Béchamel Sauce

A béchamel is one of the five classic French sauces. It’s also a building block for others variations down the road. The first variation is really a short jaunt because with the addition of grated cheese, such as Gruyère or Emmental, it becomes a Mornay sauce. Incidentally, adding a cheddar makes it the perfect sauce for Mac & Cheese.

4 whole cloves
1/2 medium yellow onion, peeled
1 – 1 1/2 cups (8-12 oz / 350-475 ml) whole milk
1 – 2 whole garlic cloves, peeled (optional)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon white peppercorns, coarsely crushed
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons (1 ½ oz / 40 g) unsalted butter
1/3 cup (1 1/2 oz / 40 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 – 3/4 cup (2-3 oz / 60-80 g) grated Comté cheese (or any of your favorite hard cheese)
1/2 – 3/4 cup ( 2-3 oz / 60-80 g) grated parmesan cheese
A small handful of fresh breadcrumbs (one slice of bread will do)

If making say a gratin using the béchamel preheat oven 400 degrees F.

For the béchamel sauce:
Poke 4 whole cloves in the onion. Place a saucepan over low heat and add the clove studded onion, milk, garlic, nutmeg, salt, peppercorns, and bay leaf. Slowly bring the milk to the boil. As soon as the milk boils turn the heat off and leave to infuse while making the roux.

In a medium size saucepan melt the butter gently over low heat.  After the butter is melted add the flour and mix well using a wooden spoon or whisk.

When the flour and butter are blended keep stirring gently for 3 minutes keeping the heat very low and making sure that the mixture takes on no coloration (it should stay a creamy white color). After it’s cooked set it aside.

After the milk has been infused with the aromatics return the pan with the roux to the stove and heat on low. Using a sieve pour about ½ cup of the warm milk over the roux and whisk to incorporate the milk in the roux

Turn up the heat to medium and keep on stirring your sauce slowly (using a whisk) until the sauce thickens and reaches the boil.

Once the sauce reaches a boil, put the heat back on very low and keep on cooking the béchamel for a few minutes, stirring continuously (this is to ensure that all floury taste has been removed any of the floury taste has been removed from the sauce. Once cooked turn the heat off and taste to adjust seasonings. Add grated Comté and parmesan cheese; mixing until melted. Set aside.

Making an Asparagus Gratin
1 bunch (about 1pound) fresh asparagus
Kosher salt
butter for greasing baking dish

Wash the asparagus under cool running water and trim away the bottom 1/3 of the stalk. With a vegetable peeler, peel off the rough part (leave the tip intact).

Fill a medium to large saucepan with water, about halfway to the top. Add salt and bring to a boil. Add the asparagus and reduce heat slightly cooking for about 10 minutes, or until crisp and tender, depending on thickness of asparagus.

Drain and place on a buttered oven-proof dish. Pour béchamel sauce over asparagus, drizzle with breadcrumbs. Cook in a preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until golden. You can place dish under the broiler for a couple of minutes towards the end if you prefer (it will brown faster).

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Herbes de Provence Crackers

The Holidays are upon us and this means it’s time to party.  These crackers can be made ahead and stored in an air-tight container until ready to enjoy during your next fête.

David Schmit Photography

2 cups (9 oz / 255 g) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1 tablespoon poppyseeds
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for brushing
½ cup water, room temperature
1 tablespoon herbes de Provence, or more to taste
Fine sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Set a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees F. In the bowl of a food processor using the metal “S” blade blend together flour, poppyseeds, and sugar by pulsing a couple of times.

Turn off the motor and the pour oil around the parameter of the bowl. Pulse a few times to combine the oil. Turn off motor and using a rubber spatula mound the mixture towards the center of the bowl. Pour water around the parameter and run the machine until the mixture forms a ball.

Remove dough from the bowl and cut into 4 parts, each weighing roughly 110 g or 3-3/4 ounces. Form each piece of dough into a disk and set aside. On a floured surface roll out each into a rectangle about 10 x 15-inches.

Transfer each piece to a separate parchment lined baking sheet. Brush with olive oil. Sprinkle with herbes de Provence, salt, and pepper. Cover with another piece of parchment paper and set another baking sheet on top. (This prevents the crackers from forming large air bubbles.) 

Bake for 8 – 10 minutes then remove the top baking sheet and continue baking for another 5 minutes or until the cracker is golden brown around the edges. Let cool completely, break into pieces and store in a airtight container until ready to serve.

