Category Archives: Doughs and Batters

Spätzle

All the spätzle.Spätzle are little dumplings.  They are sometimes described as egg noodles, though they are quite different than the broad, flat, twisted dried pasta sold as egg noodles.

In former times spätzle were shaped by cutting small pieces of dough with a knife or spoon and rolling them into a pot of boiling water.  This process gives the noodles a long, tapered, vaguely avian appearance, which is the alleged origin of their name, which literally means “little sparrows”.

Originally a specialty of Swabia in the far south-east of Germany, spätzle is now common throughout southern Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.  Shorter, more rounded versions are sometimes called knöpfli, which means little buttons.

These days most spätzle is made using a special board called a spätzlehöbel.  It resembles a cheese grater.  It is placed horizontally over a pot of simmering water and the dough is worked back and forth along its length, slowly being pushed through the perforations in the board and dropping into the water.

Spätzle may be served immediately after cooking, or it can be cooled and reheated by re-simmering or pan-frying.

Europeans are very particular about what starches are served with what meats.  I may have related this story in another post, but one time my sister and I were eating in Vienna.  She ordered schnitzel, and asked if the customary parsley potatoes could be substituted with spätzle.  The waiter flatly refused.  Schnitzel can only be served with parsley potatoes.  Spätzle is properly served with braises and other saucy preparations like goulash.

This tradition is flaunted in North American: I have seen spätzle served with everything from pork chops to baked salmon.

One very special variation deserves mention: käsespätzle, cheesy spätzle, which is basically macaroni and cheese made with spätzle noodles instead of macaroni.

Spätzle

Adapted from a recipe from Jack’s Grill.  I decreased the flour content slightly to make the dough softer, and translated the measures from volumes to weights.

Ingredients

  • 360 g whole milk
  • 410 g whole eggs (about 8 large eggs)
  • 40 g egg yolk (about 3 large yolks)
  • 800 g all-purpose flour
  • 6 g kosher salt

Procedure

  1. Combine the milk, eggs, and egg yolks in the bowl of stand mixer.
  2. Using a paddle attachment, mix the ingredients so that the eggs are well incorporated.
  3. Reduce the speed to a slow stir, then slowly start adding the flour.
  4. As soon as all the flour has been added and there are no dry lumps… stop mixing.
  5. Set up two medium pots of water over medium heat.  Generously season the water with kosher salt.
  6. Lay a spätzle-board across one of the pots of gently simmering water.  Fill the hopper with dough, and slide back and forth so that the dough is pushed through the holes and falls into the water.  Spätzle is cooked roughly 30 seconds after it floats to the surface of the water.
  7. Once the noodles are cooked, remove from pot using a spider and transfer the to a bowl.  Toss with a small amount of canola oil to prevent sticking.  Spread on a sheet tray lined with parchment and let cool.

Yield: about 2 kgs spätzle

Strangely, I don’t find that resting this dough makes much of a difference at all.  I often process and cook the dough immediately after mixing.  That being said, the dough can also sit in the fridge over night before shaping and cooking.

Tortillas

Homemade tortillas coming out of the skillet.A while back I wrote a list of food items that I don’t think you should ever buy because you can easily and cheaply make something at least as good at home.  As time goes on Lisa and I strike upon simple recipes and quick techniques that add items to the list.  Most recent are tortillas, the kind made of wheat flour.[1]

There are loads of tortilla recipes online.  We’ve tried several, and most are garbage, producing tortillas that are either too dense and doughy or way too delicate to stand up to filling and wrapping and eating out of hand.

We use a food-processor to mix the dough.  It takes less than 5 minutes.  With a small amount of lard and proper mixing, these tortillas have a great texture, soft and pillowy but robust and pliable enough to be rolled into burritos.

