By Jo Stewart
Here, we celebrate eggs.
Although, to the casual eye, these recipes may not be "eggy" (I have not, for sure, selected anything as predictable as an omelet or coddled eggs), each and every dish featured here depends upon eggs.
In most cases, the other ingredients can be substituted--sugar can be replaced with a corn syrup, flour can be replaced by a rice or soy substitute, butter can be replaced by oil, but ... eggs dominate.
There's nothing in the chef's repretoire that can replace eggs and the inclusion of a yolk or a white into a recipe brings the cook's attention to the importance of temperature, which can make or break egg cooking.
My Life with Chickens
Over the course of my life, I can count on one hand the years when my garden has not contained chickens.
I have lived and journeyed through three continents and many homes, but somehow there’s always been room for my favorite Buff Orpingtons.
I have a passion for feeding my family from my garden, and with an orchard, a vegetable garden (which we Brits call a “kitchen garden”), beehives, goats and chickens, we do just fine.
Our supermarket shelves are lined with eggs produced by factory farms.
As a girl I spent long summers visiting my aunt and her husband—they had a large pig farm and countless long sheds full of what we called “battery hens”; I remember to this day the horror of seeing all those chickens in such misery. They were crammed into cages, row upon row, stretching floor to ceiling as far as the eye could see. The bright lights kept them awake and laying all day, all night, all year.
I didn’t understand at the time; I didn’t know there was an alternative way to raise chickens, but I learned in time and personally I would sooner manage without eggs than spend my money on anything other than humanely raised, farm-fresh eggs.
I am including here some of my very favorite creations—none of which are of value without the inclusion of eggs. I really hope that they inspire you as they do me.
- 3 egg whites
- 3⁄4 cup granulated sugar
- 1⁄2 tsp. distilled white vinegar
- 2 tsp. cornstarch
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- A generous punnet (about a pint) of raspberries (this recipe works just as well out of season with canned pineapple chunks and/or kiwi fruit, peeled and sliced)
Take parchment paper and draw around a dinner plate to form a circle of about 8 inches diameter. Place this on a baking sheet. Put the granulated sugar in the blender and pulse briefly to make it finer than it is straight out of the package. (In England this is called “caster sugar” and is widely used wherever a dessert calls for sugar, but the crunchy crystal effect should be avoided.)
Beat the egg whites until very stiff, then beat in the fine sugar, one half at a time. Beat in the vinegar and the cornstarch. Spread the meringue over your drawn circle, piling it up around the edges to form a “case.”
Bake at 300 degrees F for about one hour, until it’s firm on the outside (it’s like marshmallow inside) and light golden in color. Leave it to cool, then carefully remove the paper from underneath. Put the pavlova onto a large plate, whip the cream and pile it in a beautiful ocean over the meringue, arranging the fruit on top. Serves 4 to 6.
Here is a recipe for a dessert that is a constant delight. Although the egg is only a small part of the ingredient list, it would seem hard to write an article on eggs and not include “choux” pastry (although I don’t call it that, it is indeed choux pastry that you’re making in this recipe—and you won’t believe how easy it is!). The egg is the essential ingredient that turns this pastry into a veritable batter.
- 1 T. butter
- 1⁄4 cup all-purpose flour
- pinch of salt
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1⁄4 cup strong cheese, grated (like mature cheddar)
- 1 1⁄4 cup Gorgonzola cheese (any other blue-veined cheese can be used)
- 2 T. half and half
Sift flour and salt. Put the butter into a small saucepan with just a teaspoonful of water (2 fl. oz. if you have an accurate measuring spoon). Heat gently until the butter has melted, then bring to a boil; take the pan from the heat and add the sifted flour and salt. Return pan to heat and beat well until the mix leaves the sides of the pan to form a smooth ball. Cool for 10 minutes.
Beat in egg, a little at a time, to form a shiny paste. Beat in the grated cheese. Turn the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle and pipe 24 small balls onto a non-stick baking tray, leaving space for each one to grow.
Bake in a pre-heated oven at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes until firm and golden.
Cut a small slit in the side of each “favor” as near to the base as possible and pop back into the oven for 2 minutes to dry out the inside. Remove from oven and leave to cool. (At this stage the favors freeze beautifully, so feel free to do so if you’re planning ahead).
When you’re ready to serve, bring the favors to room temperature, mix the grated Gorgonzola cheese with the light cream to form a light paste and fill the favors carefully. Serve with a sharp cranberry sauce or salsa. Makes 24 favors.
