Brown v.White Egg

brown white egg no shadow

Chicken eggshells can vary in color, which is determined by the breed. American buyers (except in New England) prefer white-shelled eggs. The most common commercial chicken is a White Leghorn. These are prolific egg layers (easily laying more than 300 eggs a year). They mature fast, are not very large, and lay white eggs.

The next-most-common choice for commercial egg laying is a hybrid Rhode Island Red (crossed with a White Leghorn) which lays a great number of buff-brown eggs. They are also quick-growing, rather small birds.

The goofy thing about chickens and egg color is that the ear lobe color of a chicken indicates

the color of the egg. Breeds with white feathers and ear lobes, such as White Leghorns, lay white eggs. Those with red feathers or ear lobes, such as the Rhode Island Red, New Hampshire, Orpington, and Plymouth Rock varieties, lay brown eggs. But by no means is that the limit of the color choices when it comes to chicken eggs. You can find breeds that lay a snow-white egg, whereas others lay deep-chocolate-brown or light-brown eggs or eggs in shades of pink, green, or blue. The variety is amazing.

In case anyone ever asks: The pigment is deposited on the egg as it moves through the oviduct.

Egg sizes differ by breeds as well. Although an older chicken always will lay a larger egg, “larger” is relative. There are bantam chickens (about half the size of a standard chicken) that produce a dainty small egg, often smaller than the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) peewee size. There are also individual chickens that lay much smaller, or much larger, eggs than what is standard for their breed.

There are hundreds of chicken breeds, each with individual features and egg laying abilities. Some people insist that you can taste the difference between eggs from different breeds. From my experience, there are certain chicken breeds that seem to consistently lay eggs with larger yolks.

Chicken Breeds

1917henrecruits

There are hundreds of chicken breeds.

Chickens are divided by physical traits: plumage, size, weight, color, comb type, skin color, number of toes, feathering distinctions, earlobe color, egg color, and place of origin.

Different chickens lay eggs with different characteristics too.

In the United States, chickens are also divided by use: egg or meat, ornamental, or dual-purpose; standard size or bantam. There are standards set down by The American Poultry Association (APA) in the U.S. as well as organizations in Europe (most notably Britain).

Heritage Chickens
The APA began to define breeds in 1873 and published the definitions in the Standard of Perfection. The breeds it outlined had certain standards to meet: adapted to outdoor production in various climatic regions, hearty, long-lived, and reproductively vital.

Chickens were an important source of protein until the mid-20th century in America.  Until, the factory cattle farm could provide enough inexpensive cheap beef flooded the market. (At that point we became a “steak and potatoes” society. )

Before that, nearly every household had chickens, and many people depended on the eggs and meat to survive.  The government encouraged home chicken raising (as shown in this 1918 government circular).

In WW2, chickens were encouraged as an integral part of the Victory Garden.  Many homes (rural and in urban centers) in America raised chickens, to help with the war effort.

chickenposterHowever, with the end of WWII, this became seen as old fashioned, and zoning laws changed, to prohibit poultry.

It’s only been in the last decade that there has been a move back to backyard poultry, and a push to loosen the zoning laws to allow chickens and ducks in suburban and urban centers.

Industrialization saw the decline of many chicken breeds, with preference given to a few rapidly growing hybrids. This trend has continued, to the point of insanity.

(Consider that 90 percent of the United States commercial food production now includes only 15 plant and 8 animal species.)

This concentration on mono-breeding is an unwise trend. A mono-breed can be overcome by an illness to which a wider genetic group might have natural resistance. In the most common breed of white (battery caged) chickens, a recent study of genetics showed that half of the ancestral genetics has been lost. One chance pathogen could potentially wipe out the entire chicken industry.

Different breeds keep alive a pool of genetic diversity with wider potential for natural defenses against defects and disease.