Tortillas
the wheat kind…

Ingredients

  • 320 g all-purpose flour
  • 1 + 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 55 g lard
  • 170 g cold water
  • extra flour for rolling out dough
  • extra lard for frying

Procedure

  1. Put flour, salt, and lard in the bowl of a food processor.  Run processor until lard has been broken up into very small pieces evenly distributed throughout the flour.
  2. Slowly pour the cold water into the flour mixture with the processor running.  The dough will come to together, eventually forming one large ball that rolls around the bowl as the blade moves.
  3. Remove dough from processor and knead briefly on a lightly floured counter until smooth.
  4. Wrap dough in plastic and let rest one hour.
  5. Preheat a heavy cast-iron skillet over medium heat.
  6. Cut dough into 8 pieces of even size (each portion will be just under 70 g if you want to get serious about it).  Shape each portion into a ball.
  7. Roll out each portion into a circle about 8″ across.
  8. Lightly brush the skillet with lard.
  9. Put one of the raw tortillas into the skillet.  Once it has puffed and has developed a few dark brown spots on the underside flip the tortilla.  Once the second side has developed a bit of colour remove to a plate.
  10. Repeat steps 8 and 9 until all the dough has been used.

Yield: 8 tortillas

 

Notes
1. I’ve always thought it weird that people call these “flour tortillas” to distinguish them from “corn tortillas”. Both types are made from flour! One from wheat flour, the other from masa, a flour of nixtamalized corn.

Perogies

This post was originally published on January 6 (Orthodox Christmas Eve!), 2013.  Re-published today for those that took my session at Eat Alberta 2017.  The only difference between what we did at Eat Alberta and the recipe below is that we used Sylvan Star medium gouda instead of orange Cheddar.

 

Perogies!There are as many recipes for perogies[1] as there are babas in the world.  Some pillowy perogies have potato in the dough, as well as the filling.[2]  Others are made with a simple dough of flour, sour cream, butter, and eggs.  This is what I prefer…

This afternoon I made perogies, then ate four dozen of them, giving me ample opportunity to contemplate their mysteries.

The Dough.  Full recipe is below.  I whisk together the sour cream and eggs, then slowly add the melted butter while whisking.  The flour goes into the bowl of a stand-mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.  I slowly add the liquid mixture to the flower as the paddle attachment stirs on the lowest speed setting.  As soon as a fairly smooth dough has formed we’re done mixing.  I then wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest at room temperature for at least two hours.

Cooking the Potatoes for the Filling.  This is one of many recipes that requires cooking potato, milling or ricing it while it’s hot, then chilling thoroughly before further processing.  You’ll notice that steam billows from the potato as it breaks up.  This is good.  We want to get some of the moisture out of the potato before we make the perogy filling.

I use a food mill, the kind that has a hopper with a screen on the bottom, and a slanted, rotary blade that pushes the potato flesh through that screen.  There are also devices called ricers, that have pistons that push the potatoes through the screen.  Both work well, provided the potatoes are cooked all the way through.  If undercooked, the final dough won’t be perfectly smooth.

Milling the baked potatoes to make perogies

Once milled, I spread the potatoes out on a sheet tray and let them cool in the fridge.

The Filling.  Apparently the traditional filling is cottage cheese, but in North America cheddar is king.  The cheese is mixed with potatoes to give the perogies a structured filling.  I mix finely grated cheddar with the milled potatoes in a stand mixer.  The paddle kind of smears the cheese into the potatoes to make a homogeneous paste.  I also add sour cream for moisture, acidity, and to help bind the filling.  And salt.  Even with all the cheese, this filling needs salt.  The filling should be seasoned quite assertively so that it can be tasted through the dough.

The filling should be quite stiff when cold, otherwise it will run from the finished perogies when you cut into them, or worse, when you boil them.

Shaping.  Once the dough is well rested, I roll it out to 1/8″ thickness.  I use a 2.5″ ring cutter to punch circles out of the dough.  (As a side note, I’ve seen some women shape their perogies without a cutter!  They put a dollop of filling near the edge of the rolled dough, then lift and stretch the dough over the filling, and cut off the perogy from the sheet, leaving no trim!)

