Oh brioche, how I love thee! I love thine fine golden colour and amber crust. I love thine rich buttery flavour. I love thine soft, yielding fibrous texture. I love thee! I yearn to eat thee!
Pete's been promising to make me brioche for ages. Why does Pete have to make it, you might ask, why can't you make it yourself? Because Pete is definitely the master baker in this household and I'm happy to admit to being the weaker sex in the bread domain (I said bread!)
The trouble is, he doesn't really like brioche himself (though he's partial to a slice of it toasted, alongside a lump of fine, fried foie gras). But the challenge of the bake and, I like to think, the love for his Mrs, has seen him agree to giving brioche a go. Then again, he's been promising me this brioche for the last few years!
I even picked up a bag of brioche flour in France last summer - though I didn't really look at it much, I just spotted it and threw it into the trolley during a ginormous supermarket shop!
So when Pete finally set a date to make me breakfast brioche, I fished out that bag of flour. Looking at it's ingredients we discovered that it's regular flour with added milk powder.
I showed Pete the several brioche blog recipes I have bookmarked, pointing out the repeated reference to how much stirring and kneading the dough needs to develop the distinctive fibrous texture of this bread. He picked one from La Tartine Gourmande and got to work.
I "helped", which mostly meant asking annoying questions and taking photographs!
La Tartine Gourmande's Most Simple Brioche
250 grams all-purpose flour (we used that brioche flour, above)
75 grams butter, at room temperature
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon dry baker’s yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
80 ml warm milk
1 pinch salt
1 egg yolk for glaze
(Bea provides measurements in ounces and cups. I've converted them to metric).
To my delight, the finished brioche looked just like the one in Bea's blog post photographs – like a proper brioche! I love a reliable recipe, so a big thank you to La Tartine Gourmande!
Well, it was good – very good, in fact, for a first attempt.
But it wasn't my dream brioche.
I want a sweeter version, and one which has a slightly denser texture with those long fibres which I associate with brioche. I shall keep bookmarking likely recipes and call on Pete to have another go.
It may be that I have finally found cause to get my hands on a shiny, pretty Kitchenaid, though Lord knows where it'd live!
If you have any recipes you think might give me the result I'm looking for, please share the link (or recipe) in the comments, below. Thanks!
Friday, 30 April 2010
Oh brioche, how I love thee! I love thine fine golden colour and amber crust. I love thine rich buttery flavour. I love thine soft, yielding fibrous texture. I love thee! I yearn to eat thee!
Thursday, 29 April 2010
When I read, in Richard Vines' food news round up, that Raymond Blanc was opening a branch of his Brasserie Blanc chain in London, and that there was a 50% soft opening discount being offered, I thought it would be a good chance to reassess the chain after my previous visit to the Bristol branch.
I was joined by my husband, Pete, fellow food blogger, The Ginger Gourmand, my food loving friend, Foxie and a London-based twitterer, Sue, who'd seen my tweets about booking a table and expressed interest.
The first challenge each of us faced was finding the restaurant – its address is 60 Threadneedle Street, in the heart of the city. But when one arrives at number 60, one is faced with a huge, modern office building with no restaurant in sight. In fact, the entrance is tucked down a side street at the side of the block; not very obvious at all. I wonder how long it will take before the staff at the building's main reception get sick of giving directions and insist on a sign being erected!
So, given it's location in such a modern glass and steel building, how is the restaurant styled? Unlike the Bristol location in a former Georgian Quaker meeting house, this is not a beautiful historical building in which the designers could get creative whilst incorporating both a touch of traditional bistro comfort and a dose of steel and shine. The design team clearly aimed for a similar blend of modern and traditional, and certainly they created a comfortable and attractive space, but not one that works as well as the Bristol space. The main floor has a pleasant, open feel, due to the very high ceilings. We were seated in the cosier mezzanine floor, which overlooks the main dining area. There is also a bar area on the ground floor.
Once we were all assembled, one of the waiting team looking after us handed out menus and we were quickly absorbed in the choosing process.
