Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Lasagne

Now here's a dish I don't make too often, as it's quite time-consuming. But the last time I made it I realized that if you invest the time you end up with a large amount that can serve many meals. I made a double recipe, of which I gave half to friends, ate two meals with my husband and still have three large portions waiting for us in the freezer. So in terms of mpms (mouthfuls per minute), the effort is worth the trouble (as opposed to my experience making gyoza, sadly!)

The first time I made lasagne I used a recipe from a German cookbook of Italian food. Why that would be less authentic than my usual French or American sources I don't know, but I was prejudiced about my recipe from the first. I was thus quite surprised to find out later it comes very close to various authoritative recipes. One of these -- why do I consider it authoritative, since I don't know the author? Probably the style it was written in -- makes for an amusing read. It's a reader's comment on a recipe in Simply Recipes.

When you talk about making Lasagne bolognese, the real work is the bolognese sauce (or ragù). The rest is assembly, which takes a bit of time but is fairly mechanical. The true bolognese sauce takes hours of simmering.

A few changes I make to the recipe
- I use Marcella Hazan's tip of salting the meat before cooking it, and then cooking the meat in half a cup of milk before adding wine, as apparently the wine's acidity does something (I forget what) to the meat
- I use a great trick from the Dean & Deluca cookbook: whereas Marcella Hazan tells you you can't be serious unless you make your own pasta, the Dean & Deluca cookbook says there is a shortcut, which perhaps doesn't match the excellence of homemade pasta but does turn out a decent result: take no-boil pasta sheets and boil them for 3 minutes before adding them to your lasagne. Since I'm not about to make my own pasta (wait, why not? Oh, yes, because not only do you have to make the pasta, boil it, but then you also have to gently wash it under running water to get rid of the starch... forget it!), I'm very happy with this method.
- I'm less and less sure that mozarella belongs in the lasagne, so I put much less than the recipe calls for.

Recipe: Bolognese Sauce (or Ragù)
Source: Echt italienisch kochen, by Marieluise Christl-Licosa

[I doubled all quantities.]

Ingredients
- 2 onions
- 2 carrots
- 2 branches celery
- 100g Speck
[that would be bacon? May not be necessary or completely authentic]
- 600g mixed ground meat
[I forget the proportions other books recommend. I think 2/3 beef and 1/3 pork. I ground some boneless pork-chops myself.]
- 600g tomatoes
[I use canned tomatoes.]
- 200g butter
[Now this quantity of butter seems a little insane. I usually decrease it but last time did not. I don't know if it added to the flavor but it certainly didn't detract from it or make the overall dish feel greasy.]
- 2 cups dry red wine
- 2 cups strong meat broth
[I've stopped making my own broth, for some reason. Despite this post about how easy peasy it is to make. But since I dread the strong flavor of bouillon, I omitted the broth and used a combination of milk and the juice from the tomatoes instead]
- Salt
- Pepper
- Milk as needed

Peel the onions, the carrots, clean the celery, and chop them very fine together with the speck. Mix in well with the meat [salt the meat first]. Peel and puree the tomatoes [I simply crushed my canned tomatoes with a fork]. Slowly melt the butter in a large pot, cook the meat in the butter until it has lost its color. Then pour the red wine [see my note above, I start with milk]. Stir regularly [fleissig!] until it [the wine, the milk] has evaporated.

[Now this is much easier said than done. I never know how long to wait. It seems to take forever for these liquids to evaporate. At some point I always give up on seeing all the liquid disappear, and continue with the recipe.]

Add 1/2 cup of broth and let it simmer at low heat, occasionally adding the rest of the broth. Once this is also evaporated [yeah, right], add the tomatoes, salt [not too much at this stage], pepper, and with enough milk to cover the solids.

Let the sauce simmer at very low heat for 3 hours. If necessary add broth or milk to thin it. Correct seasoning.

[Bear in mind, what's long is not the 3 hours of simmering. At that stage you don't need to babysit the cooking much, except for an occasional stir every 20 min. or so. What is long is all the work until you get to the simmering.]

Recipe: Lasagne al forno (or Lasagne Bolognese)

Ingredients
[again, doubled]

1 recipe Bolognese sauce above

Béchamel sauce made from
- 100g butter
- 100g flour
- 1 liter or more milk
- Salt
- Pepper

- 800g green lasagne sheets (no boil)
- Melted butter
- 2 Mozzarelle
[Less, or none]
- 6 TB grated Parmesan
- Small pieces of butter

Prepare the meat sauce or defrost it. For the Béchamel sauce, melt the butter in a pot, add the flour and let it "sweat" as you mix constantly, slowly add the milk [I prefer to heat the milk to boiling and then pour it in more rapidly], while whisking vigorously with a wire whisk, to avoid lumps. Add salt and pepper. Let it boil briefly. The sauce should not be too thick. If necessary [I always find it necessary] add some milk.