Once I have the circles cut, I put a bit of filling on each.  I’m always surprised by how little cheese stuffing it takes to fill the perogies, maybe a tablespoon, about 10 grams by weight.  Then simply fold the dough over the filling and pinch it off into the characteristic half-moon shape.  If the dough is dry, a bit of water brushed on the surface will help it bind.

Shaping the perogies

 

Perogy Trim.  Using a round dough cutter will invariably create trim.  This trim can be combined, and re-rolled.  The re-rolled dough is a little harder to work with.  Even after letting it rest, it will be tougher and springier than the original dough.  It will resist rolling, and the perogies will not close up as easily.  Perogies made from re-rolled dough will be slightly chewier, but it’s worth doing one re-roll, because about 20% of your original dough weight will be left behind as trim.  I wouldn’t do more than one, as the dough becomes pretty much unworkable.

A friend told me that there are traditional Ukrainian dumplings made by reshaping and boiling perogy dough trim.  He called them babaikas, (“ba-BYE-kahs”), but I can’t find any mention of them online or in my cookbooks.  I made these from the trim from my re-roll.

Freezing and/or Cooking.  At this point the raw perogies should be either frozen or boiled.  They freeze beautifully.  Just line a sheet pan with parchment and lightly dust with flour.  Lay the perogies out on the tray and put it in the freezer.  Once they’re frozen through, you can bag them.  Using this method will keep the dumplings from sticking together.

To boil, fill a large pot with cold water.  Season liberally and bring to a vigorous boil.  The old adage is that when dumplings float in water, they’re done.  Hervé This actually disproves this in his book Molecular Gastronomy, but it’s a bit of a “the bumblebee flies anyway” situation.  After about two or three minutes in boiling water, fresh perogies will float, and they’re done.  Frozen perogies obviously take longer to start bobbing.

Boiled v. Fried.  Once boiled, consume immediately with onions, bacon, and sour cream.  Once boiled, you can chill them and keep them the fridge for a few hours or days, just toss them in a small amount of oil to prevent them from sticking.  Then simply pan-fry the cooked, chilled perogies to thoroughly brown and crisp the exteriors.

Here are the actual numbers I use.

Cheddar Perogies

The Dough

Master ratio – 5 parts flour : 2 parts sour cream : 1 part butter : 1 part eggs

  • 1 kg flour
  • 400 g sour cream
  • 200 g unsalted butter, melted
  • 200 g eggs

The Cheddar Filling
Master Ratio – 4 parts cold mashed potato : 2 parts finely grated cheese : 1 part sour cream, by weight. And a generous amount of salt.

Ingredients

  • 400 g cooked, riced, chilled starchy potatoes
  • 200 g finely grated cheddar, the orange kind
  • 100 g, sour cream
  • kosher salt to taste

Another extremely handy ratio is that you need about 10 g of filling to stuff 20 g of dough.

 

Pan-fried perogies with onions and bacon

 

Footnotes

1.  You’ve no doubt noticed that there are about one hundred different spellings of the word “perogy” in common usage.  This is because many of the countries from which perogies come, places like Ukraine and Russia, use a different alphabet than us.  Rendering the word “perogy” is often an issue of transliteration, not translation.  If you hear a baba pronounce the actual Ukrainian word пиріг, they are clearly using sounds that don’t exist in English – how can they be transcribed?  The Polish alphabet is much closer to our own.  They spell it pierogi (that’s the plural form).  I think the entire point is mute.  It’s safe to say that perogies have been naturalized, and are part of Canadian prairie cuisine.  I defer to the Ukrainian churches of Edmonton, who, when advertising dinners on signs, usually (but not always) use “perogy.”

2.  If this style of perogy dough interests you, try this out for a dough recipe:

Ingredients

  • 680 g all-purpose flour
  • 420 g cooked, riced, chilled starchy potatoes
  • 50 g unsalted butter. melted
  • 50 g egg (one large egg…)
  • 230 g sour cream
  • 5 g kosher salt

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Soda Bread

Originally published March 16, 2014.