If you don’t have herbes de Provence, feel free to sprinkle with any dried herb or crushed spices, like cumin, coriander or even just freshly ground black pepper.

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Coq au Vin with a Twist

This is a simplified version of my original coq au vin recipe. Here only the chicken is marinated in red wine. It’s also a bit of a twist as I added fennel and leeks along with the carrots, onions, and garlic. You could also add diced celery if you are so inclined.

Also, on this particular day the bacon I had planned on using was frozen. However, the duck fat was not so I used it instead. If you have neither bacon nor duck fat just use olive oil and maybe a tablespoon of butter as well. 

To prevent the vegetables from being overcooked, after they are sautéed I removed them from the pot to be added back later. The mushrooms are also cooked separately and added later with the other vegetables.

1 (3 to 4-pound) chicken, cut into 8ths or 8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
1/2 bottle (375 ml) good dry red wine such as Burgundy
2 – 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, divided
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons duck fat or good olive oil
4 ounces good bacon or pancetta, diced (optional)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound carrots, cut diagonally in 1-inch pieces
1 medium yellow onion, 1/2-inch dice
1 leek, cleaned and 1/2-inch slice
1 medium fennel bulb, 1/2-inch dice
2 celery stalks, cut diagonally in 1-inch pieces (optional)
2 – 3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup Cognac or good brandy
1 cup chicken stock, preferably homemade
5 fresh thyme sprigs or 2 teaspoons Herbes de Provence
1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, stems removed and quartered
1/2 pound frozen small whole onions

A day ahead place the pieces of chicken in a ziploc bag and pour in the wine. Seal the bag, set it in a bowl (just in case the bag leaks) and let the chicken marinate overnight in the refrigerator.

About an hour before cooking remove the chicken from the refrigerator. When ready to proceed preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. In a small bowl thoroughly mix 1 1/2 tablespoons butter with the flour; set aside.

Heat the duck fat or olive oil in a large Dutch oven. If using, add the bacon and cook over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, or until browned. Using a slotted spoon remove the bacon to a bowl and set aside.

Meanwhile, lay the pieces of chicken on paper toweling and pat dry. Liberally sprinkle the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. In the pot in which the bacon was cooked add the chicken in a single layer (skin side down) and cook for 5 – 10 minutes, turning to brown evenly. Remove the pieces to a plate and continue to cook the remaining chicken until all is browned. Set aside.

To the same pot add the carrots, onions, leek, fennel, celery (if using), 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper and cook over medium heat for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the vegetables are lightly browned. Using a slotted spoon remove the vegetables to a bowl and reserve. Add a 1/2 tablespoon of butter to the pan and sauté the mushrooms; remove them as well to the bowl with the other vegetables.

Add the garlic and cook for a minute or so, then add the herbs and cook for an additional 30 seconds. Add the Cognac and reduce by a third. Add the chicken and any juices that collected on the plate; add the wine and chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and place in the oven for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes remove the pot from the oven and stir in the butter/flour mixture, reserved vegetables including the mushrooms, along with the pearl onions. Return the pot to the oven for another 10 – 15 minutes or until the chicken is no longer pink and the carrots are just cooked though.  Season to taste and ladle into bowls. Sprinkle with reserved bacon and serve as soon as possible with thick slices of crusty baguette.

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Banana-Pecan Bread

This recipe is a slight variation of one with whom Rick Nelson’s name is attached in a recently published Star Tribune article. He suggests adding walnuts but I grew up in the south where the pecan is the queen of nuts.

There’s no hard and fast rule here so feel free to substitute Englsh or black walnuts for the pecans. Or, if you are one of those purists types that don’t care for nuts in your food, by all means leave them out. I also have a recipe for a Black Wanut and Coconut Banana Bread and one for a Chocolate Banana Bread.

If you decide to add nuts, toasting them in the oven (on a sheet pan at 350 degrees F until fragrant) or in a dry skillet on the cook-top will bring out the most flavor. Other ingredients you might add include sour cream, coconut (both are added in the recipe below) or even a ½ cup of the best semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips you can get your hands on.

Next time if 2 1/2 mashed bananas end up making a cup, I’m adding the remaining half. I discovered after the fact that other recipes of similar portions call for up to 4 bananas. I may also subsitute a bit almond flour (maybe 1/4 cup) for some of the all-purpose flour.