Easy Hollandaise Sauce
When I was a child, I lived with a grandmother for whom food, and its preparation, was the very reason for living. She taught me (when most grandmothers were telling fairy tales and teaching their grandchildren to knit) to make a hollandaise sauce that could bring tears to an adult’s eyes—it took over two hours to make, and involved glazed reductions and constant hand-beating of egg yolks—and was, if I’m honest, far, far more trouble than it was worth. She would turn in her grave at my current favorite hollandaise recipe, but I’d challenge her to taste the difference!
- 6 egg yolks
- large pinch of salt
- 1 T. lemon juice
- 1 1⁄2 sticks butter, melted in the microwave until it bubbles
In a blender, combine the egg yolks, salt and lemon juice. At the very last minute, as you’re taking the steamed asparagus (or garlic prawns or poached eggs ... whatever you like your hollandaise sauce served with) to the table, make sure the butter is melted and bubbling hot and tip it into the blender where the egg mixture is still sitting, ideally pouring the melted butter through the neck while the blender is pulsing.
The sauce will be ready to serve at once.
Tip: If ever your hollandaise sauce threatens to curdle (this happens if the combined temperature of the hot butter, cold eggs and lemon juice is a little too high), there’s a piece of magic you can use: Throw in an ice cube! It instantly brings down the temperature, stops the eggs from curdling and thins out the curdled lumps all in one go. Makes enough for 6.
Since the hollandaise uses so many egg yolks, look for a recipe to use up the egg whites, which, with foresight, you’ll have put quietly to the side.
Yorkshire pudding is the ultimate English dish—it’s served as an appetizer (with the English version of onion gravy) or as the compulsory attendant to roast beef or even—and you have to suspend disbelief with this one—as a dessert, served with golden syrup (more of that in another issue).
n 1⁄2 cup all-purpose flour
n pinch of salt
n 1 egg
n 11⁄4 cups milk
Mix the flour and salt, make a well in the center and break in the egg. Add half the milk and beat the mixture until it’s smooth. Tip in the remaining milk gradually and beat until well mixed. Leave to rest for at least 30 minutes and beat vigorously before cooking.
Take a muffin tray (if you can find one that’s fairly shallow, even
better!) and put just a drop (no more than a 1⁄2-teaspoon) of a light oil (canola or sunflower is good) in each. Place in a very hot oven (385 degrees F). Once the oil is hot (it just takes a few minutes if your oven was pre-
heated), remove from oven and very carefully fill each muffin indentation with the batter until it is two-thirds full (or half full if your tray is very deep). Replace and leave in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes until the Yorkshire puddings are risen, light and golden. If you can avoid opening the oven door, at least for the first 15 minutes, then the “puddings” will be very happy—they don’t cope well with sudden drops in temperature.
Serve hot, with anything you like, but ideally with roasted meat and onions, with a sauce or gravy poured over the top. Makes 12 puddings.
This is known as “custard” in England.
- 4 egg yolks
- 1 T. granulated sugar
- 1 T. cornstarch
- 1 pint milk
- 1 vanilla pod (optional)
If you choose to use the vanilla pod, take a short, sharp knife, score the pod down the center to expose the seeds and drop the pod into the milk in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring the milk almost to a boil and do this ideally at least an hour ahead of making the sauce to let the vanilla flavor infuse; we all know how often mealtimes creep up on us and you won’t lose any friends if there’s no time for this part!
The shortcut is to forget the luxury of the vanilla and simply bring the milk almost (but not quite) to a boil. Do not be tempted to “make do” with artificial vanilla extract—it may only be my personal view, but I think the bottled essence can be overwhelming and this is a very delicate sauce.
While the boiled milk is cooling a little, take a mixing bowl and break in the egg yolks. With a hand blender, blend the granulated sugar for no more than 20 seconds—you don’t want anything as fine as a powder, but you do want to break down the sugar crystals into a fine blend. Stir the fine sugar and the cornstarch into the egg yolks and stir to mix well—it should form a smooth, yellow, runny paste. Pour on the milk and stir.
Sauce Anglaise is supposed to be of a coating consistency (if you’re not sure what that means, dip a wooden spoon in and withdraw it—the back of the spoon should be lightly coated with the sauce). If your sauce is not thick enough, return it to a very low heat and warm it through.
It’s vital at this stage not to subject it to intense heat or you’ll end up with scrambled eggs! A low, slow heat should thicken the sauce nicely. Serve hot on apple pie or fruit cobbler—or on any dessert you think will benefit from a delicate, warm, delicious sauce. Serves 4 to 6.