Soda bread cooling on the deck.Soda bread is plain quick bread, bread made with a chemical leavener like baking soda instead of yeast.

You’ve no doubt heard of Irish soda bread.  The two defining characteristics of the national bread of Erin are 1) the inclusion of lesser parts of the wheat berry, such as the germ and husk, and 2) the use of buttermilk.

One way that my soda bread differs from true old-school Irish soda bread is the inclusion of such luxuries as butter, eggs, and honey.  This is emphatically not traditional, but it makes for a moist, delicious bread.  Picture a fine cornbread, only instead of corn meal there are coarse bits of wheat germ.  The wheat germ gives the bread a slightly yellow hue.

Just what the internet needs
Another Soda Bread Recipe

Ingredients

  • 165 g all-purpose flour
  • 105 g whole wheat flour
  • 30 g wheat germ
  • 12 g baking powder
  • 2 g baking soda
  • 8 g kosher salt
  • 50 g unsalted butter, melted
  • 140 g whole milk
  • 125 g buttermilk
  • 30 g egg
  • 15 g honey
  • 30 g sour cream

Procedure

  1. Combine the dry ingredients, the flours, wheat germ, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, in a medium mixing bowl.  Make a well in the centre.
  2. Combine the wet ingredients, the melted butter, whole milk, buttermilk, egg, honey, and sour cream, in a separate bowl.  Whisk thoroughly.
  3. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, then mix with a spatula until just combined.  Do not over-mix!
  4. Transfer batter to a buttered baking vessel and bake at 375°F until the centre of the bread is set, roughly 30 minutes, though exact times will depend on the dish you have selected.

A slice of soda bread, with butter

Butcher’s Cake

A slice of butcher's cake with a dollop of crème fraîche and a salad.I’ll mention right off the hop that this concept is from the brain of Emmanuel (Manu) Thériault.  He might have made this when he was at Woodwork, but I’m not sure.  He calls it “Butcher’s Cake”.  He told me about it and I think it’s one of the most brilliant food ideas I’ve heard in a very long time.

Part of the reason I am so enamored with butcher’s cake is because I work in a sandwich shop. When you work in a sandwich shop, you have at least three significant sources of possible waste.  The first is bread.  Bread is a problem ingredient because it has such short shelf life.  It can be difficult to maintain fresh inventory, and some bread invariably gets stale before it can be used.

The other potential sources of waste are meat and cheese ends.  When using a commercial meat slicer, the last inch of a roast or block of cheese is difficult to get through the slicer without putting your fingers at risk.  For some items you might not even want to slice and serve the outermost part.  For a roast or a ham, the very end is often harder, smokier, and generally less succulent that the rest of the meat.

Ham endsThis butcher’s cake is an ingenious and delicious preparation that uses all these waste products.  It is basically a savoury bread pudding studded with little chunks of cured meat and cheese.  I use trim pieces from ham, salami, mortadella, roast beef, even prosciutto and speck.  Of course, if you don’t work in a sandwich shop you can use plain old ham and cheese; there’s no reason it needs to be the trim or waste.

When Emmanuel told me his idea I knew immediately how I could go about making it: by adding chopped meat and cheese to Serviettenknödel, the Austrian bread dumplings discussed here.  I’ve found that a bit of black pepper and chopped herbs like parsley and rosemary are a nice addition.

Butcher’s cake makes a fantastic lunch, especially when served with with a refreshing salad.  I have a sneaking suspicion it would also be good for breakfast (bread, egg, milk, ham, cheese…. sounds like a breakfast pastry to me.)

Thanks, Manu!

