Tuesday, January 29, 2008

White Truffle Oil-Infused Custards with Black Truffle Ragout

I had this canapé at Per Se in October, and it was absolutely delicious. I knew I could make the custard without much difficulty, but the thought of gently slicing through the eggshell to make those adorable little custard cups without cracking the whole thing was daunting. Okay, maybe not exactly daunting... more like it was an easy opportunity for me to deplete the world's egg supply just trying to get eight eggshells to not shatter all over the place. I'm not exactly known for my patience. I also knew the chive chips would be challenging, since I hadn't really had much luck with earlier versions of potato chips.

So, even though this canapé sounds uncomplicated, I brought a whole cargoload of culinary baggage as I prepped for this dish.

Let's start with the chive chips, which as you'll see, did not turn out as I'd hoped. After preheating the oven to 300 degrees, I peeled a russet potato, then pared it down to be the shape of a very thick Band-Aid (about 4" tall by 1" wide). I sliced it as thinly as I could with my mandoline, then put a slice on a Silpat-lined baking sheet that had been brushed with melted clarified butter. I put a chive tip on top of that slice, then topped it with another matching slice of potato:

I placed another buttered Silpat face down on top of these chips, weighted it with another baking sheet, then put them in the oven for 35 minutes, turning the pan halfway through the cooking time. Here's what they looked like when they were done:

Whoopsie. Obviously, I need more practice in the slicing arena. The French Laundry Cookbook says you can store these chips in an airtight container for up to two days. So, I let mine cool, then stored them for just two hours and they got all floppity, bendy, and depressing. Only one of the chips stayed nice and crisp and stiff, and you'll see that in the final photo. The rest just looked tired and sad and in need of a certain little blue pill when I picked them up. Poor little guys.

But let's not dwell on that. Just like the agnolotti, I'll get those chips right if it's the last thing I do. On to the custards!

When I read that I had to cut the bottoms off multiple eggs to make this dish, I was CERTAIN I'd screw up at least a dozen of them in the process, so I bought three dozen eggs for this dish, even though I only needed 8 eggs. What can I say? I wanted to be prepared.

I took each egg, one-by-one, and placed it on the counter, gently swaddled with a dishtowel:

Isn't he just precious?

Using a serrated knife, I gently sawed back and forth on the wide end of the egg until I could pop off the "lid" that formed. I put the egg whites and yolks into a bowl nearby and rinsed out each eggshell, gently wiping out the inside with my finger so as to remove all the membrane.

I threw away the lids and turned each eggshell upside down in the egg container so they could drain and dry out a bit before I put the custard into them. And, I know you must be dying to know -- did it take all THIRTY-SIX eggs to get the eight I needed? No, it did not. It merely took nine of them. I am proud to admit (and please feel free to call CNN to get this on the crawl), I mutilated just one egg beyond repair -- all the rest happened quite easily.

As the eggshells dried, I made the custard. I heated milk and cream in a saucepan then added it to a blender. I turned on the blender, and while the custard base was misxing, I added truffle oil, two eggs, salt and white pepper. I strained the mixture through a chinois and into a small pitcher -- in this case, my coffee press carafe:

See how it separated? That's a good thing. I removed the foamy top part and poured the darker yellow custard into the empty eggshells, which I'd turned upright in the carton, and placed in a baking dish with some newspaper on the bottom to more evenly disperse heat:

This is one time I wish I had used white eggs instead of brown eggs because the edges of the shell might not have looked so haggard.

Next, I filled the baking dish with warm water so that it came up around the sides of the eggshells:

The French Laundry Cookbook suggests baking the custards in this water bath at 275 degrees for 45 minutes. After about 40 minutes at 275, I checked on them to see if I needed to take them out a few minutes early and was surprised to see how runny they were. So, I decided to up the temperature to 350 degrees -- for a total cooking time of an hour and 15 minutes -- 40 minutes on 275 degrees and another 35 minutes at 350. Here's what they looked like when they were finished:

While they were baking, I made the truffle ragout. I combined some veal stock and a few drops of white wine vinegar in a small saucepan and brought it up to a simmer until it had reduced and thickened from a stock consistency to more of a sauce. I added some minced black truffle and a little bit of butter and white truffle oil to finish it:

I wish you could've been here to smell this ragout. I don't think there are adjectives in the English language to do it justice. It's like when you've been cooking something and then you walk outside to pick up the mail or take the dog for a quick walk around the block and you come back and open your front door and the *ka-pow* and *aaahhhh* are followed by a huge grin of satisfaction that something you created can make a house smell like a home.

To plate, I placed each egg on top of one of my grandmother's green shot glasses (because I don't have egg cups and didn't feel the need to buy any), spooned in a bit of the truffle ragout, and stood a chive chip in the custard. This was the only chip that looked good (and that's even a stretch). I didn't take photos of the sad, droopy ones because they were too pathetic.

