Thursday, April 28, 2011

Art Nouveau Memories with White Asparagus in Pastry with Tokaji Glazed Custard and Foie Gras

La Fermette Marbeuf at 5 Rue Marbuef (IS NOW BEEFBAR 2020)

Ah, white asparagus. In Germany it is known as spargel and called the ‘royal vegetable’. It was usually available for only six weeks –– May to the feast of John the Baptist on June 24th , but new sources have extended the old time frame and made for a longer season—mine came from Peru!  In an article by Amy Rosen, I read that during the cutting time in Germany they eat them a thousand ways and relish every ivory morsel… eating nearly a pound per serving per person.

What to do with a royal vegetable??? The minute I saw the ingredient I knew what I wanted to make.  White asparagus in pastry was one of those indelible taste memories from my past that remained firmly fixed and waiting to be made one day.  This blog is nothing if not an excuse to rekindle glories of past flavors… it isn’t called Lost Past Remembered for nothing.

I had this dish a lifetime ago on an early trip to Paris.  We discovered La Fermette Marbeuf in the 8th Arrondisment quite by accident on a walk.  Its story is like a fairytale. It was an Art Nouveau wonder that had been covered up for nearly 80 years when the style had become unfashionable. I am mad for Art Nouveau and for long lost treasures found so this was pure magic for me.

The room sat waiting undisturbed for generations until a new owner discovered it quite by accident while doing renovations in 1978.  It remains a love song to the style and is still a popular place after all this time. The amazing site, Paris 1900 has a splendid history of the place HERE 

It was a whirlwind trip that had me mad with pleasure, crawling over Paris’ Art Nouveau treasures and this dish sits happily ensconced in my brain as a taste of a very great visit:  puff pastry base, white asparagus lacquered with a meat glaze infused with sauterne atop a custard with a bit of foie gras in the bargain… that is how it now lies in my memory at any rate.  Did it  live up to the taste I remember???  Yes ––it was that same ethereal pastry with a thousand crisp layers as delicate as Lalique dragonfly wings that shatter like old glass when you bite into them.  In that bite you taste the sweetness of the wine in the glaze and the warm coverlet of rich creamy custard above and wine-scented foie gras nestled below.  This dish elevates the asparagus to royal stature indeed.

To make it I did my own puff pastry (recipe below) but it would work with bought pastry if you are pressed for time (making your own isn’t hard and much cheaper... even using organic butter!).  However, I must say, the duck fat in the recipe works magic and created an enormous loft thanks to many turns, and I wanted to go the extra mile for this dish… honor the memory.

The 1680 Tokaji is the oldest intact bottle of wine extant

In that spirit, I used Hungarian Esszencia Tokaji  instead of sauterne.  I was lucky enough to have tiny, 100ml bottle of the ’93  from my friends at The Rare Wine Company (Mr. Parker rated it 99… it’s that good… a thick syrup redolent of apricots and celestial nectar).  It’s a wine I’ve wanted to try since reading about it in college in my favorite antique (1932) wine book, The Romance of Wine, where the 1811 was described as having “a wonderful aftertaste that spreads over palate and gullet like a peacock’s tail.  It might be compared, almost without exaggeration, to the harmony of sunset colours.  The bottle can be opened and left indefinitely without apparent injury to the wine which has a radium-like power of emitting particles of perfume without exhausting itself.”  It is probably the most celebrated wine you’ve never heard of  –– but I’m going to change that.

1811 Bottle of Tokaji is supposed to be one of the greatest of all 19th century wines (this was labeled in the 1920s)

The very informative Tokaji  site said, “Hand-selected botrytis  -affected berries, which are later needed for Aszú preparation, are gathered into a keg and kept in it for a couple of days before the Aszú paste is prepared. Due solely to the berries’ own weight alone, some highly concentrated juice of the finest quality will have accumulated on the bottom of the keg. This is the free-run juice that Essencia is made from. One keg containing 25 kilograms of over-ripe Aszu berries produces only between 1 and 1.5 liters of Essencia.”  It ferments for 4 years and the resulting wine lasts hundreds of years… it was thought to be immortal and have curative benefits.  There was a claim it could restore an invalid to good health! 