Whilst ordering, my evidently pregnant friend politely asked the waiter if it would be possible to have the cod and mussels main dish without the mussels, because of her pregnancy. She quickly added that should this be difficult, she would be happy to choose something else. The waiter assured her that this would absolutely not be a problem and, orders placed, we relaxed in our booth until the starters arrived.
Foxie expressed surprise that the Burgundian snails in garlic herb butter were so herby – when she's had snails in France, they've been more about the garlicky oil and less about the parsley, though I've had them in France served in very much this way, so perhaps it's a regional variation? She judged the dish good but not remarkable, and the snails well cooked, rather than rubbery.
Pete's basil and parmesan soup was laden with the wonders of a spring garden, light and well flavoured with generous chunks of vegetables and pasta shapes.
Unfortunately, the entire centre of the hot oak smoked Loch Duart salmon with vegetable piccalilli was raw and un-smoked, and therefore inedible. The parts which were cooked were pronounced good. The pickles were nice – not too acidic but sharp enough to balance the richness of the salmon.
The crispy goat’s cheese parcel with tomato chutney was pleasant. A case of "what it says on the tin" rather than anything particularly special, but that's probably what one's looking for from a brasserie.
My bleu des Causses cheese soufflé with pear and walnut was probably the best starter, I think. Turned out of the dish it was cooked in, the presentation of a somewhat collapsed pile of soufflé wasn't the most attractive, but the crispy exterior and soft interior textures and the gentle blue cheese flavour made up for that. The pear and walnuts were a simple, classic accompaniment.
I don't have a photo of the cod fillet, samphire, mussel and saffron sauce minus the mussels. Because, despite our waiter's assurance that this request absolutely wouldn't be a problem, when the mains were served (by a different member of staff) the dish came with mussels. By the time a replacement dish arrived, the rest of us were at least half way into our main dishes – if we'd waited they'd have been stone cold!
The cod was well cooked, but under seasoned. The saffron sauce was gritty and tasted earthy (and not in a good way). Especially after the mix up and wait, the dish was very disappointing.
Raymond’s smoked haddock, leek and Gruyère fish cake was deemed "quite nice". It was a generous patty with a reasonable fish to potato ratio and a nice flavour. Pete would probably have been more positive about it had he not found a large, sharp fish bone in it!
The steak and chips were decent, nothing earth shattering.
The slow cooked veal, castle potatoes was tender, with nice flavours and a simple selection of vegetables.
N.B. I found the English translation of pommes château a bit forced, I think it would have made more sense to leave it in the original French, myself.
I ordered a pork belly special that came with apple and cabbage. Whilst the pork meat was ok, and fairly tender, the crackling was oddly blackened just on the surface, as though it'd been blowtorched just before serving – the burnt bits did not taste good! The cabbage, apple and gravy were all tasty.
Only three of us had space for dessert!
The passion fruit soufflé had risen nicely, and was described as gorgeous! Light, airy, not soggy and with a nice flavour. It came with an ice-cream, also passion fruit, I think, which was also good.
The flaming baked Alaska (for 2) was quite a show. Alcohol was poured over and lit at the table before we waited for the flames to die out and tucked in. A historical classic well worth reviving!
So, what's the low down? Service was friendly but variable in efficiency – it didn't help that, despite the restaurant being so quiet, our table of five was shared by two members of staff who didn't seem to communicate much. I'd put some of this down to teething problems – it was a soft opening after all – but our waiter did mention that he'd been transferred from another branch of the chain so there was some experience of the operation and menu. As you can see from the review above, the food varied from poor through acceptable to a few pretty good dishes but in the most part it was rather ordinary, even a little mundane.
I have to remind myself that much of the clientele will be men in suits from nearby offices, men in suits more interested in the business talk at the table than what they are eating. In such an environment, surprising though it might be for central London, the food really doesn't have to be fabulous for the restaurant to succeed. But I can't see it becoming a destination for food lovers any time soon.
Tuesday, 27 April 2010
Having heard great things about both their steak and their burgers, I was delighted to join fellow food bloggers Luiz, Catty, Aaron, Mr Noodles and Uyen for an evening at Goodman, the New York style steak house tucked away in Maddox Street, near Oxford Circus.