We stood around the butcher block in the kitchen and ate them with little espresso spoons... which was kind of funny, since these were the de facto birthday cake for my neighbor's birthday. Of course, we had to bust on him for having a manly-man birthday and eating these dainty little treats instead of diving into a steak and big-ass chocolate cake. Guess you had to be there.

Anyhoo, these custards were really, really good -- and if I do say so myself (which I can because it's my blog and I can do whatever I want, so there), these were almost as good as the one I had at Per Se, which made me feel pretty frickin' spectacular. I'd make these custards again in a heartbeat because they were really pretty easy to do, and that truffle ragout was out of this world and added so much depth and fragrance to the dish. I'm a big fan of all things custard-y, so I knew I'd enjoy both cooking and eating this dish. It's just those damn chips that I need to work on for next time. I think I need to go to chip school. Must look into that. Could you imagine what an awesome place chip school would be? Almost as good as bacon school, caramel school, or coffee school. Chip school..... a girl can dream, can't she?

Up Next: Roasted Sweetbreads with Applewood-Smoked Bacon, Braised Belgian Endive, and Black Truffle Sauce

Chives, and russet potato from Whole Foods
Eggs from TPSS Co-op
Organic Valley milk and cream
Black truffle from D'Artagnan
Saveurs white truffle oil
365 organic butter

Music to Cook By: Gap Band; Ultimate Collection. And now I can't stop singing "Ooops, up side your head, I said ooops upside your head." I also remember the dance the Gap Band did to "(You) Dropped a Bomb on Me" when they were on Soul Train back when I was in sixth or seventh grade, so of course I had to scuttle around the kitchen doing that dance while the custards were cooking. I can't tell you the year that World War I began, but I can remember the Soul Train dance to "You Dropped a Bomb on Me." I'm excellent.

Read my previous post: "Coffee and Doughnuts"


Anonymous said...

Once again, an awesome job. I wish I were your neighbor!

I'm thinking about making a variation of the FL blueberry soup this weekend. Maybe with peaches or strawberries. Yeah, I know they're out of season so I'd have to use frozen, but I'm interested in knowing if other fruits could be used successfully. Strawberries and cream, peaches and cream, those work. So it seems liked they'd be good in the blueberry soup recipe. In the dead of winter, I need a fruit fix!

Anonymous said...

I have also tried and utterly failed at the Keller chip technique, but I have an idea, inspired by Alton Brown's grilled cheese technique. He suggests heating two iron skillets, then turning off the heat and "grilling" the sandwich between them, and it works spectacularly. I wonder if the same idea might work for chips: heat two heavy sheet pans or some such, then sandwich the silpat/chip sandwich between them and bake. When I fry chips, they get soggy if the oil isn't hot enough, so maybe that extra burst of heat will raise the tater temp faster and crisp them better?

michelle @ thursday night smackdown said...

i am way to scared of myself to ever try and saw the tops of off raw eggs. i salute you and your moxie.

i love the idea of the chive chip, and i think i would eat them even if floppity (which, BTW, is super fun to say). i think i'll try them for an anti-superbowl party i'm going to on sunday. if the results aren't too pathetic, maybe i'll
blog them.

french tart said...

what did your grandmother do shots of?

amber said...

these sound delicious! i would be willing to be that i, too, suck at making chips seeing as how i can't seem to make fries very well either. hmph. just keep at it... i know you'll figure it out soon enough. just be sure to share the secret here when you do!

i dance in the kitchen all. the. time. i'm sure the neighbors in the apts across from us don't know what to think! oh well. cooking makes me happy. music makes me happy. and the end result of all that is to dance, of course. ;)

Anonymous said...

Aw - the egg looks like it's taking a nap...a nap for ALL ETERNITY.

Kitt said...

I've had the book as my bedside reading for the last couple of weeks, and the book always seems to fall open to that photo, with its oh-so-perfect translucent chip. And I think, no way. Custard yes, chips, no.

I wonder, though, if you needed to crank up your oven to do the custard, maybe it's not getting hot enough for the chips, either? Also, for a good, crisp fry, I know you really should fry it twice, so maybe cooking them a little, and then putting them in again would do the trick.

michael, claudia and sierra said...

one day i will eat truffles for breakfast, lunch and dinner. black ones and white ones. with abandon. i too am i custard fiend. what a fantastic sounding dish. screw the chips. damn fine without 'em.

Anonymous said...

I think to get properly crispy, chips need to dry out while cooking. I think I'd suggest trying them without being covered, they may curl but that does have a certain panache.

The custard looks delicious, but...VEAL stock? Maybe it's just me, and truffles are always welcome, but that ragout hardly sounds like dessert. Oh well, it's FL, they must have their reasons!

I love this blog...

Anonymous said...