 

 

Butcher’s Cake
Concept by Emmanuel Thériault
Recipe by Allan Suddaby

Ingredients

  • 8 whole eggs
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 8 oz unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 lbs stale bread
  • 1 lb cured meat ends, coarsely chopped
  • 10 oz cheese ends, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped rosemary
  • 1 tsp coarse ground black pepper

Procedure

  1. Combine the whole eggs, yolks, melted butter, milk, and salt in a large measuring cup.  Whisk thoroughly until eggs are completely incorporated.
  2. Put the bread, meat, cheese, herbs, and pepper in a large mixing bowl.  Pour the milk mixture over the bread.  Mix gently but thoroughly with your hands until all the milk has been absorbed by the bread.
  3. Move the mixture to the fridge for one hour.  This will give the liquid ingredients time to fully soak into the bread.
  4. Butter a large casserole dish.  Lightly press the soaked bread mixture to the casserole.  If you like you can top the bread with more grated cheese and herbs at this time.
  5. Bake in a 350°F oven until the interior is cooked and the exterior is golden brown and crispy, maybe 50-60 minutes.
  6. Let cool slightly before cutting and serving.

Yield: Butcher’s Cake for about 12 people

A casserole of butcher's cake, fresh out of the oven.

 

Fritters: A Short Endorsement

Pan-frying corn frittersA simple definition.  Fritters are made from a simple batter that is garnished with meat or vegetables or fruit and then fried, either in a pan or deep-fryer.  They can be sweet or savoury.

Why you should care about fritters.  Fritters are an important preparation to master for the following reasons: you almost always have the ingredients needed to make them; they fry up quickly; and they are a fantastic way to use leftovers, whether it’s meat like ground beef or ham, or sautéed vegetables, or cheese.

The fritter continuum.  The degree to which the batter or the interior garnishes dominate varies widely.  Let’s explore the two ends of the Fritter Continuum using corn fritters.

You can make a corn fritter by taking the kernels from one ear of corn and stirring in an egg, a tablespoon each of flour and cornmeal, and a pinch of salt.  This will make a fritter that is mostly comprised of fresh corn, barely held together by egg and starch.  This fritter is relatively dense, and gives the eater the satisfaction of popping several kernels of corn in one bite.  This style of fritter is typically pan-fried or griddled.  It is pictured above.

Corn fritters and saladOn the other hand, you could make a batter by stirring together a cup of flour, two tablespoons of baking powder, a cup of milk, a couple eggs, then fold some corn kernels into the batter.  This would make a light, doughy fritter studded with yellow kernels of corn.  This style of fritter is usually deep-fried.  At right.

The next time you are craving bar food, if you have eggs in your fridge and flour in your pantry, consider fritters.

Cornbread Stuffing and Cornbread Pudding

A casserole of cornbread stuffingIn the extremely unlikely case that you have leftover cornbread that is a couple days old and a bit too dry to be enjoyed, you have two choices.

Look deep into the tepid pond of your soul and ask, sweet or savoury?

If the response comes back sweet, you make cornbread pudding.  If the answer is savoury, you make cornbread stuffing.

Leftover cornbread and the dishes made therefrom are quite different than stale bread and its children.  As cornbread is a quick bread, the baker went out of his or her way to avoid gluten development, and no doubt added sugar and fat in the form of butter or buttermilk or sour cream.  This kept the fresh cornbread tender, but it now makes the dried cornbread extremely crumbly.

In my post about traditional stuffing I discuss a textural continuum.  On one end is the loosely-bound style in which the individual bread pieces tumble over each other, and on the other is the highly-bound style in which the bread is moistened and mixed into a cohesive paste.  Cornbread stuffing is always highly bound, because as soon as you drop the bread into the pot, it disintegrates into a very fine meal.  In fact to make cornbread stuffing is almost like reverting the cornbread back to its elemental cornmeal, and then remaking it.  Think of it as a phoenician rebirth.[1]

Moisture in the from of milk or stock, in conjunction with eggs, helps reform the crumbs into a cohesive, sliceable dressing.

The stuffing is very close to the original bread, only a bit more moist, and a bit eggier, but with the same characteristic granular texture.