The decor hits a nice balance between relaxed informal and attractive but personally, I found it a tad too dark. And it has poor acoustics – noise bounced off the walls and ceilings so much it wasn't buzzing so much as roaring and I found it hard to hear either the waiting staff or my dining companions.
It took only a few moments for consensus to be reached – of course we were having starters first! Deciding between steak and burgers was a far more agonising dilemma – the table split 4:2 in favour of burgers!
My starter of tiger prawn tempura, avocado, mango and cajun mayo (£11) was tasty though not outstanding. The batter was crispy though quite heavy, with a nice spicing and big juicy prawns inside. The salad and dressing worked well with it.
The seafood risotto, tiger prawn and salmon, lobster butter and chive (£9) was disappointing. Heavy, claggy and so creamy it was verging on unpleasant – I assume extra cream was added rather than allowing the natural creaminess of the starchy rice to do it's magic. Even more galling when one of the waiting staff, on asking how our starters were, agreed it was the weakest on the menu and that it was being taken off the menu when it next changed. If you don't think it's good enough, take it off now – don't charge customers good money for it!
For once I managed to resist my normal addiction to anything foie gras but two of the table ordered the paté, chicken liver and foie gras, onion jam and toasted brioche (£7.5).
The star of the show was Aaron's sweet herring, traditional Russian presentation with hot mustard (£7) which was, luckily for him, a generous enough portion that all of us could try it without leaving him too bereft! A perfect balance between sweet and sour in the moist pieces of fish and a nice array of accompaniments too. Really, really good and I'll definitely order this next time I visit.
Having visited previously, for the steak, some of the gang were keen to compare the Goodman burger to Hawksmoor and Byron offerings. But, I'd not been to Goodman before and, as our waiter took us through the available cuts, Mr Noodles and I were easily sold on steak. We both ordered the rib-eye. My only disappointment here is that the smallest cuts for virtually all their steaks are much larger than I'd like – the smallest rib-eye available was 400 grams! Why not offer a few at 200 grams and 300 grams?
The burger, which came with chips (£12) was very well received. Garnished with lettuce, pickle, tomato and onion it was a fine specimen. I'm not sure where the burger eaters are classifying it, in the great burger ranking table, but it was damn tasty.
The rib-eye steak was good too. And so it should be for £29 (without sides, we paid an extra £4 for each side dish of chips and vegetables). Both of us ordered our steaks medium rare but found the cooking very inconsistent with one end medium to medium well and the other nearer to rare. Luckily the quality of the steak was good enough to overcome this, but it wasn't ideal. The chips were excellent – golden and crispy without and soft and fluffy within. The béarnaise was good rather than excellent; I usually finish what I'm given and am clamouring for more but ate only a little of this one.
I had absolutely no space for dessert (though of course, I had a taste of each when they arrived) but the table did order one each of the baked New York cheesecake with a berry compote (£6.5) and the frozen caramel parfait with Maldon sea salt and milk chocolate (£6.5). The cheesecake was nothing special, a so-so rendition at best. The caramel, sea salt and chocolate parfait went down much better; a nice balance of flavours deftly combined.
It was a lovely evening, chatting to fellow food bloggers, and sharing some great food. Whether I'd appreciate the very noisy environment for a quieter tête-à-tête, I think not. The bill was about £50 each (our resident accountant made sure us steak eaters weren't subsidised by the burger gang) which is a touch on the high side, really, even taking into account the central location.
Sunday, 25 April 2010
La Fromagerie in Moxon Street … who knew?!
This little gem of a shop is tucked away in a back street, just off Marylebone High Street, next door to The Ginger Pig. I worked just a few minutes walk away on Baker Street for over a year, a few years back, and never stumbled across this lovely store, even though I'd idle away lunch breaks in Daunt books, also close by.
I hadn't realised that the store is far more than a cheese shop, but more of a deli selling charcuterie, fresh produce, bread and baked goods, honey, all kinds of preserves, chocolates and candied fruit...
So how did I come to find it now? I was invited to an event organised by Vive Le Cheese and hosted by La Fromagerie.
Vive Le Cheese is a campaign to promote the enjoyment of French cheeses - not just the handful of bries, camemberts and roqueforts that are most widely consumed in the UK, but the full diversity and wonder of France's cheeses.