Prepare the lasagne sheets as described on the package, [or see my note above. I boil them 3 min. in a large pan of water].

[A note about organization: I find it helps to have everything laid out around me to build the lasagne: top left of my stove, a pan of boiling water, simmering away, to which I regularly add 3 sheets of pasta at a time, turning them over once so the top one gets cooked as well. You may have to add water as it evaporates away. A timer nearby to time the 3 minutes of boiling. Right, a plate to put the semi-boiled pasta sheets on, using a spatula. Scissors on the plate to cut some of the pasta to fit the size of the pan. Left, the béchamel. In the middle, my lasagne pan. Right, the bolognese sauce. Each sauce has its own spoon. And somewhere handy, the cheese(s) and pepper.]

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Butter a rectangular pan. Spread one spoonful of Béchamel, then make a layer of noodles, with as little overlap as possible. [Cut the last sheet of lasagne to shape with the scissors.] Add some meat sauce, enough to cover thinly the pasta. Then spread a layer of Béchamel. [I was a bit stingy with the Béchamel last time, worried this sauce would taste bland and floury, but that made my lasagne a bit too dry. So don't drown your dish in Béchamel, but don't be too apologetic about using it.]
Sprinkle pieces of Mozzarella [if using], grate some pepper on top, and sprinkle with Parmesan. Repeat until the pan is full or all ingredients have been used.

[In the top-most picture here I actually had 5 layers, though as I cut out the first portion I lost the bottom layer to the pan.]

Cover the last sheet of pasta with Béchamel sauce. Sprinkle little pieces of butter. [The recipe doesn't say to sprinkle Parmesan on this last layer but I do]. Place in pre-heated oven and depending on the thickness of the Lasagne bake for 30 to 40 minutes.

[Other recipes recommend baking for shorter amounts of time. I would say no more than 30 minutes.]


Sunday, October 01, 2006

Dacquoise



A dacquoise is a meringue with nuts. It can be used as one of the building blocks for rich layered cakes.

I made a chocolate hazelnut dacquoise based on a Pierre Hermé recipe. It's basically a big sandwich cookie with chocolate ganache between two disks of nut meringue. You can also make individual cakes, as shown in the second half of this post on Kuidaore.

Hermé's dacquoise recipe is great, and I've been successful with it every time I've made it.

Choosing the right ganache recipe
However I'm not as fond of his ganache. When I saw the ingredients it required, I balked at the amount of butter. So I made a tiny portion, and a larger portion of Alice Medrich's whipped ganache filling, which is made of chocolate and cream, and to which I added some of my pralin. I piped the Hermé ganache on the outside of the cake, and the whipped ganache on the inside. Both my husband and I preferred the Alice Medrich filling.

In this picture you can (barely) see the Hermé ganache is a small, darker circle on the outside edge of the filling. There's even a white fleck of butter that wasn't fully incorporated. (If the filling looks a little wet it's because the knife I used to cut the cake was too hot.)

Making the cake ahead of time
The dacquoise layers can, and even should be, made ahead of time, according to Hermé. I confirm that you can prepare this whole cake the day before, wrap it carefully and chill it, and it will have a great texture and flavor when you serve it. I've frozen it as well, whether just the dacquoises or the filled cake and it was excellent. If you choose to freeze dacquoise layers, be careful. They are fragile! Several of mine got destroyed as we tried to force-fit the frozen fish-sticks and peas in the compartment. It's worth storing them in a rigid box.

Piping a circular shape
I had some difficulty piping a perfect circle, as evidenced here. I drew a circle on the parchment paper and tried to stick to it. But starting from the middle, as the recipe recommends, meant that by the time I got to the outside of the circle it looked potato-shaped. Perhaps I need more practice. Maybe when I get to the outside edges I shouldn't hesitate to squeeze the batter into the right shape as I pipe. I've also tried piping from the outside and had better results, though the center did not look as pretty as I had to push the batter around to fit it in. Still, even if your circles are less than perfect, the final dessert will look quite appetizing.