The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) is a nonprofit organization founded in 1977 to protect historic breeds and the genetic diversity of farm livestock, including poultry. It lists chicken breeds that are threatened with extinction, categorized by the degree of risk: critical, threatened, watch, and so on. (Sadly, some breeds have already become extinct.) The ALBC lists more than three dozen chicken breeds in danger of extinction. Extinction of a breed would mean the irrevocable loss of the genetic resources and options this diversity embodies.

The ALBC’s Website explains the organization’s concerns:

These breeds are threatened because agriculture has changed. Modern food production now favors the use of a few highly specialized breeds selected for maximum output in a controlled environment. Many traditional livestock breeds have lost popularity and are threatened with extinction. These traditional breeds are an essential part of the American agricultural inheritance. Not only do they evoke our past, they are also an important resource for our future.

Another group, the Society for the Preservation of Poultry Antiquities, also keeps yearly lists of the endangered species. A hot topic in hobby chicken groups is how to protect the variety and diversity of chicken breeds.

If you are giving any thought to having a home flock, you might want to investigate some of the heritage breeds. Beyond the need to keep the breeds alive, these are often the most beautiful and decorative of the chicken breeds. Several breeding groups (hatcheries) are attempting to reinvigorate interest in the rarer breeds.

smaller chicken and laundry

Backyard chickens are the best. They eat bugs. They like scrap food: vegetable trimmings, the half eaten peanut butter sandwich, leftover meals, and food that’s old and stale (just not moldy).  Forget the disposal, and forget compost piles, chickens will eat it all — and then make you some fresh garden fertilizer.  Chickens will lay an egg a day in their youth, and then slow down to an egg every third day. Usually three or four chickens will supply enough eggs for a family of four.

You don’t need a rooster for chickens to lay eggs. (And roosters are a pain to deal with.)

I never realized how many people do keep chickens in an urban area, until I had my first four girls.

It’s Almost Chick Time

chicken print in snow

chicken print in snow

I just received the most recent catalog from McMurray Hatchery If you’ve never received one, it’s a poultry porn magazine. I seriously lust over some of the beautiful bird pictures. (Alas, no centerfold.)

www.mcmurrayhatchery.com

The wish book chock full of glossy pictures of chicks, and chickens, waterfowl, turkeys, game birds, and all sorts of equipment to make life with egg layers easier. I am always fascinated by the variation in the breeds: color, the demeanor, the size and weight. Chickens range from bantams to giants.  The smallest of the small chicken breeds are the  Malaysian Serema (their eggs are the size of marbles, and the chicks are the size of your thumb. As adults, they may weigh about a pound). The largest, the Jersey Giant (roosters can be as tall as 26 inches, and 15 pounds, while hens only slightly smaller).

(I’ve learned a few things over the years. When a bird is described as “lively” or “good forager” they are hyperactive. I prefer breeds with traits of “calm“, “quiet“, “easy“. )

Egg colors are great. In the past I’ve had both Cockoo and Black Copper Marans, which lay the darkest eggs of all. Eggs, depending on the breed, range from light green, shades of brown, pink, blue, as well as, colors that range from pure white, to a slight yellow cream tint.

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Marans Egg

To me, for beauty, you can’t beat a yard full of Buff Orpingtons for their golden feather

Walking Hen

Buff Orptington

color and big, wide, squat beauty. Of course, I’m bias, my favorite chicken (ever) was Buffy, the Buff Orpington. She was my gardening buddy and would escape the chicken pen flock, to hang out with me in the yard.  Buffy really liked it when I was digging in the dirt. With each shovelful she would examine the contents for the hapless worm. For a chicken she had a lot of personality. I still miss her.

There is something tempting in the idea of an assorted box-full of new, tiny, peeping chicks showing up at the post office early one morning.

The downside is that the minimum order is 25.

I think it’s just human nature to want pets with a purpose:  eggs.

After all, humans domesticated these birds about 8,000 years ago, specifically to collect their eggs, consume their meat, and also use their feathers for decoration or bedding.

