Sunday, April 19, 2009

Egg Bake, Cinnamon Scones, Banana Mini-Muffins, Blackberry Puree

Wow, I really didn't mean to take a whole week off of this blog! Last Sunday was, of course, Easter, and we had a quiet morning in with just my wife and son. Then I was in NYC all week for a conference, and was too busy to get my recipes to you!

So today I'll post a couple meals from Easter - one more traditional than the other. This posting is about our Easter Brunch, but you could serve this for any special breakfast or brunch. The center point is the egg bake, which is one of the most delicious breakfast entrees I've ever run across. It was taught to me by my cousin, Jack Riebel, Executive Chef at the Dakota and one of the most talented chefs in Minneapolis.

We used Neuske's hickory-smoked bacon for this meal, which makes the whole house smell like a wood-fire, which I completely adore. You could use any breakfast meat you prefer, or omit it as desired, of course.

As you will see, this was *not* a low-fat meal!

Egg Bake
Cinnamon Scones
Banana Mini-Muffins
Fresh Fruit with Blackberry Puree
Fresh-Squeezed Orange Juice

Egg Bake
(serves 6)
1 loaf yeasty, dense French bread (I use A Toast to Bread brand)
5 extra large or 6 large eggs
1/3 c. heavy cream
1/2 c. half-and-half
1 c. shredded Gruyere cheese (about 6-8 oz.)
3 ripe roma tomatoes, sliced into 1/4" thick slices
1/4 - 1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 small bunch fresh arugula (you could substitute spinach), well-rinsed and dried
pinch cayenne
freshly ground pepper
1 tsp. butter

Pre-heat the oven to 275 degrees. Slice the bread into 3/4" slices and arrange in a single layer on a sheet pan. Bake until dried out and a bit crunchy on the surface, but not browned. Remove from oven to cool.

Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs, cream, half-and-half, nutmeg, cayenne, pepper and salt until well-blended. Taste for salt (sorry, you'll have to risk salmonella...this has to be tasted to get the salt right). It should be pleasantly salty, but not overly-so. Start with less and add. Set aside.

With the butter, generously grease a flat-bottomed (not bowl-shaped) casserole pan that is roughly 8"x12". (9"x13" is a little too large.) I use a ceramic oval gratin. Arrange the bread slices on the bottom to completely cover. Next arrange arugula leaves in a single layer to completely cover the bread. Arrange the tomato slices to completely cover the arugula. Spread the grated cheese all over the tomatoes. Pour the egg mixture all over the cheese.

Cover and bake for 25 minutes. Uncover and bake until well-browned and set (test by gently jiggling), about 20 minutes more. Remove from heat and let rest for 10 minutes. Cut into serving-sized pieces and serve warm.

Cinnamon Scones
(makes 8 large or 16 mini)
2 c. flour
1/3 c. sugar
1 T baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1¼ c. heavy cream
1 T cinnamon
~1 T turbinado (or so-called "raw" or demerara) sugar - large, brownish crystals

I adapted this recipe from the Joy of Cooking. It's absolutely simple, and absolutely delicious. The cream supplies all the moisture and fat needed. I also use a non-stick mini-scone pan I bought from Williams-Sonoma that requires no greasing and wipes clean with a damp cloth after use.

Preheat oven to 425. Mix all dry ingredients except turbinado sugar in a medium bowl. Stir in cream and mix thoroughly. Dough will be stiff. If using mini-scone pan, divide dough in half and continue dividing until you have 16 pieces. Press each into a section of the pan, spreading into the corners. If not using a scone pan, divide dough into 8 equal sections. Form into rough triangles on a cookie sheet (greased, if not non-stick). For both methods, sprinkle dough with the turbinado sugar and bake until light-golden colored, about 12-15 minutes. Do not over-cook or they'll dry out. Immediately remove to a cooling rack for about 2 minutes, then place in a basket or on a serving plate. Serve warm.

