you go see a show at The Starlite Room.  You show up at 8 o’clock and drink $4 beers for a few hours.  The featured act was supposed to come on at 10, but they stagger on just after midnight, and they all have sunglasses on.  Now, if they play a good set and knock your socks off, then the sunglasses just make it that much cooler.  If they don’t nail the set, then the sunglasses are obnoxious.  What I’m trying to say is that if you can’t deliver a perfect crème brûlée with a silken mouthfeel, you have no business flavouring it with anything but vanilla.

Beating the eggs and sugar to ribbon stage?  Completely unnecessary, as discussed in this post.

Cooking beforehand? Some folks cook the crème brûlée mix on the stove to thicken it, like crème anglaise, before transferring it to ramekins for baking.  The truth is that pre-cooking on the stove is completely unnecessary.  Simply scald the milk to infuse your chosen flavour, then slowly add to the sugar and egg yolks while whisking.  Transfer to the ramekins and bake.

Water bath.  Very necessary.  Helps cook the custard slowly and evenly.  Put the ramekins into a shallow roasting tray, then fill the tray with simmering water so that it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins.  Then the entire assembly can go into a moderate oven, say 325°F, but the effective cooking temperature will stay well below the boiling point of water, 212°F.

Wire rack or towel beneath the ramekins in the water bath.  Placing a towel in the water bath under the ramekins is supposed to keep the ramekins away from the thermal vicissitudes of the metal tray.  In reality it just inhibits the movement of heat around the ramekins.  Wire racks, on the other hand, let heat flow evenly under and around the ramekins.  Truthfully you can make superb crème brûlée without the use of either.  I always put my ramekins directly on the bottom of the tray and the custard comes out uniformly cooked.

Covering the ramekins or the water bath with foil.  Never, never cover the entire water bath with aluminum foil: covering will allow the water bath to come to a simmer, and the enclosed steam will raise the cooking temperature well above 212°F.  The custard will cook quicker, but the window of perfect doneness will be very narrow, so you risk overcooking the custard and making it grainy.

The logic behind covering the bath is to keep the surface of the custard moist and prevent the formation of a dry skin.  In my experience, baking custards in a conventional oven (ie. no convection fans) at moderate temperature (325°F) in a water bath, uncovered, does not develop a skin.

Crème brûlée as act of faith.  People told me this a dozen times before I actually believed it: you have to pull the ramekins out of the oven before they are done.  It’s like believing that Jesus saves, or walking through the wall at train station platform 9 3/4.  You need to believe that they will finish cooking even after you remove them from the oven, even though it doesn’t make much sense.

Periodically jostle the ramekins during baking.  Eventually the surfaces of the custard will move less like a liquid, and more like a very loose jelly.  If you wait until the custard is entirely set before taking it out of the oven, the texture will be slightly grainy.  The tricky bit is that different sizes and shapes of ramekins will all make the surface of the custard behave in different ways.

Torching.  There is a wide range of opinions on the perfect brûlée colour and texture.

The colour, flavour, and texture of the topping are determined by how much sugar is placed on top, and how thoroughly and in what manner it is torched.  I have worked at places that have you throw an entire crème brûlée out if you create any smoke.  And I have worked at others that will not serve a crème brûlée that doesn’t have at least a few black freckles.

Have a look at the photo below.  Let’s call the ramekin at the top of the page the first ramekin, the one at the bottom the fourth.  If I was eating at a bistro and received the first ramekin I would not be upset.  It is lightly coloured, and will offer a satisfying, delicately crisp contrast to the custard.  It is, however, slightly anemic.

The second and third ramekins have more amber colour and offer a more robust crust, and more dark, burnt flavours.

The fourth ramekin is an example of the far end of acceptable crème brûlée crusts.  It is mostly a deep amber colour, but has a few patches of black, truly burnt sugar.

Four ramekins displaying the varying acceptable degrees of burnt sugar on crème brûlée

Clarified Butter

A jar of radiant, clarified butter.Clarified butter is butter from which water and milk solids like protein and sugar have been removed to leave pure milk fat.  As the name implies, it has a radiant clarity.  As the proteins have been removed, it can be heated to frying temperatures without burning.

Clarifying butter is simple.  If you gently heat butter in a pot, this is what happens:

  • The milk fat becomes liquid.
  • The water content begins to evaporate, gently bubbling to the surface.
  • The light whey proteins form a foam on the surface.  Once the water content has been driven off, this foam dries and forms a crackly skin.
  • The heavier casein proteins coagulate and fall to the bottom of the pot.

If you skim the layer of whey proteins from the surface of the butter as shown below, then decant the mixture to remove the casein on the bottom of the pot, you are left with clarified butter.  Easy!

Skimming whey proteins off clarified butter

The only trick is to keep the temperature high enough to evaporate the water, but low enough to avoid browning the mixture.  The lowest setting on most residential stoves works fine.  Leave the butter for an hour or two to separate into the components described above.

Commercial butter is typically around 80% milk fat, the remainder being water and milk solids.[1]  You will no doubt remove some of the fat when you skim and decant, so the yield on clarified butter is closer to 70-75% of the original weight.  In other words, if you start with one pound of butter, you will end up with about 10-11 oz of clarified butter.

 

1. Gisslen, Wayne. Professional Cooking for Canadian Chefs, Sixth Edition. Page 810.

Whipped Cream

Attendez la crème![1]

-Col. Hans Landa

 

A bowl of whipped creamThough whipped cream has been around for hundreds of years, it took two relatively modern inventions for it to become as common as it is now.