A Little Chicken History

Chickens are classified as members of the super-order Gallaonaserae (fowl), most commonly Galliformes (chickens, quail, and turkeys) and Anatidae (in the order Anseriformes), that we call waterfowl (domestic ducks and geese). Poultry also includes other birds, also killed for their meat, such as pigeons, quail and doves, and domesticated (or quasi-domesticated) birds such as pheasants.The word poultry comes from the French/Norman word poule, which comes from the Latin word pullus, which means a small animal. The Romans also considered rabbits to be in this category, but they didn’t lay eggs.

(Every child knows that the Easter bunny hides Easter eggs, though. Maybe the Romans were onto something?).

It is debated, but most poultry historians agree that the source of the domesticated chicken (Gallus domesticus) was the red junglefowl (Gallus gallus). Red junglefowl are wild chickens still found in parts of Southeast Asia. They are a tropical member of the pheasant family. Junglefowl are spectacularly colored, with reds, blues, golden, and bright orange mixed into their plumage. The male birds are more upright and thinner than what we have come to associate with chickens—the former have skinny drumsticks and not much white meat.

red_junglefowl_-_thailand

Red Junglefowl

It is thought the red junglefowl was hybridized with the grey junglefowl (Gallus sonneratii) to create a more docile domesticated bird

Domesticated chickens are calmer, less aggressive, and less likely to forage (go off looking for food). They are larger and heavier and lay more eggs (larger and sooner) than their wild cousins.

Austronesian populations are thought to have hauled chickens along on their trek across Asia and Oceania, dropping off chickens along the way. Certainly the Polynesians brought chickens to Easter Island (where they were housed in chicken coops made of stone).

Some have speculated that there were multiple, separate domestications. There are genetic differences between certain breeds of chickens. It has been posited that another fowl similar, or related, to the jungle-fowl may have been native in other areas of the world. The reasoning is that there are far-flung regions where domestication occurred, in areas isolated by mountains and other barriers. Is it reasonable to assert that the Southeast Asian fowl were the same ones domesticated in China (around 5400 BC) and in the Indus Valley (2000 BC), or was there another progenitor of our modern domesticated chickens?

Archaeologists have found chicken bones in many parts of the world. Domestic chicken bones have been found (dating back to 6000–4000 BC) in China (Yangshao and Peiligan), Pakistan (3000–2000 BC), Europe (3000 BC), and the Indus Valley (2500 BC). The chicken is spoken of in written texts of China, Egypt (18th dynasty), and the Persian Kingdom of Lydia (in Asia Minor) and Greece (500 BC).

Domesticated chickens spread along the spice routes into Central Asia (to what is modern-day Iran), to all the Mediterranean coasts, to every corner of the Roman Empire, and into Africa and elsewhere. The Polynesians carried chickens (and pigs) wherever they went. The strength of the chicken migration was further advanced because, unlike many other domesticated animals, chickens traveled well.

The Roman army used chickens as oracles that determined fate by how they flew, how they fed, and which direction they walked. Chicken fortune-telling was a complex process. There were volumes of information outlining the way to read the omens.

And what better oracle than one you can eat?

Don’t Mix Eggs in a Blender

Recently I was watching a television show where a so-called chef (actor playing one) recommended whirring eggs in a blender before adding them to a recipe. This just seemed crazy to me. The reason given was that they wanted them “foamy”.  But all the old-wives’ logic that I have lodged in my brain screamed: WRONG.

Eggs get tough and rubbery if they are handled rough. This means, don’t whir them in a blender, and don’t cook them on high heat. You don’t want to eat rubber eggs. Yuck.

