Maple Brown Sugar Crème Brûlée
We’ve all been burnt. Yes, it hurts. Sometimes there are scars. But there is also a sweetness to it. Caramel, don’t forget, is burnt sugar.
‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Blah blah blah. The sweetness I’m talking about is not some prosaic remuneration in the form of self-betterment. Absolutely not. It is ice cream, or brownies, and the license, in the wake of an extensive emotion earthquake, to take solace is the sweeter things in life.
It is up to each of us to pick our poison, and mine is crème brûlée. Alas, there is something better in life than that man or that friend or that house or that paycheck. What man could be sweeter, what paycheck richer?
I started writing French in a Flash Classics because one reader wanted to know the recipe for pissaladière. I am happy to share mine here.
Pissaladière has played a big role in my life. My mother has been feeding various versions of it to me my entire life. It was part of my final exam in cooking school. And last summer in Nice I had what I consider the most authentic version of it I ever had on a street corner in the old part of town.
Pissaladière is a tart made on either a pizza-like dough or puff pastry. It can be rectangular or circular, though I find the rectangular more common. It is similar to pizza, except instead of sauce there’s a bed of sweet caramelized onions. Instead of cheese or toppings, there is a harlequin pattern of anchovy fillets and niçoise olives. It’s the perfect combination of sweet and salty, and the crust is doughy, chewy, and crispy all at once. It’s so satisfying as an afternoon snack, or as a light meal with a glass of chilled wine.
I have two secrets to my pissaladière: buy the dough, and soak the anchovies in milk. If you do those two things, you can’t go wrong. Cheers to a French Riviera lunch!
serves 4 to 6
- 1 pound store-bought
- Olive oil or nonstick spray
- 1 (2-ounce) can anchovies packed in olive oil
- 1/2 cup milk
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 4 medium onions, thinly sliced (about 4 cups)
- Kosher salt
- 19 pitted Niçoise olives
- 2 stems fresh thyme
- Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat the oven to 475°F. Shape dough into ball and place in medium bowl coated lightly with olive oil or nonstick spray. Cover tightly with plastic and set aside at room temperature.
- Combine anchovy filets and milk in small bowl and set aside. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to heavy-bottomed 12-inch sauté pan and heat over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onions and season to taste with salt. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring frequently until golden brown, about 40 minutes. If onions start to turn black, stir in one tablespoon water and continue to cook. Transfer to small bowl and allow to cool to room temperature.
- Roll dough on well-floured work surface with rolling pin into even circle about 12-inches in diameter and 1/2-inch thick. Transfer to rimmed baking sheet. Spread onions evenly over surface, leaving one-inch border.
- Rinse anchovies gently in running water. Scatter anchovies, olives, and thyme sprigs over surface of pizza (see note) Season lightly with salt (anchovies and olives are salty), and drizzle with remaining tablespoon olive oil. Bake until the crust is golden, puffed, and crisp, about 15 minutes. Serve immediately.
Traditionally, pissaladières are designed in harlequin diamonds or sun-like rays, so use your creativity when applying the toppings.
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Maple Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are sweet. But they could be sweeter. We Americans, after all, do have an obsession with sweetening sweet potatoes: marshmallows on Thanksgiving, or a coat of brown sugar baked over top. Pretty amazing.
This recipe is a simple whipped sweet potato, flavored with nothing but butter, maple syrup, and grain mustard. The combination is a sweet, but slightly spicy and savory one. This recipe takes almost no effort, and even fewer ingredients, but the resulting dish is really decadent, and simply delicious. I am definitely serving this at Thanksgiving this year, although I think it also makes an excellent accompaniment to last week’s Maple Ribs.
Maple Mashed Sweet Potatoes
- 2 pounds (approx. 3) sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup half and half
- 1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon grain mustard
- Salt and pepper
Boil the potatoes in salted water until fork tender. Drain, and return to the dry hot pot to remove extra moisture.
Meanwhile, heat the butter and half and half in a small sauce pot.
Press the sweet potatoes through a ricer and into their original pot. Stir in the hot butter and half and half mixture, along with the maple syrup and mustard. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
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Mac and Cheese Gratin
Some people say home is where the heart is. I say home is where my stomach wishes it were, right now.
This recipe is for the days when you realize it is a mad, mad, mad, mad world. Or, at least, a cold one. For the days when you need some insulation, be it from a brusque boss or a brisk wind, and a time machine back to your mother’s couch and a bowlful of whatever it was she was serving. With every cup of tea she poured came a healthy side of sympathy. Sympathy is not something the New York supermarkets seem to be stocking these days. It must not be in season. Or maybe there’s a blight.
To me, home cooking, where-the-heart-is cooking, should be burnt and bubbling. I personally find cream as consoling as a puffy down pillow, and melting, oozing cheese on the same level of comfort as a cashmere blanket. It’s funny how the barest necessities, like warmth, can be made so luxurious.
Maple syrup is made, not surprisingly, from the sap of the maple tree. I love it as a sweetener because not only is it sweet, but also smoky, which lends itself well to savory applications as well as the tried and true sweet ones.
For this recipe, I marinate tender, lean baby back ribs in maple syrup and apple cider vinegar for a sweet-tart complexity. I then bake the ribs in a low oven for three hours, until the meat is tender and flaking off the bone, and the syrup has burnt and caramelized on the ribs, intensifying both its sweetness and smokiness. These ribs are simple and subtle, but also satisfying and excellent.
Maple Baby-Back Ribs
- 3 pounds baby back ribs, separated
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- Kosher salt and black pepper
Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 300°F. In large bowl, combine ribs with maple syrup, cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Toss to coat. Transfer to gallon-sized zipper-lock back and refrigerate for one hour.
Transfer ribs to foil-lined rimmed baking sheet and bake, turning every 45 minutes until ribs are dry and tender and marinade has caramelized, about three hours total. Remove from oven, allow to rest 5 minutes, and serve.
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There are some things in life that are just worth it. Worth the money. Worth the calories. Worth the time.Some things just are—and this is one of them.
Pommes de Terre Sarladaises is a canonical French potato dish made of only three ingredients:potatoes, garlic, and fat. The fat is usually duck or goose fat, but since those are hard for me to find in America, in their absence I used clarified butter, which I buy as ghee in markets that sell Indian ingredients.
Tarragon Chicken Tartine
People always say “you’re chicken” like it’s a bad thing. You don’t need to be bold and brave all the time. Lunch, I think, is an especially perfect time to lack courage. I like to save the habaneros and the escargot, the durian and the sea urchin for dinner, when I have finished my day and can siphon all of my time and my energy to tackling my plate, steak knife-sword in hand, and bravely eat what no girl has eaten before.
But at lunch, sandwiched between two halves of a hectic day, I don’t want a challenge. I want something familiar, and inexpensive, and perhaps a bit virtuous. Don’t forget, it was Clark Kent who went to the office–not Superman.