Cornbread Stuffing

Ingredients

  • 2 oz unsalted butter
  • 7 oz sliced onions
  • 5 oz sliced red bell peppers
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp dried summer savoury
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 20 oz stale cornbread (preferably this cornbread)
  • 4 oz smoked pork stock (or any type of stock, really…)
  • 3 large eggs

Procedure

  1. Melt the butter in a medium, heavy-bottomed stainless steel pot.  Add the onion, peppers, salt, herbs and spices.  Sweat over medium heat until the onions and peppers have become limp.
  2. Crumble the stale cornbread into the pot.  Add the stock and mix until the cornbread starts to come together.
  3. Remove the mixture from the heat and let cool briefly.  Beat in the eggs.
  4. Transfer the mixture to a buttered casserole and bake at 375°F until the interior has set.  If the top is not quite crusty enough, give the casserole a pass under the broiler.

 

For cornbread pudding, forgo the onions, peppers, herbs, and spices; replace the stock with cream or milk; add a handful of sugar.

Cornbread Pudding

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 oz granulated sugar
  • 20 oz stale cornbread
  • 4 oz heavy cream or whole milk
  • 3 large eggs

Procedure

  1. Heat a pot of water on the stove.
  2. Whisk the eggs together.
  3. Crumble the stale cornbread into a large bowl.  Add the cream and whisked eggs and mix until the cornbread starts to form a cohesive paste.
  4. Transfer the mixture to a buttered casserole or terrine.  Set the dish into a large roasting tray.  Pour the hot water from the stove into the roaster to make a hot bath for the casserole.  Bake in a 350°F oven until the interior of the pudding has just set.
  5. Once cool, the pudding is best served by slicing and pan-frying.  Consume with poached apples, whisky caramel sauce, vanilla ice cream.  And maybe reserve the peels from your apples and gently fry them until they’re crisp and crumble them on top.  As below.

Cornbread pudding with poached apples, vanilla ice cream, and whisky caramel sauce

 

1. I started to write “phoenix-like,” but then “phoenician” came to mind.  Perhaps “phoenician,” with no capitalization, can be used to mean “of or pertaining to a phoenix,” as in the mythical creature?  Or can it only mean “of or pertaining to the ancient nation of Phoenicia”?

Choux Pastry

Choux pastries ready to be stuffed with whipped creamBefore the exciting conclusion of Custard Week, I want to take you on a quick detour to show you some applications for the custards we’ve been making.  Let’s talk about choux pastry.

Choux pastry is a bit weird.  First of all it’s weird because it’s not clear whether it’s a dough or a batter.  Next it’s weird because it’s cooked twice, once on the stove, and once in the oven.  Then it’s weird because when you cook it the second time it puffs itself up so that it’s entirely hollow.  And finally it’s weird because its name is French for “cabbage pastry”.  To my knowledge it is never eaten with cabbage, so I’m thinking that the name refers to the bubbly sphere a dollop of choux pastry forms when baked for the second time.  I guess to French eyes this sphere looks like a cabbage.  To me it looks like a baseball.  That’s what’s funny about Europe: the little differences.

While the process for making choux pastry is bizarre, it is really easy.  First you heat water and butter on the stove until the butter has melted.  Then you whisk in some flour to make a paste.  Stir this mixture over medium heat for a few minutes to cook out the starch.

Beating the eggs into choux pastryThen you remove the paste from the heat and let it cool down a bit.  You do this because you’re about to add eggs, and you don’t want to cook the eggs quite yet: you just want to mix them into the batter, or dough, or whatever.  Once the batter has cooled enough that you can comfortably stick your finger in it for more than a few seconds, you add the eggs, one at a time, while beating the hell out of the paste.  At first it will seem that the batter won’t accept your eggs, but it will – just keep beating.

Once all your eggs are incorporated, the batter is done.  You can pipe it immediately, or store it in the fridge.

There are several classic preparations made from choux pastry.  As you can imagine, it lends itself well to being filled, as with profiteroles and éclairs.