Eggs have three distinct parts: shell, white and yolk.  The white is water and protein (90% /10%).   The yolk is water, fat and protein.   (74%/11.8%/12.8%)

If you want a lot of foam, you can separate the white and the yolk. Egg whites will turn into a lovely foam if you whip them long enough (even better if you add a little cream of tartar, a few drops of vinegar or lemon juice — the addition of acid helps to smooth out and lengthen the protein molecules, to make them stronger).  Room temperature egg whites fluff up better than chilled ones. There is a very fine line between beaten stiff (so that you can pull out the whisk and you see Alpine mountain peaks) and beaten dry (when they still make mountain peaks, but you’ve beaten the hell out of them and they’ve broken their will to live.)  Over-beaten egg whites develop a grainy quality, and instead of being glistening like a fresh dew drop, they will be dull and listless.  Their texture is just wrong, and if one is making a souffle or a sponge cake (from scratch) the trapped air bubbles won’t be as strong, and are more likely to fail in baking. (Spoiler alert: a deflated souffle, or a lopsided cake.)

By whipping the eggs, the chemistry behind it, is that you are really untangling the protein molecules. They bump around into each other, and the proteins uncurl exposing the (previously) protected sticky amino acids. These lock together and trap air bubbles between the bonds which keeps the air bubbles from easily popping or escaping. But these bonds become weak with too much bump action.

This all egg white whipping works best in a very clean metal or glass bowl with no fat residue (which is why plastic is out. Plastic attracts fat molecules. No matter how much you clean the bowl, there will still be a fat residue on the surface).

Copper bowls are the best choice, but that’s all about another chemical reaction. Copper ions migrate from the bowl into the egg whites, and forms conalbumin…blah blah blah. Not going into that right now.

Fat will block the egg whites from trapping air bubbles — which is why trying to make “fluffy” whole eggs is just crazy.  It makes no sense, especially scientifically.  The fats from the egg yolk get in the way. The truth is, even a teeny-tiny, small speck of egg yolk left in the white while separating the two will keep an egg white from ever achieving “stiff peaks”.  Doesn’t take much.

Which is where the old wives recommendations in a multitude of old cookbooks comes in.  The books from the late 1800’s though much of the 1900’s were always concerned with the “tenderness” of a cooked egg so the instructions were repeated, consistently: no salt; barely beating; and, low heat.  The old recipes recommended barely whisking a whole egg, until the white and yolk blended evenly. Other recipes call for no mixing of the two, just break the yolk.  There are lots of cooking science reasons for this.

I’d rather listen to the old wives, who probably cooked more eggs than I will ever will cook in my lifetime — and heed their warnings, than pay attention to some script writer, or some blog post that says “throw it in the blender and wizz away..”   Nope. Not going there.

Now if you really want to get a really fluffy whole eggs, beat the egg whites until you get stiff peaks, then carefully fold a broken egg yolk into the mixture until blended, and then slip the whole thing into a pan with an ample amount of melted butter to make a beautiful fluffy omelette (souffle omelette), or to make light airy scrambled eggs.  Or even, fold some finely grated cheese to the beaten whites and slide those into the waiting heated pan, press a spoon in the center to make and indentation, and the carefully deposit an unbroken yolk into the center of the egg white cloud. Cover, and cook on a low heat until the yolk is just slightly clouded over.

There are lots of recipes to experiment with that use a stiff beaten egg white, and the egg yolk. There should be no egg recipes that involve beating the crap out of an egg in a blender.

Never use a blender to beat eggs. Use a fork (for lightly blended eggs), a whisk, or if you have a lot of eggs, a hand mixer.  And, I don’t care what some websites say, or what some actress playing a chef in a sitcom says — they’re wrong.

 

The Perfect Fried Egg

Fernand-Point1

Chef Fernand Point, long considered the father of nouvelle cuisine, was a great chef and an undisputed genius of technique. He revolutionized some aspects of French gastronomy in building on traditions handed down and in creating his own versions of classic dishes. He opened a legendary restaurant (La Pyramide) halfway between Paris and the Riviera that was a Mecca for celebrities, serious gourmets, and chefs from around the globe. Those influenced by his techniques include Paul Bocuse, Alain Chapel, Hubert Keller, and the Troisgros brothers.