First, I really enjoy this blog.
Second, I think the chip issue is due to oven temperature. It seems
like there have been several posts where you've found you need to increase the temperature or cooking time. I'm wondering if, when the recipes were converted from restaurant-use to home-use, the temp/time wasn't changed to accommodate for the fact that most home cooks don't have convection ovens. I've done these chips at work in a convection oven and they came out fine, but I've never tried them at home. Typically, people say you need to either increase the temperature by 50 degrees, or the cooking time by 30 minutes if you are trying a recipe intended for a convection oven in a conventional oven. With the chips, my inclination would be to try increasing the temperature, rather than cook time.

I also think that removing the top sheet pan about 15 minutes before they are finished might help make them crisper. It sounds like they are kind of steaming in between the two sheets, and the steam isn't all getting cooked off, so they end up all soggy. If I were going to experiment with the chips at home, I would probably try do this at the temp called for in the book, and if that didn't work, I'd up the oven temp, but leave them covered the entire time. Hope that makes sense.

Anonymous said...

Here are some tips on the chive chips from the guy who used to make them at TFL.


Kate Schmidt said...

You are my hero.

Anonymous said...

Carol, here are my comments from your last potato adventure. Sorry its so long, I think I may have prepped one or two to many potatoes in my day. Great blog, glad you're still having fun in the kitchen!

One note: the link from the FL prep guys is right on the money(of course there probably weren't Kennabeck potatoes at your Whole
Food). Its always great when you get the "trick" the pros use.

Carol, just bumped into your blog yesterday, really enjoying your adventures in the kitchen.

It's amazing how many minor and major kitchen screw up you can avoid when follow your gut instincts on ingredients, techniques and such.

I agree thickness being an issue with the crispiness. Sounds like the perfect excuse to buy that Japanese mandolin. I'm sure you'll soon wonder how you survived w/out one.

Another factor with the potatoes can be the age. Produce company often will "cure" or age potatoes for accounts that use potatoes for french fries or potato chips. Just after the new crop of russet potatoes are harvested they will have a elevated level of sugar. This will prevent them from getting golden brown and crisp, instead they will be either light and not crisp or way to dark. You can avoid this by aging the potatoes a couple weeks minimum, above 50 degrees. I find that potatoes that have the first sign of sprouting and are a little soft to the touch are perfect for frying applications.

Last point is the butter, it really needs to be completely clarified, and and used liberally. You are basically frying the potatoes in the butter.

Sorry about the long post, must have been all those afternoons prepping the pommes anna and maxims. Uncrisp potatoes would alway send the chef into a tizzy. Bon appetite,


pdxblogmommy said...

Custards, for dessert or otherwise as the case may be, should be gathered and shot into space, never to return.

Truffle Ragout, however, should be slathered all over everything. I don't know that I could ever have enough of that.

And I like the idea of the chips. How about those chips and a truffle ragout dip?

Superbowl Specialty.

biskuit said...

Man, I wish I had all those comments before I tackled this dish. The eggs weren't too hard, but did come out "jaggedy." I had bought an "egg cutter" on amazon but the cuts it made were way too small to fit a spoon through, so I abandoned that and did the knife technique to start, then just fingers to do the rest.

The chips came out OK after much playing around with temps etc. But the I FORGOT TO PUT THE CHIPS IN THE EGGS!! Agh, oh well, but like you said, the custard was heavenly.

A few photos...
a motley assortment of chips out of the oven - http://flickr.com/photos/kaplanbr/2189052235/

custard in the shells to be baked -

a truffle for the slicing -

the final dish! (sans chive chip) -

Next time I make some of his chips, I will be better equipped with advice!

Lilly said...

Love, love, LOVE that your grandma has green shot glasses.

What a badass.

Anonymous said...

Such a trooper. I winced when I saw that this dish required chips. One day your chip will come out crispy and the build up will have been worth it. But I admire your patience. If it were me, I'd have thrown them back in sans silpat and cranked up the heat. That aside, another wonderful dish. Cutting the shells, beautiful.

Unrelated, I fear that McCain's wins will box your Mayor Mike out of the race. Maybe you could settle for a millionaire boyfriend instead of a west wing billionaire.

Anonymous said...

I feel your pain for the chips. I had the exact same experience when I made this dish for Xmas a few years ago. Not quite the same (the chip only) as what I remembered eating at the French Laundry! But, as you said, the custard & ragout was amazing. And thanks Katie for the convection tip! Our new oven is a convection / regular combo, so I'll try convection next time.

Carol Blymire said...

FrenchTart: No clue what Grandma did shots of, but I imagine it was something fabulous and that she and the girls enjoyed their card club all the more with those little glasses by their side. :)

All: Thanks for the chip advice and extra resources/instructions. I got a new Benriner mandoline this weekend (thanks, mom and dad), so between that and these new methods, I think I can master the chip. stay tuned.

James: Yes, the pig head is coming. The pig head is coming. I promise. I'm actually looking forward to it, oddly enough.