In 1703, Francis the Prince of Transylvania gave some Imperial Tokaji to Louis XIV of France. When Louis shared it with his beloved Madame de Pompadour, he said it was “Wine of Kings, King of Wines” (Vinum Regnum, Rex Vinorum) and the compliment is still repeated. Queen Victoria was a huge fan and Emperor Franz Josef sent her a bottle for every month she lived on her birthday.  The last year of her life she received 972 bottles!  It was a favorite of Beethoven, Lizst, Shubert, and Voltaire.  Napoleon, Gustav of Sweden, Peter the Great and Elizabeth of Russia all were fond of the wine.  Even the infamous enjoyed it… Hitler celebrated his marriage to Eva Braun with Tokaji.  It really is a cool wine with a remarkable story… had to use it for this dish.

The spectacular foie gras,  demiglace and duck fat for the pastry came from D’Artagnan and can be ordered online by clicking the links.  This is one of those dishes that will knock your socks off… I made my dream version but you can put this together easily if you buy puff pastry. It was good hot or warm and could also be made in smaller sizes or doubled for 4.

I used violets and wild garlic chives for a little art nouveau touch to my pastry…

White Asparagus in Puff Pastry with Foie Gras Custard and Ezssencia (or Sauterne) for 2

7” square puff pastry (my recipe made with duck fat (see below) )
20 stems white asparagus (make that 12 if thick)
1/8 lb foie gras  (optional)
1 T butter
3 T Esszencia Tokaiji or sauternes   or sweet Madeira (rare wine has a NY Malmsey that is perfect)
½ c cream
2 egg yolks
pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
1/3 c demiglace from D'Artagnan 
2-3 T St Andre or any mild triple crème cheese without the rind.

Peel the asparagus

Steam the Asparagus over boiling water…. 3 minutes and remove.  Cool.

Take the square, cut a 1” frame into the pastry, making sure not to cut all the way through… use a very sharp knife.  Pierce the middle section with a fork all over.  Place a piece of parchment not much bigger than the pastry (if it is too big it drags a side down... like mine did!!) on top and cook for 10 Min at 425º on the upper half of the oven, lower the heat to 375º, remove the paper and cook another 7-10 minutes and remove.  When cooled a little, take out the mid-section if it has risen high in the middle and stick it back in the oven for another 5 minutes to dry out the inside… remember you are going to cook this more so it shouldn’t be dark…. Make sure your oven is accurate.  If it has stayed low (ie the pastry middle has not risen wildly like mine did!), put it back for 5 minutes if it is not a pale gold.

Sauté the foie gras in 1 T butter with a sprinkling of salt and pepper.  Brown on both sides. Add 1 T esszencia or sauterne to the mix and remove.

Reduce the Demi glace to a syrup, about 3 T –– take care, it does get thick quickly after taking a long while to start reducing.  Remove from the heat and add 2 T  Esszencia or sauterne.

Combine 1/2 c cream and 2 egg yolks, pinch nutmeg, pinch salt.

Smear St Andre cheese over warm pastry.  Measure your asparagus to fit into the shell and set aside.
Put foie gras over the bottom of the pastry.

Pour the custard over the foie gras and cook for 10 minutes, remove.

Place the asparagus over the top, cook 10 minutes, remove.  Ladle the demiglas over the top and put in the 375 for 20 minutes or until the custard is set and the asparagus has just begun to brown.

Puff Paste with Duck Fat (this is enough for 4 tarts–– freeze the rest)

Butter layer

1 lb + 3 ½ T (510g) cold unsalted butter
2 t (10 ml Lemon juice
1 c (130g) bread flour
pinch of salt


3 c (400 g) bread flour (freeze it)
3 ½ T (55g) duck fatfrozen)
2 t Salt
1 c cold water (start with 3/4 and add as needed, you may not need a whole cup)

Mix the butter and the flour and lemon and salt into a paste, make a 6” square and chill on wax paper till firm

Make the dough as you would pasta, knead very sparingly and refrigerate.