Chef Point has some amazing recipes. One that I have been unable (*or unwilling) to try and replicate is so wonderfully complex.  You soft-boil and egg (so the white is firm, and the yolk is still runny) and carefully make a hole in the bottom of the egg and shell.  Drain out the runny egg yolk, and then, carefully, stuff in the same volume (as the egg yolk) of foie gras (softened, with some spices, and a bit of cream added) into the egg.  (Other choices would be a meat mince, or other stuffing.)  Heat and serve.

Someday I’ll attempt this.

Most of Chef Point’s recipes are simple, but elements are  labor intensive, but, fantastic sounding.  It’s all probably over my cooking ability.  I love to read his recipes and his view of life itself. I can get behind the idea of opening a big bottle of champagne, and swigging it all day.

While most of his recipes are “huh” “wow” “mmmm”  the one thing, I have mastered is the fried egg a la Master Point, the King.   IT IS delicious.

I believe Fernand Point is one of the last true gourmands of the 20th century. His ruminations are extraordinary and thought-provoking—he has been an inspiration for legions of chefs.”  Thomas Keller[1],

Chef Point (aka: le roi the king), believed in using the best ingredients possible: regional ingredients, in season, quality-grown. His culinary philosophy was simple: The easiest dishes are often the most difficult. An often-told story is how he would always invite visiting chefs to show off their skill by cooking a simple fried egg. They would, inevitably, fry the egg too fast, in too hot a pan, and he would insult them and show them his way. His way was slow, careful cooking with plenty of butter.

In fact, his favorite saying was “Du beurre! Donnez-moi du beurre! Toujours du beurre!” (Translated: “Butter! Give me butter! Always butter!)

Chef Point’s Fried Egg Recipe

Place a lump of fresh butter in a pan, and let it melt just enough for it to spread and never until it is browned. Open a very fresh egg onto a small plate or saucer, and slide it carefully into the pan. Cook on heat so low that the white barely turns creamy and the yolk becomes hot but remains liquid. In a separate saucepan, melt another lump of fresh butter, remove the egg onto a lightly heated serving plate; salt and pepper it; and then very gently pour the fresh, warm butter over it.

 

[1] Chef of The French Laundry, Napa, California

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.

 

 

Hard-Boiled Egg Cookies

My grandmother, mother, father,step-grandfather, and IMy grandmother used to bake a multitude of different cookies. I remember that she would make hard-boiled-egg cookies and insist that they were from an old German recipe and would make the best crumbs of any cookie (which she would use for the crust of cheesecake). I was young and never really thought much about this until I came across a recipe from the Second Edition of the Neighborhood Cookbook, published by the Council of Jewish Women, Portland, Oregon (1914).  The recipe was named simply German Cookies.

(Which makes sense to me, as my Grandmother was a stout, stern German woman.)  However, the concept of using hard-boiled eggs in cookies has an unclear origin. I am still looking for the history on it.

German Cookies (Council of German Women Recipe)

Yolks of one dozen hard-boiled eggs, one and one-half pounds butter, one-half pound granulated sugar. Enough flour to make a nice soft dough, two teaspoons of baking powder (mix with flour), one teaspoon lemon extract. Cream the butter and sugar; then add the grated yolks of the eggs; then two raw eggs, and lastly, flour, and flavoring. Roll out quite thin. Cut into different forms, and bake in moderate oven until golden brown.

I’ve run across other hard-boiled-egg cookie recipes in European cookbooks. The Polish have cookie recipes that use hard-boiled-egg yolks. The kruche ciasto Polskie (Polish crumbly dough) is used for cookies and tart shells. There are also numerous Italian cookie recipes that use hard-boiled eggs.

They only sound weird.