Makes 1 large loaf or 2 small loaves

1 3/4 cup (8 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup (4 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for pan(s)
1/3 cup (2 ½ oz) packed brown sugar
1/3 cup (2 ¼ oz) granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup mashed very ripe bananas (2 to 3 bananas)
1/4 cup (2 oz) sour cream (optional)
1/2 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut (optional)
About 1/2 cup (2 oz) pecans, toasted and chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 5 x 9 x 3-inch loaf pan or 2 approximately 3 x 6 x 2-inch mini-loaf pans. Line the long sides with parchment paper leaving the sides with an overhang of paper.

Place a sieve over a medium bowl and measure or weigh out the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; sift and reserve.

In a bowl of an electric mixer using the paddle attachment beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the eggs one at a time beating until combined before adding the next. Mix in the vanilla extract and if including, the sour cream. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in thirds, alternating with mashed bananas and beginning and ending with flour mixture, mixing until just combined. Fold in pecans and if adding the coconut now’s the time to fold it in too.

Scrape batter into prepared pan(s) and bake until nicely browned and a tester inserted into the center of the bread comes out fairly clean (with bananas, this bread is moister than most) about 40 minutes.

Remove from oven and transfer pan to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes before removing from pan.

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Praline Lyonnaise Shortbread

On a recent trip to Lyon I fell for its regions’ specialty; Praline Lyonnaise.  As usual, I thought why purchase something that I can learn to make plus I didn’t want to lug it home.

Once home I got to work perfecting this beautiful pink almond confection. Consequently, I made multiple test batches.

Praline Lyonnaise is not only enjoyed out of hand it is often included in brioche or as the central ingredient in a tart. However, I hadn’t come across it as part of a cookie, so I figured why not? I had more than enough with which to experiment. The recipe can easily be cut in half.

I included a wedge of this delicous cookie as part of a recent dessert. Every ingredient can be made ahead: Rose Praline Lyonnaise, Red Wine Poached Pears, Vanilla Bean Mascarpone Ice cream, and this shortbread.

David Schmit Photography

2 cups (9 oz /255 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 ounces (6 tablespoons) semolina flour
1/2 cup (4 oz / 115 g) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup (8 oz / 227 g) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Scant 2/3 cup (3 ½ oz 80 g) chopped praline Lyonnais

Butter the bottom of 2 – 9 x 2-inch cake pans and line each with a round of parchment paper. Or use 2 – 9 x 2-inch adjustable cake rings set on a parchment lined sheet pan. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment mix together flour, semolina, sugar and salt.  Add butter pieces and mix on medium speed just until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the vanilla extract and pralines and mix just until incorporated. Note that you are not making an homogenized dough but only a crumbly mixture.

Divide mixture in half and press into the prepared pans. Carefully prick all over with a fork. Refrigerate for an hour or even overnight. Bake in a preheated 325° oven for 25 – 30 minutes or until barely golden brown. Cool slightly.

If using cake pans place a cooling rack over the pan and tip, removing the parchment paper. Place a cutting board on the cookie and flip back over.  If using cake rings simply expand ring and remove.

Using a serrated knife cut into wedges of desired size while still warm. The longer the shortbread cools the crumblier it becomes when cut. Let cool completely before serving.


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Mascarpone Ice Cream

There’s a lot of ice cream recipes floating around the inter-webs.  I found however, that evenly splitting the cream to milk ratio gives a delicate mouth feel because the mascarpone in this reicpe has such a high fat content, especially if made from scratch with the recipe that’s here.

There’s always the option too, of using 2 cups of cream and 1 cup of whole milk. Whatever you do, don’t use anything less than whole milk and preferably use organic.

This scoop of Mascarpone Ice cream was part of a dessert comprising of red wine poached pears and praline Lyonneaise shortbread.

David Schmit Photography

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup vanilla sugar*
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
5 large egg yolks
1 cup (8 oz) mascarpone cheese, preferably homemade
Zest of 1 lemon, optional

Prepare an ice bath by placing ice and cold water in a large bowl. Set a smaller bowl in the ice water. Set a fine mesh strainer in the smaller bowl.  Set it all aside.

Heat the cream, milk, sugars, and salt in a saucepan over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Meanwhile, in a large bowl whisk the egg yolks.  Slowly whisk half of the warm cream mixture into the egg yolks. (This is called “tempering” the eggs. You want to slowly add the hot mixture to gradually raise the temperature of the egg yolks otherwise you may end up with scrambled eggs.)

Return the egg-cream mixture to the rest of the cream in the saucepan. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the custard has thickened enough so that it coats the back of a spoon and holds a line drawn with your finger, about 5 minutes or about 170 degree F. (The texture of the custard is called “nappé” when it reaches this stage.)