Make the dough into a rectangle and put the butter in the center in a diamond... fold the dough around it like an envelope, bringing the 4 outer points to the center of the butter.   If it’s hot, chill. Otherwise roll it to a rectangle and fold it like a brochure and chill ½ an hour. Roll it out and do it again 6 times, resting for ½ an hour in the fridge each time.

I left mine overnight after the last turn and rolled it out the next day.

Announcement:  For the first time since beginning this blog, I am going to take a break for a few weeks.

I will be concentrating on my writing and working hard.  I'll miss the blog and my blogging friends since I will not be able to visit all of my favorites as often as I would like during this time... No distractions!    I'll be back soon, promise!!!

Thanks to Gollum for hosting Foodie Friday!!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Food, Fragrance and Friends with Orange Scented Olive Oil Cake

Tear bottles or lacrymatories (tears of mourners were kept in a bottle and buried with the deceased), Roman, 2nd -4th century 

The word perfume comes from the Latin, per fumum, meaning by or through smoke and derived from the incense used in ancient religious rites.  I imagine the first perfume appreciated by our ancestors was that of wood smoke, meat and herbs burning in a campfire…  the scent heralded the promise of delicious flavor and a full stomach.

Ancient Greek perfume bottle (This was a very common shape for a perfume bottle… no fooling) 

At the dawn of civilization man created perfume –– as incense that wafted the scent of status and luxury through marble halls –– as perfumed oils to anoint the skin and hair and finally, with the discovery of distillation, as essences distilled from flowers and leaves and roots –– the pure, clear soul could be taken from the plant to serve the perfumer.

The recipe of Tapputi-Belatekallim, the perfumeress (*see it at the end of the post)

It makes sense, doesn’t it?  With civilization came perfume.  Paul Strathern, in his book on chemistry called Medeleyev’s Dream, said that the first named perfumer/chemist was in Mesopotamia ––Tapputi was mentioned in a cuneiform tablet from 1200 BC, she (yes she… the original chemists were women!) distilled flowers, oil and calamus with cyperus, myrrh and balsam to make a perfume with early stills.

 Although it is believed the first perfumes were in Egypt, the oldest perfumes found to date came from a huge perfume factory in Pyrgos, Cyprus, and were 4000 years old.  The bottles contained Lavender, bay, rosemary, pine and coriander.  Distillation with steam and alcohol happened 3,000 years later thanks to the genius of polymath Ibn Sīnā or Avicenna in the West (who also invented the refrigerated coil).

Back in early history, perfume and food were not divided disciplines as they are now –– there was a very flexible membrane between them. In fact, many substances were on both sides of the fence.  The ancient Egyptian incense Kyphi was made from raisins, cinnamon and honey as well as myrrh, frankincense and sandalwood (**Recipe at end of post). It was found in tombs opened in the 19th century –– its ghostly scent still emanating from the pottery bowls and bottles after 3000 years.

The ancient Greeks favored rose, saffron, frankincense, myrrh, violets, spikenard, cinnamon and cedar said David Pybus in The History of Aroma Chemistry.  Many of these were also used in food.  The Romans were particularly fond of roses and bathed in the scent as well as using roses in their cuisine.  In fact Pybus said,  “Rome succumbed to the barbarian hordes, the lights went out in all the incense burners in Europe, and the rose petals went out with the bathwater.”

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the dark ages began and the world contracted as the connection of Empire dissolved into hundreds of unrelated kingdoms without the benefit of shared knowledge and discoveries (until the Catholic church filled the gap).  David Rowe in Chemistry and Technology of Flavor and Fragrances said “The end result of this was the loss of raw materials and eventually, the knowledge of what to do with them.  The foundations of chemistry were lost into the mysticism of Alchemy.  Some techniques remained in use, especially distillation, but this also became a mystical affair.” Alchemy and perfumery were related crafts. The distillation process for perfume –– turning crude material into scent –– was in the alchemist’s arsenal of techniques used in the search for  the ever-elusive Philosopher’s Stone (Lapis Philosophorum) that turned metal to gold or provided an elixir for eternal life.  Distilling scent was a path from the mundane to the sublime.