Cookbooks from the 1940s had a great variety of hard-boiled-egg cookies. They seem to have evolved into something of a dinosaur in recent editions of standard cookbooks. I’m not sure why. Hard-boiled-egg cookies are delicious.

Hard-Boiled-Egg Spritz Cookies

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 3 hard-boiled-egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon milk
  • 2 cups flour

Cut cold butter into small pieces with knife. Work into sugar until crumb-like. Mash egg yolks with fork, and work into crumbs. Add vanilla and small amount of milk. Mix in flour. This dough will be dry but will hold together when squeezed. It should not be crumbly. (If it does not hold together, add few more drops of milk.) Press or shape as desired. Bake in 400-degree oven 6 to 9 minutes or until set but not overly browned.

Berliner Kranser

  • 2 egg yolks, raw
  • 2 hard-boiled-egg yolks
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • ½ pound unsalted butter
  • 1½ cups flour
  • 2 egg whites
  • decorator’s sugar

Mash hard-boiled-egg yolk with fork. Add raw yolks to hard-boiled yolks. Add sugar and almond extract, and mix together. Blend in butter, and add flour. Dough will be dry and firm. If it does not hold together and is too crumbly, add another raw yolk (although that might require more flour for the right consistency). Refrigerate dough several hours to chill thoroughly. Roll dough into thin ropes about 7 inches long. Twist ends together to form circle with ends overlapping. Brush with egg white, and sprinkle on decorator’s sugar. Bake in 350-degree oven 6 to 8 minutes or until just set but not browned.

Monte Cristo Sandwich

The sandwich that is the oddest in my book is the Monte Cristo sandwich. It is a class of sandwich, with several regional variations. Generally speaking, the pieces of bread are sweet French toast and the sandwich filling is savory.

The sandwich filling may be ham and cheese or turkey ham and cheese, much as in a club sandwich. Some parts of the United States grill a “closed” sandwich, whereas other places serve it open-faced with Swiss (or other) cheese melted on top. The bread is always French toast. Some recipes call for a more savory approach (Thousand Island dressing on plain egg toast, with fries on the side), and others lean toward the standard American breakfast French toast with powdered sugar, maple syrup, and fresh fruit salad as garnish.

The thing is, French toast isn’t actually that unusual as a sandwich exterior. Several recipes call for two pieces of bread dipped in egg and fried. I think it’s the combination of ingredients and the name that make this sandwich stand out.

The name of the sandwich is, obviously, a nod to Le Comte De Monte-Cristo, the Alexandre Dumas adventure novel, published in 1844. The Count of Monte Cristo’s protagonist, Edmond Dantes, who had been wrongfully accused and imprisoned and subsequently escaped from jail, flees to the island of Monte Cristo and finds the legendary treasure of the Spada family. With the riches, he can fund his revenge on those who wronged him. His revenge is formidable and the results shocking. The book is a classic.

Alexandre Dumas, painted by Olivier Pichat

Alexandre Dumas, painted by Olivier Pichat

The history of the sandwich is more difficult to unearth than the Spada family treasure. Many references assume that the first incarnation of the Count of Monte Cristo sandwich was in Disneyland, in Anaheim, California (where it was served at the Blue Bayou in New Orleans Square and in the Adventureland Tahitian Terrace restaurants). The earliest Disneyland menu it is found on is from 1966.

The first cookbook to publish a recipe was the Brown Derby Cookbook.[1] Its recipe:

     Take three slices of white bread. Butter the first and cover with lean baked ham and chicken. Butter the middle slice on both sides, place on meat, and cover with thinly sliced Swiss cheese. Butter the third slice and place, butter down, over cheese. Trim crusts; cut sandwich in two; secure with toothpicks; dip in light egg batter; fry in butter on all sides until golden brown. Remove toothpicks and serve with currant jelly, strawberry jam, or cranberry sauce.

The Brown Derby did not claim to have invented the sandwich. In Southern California, it was served in many cafés, from some at swanky golf courses to the famous Cantor’s Deli in Hollywood[2].