These scones are fantastic when they're fresh and warm. They'll keep sealed in a plastic bag for a couple days, but they are not nearly as good. Reheat them a bit in the microwave or in a warm oven.

Banana Mini-Muffins
(makes 12 large or 36 minis, or one loaf)
2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 c. butter, room temperature
1 c. sugar
1 egg, beaten
2 large, ripe bananas, mashed to a puree with a fork
3 T sour cream
1 c. walnut pieces, optional (for extra flavor, roast the walnuts in a 250-degree oven for 10 minutes before using)
1 c. chocolate chips, optional
(if you add these last 2 ingredients, the yield increases by about 25%)

Pre-heat oven to 350. Grease muffin or loaf pan(s) with cooking spray (I use pure canola).

Cream butter and sugar together together until well-blended. Stir in egg. Stir in banana. Stir in baking powder, baking soda and salt, being careful not to let any get stuck to the sides of the bowl. Stir in flour, alternating with sour cream. Last, add chocolate chips and walnuts, if using.

Scoop batter into prepare pan(s). For muffins, fill 2/3rds full. Bake muffins until golden-brown - about 20-25 minutes for mini-muffins, 30-40 minutes for large muffins. Bake loaf 50-60 minutes until it test done with a toothpick (insert into center and remove - no batter should stick to toothpick).

Remove to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm. (Warm banana-chocolate chip muffins are divine.) Stores well for up to 5 days sealed in plastic - allow to cool completely before wrapping/bagging.

Fresh Fruit with Blackberry Puree
1 pint strawberries, stems cored, then cut in quarters
1/2 pint raspberries
1/2 pint blueberries
1/2 pint blackberries

Cut the end off of one blackberry and taste for sweetness. Halve the blackberries lengthwise and put in a small saucepan. If the blackberries are sour, add some sugar. This puree isn't a syrup - don't over-sweeten. You want just enough to compensate for the tartness in the berries. Add about 2 T of water. Place over medium-low heat until bubbling slightly, reduce heat to low and simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The berries will turn from dark purple to red as they cook. They're ready when the berries are falling apart and have released their juices. Keep the heat very low and add cooking time if needed. Do not scald or burn.

Place a fine-meshed sieve over a small bowl, and pour the blackberries into the sieve. Using the back of a spoon, mash and scrape the berries, forcing the juice and pulp through the mesh until what remains is mostly seeds. Keeping the sieve over the bowl, rinse the spoon, then carefully lift the sieve and scrape the puree from the bottom - more puree will be clinging there. Stir the puree and taste. It should be mild, slightly sweet, and velvety.

Place all remaining fruit in a serving bowl, pour over the puree and gently toss to coat. Serve.

This is a tough meal to time if you have a single oven, because everything needs to bake. I have a double-oven Viking range, which helps a lot. Lacking this luxury, I would make the banana muffins first, then the egg bake, then the scones last. Have the scones ready to bake when you remove the egg bake from the oven (but remember to turn up the heat). Since the egg bake has to rest, things work pretty well.

The blackberry puree can be done up to 1 day in advance. Refrigerate if not used within 4 hours.

Berry purees are delicious and simple to make. Do not use a blender or food processor! Use the technique I've described above. It works for raspberries, blueberries and strawberries as well, though strawberry seeds are so fine, you will get some seeds unless you use a very fine mesh. In addition to using them as a fruit sauce, they are delicious on ice cream or other desserts, swirled into cocktails, or even drizzled over some meat dishes or thick soups (though fruit reductions are better for this use...see my posting in a couple days!).

Another technique in this posting is the making of what is really a savory egg custard. Custards are mixtures of eggs and cream, baked until set. The egg-to-cream ratio will vary depending upon the recipe - here it is nearly 50/50. For a creme brulee or ice cream, typically only yolks are used and the cream-to-egg ratio is higher. In this dish, an eggier flavor is desired.

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