In their own words: "the objective of the campaign is to raise awareness and make consumers more familiar with French cheeses, their flavours and styles and, above all, the ways in which they can fit into a modern European lifestyle, adding a certain "je ne sais quoi" and pleasure to everyday moments." The literature also mentions their intension to appeal to a younger age group (18-35).
20 or so bloggers duly assembled in the shop of a weekday evening and, as we waited for the event proper to start, explored the store, chatted, enjoyed the proffered drinks and cheesey canapés.
After welcomes and introductions from Katrina Alloway (the food and wine writer who organised the event) and Patricia Michelson (La Fromagerie's owner) we are divided into three groups for the three sessions.
My group, serendipitously the smallest, begins with the cheese tasting.
The handsome Jean-Bapiste Manin, hailing from the ballad to gastronomy that is Lyons, took us through 10 french cheeses, 9 of which I was already pretty familiar with and one I'd neither heard of nor tried before.
The cheese was pretty good, (see my tasting comments below). Some of the cheeses were new to some of our little blogger group, and it was actually lovely to be able to watch peoples' first tastes and reactions to these wonderful cheeses.
Tasting something fabulous for the first time is a magical moment indeed!
Here are my tasting notes:
Saint Marcellin from Isere/Dauphin
How can one not be drawn to a delicious little cheese that comes in it's own darling little clay dish? This pale medallion shaped cheese has a greyish-white bloomy mould and, when ripe, it oozes in a most delightful way. It's not a smelly cheese, which will suit those who can't abide the "smelly foot" stink of some cheeses. It's soft and yet dense, feels creamy and smooth in the mouth and has a slightly acerbic taste.
Emmental Français Grand Cru, Savoie
A young Emmental doesn't do that much for me, though it's very mild sweetness is popular with some. But a well aged specimen like this is a different thing altogether! Sweet, nutty, waxy and yet still softer and bendier than other cheeses with similar flavours, it's great as both an eating and a cooking cheese.
Camembert Fermier, Normandy
A traditionally farmhouse-made Camembert can so easily become lost amongst the mass produced versions of this famous French cheese. This one has a reassuringly farmy smell, is wonderfully soft in the middle - I'm not so keen on the chalkier texture of less ripened camemberts - and is a good choice for those looking for a milder cheese.
Brie de Meaux, Ile de France
When you buy Brie, you really ought to choose a decent one. As with Camemberts, there are so many insipid, cheap versions. Brie de Meaux won't disappoint - the golden yellow flesh has a very rich, creamy, almost oily texture surrounded by a satisfyingly thick, bloomy white rind - my favourite bit! One can definitely taste the umami in this cheese - it has an almost meaty richness of flavour.
Comté d'Estive, Franche-Comte
"Comté man", as I think of him, has long been a popular stall holder at Borough Market. Because a good, aged Comté is a wonderous thing. Well-aged beauties with their pale yellow solid interior and unassuming brown rind have a distinct fruity, nutty flavour and delightfully granular texture. I love the salty-sweet balance of this cheese.
This is a cheese I buy often for cooking, though that's not to say it's not a lovely eating cheese too. Semi-soft yellow flesh inside a pinky-orange washed rind, it's a gentle cheese with a squishy texture and mild, slightly nutty taste. An essential ingredient in tartiflette, I really like it in Pete's Cheesey Potato Bake, alongside a stronger hard cheese such as a Comté and a third cheese such as a blue or perhaps some Epoisses. Although this is a mild cheese, the La Fromagerie sample is a particularly mild one. Jean-Bapiste recommends Abbaye de Tamié as a more strongly flavoured alternative.
Saint Nectaire, Auvergne
I first came across this cheese whilst staying with friends who run a B&B in the Corrèze, in Limousin. It's made in the neighbouring departement of Auvergne and available for sale in the fantastic produce market at Brive. The one I bought there was older than the one served us by La Fromagerie, and had a harder texture and more robust flavour. This younger one was much softer but still had the mushroom and straw taste I remembered, albeit only mildly so. I think this is a good choice for those who want to venture out of their normal range for semi-hard and hard cheeses without being overwhelmed by too strong a taste.