However, all these citations are predated by the Monte Cristo Hotel in Everett, Washington. The sandwich was a house special in its cafe.

Monte Cristo Hotel, Everett Washington

 

The first written citation on the sandwich was in a weekly Los Angeles Times column by Chef A. L. Wyman[3] in 1924. His recipe:

     Cover six slices of sandwich bread with a slice of American full cream cheese, cover the cheese with slices of boiled ham, cover with slices of bread, tie with white string, dip in beaten egg and fry a nice brown on both sides in hot butter. Place on hot plates, remove the string and serve.

It is notable that his recipe called for cream cheese, not the Swiss cheese or Emmentaler (a type of Swiss cheese) that is fairly standard among all the recipes.

The Monte Cristo has many minor variations. The most common: The bread is made into French toast first and then grilled (using 3 pieces of bread in a “Dagwood” layering[4]); a sandwich (usually with 2 pieces of bread) assembled and dipped in an egg/flour thickened batter; meat variations such as ham, turkey, and chicken; a sandwich served with jam, jelly, fruit, or maple syrup and dusted with confectioner’s sugar (and sometimes whipped cream); and a savory version (Cumberland-head style) served with Thousand Island dressing and garnished with pickles, relish, or French fries.

Monte Cristo Sandwich

1 egg

6 tablespoons milk

2 tablespoons flour

3 slices bread

2 teaspoons butter

3 tablespoons grated Parmesan or other hard cheese

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 (2 ounce) slice Swiss cheese

2 (1 ounce) slices roasted turkey

2 (1 ounce) slices boiled ham

confectioners’ sugar, for garnish

jam, for garnish

Whisk egg, milk, and flour together to make thick batter. Heat skillet on medium heat to melt small amount of butter. Dip bread into batter until coated, and put into frying pan; sprinkle with grated cheese and nutmeg. Cook until golden brown on both sides. Put Swiss cheese between 2 pieces of battered bread. Grill until cheese has melted enough to join the 2 pieces together. Remove from pan. On plate assemble sandwich. Place ham and turkey on top of grilled cheese pieces, and put last piece of battered bread on top. Dust with confectioners’ sugar, and serve with side dish of jam.
[1] Doubleday & Company: Garden City, NY, 1949 (p. 183). The Brown Derby was a chain of restaurants in Los Angeles, California. The first and most famous was opened in a building shaped like a hat. The restaurants were iconic during the Golden Age of Hollywood. The first restaurant opened in 1926.

[2] The original Cantor’s—a Jersey City, New Jersey, delicatessen—opened in 1924 and moved to Hollywood in the 1940s.

[3] The regular column was called Practical Recipes: Helps for Epicures and All Who Appreciate Good Cooking. The Monte Cristo sandwich recipe was published May 24, 1924.

[4] Dagwood Bumstead was a character in artist Chic Young’s long-running comic strip Blondie. Dagwood was famous for creating insanely tall, multilayered sandwiches topped with an olive on a toothpick. This name has become a food term to describe any sandwich with more than two pieces of bread.

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 —

Savory French Toast

Savory French toast, eggy toast, and fried toast are similar to the sweet varieties, in that they have a custard base. They differ in that they have more-intense flavors, involve cheese, or are filled. These are good for breakfast, snacks, lunch, or a light dinner. This is just a small sampling of recipes for savory French toast. You can certainly experiment with the idea and create your own signature one.

Savory Cheesy Eggy Toast
½ cup milk
4 eggs
4 slices stale bread

2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup grated or shredded cheese (your choice of cheese)

ketchup (garnish)

Mix egg and milk. Dip bread slices, and coat both sides evenly. Melt butter in skillet on medium heat, and heat until very hot. Cook until golden on both sides. Move slices of bread to an oven broiler pan, sprinkle with cheese, place under broiler, and heat until cheese melts. Serve with ketchup.