Summer Egg Blues (and, adventures in Hollandaise Sauce)

broken eggs  jean-baptiste greuze

“Broken Eggs” Jean-Baptiste Greuze 1756  (On display at the MET. Bequest of William K. Vanderbilt, 1920)

The painting was said, by critics in the 1700’s, that the broken eggs symbolized the loss of the girl’s virginity. I don’t think they’re right.  I just think that she was overwhelmed by the eggs, and the weight of deciding what to do with them. As is the case, in the long days of summer chickens just lay too darn many eggs.  (Although I do wonder why the little boy has a rat and that strange expression.)

My chickens have long since passed on to the pasture in the sky, so I source my eggs at a local honor farm stand. A couple of days ago I didn’t have change for a single carton of eggs, so I purchased four cartons (two medium $4.00 each, and two large $6.00 each) and stuffed my $20 bill into the locked box.

Now I have the weight of 48 eggs staring at me every time I open my refrigerator.

I don’t really feel like making an angel food or sunshine cake. Not in the mood for a savory bread casserole. (No stale bread, either.) Not in the mood for a souffle.

So, what do I feel like?  Custard? Flan? Quiche?

That is the dilemma. I feel like I can relate to that poor woman sitting on the floor. Deep in contemplation, annoyed at the lack of direction and unable to make a decision. I have 47 perfect eggs sitting waiting for me. Calling out “I’m yummy”. (The best I have done is fry one for breakfast.)

I think I’m going to make a Hollandaise sauce (which will bring me down to 46 eggs which will patiently wait until tomorrow).  I have some fresh, wild caught salmon that I will poach in some white wine, some fresh squash (who doesn’t have too much squash this time of year?) a glass of the white wine, and a Hollandaise sauce will be perfect.

I can taste it now. The butter and egg sauce with a lemony flavor, emulsified over heat served hot.

Hollandaise sauce is named for Holland, the place of its birth. Although made famous by the French. The name suggests that it was a Dutch creation imported to France (by the Huguenots). The sauce’s history is quite muddled, with many views on who was first, where it appeared in written form first, and why it came to be.

Most people only think of Hollandaise for breakfast (Eggs Benedict).

As all emulsified egg sauces, it has the reputation for being difficult, in this case,  notoriously difficult. The internet and cookbooks all have some trick and shout out: “this is the BEST RECIPE” that most people shy away from making a batch.

(Note: I’m cutting the recipe in half, because I’m just cooking for myself.)

The most important thing about all sauces is to not rush. Eggs and oil are an exercise in patience. Push to hard, heat too high, rush and the sauce will “break” (curdle, clump).

Some cooking experts will tell you to start with nearly frozen butter cut into small cubes and let the butter melt as you blend it with the yolk over heat. (It works. It can take a long time for the butter to melt, but the end result is fine.) Some recipes make no distinction in the temperature of the butter but say to put the pan directly on low heat and move it off when necessary to control the temperature. Other recipes call for an extra initial step: clarifying the butter first (which I prefer) and then mixing the oil into the yolk, much as with making mayonnaise, only over a bain-marie or a double boiler. Although, you can just do this in a saucepan over the heat.

(Something I have NOT tried until tonight.)

My husband insists that clarifying the butter is an unneeded step and that any butter will work, salted or not, although the only butter he usually has on hand is unsalted butter. He has made Hollandaise and Bernaise sauces hundreds of times. I, on the other hand, have made emulsified sauces only with clarified butter but have made mayonnaise many times, and I like liquid oil to mix into the egg yolk, because I find it easier to control and more familiar. Since we both come up with the same basic end result, I suppose it’s only a matter of which directions you care to follow and practice with. One thing is for certain: These are sauces you have to be prepared to practice, and make routinely, until the techniques are foolproof—or nearly so—for you.

The key is to not get frustrated. Once you have the hang of it, these are easy and elegant sauces to “whip up.”