 Etrusco-Corinthian 590-580 BC Alabastron Perfume bottle

By the late medieval period, spices and perfumes were used with abandon and scented courts and cathedrals with materials from all over the world… bodies, food, floors and even laundry (the word laundress came from lavenderess and their job of putting lavender to work in the clothes and rooms of their royal masters to scent their lives- Elizabeth I kept a dish of sugared lavender next to her at table and munched on them continually!).

I know this is really a massively simplified history of man and fragrance but I wanted to give you a little context for my next statement… food and scent are naturals together and alchemy and cooking are not such distant relatives – they have just been estranged from their formerly close and mutually beneficial relationship for far too long.


Last year I got it into my head that I needed to taste ambergris.  I saw it in so many antique recipes and I was so curious.  When I read about it, I felt it was a connection to the past through a substance that had been thought of as magic from the beginnings of civilization. First I contacted a brilliant perfume blogger, Elena at Perfume Shrine, to help me understand the properties of this ingredient, then I found the fabled gray stone at Ambergris NZ and fell in love the moment I opened the small black velvet bag.  

Elena, being a kind and generous guide to scent society went one step farther and introduced me to Mandy Aftel at Aftelier –– she had a feeling Mandy would be a wonderful resource since she had developed a line of fragrances for food. Elena was so right –– we met at a lecture Mandy was giving at NYC’s Museum of Natural History.  

Mandy is a true visionary and has opened a door, long closed, to the world of scent and food and drink.  Through her I was able to use incredible roses, jasmine… geranium…so many flowers as well as fantastic herbs and spices in as pure a form as can be found.  These essences have rocked my world.

Through Mandy I have met a great group of perfumers, a perfume blogger and another food blogger and we have taken to meeting once a month to share our interests and passions.  This group includes Lucy Raubertas of  Indie Perfumes, Julianne Zaleta of Herbal Alchemy, Maria McElroy of Aroma M and Rebecca Winzenried of Three Points Kitchen.

This weekend we met and shared sniffs of incredible perfume samples Lucy had brought along and cake… an orange olive oil cake that I had made from a recipe I found at Dennis's great site,  More than a Mountful .  It seemed like the perfect thing to bring for our gathering after making an Aftelier-inspired addition.  Added to the cake was a glaze of Aftelier Neroli essence and some ambergris I’d been brewing in alcohol… the result was sublime… and eating it… well it perfumes your mouth in the best way you can imagine.  For a group of scent hounds… this made up for the 1 ½ hour wait for M Wells in Long Island City.  We baled and went to Brooklyn and ate at the charming Belleville  restaurant in Park Slope.

We then had a dessert course at Julianne’s house consisting of scented prosecco and magical vodkas infused with honey-oatmeal (don't knock it... Dan Barber uses it and it's amazing!), chocolate mint, lemon verbena and angelica. Aside from being a master perfumer,  Julianne is a genius with infused vodkas so these were truly spectacular creations.

I can’t say enough about what Aftelier chef’s essences  will do for your cooking and your cocktails.   I can tell you to vote for her perfumes for the Fifi Awards   for  her romantic Honey Blossom  perfume starting on the 25th to reward her perseverance in hunting out the very best ingredients to enrich her perfumes and your food and drink.    The alliance between food and fragrance has been re-established… long may it live and prosper!