One is the wire whisk.  Before this tool was invented, cooks used cumbersome bundles of sticks or straw.  More important for the future of whipped cream, though, was the invention of the mechanical cream separator.  The traditional way to separate cream from milk is to let the fresh milk stand for several hours.  Fattier bits will float to the top, and the cream skimmed from the surface will typically be about 25% fat.  Mechanical separators use centrifugal forces and are able to produce cream with a much higher fat content, usually around 33%, which requires much less whipping to form a stable foam.[2]

As we discussed in the post on butter, the fat in milk and cream is packed into little globules.  If we agitate cream and break the walls of these globules, fat is released into the surrounding water.  The agitation also incorporates tiny air bubbles.  Since fat and water repel each other, the recently freed fat congregates along the air-bubble walls.  Since the cream is cold, the saturated dairy fat is quite stiff, and it forms a stable foam.

There are only a handful of important things to know to make good whipped cream.

Use good, heavy cream that is at least 30% fat.  As mentioned above, whipped cream relies on a high fat content to form a stable foam.

Chill the cream and mixing bowl thoroughly.  The fat in the cream must absolutely be cold for it to form a stable confection.

Slower whipping incorporates more air before the fat globules are broken, resulting in lighter cream.  Whipping by hand generally makes for an airier whipped cream than whipping with a stand mixer.

Don’t over-whip the cream.  Even if you whip slightly too long, the texture of the cream will not be smooth and velvety, but slightly grainy and waxy.  And if you whip much too long you will make butter.

I typically use a stand mixer to make whipped cream, and I judge doneness by the surface of the cream as the whisk attachment moves through it.  As the cream begins to thicken the wires of the whisk will start to leave trails in the dairy.  Then the cream will start to bunch up around the trails.  Once you see this bunching, the whipped cream is done.

A slice of pumpkin pie with maple syrup and whipped creamAt right is a picture of pumpkin pie with some cream that has been whipped too much.  It is stiff and grainy and sad.

The only other ingredients in classic whipped cream are sugar and vanilla.  Both can be added to taste.  A good guideline for sugar quantity is 10% of the weight of the cream.

Whipped cream flavoured with vanilla is called crème Chantilly in classical French cuisine.  The double “l” in French makes an “ee” sound, so Chantilly is correctly pronounced “shan-TEE,” not “shan-TILL-ee”.

That’s everything I know about whipped cream.

 

Footnotes

  1. “Wait for the cream!” This is from the movie Inglorious Basterds.  A Nazi officer foists an Austrian strudel onto a French girl, and as she prods it with her fork, he politely demands that she wait for the whipped cream to arrive before tasting the pastry.  It’s a good scene.
  2. The info in this paragraph is from McGee’s On Food and Cooking.

Homemade Malted Milk

A malted milkshakeMalt has an amazing flavour, one that sits at the nexus of sweet and savoury: its aroma simultaneously evokes caramel and green grass.

Outside of brewing, one comes across malt in odd, far-flung corners of the culinary world.  It is somewhat common in bread baking: in the form of malt extract and maltodextrin it is sometimes added to bagels and pretzels.  It is used a lot in modernist kitchens.  The Copenhagen landmark Noma uses maltodextrixin to make an edible substance that looks like topsoil (yum).  I’ve never seen the recipe, but I’m confident that Milk Bar in New York uses some form of malt in their famous cereal milk ice cream.  And of course there are malted milkshakes, which everyone has heard of though they seem to be less and less common as years go by.

Last week I was brewing some beer, and while I was grinding malt to steep in hot water, I figured I would grind a little extra and steep it in milk.

Basically I pretended that I was making a mini batch of beer on my stove.  I used the same malt mixture that I was using for a pale ale (mostly 2-row British malt, with a little crystal and Belgian aromatic malt); ground the grist in my grain mill; brought milk to 164°F, 10°F higher than my mashing temperature of 154°F; added the malt, then held the temperature as best I could.  I admit that I didn’t have the patience to do a full ninety-minute mash; it was closer to thirty.  Then I poured the mixture through a chinois, and sparged by pouring hot water over the grains.  For details on how to source and mash malted barley, see this post on homebrew.

The result was truly inspiring.  The milk is strikingly sweet considering it contains no cane sugar.  It has the grassy aroma of cold-pressed canola oil, with some alluring toasty notes.

Of course the best way to consume malted milk is to blend it with some quality vanilla ice cream, then drink it through a straw, as shown above.  Three parts ice cream to two parts malted milk by weight gives you a tasty though slightly runny milkshake.  You will instantly think of the scene in Pulp Fiction when Vincent Vega tries the Five Dollar Shake at Jack Rabbit Slim’s.  If you don’t recall this scene, unfortunately his reaction is too vulgar for me to type out, but you can watch it here.

 

Malted Milk

Ingredients

  • 1 qt whole milk
  • 8.8 oz malted barley, ground as if for brewing.  The exact types of malt can be tailored.  To produce a simple, approachable malted milk I use an English pale ale blend: (eg. 7 oz 2-row British malt + 0.9 oz British crystal malt + 0.9 oz Belgian aromatic malt).
  • 1 qt simmering water

Procedure

Vocabulary: filtrate – liquid that has passed through a filter.  It is the opposite of residue, which is the matter caught by the filter.

  1. Heat the milk in a pot to 164°F.  Add the malt and stir.  Cover the pot.  The goal is to hold the mixture at 154°F for about an hour.
  2. Pour the mixture into a chinois.  Pour the simmering water over the malt until the filtrate measures 1 qt.
  3. Chill thoroughly.