Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas Eve Quacker

After the success I had with roast goose for Christmas Eve 2010, Will immediately started campaigning (something typically reserved for the cat and his wet food) for Christmas Eve duck 2011. I literally heard about it every day for the month of November, in preparation. Fortuantely, I can say the build-up was worth it because we were all impressed with how delicious it was. It didn't hurt that it was accompanied by fantastic sweet-and-sour red cabbage and an incredible, spoon-licking prune sauce.

I scoured sources - including Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and my beloved Joy of Cooking - before finally deciding on this recipe. I liked best that the bird itself didn't need much handling - just a blanch and a rinse and into the roaster. The meal is made by roasting at the right temperature to get a crispy skin but keep the flesh moist and then highlight with incredible drizzles and sides.

As called for, I removed a couple small packets of fat from inside the neck cavity, but otherwise didn't see much I could remove before cooking. After pricking the skin (the skin was very slippery and there is a lot of it in relation to the amount of muscle, so this was a difficult task) I poured boiling water over it and the skin shriveled up tightly around the carcass in an amazing and entertaining way. This is to help shrink it. Pricking the skin is to help allow the subcutaenous fat to come out during roasting, which is like self-basting. It spattered quite a bit, so next time I will try to cover it partially somehow with foil to keep my oven less a mess, but still try and let it brown some.

I really can't say enough good things about the cabbage recipe that went with this - stewed in cinnamon and cranberry-pomegranate juice. And the prune sauce is simply divine, while also being incredibly easy, and make-ahead. My mom brought a rich broccoli dish baked in a cream sauce with walnuts. It was delicious and although all these elements were rich, they complimented each other superbly. To mop up the plates (so we didn't have to use our tongues), I baked a rustic whole-wheat French loaf (recipe at the bottom of this post).

For dessert, I made tiny (2 oz) coffee caramel creme brulees and had my first experience with a butane torch. There's no way to replicate in your oven that fantastic sugar crust you can get with a torch. These custards were just the right size, with a punch of sweet coffee flavor but super-creamy smooth texture, to still have room for a couple of homemade cookies and marshmallows.

Date and Tri-Color Swirls cookie recipes here. Marshmallow recipes here.

Rustic French Bread
from the Joy of Cooking

For sponge
1/2 cup water, 80-90 degrees
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
For bread
2 cups water, 72-75 degrees
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
between 1 and 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon salt

Dissolve yeast in water, about 5 minutes. Stir in flour. Stir rapidly about 2 minutes until elastic strands form. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise at room tempearture until triple in volume, about 6 hours (or 14 hours in the fridge, bring to room temperature before continuing).

In the bowl of the stand mixer fitted with dough hook, mix sponge with water and 4 1/2 cups mixed flours. Add salt and continue mixing until the dough cleans the sides of the bowl, adding additional flour if needed. It should feel sticky to the touch but not actually stick to your hands. Knead until it is smooth and elastic. Transfer to an oiled bowl and turn dough to coat. Cover tightly with plastic and let rise until doubled, about 3 hours.

Divide dough in half and shape into a round or a loaf. Place on floured baking sheets. cover and let rise until doubled again, 2-4 hours.

Preheat oven to 450, with a large baking pan in the lower rack. Place baking sheets with dough in center of oven and fill lower pan with boiling water. This helps make a crunchy crust but keeps the center of the loaf soft. Bake 30-40 minutes, until golden and set.

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