If the egg in the sauce begins to curdle, you can strain the sauce through several layers of cheesecloth, return the liquid to the pan, add a new egg yolk, and try again. Addition of some very, very cold water (a teaspoon to a tablespoon) can cool the sauce down enough to stop the break. (Then whisk energetically to get the egg proteins to smooth out and accept more oil.) If a sauce breaks, it breaks. Everyone has it happen, sometimes. When it does, just start over and go slower, and you’ll find success. (I have a lot of mistakes I can make, and still have eggs.)

Tonight I’ll try my husband’s recipe [cut in half]:.



  • 2 sticks butter  [1 stick, or so 1/4 pound, or 4 ounces of butter]
  • 4 egg yolks [2 egg yolks]
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice [1/2 teaspoon lemon juice]
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper [I am going to skip the cayenne, because I don’t feel like it]
  • salt and pepper, to taste [just a small dash of salt, touch more pepper]
  • 2 teaspoons ice water, if needed [1 teaspoon ice water]

Cut well-chilled butter into small (1/4-inch) chunks, and set aside. In fairly large saucepan, add egg yolks, lemon juice, cayenne, and pepper. With hand whisk, blend all ingredients. Add chilled nuggets of butter, and turn heat to medium. Start whisking ingredients, and do not stop until butter melts and sauce begins to thicken. If sauce starts to break, add 1 to 2 teaspoons of very cold water, remove from heat, and whisk feverishly until sauce combines again. Once sauce is thick and smooth, add salt and more pepper, to taste. Remove from heat, and serve. (You can put saucepan into pan of warm water to keep sauce heated for as long as 30 minutes. This sauce does not hold well—it will begin to break.)



 

I’ll report back —

Swedish Egg Coffee

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The Scream   by Edvard Munch

I thought I’d heard of everything, and then someone mentions Swedish Coffee — an egg used in brewing it.

What?

Something in the far back of my mind registered — wasn’t there some old fancy trick about using egg  to clarify the coffee?   I only vaguely remembered this — tossing a beaten raw egg into the hot-pot of coffee to collect the grounds. The egg adds flavor and mellows the coffee (in the process — wastes an egg).

Somewhere back in my memory I had heard of this. This was a childhood memory, and I only remember it like a dream.

Was this really something?

It is mixed up in my mind like Hobo Coffee. Where you boil some water, toss in the grounds usually in the same pot you boiled water in, let it steep for a few minutes, then pour in some cold water (which drags the coffee grounds to the bottom) and you end up with a perfectly good cup of lukewarm coffee.

And, then out of the haze, I remember my grandmother always put her egg shells aside in a wooden box, and when she made coffee — pretty much Hobo coffee — she just put coffee and egg shells into a pot of boiling water, stirred it, and set it aside to steep. When she poured it out, without straining, it was dark, hot coffee. She said that the egg shells bound the grounds together at the bottom of the pot. (These coffee grounds and egg shells would go into the garden compost pile every morning.)

Of course, the funniest thing about being at Grandma’s house was watching my step-grandfather with a hot cup of coffee.  He would, to my grandmothers chagrin, pour the coffee from the cup to the saucer, then back to the cup, then back to the saucer, and so on, until he deemed it cool enough to drink.  He ate his green peas off his butter knife, and slurped his soup. He was an old Scotsman, with a thick Scottish brogue. He would say all kinds of strange things.Always called me a cheeky bairn. Half the time I never knew what he was saying with all the peely-wally, stookie, stooshie,  aff, aye, and oof.

My grandmother (my mother’s mother) was always in the kitchen. She kept the bacon grease in a crock by the stove. She kept bread crusts in a paper bag, and  egg shells, rinsed, in a small wooden box next to the stove. Egg shells were used to wash out bottles (put place crushed egg shells into a long neck bottle, with some soap and hot water, and shake-shake-shake. The shells would scrub the corners and hard to reach parts and the bottle would come out sparkling.  She used crushed egg shells and a sponge to clean her cast iron pans (she never used soap on the pans, claimed it would “ruin them”). She added finely ground egg shells to soups and stews to give them a calcium boost. And, she would crush them in a paper bag with a rolling-pin, and make a fine line around her vegetable plants, because she insisted “it kept the snails away”.

