Beurre au Piment d’Espelette – Homemade Butter

[Homemade buttermilk and butter flavored with piment d’esplette]

After learning about buttermilk substitutes, I actually realized that I didn’t know a whole lot anything about buttermilk in the first place (for my French readers, buttermilk is called babeurre, lait battu, petit lait or lait de beurre). So what exactly is buttermilk? Traditional buttermilk refers to the slightly sour left-over liquid from the butter churning process. Hence the name, butter-milk. Contrary to popular belief, buttermilk does not contain butter and is in fact low in fat.

Nowadays, you’ll be hard-pressed to find traditional buttermilk in your regular supermarket. Most often, you’ll see cultured buttermilk, made from adding lactic acid bacteria to pasteurized milk (whole, skim or non-fat) and left to ferment for 12 to 14 hours. The fat content of the buttermilk will usually depend on the fat content of the milk from which it was made.

The good news is, making your own buttermilk the old-fashioned way, and by extension making your own butter, is a breeze. Well, almost. Bear with me. The recipe involves heavy cream, a jar, and a lot of shaking. You put the heavy cream in a jar, close the lid tightly, then shake until the cream turns into whipped cream, then shake some more until the whipped cream separates into a solid, butter, and a liquid, buttermilk. Tada, that is all.

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Learning from TWD: Buttermilk Substitutes

I mentioned in my first post that I joined Tuesdays With Dorie because of this whole concept of community learning. So after my first TWD baking experience, I was looking forward to reading other bloggers’ comments on the recipe. I decided it would be nice to do a sort of lessons learned post afterwards. So here’s what I learned from fellow bloggers.

The majority of TWDers loved the bread although some thought the basic recipe was too plain. Most bloggers actually altered the recipe, with the addition of raisins, currants (both often soaked in some kind of liquor) and/or carraway seeds the most common. Another common addition was that of cheese. Delectable Delights with Rebecca recommends adding about 2 cups of grated cheese to Baking with Julia‘s base recipe. Some other people also used a mix of whole weat and regular all-purpose flour in order to obtain a more wholesome loaf.

My favorite variant came from The Double Trouble Kitchen. She added sundried tomatoes, rosemary and sprinkled it with sea salt and black pepper. Salt plus pepper, a common flavor profile in Chinese cuisine, is pretty much a sure winning combination in my book (incidentally, Costco sells these amazing salt and pepper pistachios that we’re addicted to).

But what I love most is the learning of techniques, tips and tricks. And this time, I learned that if you don’t have buttermilk on hand, you can easily substitute it with one of several things:

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30 Before 30 – A Bucket List

Have you heard of this? Trying to complete 30 things before your 30th birthday?

Well, I’m almost 30. And each year, time seems to be slipping by faster and faster. I do think that I’ve been very fortunate so far in what I’ve managed to do in my life. I’ve traveled a lot, I’ve lived abroad, I’ve climbed Mt Fuji (twice), I’ve bungee jumped (in China), I’ve ridden on camels (in Tunisia and Mongolia), I’ve eaten a lot of strange things and along the way, I’ve met some truly amazing people. Not to mention I managed to marry the most wonderful man in the world (not sure how that happened).

Yet there is still so much more to do. So many more things to learn. So many more places to go!

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Tuesdays With Dorie: Irish Soda Bread

Irish soda Bread

This week’s TWD recipe is Irish Soda Bread, in celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day this past weekend (did you do anything fun?).

The bread gets its name from its use of, well what else, baking soda. As a researcher by day, I like to learn about the origin of different types of foods and how they evolved over time. According to this article, baking in Ireland has been influenced by two main factors. The first one being the Irish climate, which is much more temperate than other European countries and thus prevented hard wheats from growing properly. Hard wheats have high gluten content and are thus suitable for being raised with yeast. Soft wheats on the other hand do grow well in Ireland but contain less gluten than hard wheats (American all-purpose flour is a blend of hard and soft wheats). The second factor was the abundance of fuel such as firewood. This meant that every household could bake at home instead of using a communal oven.

These two factors contributed to the Irish baker using baking soda, or ‘bread soda’ in Ireland, as the main leavening agent. And traditionally this soda bread was baked in a pot (called a bastible) over the fire rather than in an oven. I also learned from this interesting interview with Irish chef Rory O’Connell that Irish soda bread in America is quite different from the one you can find in Ireland as the addition of butter and eggs, which is common in the U.S., would raise eyebrows over there.

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Phnom Penh Noodle Soup

Phnom Penh Noodle Soup

When Dave came to visit France for New Year’s, he brought a huge bag of rice noodles (the ones similar to pho noodles rather than the opaque vermicelli) that his aunt had sent to the US all the way from Vietnam. So we decided to make one of my favorite dishes to use them up: Phnom Penh Noodle Soup! It’s a classic in Cambodia where you (I) can eat it every day for breakfast. If you’ve never tried noodle soup for breakfast you should definitely give it a go, pretty addictive if you ask me.

This soup uses a clear pork broth* as its base. We also added some grilled dried cuttlefish for extra depth and umami. We then let it simmer for a while and went out for a little walk. Well, my dad was supposed to watch the soup while we were gone, and let’s just say he got a bit too engrossed in the activity he was doing at the time (watching soccer on TV?), so by the time we got back the broth was somewhat cloudy. My dad kept apologizing saying that it was all his fault. He has very high standards for food (much pickier than I am) and knows that a clear broth is the gold standard**, so he felt genuinely sorry. Continue reading


(Or how to become very popular at a party.)


This post is dedicated to my friend R2.

One of our friends had a small party last Friday night to celebrate the culmination of years of hard work: her PhD defense. I missed the defense as I had to be at work but I heard from others that she did fabulous, so congratulations Lynn!

If you know anything about the world of academia, you know that this is no small feat. So of course, she had to celebrate in style. She’d rented a lovely room in downtown Baltimore and gathered her family and close friends for an evening of good food and celebration. And what’s a party without dessert?

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As I mentioned in my last post, brioche is one of my favorite viennoiseries*. It is a slightly sweet buttery egg-y magnificently textured baked good and can be found at any bakery in France. I love to buy them in mini-loaves, as little brioches au sucre. They make for a wonderful afternoon snack and it is so fun to eat them bit by bit, pulling slightly at the crust and watching the long strands of dough come out.

The brioche gets its texture from a long work-out, either manual (as demonstrated in this video) or from a heavy duty stand mixer. My first attempt at making brioche was passable but not great; the texture was fairly good but the brioche tasted flat and somewhat bland**. This was my very first time using dry active yeast though, so I still considered it a good effort.

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A couple months ago, I got struck by inspiration. I had just brought pearl sugar back from France, imported specifically to make my beloved chouquettes. A recent issue of Cook’s Illustrated (one of my all-time favorite magazines) had featured a recipe for croissants. And while perusing La Tartine Gourmande’s archives, I came across her brioche recipe. Like Beatrice Peltre, brioche is probably my favorite viennoiserie along with pains aux raisins. And the recipe looked so simple, so accessible.

It never occurred to me that I could make my favorite French viennoiseries, pastries and breads in my own kitchen at home. Any of my close non-French friends can tell you that I am somewhat of a dessert snob. I despise overly sweet American desserts, don’t care much for cupcakes and frosting, lament the state of croissants and eclairs in this country, and generally speaking would rather go for savory snacks rather than sweet ones. But I love French baked goods. And if I could really make them at home, why not?

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