Recipe: Dacquoise
Source: Pierre Hermé

Ingredients
- 80 g hazelnuts
- 135 g ground hazelnuts
I've made it with ground almonds as well
- 150 g icing sugar plus more for sprinkling
- 5 egg whites
- 50 g sugar

1. Preheat oven to 150°C. Spread the hazelnuts on a cookie sheet covered with aluminum foil.
[I skipped the foil.]
Bake for 10 minutes. Put them immediately in a hot towel
[some sources say to let them steam in the towel for a few minutes]
and rub them together to remove the skins.
[Aiming for perfection here is maddening. I was happy with about 70% removal. Remember, rub the nuts against each other, not just against the towel.]
Roughly chop the nuts.

2. Increase oven temperature to 170°C. Sift together the ground hazelnuts and icing sugar.
[Now this can be quite difficult, at least with the ground hazelnuts we buy here. They are fairly coarse, so a large portion doesn't make it through my sieve. One solution would be to sift and weigh after sifting. Any nuts that don't make it through the sieve you throw back into the bag for recipes that don't require fine nut powder. Or else take what is left in the sieve and grind it up in a little food processor or nut or coffee grinder. This is what I do. I simply have to be careful not to grind for too long or the powder gets oily and then sticks together.]

3. Whip the egg whites until firm, gradually add the 50 g regular sugar as you go. Using a flexible spatula, delicately incorporate the sugar and nut mixture.

4. Fill a pastry bag with a #12 tip
[This number is a French number. I would guess it's for 1.2 cm. I believe I've used both 10 and 13, as I don't have 12. With 13 it was harder to work as the batter kept dripping out of the pastry bag].
On two cookie sheets that have been covered with parchment paper, create two 26 cm disks (about 10.5 inches I believe).
[You can trace circles on the underside of the paper to help you, see my comments above about shaping the circles. You can also draw smaller circles for individual portions.]
Sprinkle each disk with the chopped and skinned hazelnuts. Lightly press them down. Sprinkle the disks lightly with icing sugar. Let them rest for 10 minutes. Sprinkle again, and let rest again for 10 minutes. Bake for 35 minutes.

5. Place the disks on a rack to cool. Once they are cold, wrap them in plastic film and store them in the refrigerator.
[You can freeze them at this point as well, if possible in a rigid container to prevent breakage.]

Recipe: Whipped Chocolate Ganache Filling
Source: Alice Medrich, Bittersweet

Ingredients
- 6 ounces (170 g) 70% cocoa chocolate, chopped medium-fine
- 4 tspn to 3 Tbspn (16 to 37g) sugar
- 2 cups (480g) heavy cream
[- 1 to 2 Tbspn pâte pralinée - optional, my addition]

[These amounts are the corrected version as I used 70% cocoa chocolate rather than the regular bittersweet or semisweet chocolate. A. Medrich gives the substitution amounts for using different types of chocolate.]

Place the chopped chocolate in a medium bowl. Heat the cream with the sugar in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until it comes to a gentle boil. Immediately pour half the hot cream over the chocolate and stir until the chocolate is mostly melted. Add the rest of the cream and stir. Let stand for 15 to 20 minutes to be sure all of the chocolate particles are completely melted.
[Mix in the pâte pralinée if you are using any.]

Stir the ganache until perfectly smooth. Let cool. Cover the bowl and refrigerate the ganache for at least 6 hours (I usually leave it overnight, says A. Medrich); it must be very cold or it will curdle when it is whipped. (The ganache can be prepared up to 4 days ahead.)

When you are ready to use the ganache (and not before), whip it until it is stiff enough to hold a nice shape and seems spreadable, but don't overdo. Overwhipped ganache looks granular, proceed carefully: I usually stop the mixer early and finish the whipping by hand.
[Ah, don't you love recipes that say, "enough but not too much?" I never know if I whip the ganache enough. It seems to get stiff very very quickly, so I only whip it a few seconds with my hand-held mixer.]

After whipping, the ganache will firm as it sits (and even more after it is chilled), so spread it immediately. If you accidentally overwhip, or if the ganache becomes too stiff to spread, warm your spatula by rinsing it under hot water and wiping it dry as necessary.

Assembling the cake or cakes
Using a pastry bag with a large plain tip, pipe big spheres of ganache on the outside of one one dacquoise disk, fill in the space between the spheres with a spiral of filling, and sandwich with another disk.

Or use a star-shaped tip and pipe rosettes.

Refrigerate for a short or longer while (that's vague, I know. I don't quite remember how long I chilled the cake), and sprinkle with icing sugar before serving.


This was my first attempt. Perhaps a little too much filling, as we found it quite rich on the first night we ate it. However the second and third nights (lots of left-overs) the richness didn't seem overwhelming.


I used a star-tip on this one. Perhaps there wasn't enough filling though.


The filling was a bit runny on this one (too much pâte pralinée?), and the bottom dacquoise broke in the freezer. However, the end result tasted just as good...