Orange-Rosemary Olive oil Cake based on a cake from More than a Mountful

1 ½ c flour
1 cup sugar
1 t baking soda
½ t baking powder
½ t salt
3 large eggs
6 oz buttermilk or yogurt
½ extra virgin olive oil
1 T chopped rosemary
pinch of saffron

½ c powdered sugar, sifted
juice of 1 orange ( I used a blood orange–– but it turns dark on the cake like magic... perhaps stick with regular orange!)
1-3 drops neroli or petitgrain (optional)
a few gratings of ambergris -- from Ambergris Co NZ (optional)

 Take 2 T of the olive oil and warm, add the saffron and let soak for ½ an hour.  Sift the dry ingredients together.  Mix the liquid ingredients together thoroughly, adding the saffron oil and rosemary.  Combine the liquid and he dry gently and pour into a 9” olive oiled pan.

Cook at 350º for 25- 35 minutes… check frequently.  The cake is ready when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove the cake and let it cool.  Remove gently from the pan.  Stick it with a toothpick many times.  Combine the glaze ingredients and pour over the cake, you can make extra and serve it with each slice… it’s that good… you’ll probably want to.

The texture is insanely good at this point, like an orange cloud.  It is best served shortly after cooking although it is great the next day too.  It will perfume your mouth in a remarkable way.

*Following is a description of  Tapputi-Belatekallim's preparation, from M. Levey's ""Early
Arabic Pharmacology".

"If you prepare flowers, oil, and calamus as a salve, and you have tested
the flowers [of the calamus and its green parts], you set up ... a
distillatory.  You put good potable water ... [into a hariu pot].  You heat
tabilu and put it in.  You put 1 qa (about half a litre) hamimu, 1 qa
iaruttu, 1 qa of good, filtered myrrh into the hariu pot.  Your standard in
this is the water taken and divided.  You operate at the end of the day and
the evening.  It remains overnight.  It becomes steeped.  You filter this
solution ... with a filter cloth into a hirsu pot at dawn, on the rising of
the sun.  You clarify from this hirsu pot into another hirsu pot.  You
discard the residue.

You use 3 qa of purified 'Cyperus' [species unknown] in the solution with
the aromatics.  Discard the inferior material.  You put 3 qa myrrh, 2 qa
pressed and filtered calamus in the solution with these aromatics in a
hirsu pot.  You measure 40 qa of this solution which remained overnight
with the aromatics ... 1 1/2 pure gullu ... two beakers ... small beakers
... You filter ... kanaktu in a sieve.  You decant oil in the hariu pot ...
in the solution.

[You rub that which was with the solution overnight.]  [You examine] the
comminuted material.  You remove [its bad part].  You filter this solution
which [you clarified into a distillatory] ... 3 qa ... [You throw] ...
balsam into this solution in [a hirsu pot].  [You kindle a fire].  When the
solution is heated for admixture, [you pour in the oil].  You agitate with
a stirrer.

[When the oil, solution, and aromatics] continue to dissolve, [you raise]
the fire... You cover the distillatory on top.  [You cool] with [water].
When the sun [rises], [you prepare] a [container for]the oil, solution, and
aromatics.  You allow the fire under the distillatory to die down.  You
remove the distilled and sublimed substances from [the trough of the
distillatory ...].

When the sun [rises], [if] they continue to dissolve in one another and
[the fire rises], you cover the [top] of the distillatory.  You cool.  You
prepare a flask for the calamus oil.  You put a filter cloth over the
flask.  You filter the oil with a filter cloth into the flask.  You remove
the dregs and residue left in the distillatory.

This is the preparation of flowers, oil, and calamus for [salve] for the
king according to the recipe of Tapputi-Belatekallim, the perfumeress.

The twentieth of Muhur-ilani, Limmu of Qatnu-gardu".

(This would be approx 1200 BCE).

Perfume Seller

Kyphi Recipes, cooked in honey

Papyrus Ebers 1500 BC
Frankincense (antiu)
Genen (Sweet Flag)
Pine Kernels
Cyperus Grass
Camel Grass

Edfu Temple 100 BC
Pine Resin
Sweet Flag
Camel Grass
Juniper Berries
Pine Kernels

Thanks to Gollum for hosting Foodie Friday!!  

Friday, April 15, 2011

Ali Bab’s Veal Chop with Paprika Cream

Henri Babinski, aka Ali Bab 1855-1931

It didn’t occur to me until recently that so many gods in my food-writer Pantheon were talented amateurs… not professional chefs.