Immediately pour through the fine mesh strainer into the container set inside the prepared ice bath.  Remove the strainer and whisk in the mascarpone cheese and lemon zest (if adding). 

Let the custard cool, stirring frequently, for about 30 minutes. Place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard and set it in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or ideally overnight.

Once the custard is cold, transfer the ice cream base to an ice cream machine and churn per the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer the ice cream to another container and freeze.

*If you don’t have vanilla sugar just use 3/4 cup total of granulated sugar with 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or the seeds of one pliable vanilla bean.

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Homemade Mascarpone

The beauty of making food from scratch is that you know exactly what’s in it. And, you have a better chance of knowing from where the raw ingredients are sourced. You are able to seek out local producers, for example, of eggs, vegetables, fruit, sources of protein, and dairy products.

This is exactly the reason that I make mascarpone with only two required ingredients; organic heavy cream and freshly squeezed lemon juice. Yes, it takes time but the majority of that time is unattended. And, yes you have to plan ahead if you want to make that tart with a mascarpone cream topped with fresh fruit.

Adapted from a dozen sources.
Yields about 1 1/2 cups

4 cups heavy cream, pasteurized (but not ultra-pasteurized)
2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed

In a large saucepan, heat heavy cream over medium high heat, stirring constantly until a candy thermometer reads 190°F. The cream should be just at a simmer. Stir in the lemon juice and continue to keep the heat at 190°F or as close as possible for 5 minutes, stirring constantly.

The cream should thicken enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature, about 30 to 45 minutes. Place in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, place a strainer lined with 4 layers of cheesecloth over an empty bowl. Pour the cream into the cheesecloth, cover with plastic wrap, and place back in the refrigerator.

Allow the cream to drain for 8-12 hours, or preferably overnight. When the mascarpone has finished draining, discard the whey and transfer the cheese to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator. Use fresh mascarpone cheese within the week.

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Rose Praline Lyonnaise

Although the orgins of this candy is a bit of a mystery, little gift bags of neon pink sugar-coated almonds are displayed in the pâtisseries throughout Lyon. They are also incorporated into tarte aux pralines (2nd from the right), pastries and breads in this beautiful city.

They come in 3 ratios of almonds to sugar – 20, 30 or 50%. The recipe below is the 50% version meaning 8 ounces of almonds to 16 ounces of sugar. With  this ratio you can scale the recipe up or down depending on how many candies you want to make.

8 ounces (250 g) whole unblanced almonds
1 pound (450 g) granulated sugar (divided into thirds)
1 teaspoon orange blossom water (per 4 oz almonds)
1/2 cup water (divided into thirds)
Red food coloring

After each stage, all utensils and pans should be cleaned to avoid premature syrup crystallization. To do this fast, fill pans with water, cover and bring to a boil and set to a simmer for about 15 minutes or so.

To Make:
In a sauté or frying pan, place one-third of the water (1.5oz / 40ml) and sugar (3oz / 150g). Add a few drops of red coloring. Bring to a boil. When large bubbles begin forming, carefully add the almonds stirring constantly and shaking the pan. Add the orange flower water. The syrup will begin to crystallize; keep stirring so that the nuts are well coated in sugar.

At some point, some of the sugar will no longer adhere to the nuts, and it looks like powdered pink sugar. Allow it to melt slightly so that it coats the nuts again. Transfer the contents of the pan onto a silacone mat lined sheet pan. Set the nuts aside and save any of the pink sugar.

Clean all utensils and pans. Place the remaining pink sugar in a saucepan and add the second-third of the sugar and water. Add a couple of drops of red food coloring if necessary. Bring to a boil and continue to cook until temperature reaches 255ºF (124ºC) and if necessary washing down the sides of the pan with a pastry brusk dipped in a bit of water to prevent premature crystalization.

When the syrup is almost at the desired temperature, switch on the burner below a clean pan and add nuts. Pour the syrup over the nuts, stirring as you pour. Coat the almonds well on high heat. The syrup will once again begin to cristalize. Lower the heat if necessary. Allow the sugar that does not coat the almonds to melt; continue stirring. Do not over cook.

Transfer the contents of the pan onto the silicone mat lined sheet pan. Set the nuts aside and save remaining pink sugar. Repeat the last step one more time with the remaining water and sugar.

Preheat oven to 160°F (70°C) and dry out the pink praline for about 50 minutes. 

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