Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Birthday for the Zin Buddhist

A sextet of Zinfandels sang a choir for our Zin Buddhist at a somewhat belated birthday celebration.

It's been a tough winter, what with all the colds and the stress and the general tension that seems to be running rampant, but with all that Zin in our wine closet, there surely was zero chance that this party would get cancelled altogether.

As usual, we hauled out cooking equipment and headed on over to Oakland, and the home of the Pajama Queen and Mr. Tarte Tatin.

Since our primary goal was to be tasting Zinfandels, we thought we'd make it easy on ourselves and just have a pizza party, in which everyone made their own little mini pizzas, which we could then toss on the grill. Yes, four boxes of stuff and a bulletin board constitutes "easy" for us.

I'll let you read all about the Zin Mania on Eric's blog, but suffice it to say, I'm glad I did a lot of pre-prepping, because by the time I was tasting the fifth Zin, my knife skills were flailing a bit. We picked up these groovy little one-ounce pourers at BevMo! (Shh! Don't tell anyone we went in there!). Given our crowd of Zin-lovers--we thought these might be a necessary speed bump.

The Pajama Queen overseeing the grill work.

Since the tasting started around tea-time, and I figured most of us would be a tad hungry, I also made some gougeres as a little snack. These lovely little cheesy puffs somehow magically vanished. I put them out in two bowls, went back into the kitchen to slice some tomatoes, and suddenly the bowls were coming back in. Empty.

"What happened to the gougeres?"

"Oh... SO gone."

They're actually fairly simple to make -- my standard operating procedure is to make pate a choux and dump in a bunch of grated Gruyere cheese. (How much? I don't think I've ever measured it exactly.) Then, I spoon the batter into a pastry bag fitted with a big tip, plonk it into a tupperware and take it with me wherever we're going. When we get there, I pipe the gougeres out onto a baking sheet and make them on the spot, because they are MUCH, MUCH better when straight out of the oven.

This recipe is adapted from the French Laundry cookbook, and I think they get a nice extra pouffe. I adapted it for hand mixing, since (tsk, tsk) Thomas Keller actually suggests you use a stand mixer, which we, of course, do not have.


1 cup water
7/8 stick butter (7 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 pinch sugar
1.25 cup AP flour
4 -6 large eggs (They'll need to be beaten, but added only one by one, so beat each one as you need it)
1-1 1/2 cups grated Gruyere
freshly ground white pepper

In a saucepan, bring the water, butter, and salt and sugar to a boil. Remove from the heat and allow it to cool for a few minutes.

Add the flour all at once, stirring to combine. Return to a low heat and continue working the mixture for two minutes--until all the flour is incorporated and dough dries out a little and forms into a ball. There will be a slight film that develops on the pan.

Let the mixture stand for ten minutes to cool, and in the mean time, beat one egg in a small bowl. Using a wooden spoon, add in the egg and stir to incorporate into the dough. This is the tricky/frustrating part. It's going to look like the egg won't want to combine with the dough, and you'll feel like you just have a lot of slippery little blobs, but keep working it.

Once the egg is pretty much combined, beat another egg and do the same thing. Frustrating, I know, but keep at it. Continue adding eggs until the batter has thinned enough so that when you lift the spoon sideways out of the batter, a soft "V" of batter hangs down from the edge of the spoon. Not a ragged "V" shape, but a nicely pointy one. You'll need at least 4 eggs. Some days it takes 5, some days it takes 6. Why? I have no idea. But the "V" test should be your guide as to when you've incorporated enough egg.

Once all eggs have been added and the mixture is smooth put dough into piping bag fitted with a 3/4" round tip.

Here you can either continue on, or store in the refrigerator for up to several hours.

Preheat the oven to 450F. Pipe the batter into golfball-sized shapes, 2 inches apart onto parchment or Silpat lined baking sheets. Make sure your oven is hot enough or the puffs won't get their first pouffy rise! Bake for 7-8 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350F and bake for 20-25 more minutes or until golden brown. Serve instantly.

Anyway. SO gone.

Good thing we had the pizza stuff ready to go. I made a batch of the Wolfgang Puck pizza dough, which is my current favorite. Actually I made it about two weeks ago, when we first thought we'd have this party. Then it sat in the fridge for about a week, until Eric asked, "Um, what's the thing in the tupperware that's exploding?"


Well, I thought, you can leave sourdough starter in the fridge indefinitely as long as you keep turning it out and feeding the beast. So I fed it, figuring we'd make the pizzas the next week. Which we didn't.

So I fed it again.

When I pulled out the bowl on Sunday, I thought, hmmm... I think I've rediscovered beer.

We test baked a little of it, and --ah, the wonders of food science -- it tasted like San Francisco sourdough. Good enough for me. We made up some more dough using that as our base, and turned out the pizza crusts for grilling, along with a selection of roasted garlic, caramelized onions, tomatoes, anchovies, sausage, salmon, goat cheese and Meyer lemons fresh off Bill and Mo's tree.

I had been a little stymied as to what sort of dessert to serve that would be Zin appropriate. Eric said he didn't want a cake. However, I did happen to know he loves madeleines, so I made the Strawberries and Blackberries in Balsamic with Pepper again (Whoops! Easy on that pepper, M.E.... HOW many one-ounce pours of Zin did you have?)

And then I made a couple of trays of lemony madeleines so that they could come fresh out of the oven and onto the plate. Madeleines...*sigh of bliss.*

There are about a zillion recipes out there for the perfect madeleine, (check out Amanda Hesser's evocative article on the topic) and I have sampled far too few to be able to lay any sort of claim on the title. However, this classic take did not receive any complaints.


4 eggs
1 cup (200 g) sugar
Zest of two lemons
1/8 tsp salt
1-3/4 cup AP flour
3/4 cup (185 g) butter, melted and cooled slightly

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the eggs and sugar with a hand mixer, blending until the color is light and lemony. Remove the mixer, and with a rubber spatula, gently fold in the salt and flour until the batter is just combined. Fold in the melted butter and lemon zest.

Refrigerate the batter, covered, for one hour.

Preheat oven to 375F. Generously butter a madeleine mold (really get a nice bit of butter into those divets.) Spoon batter into each mold until each is about 3/4 of the way full. DO NOT OVERFILL!

Bake 12-15 minutes at 375F. When the madeleines are done, you'll see a distinctive little hump in each one, and the edges will be faintly browned -- love that crispy browned edge. remove them from the pan immediately and serve right away. Probably there already is a horde of people sniffing around the oven, fully prepared to burn their fingers on a hot madeleine.

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