In other applications it is left hollow: gougères, for instance, which are small, cheese-flavoured pastries, or gnocchis à la parisienne, which is deep-fried choux pastry.

For most applications choux pastry is baked in the oven.  This is usually done in two stages: a high-temp baking around 425°F that rapidly vaporizes the water content so that the pastry can puff up before the starch sets, and a 350°F stage that sets the starch.  Once the pastries are pulled from the oven and cooled, you can bore a hole in them and get stuffing.

For profiteroles (cream puffs…) simply load up a piping bag with whipped cream or pastry cream and squeeze a small amount into the pastry.

Cream puffs, some dipped in chocolate

 

Choux Pastry

Ingredients

  • 8 oz water
  • 4 oz unsalted butter
  • 4 oz all-purpose flour
  • 8 oz whole egg (4 whole eggs…)
  • pinch of kosher salt

Procedure

  1. Combine the water, butter, and salt in a heavy pot.  Heat until the butter has melted.
  2. Add the flour.  Stir until a paste forms, then cook over medium heat for a few minutes, stirring periodically.
  3. Remove the pot from the heat and let stand to cool slightly, at least five minutes.  You should be able to touch the paste without burning yourself…
  4. Beat in the eggs one at a time.  Don’t add the next egg until the previous one is completely incorporated.
  5. At this point the batter can be piped and baked immediately, or refrigerated for later use.

Stuffing, or Dressing

A casserole of Thanksgiving stuffing, or dressingI say this without exaggeration: I hold stuffing as one of the greatest culinary traditions of the New World.  I know the British and French and many others make similar dishes, but stuffing, or dressing, is an indispensable dish for the Thanksgiving table.  Technically it is an accompaniment to the turkey.  I often have to remind myself of this.

So.  What is stuffing?  Stuffing is bread.  As the name implies, it was originally crammed into the cavity of poultry, absorbing the juice and fat exuded from the bird during cooking.  While this method is still common in Canadian homes, it is giving way to “stuffing” that is prepared in a casserole instead of a bird.  There are two reasons for this trend.  Most importantly: even a bird as large as a turkey cannot accommodate the volume of stuffing that is required to sate the appetite of the typical North American family.  Also, by the time the stuffing cooks through the surrounding meat is overcooked and dry.

Making stuffing in a casserole solves these problems, but the cook needs to find a way to get turkey flavour into the dish, which is why I cut up my raw bird and make stock from the carcass a day or two before Thanksgiving.

Flavour.  Essential flavours: poultry stock or jus, onion, celery, and herbs, especially sage, thyme, rosemary, and savoury.  I recommend deeply toasting the bread before moistening it with the poultry essence.

Texture.  Though stuffing is made in almost every home in North America, in my experience no two stuffings are the same.  There is in fact a broad stuffing continuum.  On one end are the highly bound stuffings which have a relatively high moisture content, and have been worked so that the bread becomes a cohesive paste.  This form of stuffing resembles an Austrian Knödel in texture.  (In a strictly academic sense I consider stuffing to be a type of dumpling, though few North Americans would recognize it as such.)

On the other end of the spectrum the stuffing has much less moisture and is not bound at all, but is crumbly, with the individual cubes of bread falling over each other.

All stuffings are located at some point on this spectrum, and a diner’s preference has a lot to do with the style that his mother made when he was young.  Some of the most impassioned conversations I’ve had about food have revolved around stuffing, and which style is best.

I think that most of the recipes my friends cook at home were written in the last twenty years, and were gleaned from glossy cookbooks and television shows.  Stuffing is one of the few recipes that people still learn from their moms.  And for some reason it almost never appears on restaurant menus.  Most comfort foods have been co-opted by even the fanciest restaurants (think: truffled mac and cheese…), but stuffing has escaped this fate, for now.  This is a special dish.