Hayward and Walker (who I wrote about last week) were both lawyers as was Brillat-Savarin  –– the godfather of food essayists who challenged: “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are”  (and who wrote in 1825 that sugar and white flour were the cause of obesity) in his Physiology of Taste. Alexandre Dumas, the novelist and playwright, was also a famous gastronome and creator of Grand Dictionnaire de cuisine.

Edouard de Pomaine

Edouard de Pomiane (née Pozerski) was a Polish biologist, chemist and founder of the field of gastro-technology as well as a great food writer in the first half of the 20th century. He is still remembered very fondly for his humor and bright way with food (and that dashing moustache).

Henri Babinski, better known for his nom de plume Ali Bab, was a well-traveled mining engineer and author of Gastronomie Pratique, Etudes Culinaires.  Like Edouard de Pomaine’s  1930 favorite, La Cuisine en 10 minutes, Ali Bab’s book was very popular in the last century and much loved by food writers like Elisabeth David and MFK Fisher.  My blogging colleague, TW Barritt over at Culinary Types  posited that these luminaries would have been food bloggers had they lived today… brilliant observation and I agree completely.  Brillat-Savarin was a little stuffy but Ali Bab and de Pomaine would have been charming reading… and de Pomaine did have a popular weekly radio show… you could say that was stone-age blogging, n’est-ce pas?

In 2009, Tim Zagat sponsored fabulous Vintage Dinners inspired by the great chefs and restaurants of the 19th century and re-created by today’s greats (you can see videos of some of these events by clicking the names) like Eric Rippert  , Thomas Keller , Dan Barber, Charles Palmer , Daniel Boulud, David Waltuck and Jean-George Vongerichten . They mined the past (and the famous NY Public Library menu collection) for inspiration and found gold in Escoffier, Artusi and Ranhoffer and Ali bab.  Jean-Georges Vongerichten chose recipes from Gastronomie Pratique by Ali-Bab for his dinner.  It was through these dinners I discovered Ali-bab!

1928 Edition, 1281 pages

Everything old is new again, isn’t it?   I got an old copy of the 300-page version of Ali Bab’s book that was translated (inexactly, with substitutions for ‘hard to find’ ingredients) into English in the 70’s. For those of you who read French, the smaller original 1907 version is available on Internet Archive.  For the full 1200 pages, you will have to put out big bucks and read French… it is still not available save in rare book stores .

I decided on Veal Chops with a Paprika sauce from Ali Bab’s cookbook since I had 2 gorgeous veal chops from D’Artagnan (milk-fed and very humanely raised, my first veal in 25 years!) and some thick ivory cream from Milk Thistle Farm.  I must tell you, the chops are photographed on a platter not a plate and are quite large (about a foot long and ½ a pound each), the platter and the giant carrot-coins belie the large size.  The 2 chops were fine for 2 unless you have a large appetite.  I would say this sauce would be heaven with breaded cutlets of veal, turkey or chicken and it’s quite fast to make and will rock your world on mashed potatoes.  Henri recommended serving this with beets… I used carrots and loved them.

Veal Chops with Paprika Cream (Côtelettes de Veau au Paprika) for 4


1 c thick cream
2 ¼ c dry breadcrumbs
4 T butter
4 T flour
1 ½ t paprika (or more to taste)
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig marjoram
4 veal chops from D'Artagnan  –– 8 if you are a big meat eater
2 T oil plus 1T butter
2 onions, finely chopped
salt and pepper

Brown the flour and onions in the butter.  Stir in ½ c water and demi-glace.  Add salt, pepper and paprika to taste and cook for a few moments till thickened, set aside.

Roll the chops in the breadcrumbs.

Brown the chops in the oil in a sauté pan. Finish cooking gently for 5 minutes in the sauce.  Remove the chops for a moment and add the cream into the sauce, remove the sprigs.  Put the chops back in the sauce and serve.