Sunday, October 6, 2013

Hallowe'en Menus

I can remember the last time I went to a Hallowe'en party, hosted by Hallowe'en aficionados and self-professed foodies. I have to say that the food was completely dreadful. The dry-ice punch and the cupcakes decorated with tombstones had little imagination or impact. I'm sorry, but give me real food any day.

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Vintage Candy, Ouray, Colorado, USA
Julian McRoberts

Fortunately, there's no dearth of imaginative ways to celebrate Hallowe'en where food is concerned. But if you're going to invite people to dinner, and go beyond the typical orange and black menu, let's think about what Hallowe'en really is about: fear. And here is where your creativity and imagination come in. Cook something that scares you, and preferably, scares a lot of people. Take risks. Experiment with unfamiliar spices. Try emulsions, foams, or gels. Spin or mold sugar. Make a soufflé. You don't have to go completely Modernist Cuisine on your kitchen, but you can certainly take a few risks!

So take a deep breath, jump in, and get ready to make a mistake or two. Or five. And warn your guests they might be eating Chinese takeout at the last minute!


Soufflés, although they take a lot of work, are a great way to impress dinner guests. Some of it can be made up in advance and so your last-minute work can be eased a bit. Alternatively, if you don't mind an audience, you can start the soufflé while your guests are eating their appetizers.

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Quark Souffle, Served in a Cup
Herbert Lehmann

6 eggs
2T flour
2T butter
3/4 c hot milk
Flavourings (2 cups)
Large soufflé dish
paper to make collar
Double boiler
Rubber spatulas
Pastry Brush

  1. Decide what kind of soufflé you would like. They fall basically into sweet and savoury kinds, so it could be a cheese soufflé with spinach and bacon, or a spicy nacho soufflé, or a dessert soufflé such as chocolate or fruit. In any case, get your flavourings together.

  2. Now, make a roux with the flour and butter over the double boiler. Keep stirring the flour and butter together until it the butter melts and the flour begins to cook. The flour should be at least a golden-brown colour or darker.

  3. Separate the eggs. Reserve one egg yolk.

  4. Measure out your flavourings. Whatever you choose, it should equal two cups. If you wish to add some alcohol, anything from applejack to vodka, mix it in now with the flavourings. Some ideas might be au gratin potato; spinach, cheese and bacon; chicken chili; taco meat and cheese topped with salsa; beef bourgignon; chicken, asiago cheese and white wine. For dessert, try any fruit with a matching liqueur; peanut butter and jelly; or you can't go wrong with chocolate and a matching liqueur (rum, brandy, etc.).

  5. Beat together egg yolks and flavourings. Set everything aside. If it's a sweet soufflé, add 2T sugar to the egg yolks.

  6. Grease your soufflé dish. Add the paper collar and make sure it stands up 2"-3" above the edge of your dish.

  7. Preheat your oven to between 350 and 375 F. Savoury ingredients can take a little more heat.

  8. Beat egg whites until they form soft peaks (if you have very stiff peaks, your soufflé will still taste great, but it will be pretty durable).

  9. Heat milk. Mix with your roux and when you have a smooth sauce, mix it into your flavourings.

  10. Fold flavourings into egg whites.

  11. Pour gently into soufflé dish.

  12. Gently move soufflé dish into oven. Turn on the light if you wish to monitor it but do not open the door or make any loud noises.

  13. Let cook 20-25 minutes. The soufflé will rise above the top of the dish but don't worry, the paper collar will hold it in place.

  14. About 8 minutes before the soufflé is done, beat up the remaining egg yolk with a little water. Gently open the oven door. Brush the top of the soufflé gently with the egg wash, being careful not to press down on the surface. If it's a sweet soufflé, you can gently sprinkle sugar over the top and turn on the broiler.

  15. To test if your soufflé is done, wiggle it gently. It should be firm towards the edges, with a soft center.

  16. When your soufflé is done, remove gently from oven. Tug on the paper collar and it will slide out. Top if desired and serve.

  • Don't be afraid to turn your favourite foods into a soufflé. I've even had potato salad soufflé!
  • For more fun, get small ovenproof bowls with vertical sides and make individual soufflés.
  • Experiment with edible collars--phyllo dough, tortillas, piecrust dough.
  • Don't worry if your soufflé falls, or doesn't rise--it will still taste great!
Ready to try this but need something first? Try searching for soufflé recipes or equipment on Amazon.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Perfect Pie Crust

Yes, it's been almost a year. Life happens. A lot happens.

There's a big problem with making your own pie crusts. But first, let's look at what pie crust actually is.

Pie crust is a mixture of fat and flour, moistened with liquid. But what kind of fat you use, how you mix it, what kind of liquid, and what temperature everything is, is critical to the success of your pie crust.

First off, let's start with the proportions. There should be equal parts fat and flour, and just enough liquid to make the pie crust moist enough to roll out.

Second, the kind of fat: I have found that the absolutely best pie crust is made with equal parts of lard and butter. (Come on, you knew pie wasn't good for you!)

Third, the kind of flour--yes, it does make a difference! Gluten is what makes a pie crust tough, so you want to use the lowest-gluten flour you can find. Pastry flour is the best, and for the tastiest and most attractive crust, you want unbleached pastry flour or whole wheat pastry flour.

Fourth, the temperature of everything should be ice-cold. Yes, I keep my pastry flour in the freezer if I need the absolute best pie crust.

And now we come to how you mix the fat and flour. The most reliable way I have found is with two knives. Place the fat(s) in the sifted flour, and cut through the fats with one knife in each hand. You want bits of fat the size of lentils. The flour will stick to the outside of the bits of fat. Continue until you have the entire bowl of flour and fat in the appropriate-sized pieces.

When it comes to adding the liquid, most people use water, but I have discovered that replacing some or all of the water with 80 proof alcohol works the best. You can use anything you have lying around that goes with the flavor of the pie you are going to make: rum for peaches; whisky for pecans; vodka for savory pies. This also should be ice-cold. Put the mix in the refrigerator for a few minutes to keep it cool.

Finally, let's talk about equipment. For a crisp crust, you want a dark or glass pie pan. A pastry board and rolling pin you can refrigerate is good, or you can use marble.

Dust your pastry board with at little flour as possible (I use a tablespoon and spread it out evenly with my hand, and use the leftover to dust the pin lightly). Marble pastry boards are wonderful because they always stay cool! I also have a marble rolling pin, but my mother uses a hollow glass pin that she fills with water and freezes.

Without touching the pie crust with your hands, dump it out on the pastry board and roll to 1/8-inch thickness. Put your pie pan on top of the crust on the pastry board, and invert the crust into the pie pan. Press down to make sure there is no air between the crust and the pie pan.

For perfect crimping, you can use an iced fork, or make a "v" with one thumb and forefinger, and use a knife handle to push the crust into the "v."

If you need the pie crust to bake first, without browning, put a piece of parchment paper over the whole shebang and weight it down with a few glass marbles or river stones.

As always, some experimentation is useful. I have a number of tins which make very tiny pies, and I use these for experiments until I get a desirable result, and then I bake a few more examples to perfect the recipe.
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Granny Smith Apples in a Raw Pie Crust
Wally Eberhart