 

Stuffing

 

Lisa’s Turkey Stuffing

Ingredients

  • 2 qt whole wheat bread, cut into 1″ cubes
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 cups onion, chopped
  • 2 cups celery, chopped
  • 2 cups bacon lardons
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • a small fistful of fresh marjoram or oregano, minced
  • a small fistful of parsley, minced
  • a small fistful of sage, minced
  • 2 1/2 cups turkey stock
  • salt

Procedure

  1. Render bacon until crispy.  Remove from pot.  Sautée mushrooms in fat until browned.  Remove from pot.
  2. Add butter, the remaining vegetables, and the paprika and sautée until the onions are just turning translucent.
  3. Return the bacon and mushrooms to the pot.  Add the bread and cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
  4. Add the hot turkey stock and mix well.  Cover and cook over low heat for at least 30 minutes, stirring frequently, until bread cubes have broken down.  Slow cooking and frequent stirring are the keys for this cohesive style of stuffing.  Add the herbs for the last 10 minutes of cooking.
  5. Transfer to a buttered casserole and chill.  To serve, bake casserole in a 425°F until the top of the stuffing is crisp, about 15-20 minutes.

English Muffins: Best Toast Ever

English muffins make the best toast: much crispier than standard pullman loaves, but not overly-crunchy like rustic artisan loaves.  I think there are at least four reasons for their toasting superiority:

  1. The dough is enriched with a small amount of sugar and fat.
  2. The way they are shaped, as individual pucks instead of slices from a loaf.  A typical slice of bread is cut from the interior of a larger loaf, so the two sides are from the soft, interior “crumb” of the bread.  When you cut and toast an English muffin, one of the surfaces of each half used to be the exterior crust of the bread, making a crispier piece of toast.
  3. The way they are cooked.  Unlike most bread, which is baked by convective heat, the two flat sides of an English muffin are baked with conductive heat.  Small-scale operations might fry them on a griddle.  Larger operations might put a sheet pan on top of the muffins before throwing them into the oven.  This is what gives English muffins their distinctive, flat shape, and their golden brown, crispy crusts.
  4. The open, irregular, slightly crumbly interior.  When you cut open an English muffin and toast it, the irregular surface makes for lots of crispy nooks and crannies.

English Muffins at Home

English muffins are a very simple, straightforward bread to make at home.  Bakers typically use the direct mixing method (ie. no starter or over-night fermenting).  They’re fun to fry up on a griddle.  They freeze extremely well, especially because they are always toasted before consuming, which freshens them up.

 

English Muffins

Ingredients

  • 300 g bread flour
  • 12 g granulated sugar
  • 6 g kosher salt
  • 4 g instant yeast
  • 15 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 195 g whole milk, at room temperature

Baker’s Formula

  • 100% bread flour
  • 3.75% granulated sugar
  • 1.9% kosher salt
  • 1.4% instant yeast
  • 5% unsalted butter
  • 65% whole milk

Procedure

  1. Scale flour, sugar, salt, instant yeast, and butter in the mixing bowl of a stand mixer. Stir ingredients together with the paddle attachment until the butter is incorporated.
  2. Slowly add the milk while the paddle attachment mixes on slow speed.  Once the dough comes together, switch to the dough hook and knead for about 8 minutes.  (Or knead by hand for about 10 minutes.)
  3. Lightly oil a large bowl.  Lay the dough in the bowl, then turn the dough over so that all surfaces are lightly oiled.  Cover and let rise until doubled in volume, about 90 minutes.
  4. Line a sheet pan with parchment and dust lightly with cornmeal or semolina flour.  Cut the dough into 6 or 7 equal pieces, shape into boules, and line up on sheet pan.  Proof until doubled in size, about 90 minutes.
  5. Preheat an oven to 350°F.  Fry each boule on a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium heat, roughly 350°F.  Fry until each side is well browned, about five minutes per side.  Bake the fried English muffins in the oven for a few more minutes to cook through.
  6. Cool on a wire rack.  Let cool very thoroughly before cutting open.