Epoisses Affine, Burgundy
My friend Dan thinks Epoisses smells and tastes like a dead body (though the mind boggles that he'd know ;) and he's not wrong that it's a stinky, stinky cheese. When ripe, its interior is oozingly soft, just short of cloying, and the Marc de Bourgogne-washed rind is sticky and stinky in equal measure. But oh, the taste, it's sublime! Pungent, yes but rich. And awfully hard to put into words!
Fourme d'Ambert, Auvergne
I think this blue is pretty well known in the UK. Often sold in disc-shaped slices this is an easy blue to like. It's very, very creamy, has a salty sharpness but not too much so and I detect a little sweetness in the aftertaste. It's a good balance between the raw aggression of some blues and the weedy subtlety of others.
La Fromagerie also sell this cheese macerated in Sauternes which I'll definitely have to seek out, next time I'm in one of their stores.
Vache Porte d'Aspe,Valley d'Aspe, Pyrénées-Atlantiques
This cheese is a shocker! It's so strong that it makes my tongue tingle. Actually, it feels like it's burning, a strange chilli-burn sensation. From a cheese! The flavour is rich and complex with hints of minerals and ammonia. It's like nothing I've had before and I can't quite decide whether I like it or not.
I buy some for my husband, as I'm a chilli wuss whereas he's keener on that mouth burn feeling and, like me, he likes strong cheeses.
When I get home I can't find out much more about it. The tasting sheet lists it as "Vache Porte d'Aspe" but there's not much at all on the interwebs. I think another favourite of mine, Ossau-Iraty, a hard sheeps milk cheese, is made in the same area.
A bit of an enigma, this one, but certainly different and it got us all exclaiming and talking about it!
Our group's second session was the wine and food pairings.
Two regular whites, two reds and one dessert wine (all French, of course) were provided and a number of hot dishes featuring French cheese. I'm not a fan of regular wine so I stuck to the lovely Sauternes and focused on the dishes themselves. The others were encouraged to try each of the five wines with each of the four dishes and decide which wine they felt best matched each dish.
The reblochon fritters and spiced butternut squash soup were tasty. I liked the rich, sweetness of the soup against the salty savouriness of the cheese.
The emmental, smoked lardons and cherry tomato quiche was nice enough, though the lardons and tomatoes overwhelmed the emmental. That said, the kitchen chose to make miniature quiches and, by the time the lardons and tomatoes were added, there probably wasn't much space left for the cheese!
I rather liked the camembert and fig tart with hazelnut and parsley vinaigrette - the subtle creaminess of camembert always works so well with fruit. The nuts gave a nice crunch and the vinaigrette balanced the sweet with a little sharp.
I'm afraid I didn't enjoy the roquefort and walnut soufflé with spiced pear chutney. For me the chutney was the best thing on the plate. Neither the flavour or the texture of the soufflé won me over, and yet I'm both a fan of roquefort and of savoury soufflés. I wasn't the only one who didn't thrill to this dish so perhaps the recipe or execution was a little off.
As for the dishes themselves, the recipes are part of the Vive Le Cheese campaign and can be found on their blog.
Lastly, we made our way into the glass-panelled cheese room, from where cheese is sold, for a talk from La Fromagerie's affineur, John Peglar, known as JP. The bulk of their stock is stored and properly aged in three cellars (near the original Highbury shop, I think). John explained how he cares for the cheeses. It's not just a case of storing the cheeses, as most cheese retailers do, but of applying whatever actions are needed to bring out the best in each cheese - the French art of affinage. This can involve anything from simply ensuring a cheese gets enough but not too much humidity and is stored at the right temperature, to creating and applying a wash to a washed-rind cheese, which can change the finished flavour quite significantly, depending on what is in the wash.
I confess I don't remember much beyond that - perhaps the cold, cold room dulled my brain.
I did manage to keep it together sufficiently to select and buy a few cheeses to bring home with me, much to Pete's appreciation. (He was intrigued by the strange Vache Porte d'Aspe too).
As both a Francophile and a turophile, I certainly enjoyed the evening. And I am all for any campaign seeking to bring the joys of French cheese to those who haven't already discovered it.