While on the subject of coffee, my father liked to drink Turkish Coffee (basically finely ground coffee heated up, slowly with a ton of sugar, and some ground cardamom). Really fine restaurants, back then, would usually have it on the menu, as an exotic delicacy. It was good, I was often allowed to have a small sip. A thick swill that you almost had to chew to get down, but delicious. (Now I have a craving for that.)

Coffee making for me was either the electric percolator that my parents used, or the “modern” ways, which I embraced. When I was out on my own, I was in the land of paper filters, and, later, French Press coffee. My friends had very complicated ways to make the “very best coffee, ever”. Coffee bean stores were opening up — where exotic beans from all over the world, in different roasts were trendy (unlike the big cans of pre-ground coffee that my parents would haul home from the grocery store).  Everyone had specific instructions that they would insist on. There were various promoted blends of dark French roast mellowed with a small amount  of Rainforest South American or Hawaiian grown beans (a light roast to balance out and put complexity the blend).

Everyone had a blend. Exotic Ethiopian beans, or Jamaican Blue Mountain Grown were the high-end (thankfully Civit digested coffee hadn’t been discovered, or marketed, yet) and Mexican and Columbian were the low-end.

Coffee beans were always ground fresh right before brewing (beans always kept in the freezer for maximum freshness). The coffee pot had to be preheated. The water boiled, but then cooled for several minutes to 205 degrees (to not injure the coffee oils), and then (for the paper filter drip method) poured in a circular motion over the ground coffee.  For the French Press, the coffee was placed in the glass carafe prior to pouring the hot water over them, then stirred once, and allowed to steep for 2-3 minutes, maximum, then transferred (in the case of a big batch of coffee) to a preheated thermos.

Complicated stuff this coffee-making.

So, my idea of coffee is strong, and full-bodied. I still like my coffee dark and strong, on the occasion that I indulge (more of a tea person these days). Seems, according to cooking websites and blogs, Swedish (aka Norwegian, Scandinavian) coffee is a thing, now. I find references all over the web. As a self-appointed egg expert I just had to try it.

I tried it.

I read a conglomeration of instructions.  I took an egg, and cracked it into a room temperature pan, crushed the egg-shell well, and broke the yoke. Placed a heaping tablespoon of ground coffee (ground to the consistency of what you would use for French Drip). Mixed together it looked disgusting, like mud.  Poured cold water into the pan, and set it on the stove, on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the mess was just below the boiling point (about 200 degrees Fahrenheit). .Removed it from the heat, and let it sit for two minutes.  Then, I strained it into a cup(had to clean the metal strainer several times because it would get clogged up).  The coffee was not coffee-colored. It was more like cafe au lait. The smell was like a very mild coffee. The flavor was very mild — not what I’ve come to expect from coffee concoctions. It was almost insipid, bland.  With added sugar it was more reminiscent of hot cocoa than coffee.  It would be a good drink for someone who didn’t like coffee very much.

Interesting. Different.

I added cream, and the coffee developed a chewy, chalky mouth feel. Not bad, just unexpected. It’s better without dairy.  There is no obvious egg flavor, but it does have more texture, perhaps egg proteins.The only other drawback, aside from using up an egg, was that it was messy to create, and the brown egg, shaggy mess left behind was unsavory.

I think it would be better with some cocoa (will try that next time) to make a super beefy, mocha drink.  It would be better with ground cardamom added. (Which, to me, would make it much more exciting of a drink.)  I might try mixing it with some chai spices (star anise, allspice, ginger, cardamom, fennel seeds, peppercorn nutmeg and cloves) or adding some milk masala powder, because the coffee base would be delicious brightened up with something more.

Overall, interesting.  I can’t rave about it, because it was just a little too flat and mild for my tastes.  But, worth experimenting with.