Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Caneton aux Peches et Mousseline au Chocolat avec Creme Anglaise

I just finished Julia Child's and Alex Prud'homme's memoir "My Life in France," as I might of mentioned before. Julia's descriptions of the dishes that she encountered were so detailed and scrumptious that I had to eat while I read her book so as not to feel envious of her gustatory delight. But more amazing than her recipes was her love of France and of her husband.
She discovered the three things that gave her a purpose to live: Paris, Paul Child, and la cuisine bourgeoise and in doing so changed the world. Her book was a love story to all three, but it was also her journey, forging her way on her own through a world that her family didn't agree with and that she herself didn't always care for. She doubted their near bondage to Paul's government job and fantasized about a life dedicated only to cooking and photography.
But she was able to remain steadfast in the face of their endless relocations because of her purpose, sense of self, and as she would say, "courage of [her] conviction." I was impressed by the understanding she had that this was the right place for her to be on Earth and the right thing for her to be doing. So inspired was I by her memoir and by my forty-fifth viewing of "Julie and Julia", that I decided to finally make a dinner and dessert solo from "Mastering the Art of French Cooking."
I knew the backstory to so many dishes that it was difficult to choose, but I settled on Caneton aux Peches et Mousseline au Chocolat avec Creme Anglaise (Roast Duck with Peaches and Chocolate Mousse with Custard). I'm going off to college today and I wanted to try to make a really grownup dinner by myself before I left. I pictured myself as an adult cooking dinner as if it were commonplace when in fact, I'd never really cooked meat before and certainly never duck!
But here goes. Julia's recipe was for 5-6 people and she called for a 5 1/2 lb duckling but I was only making dinner for two so I opted for one duck breast weighing 1 lb. Thus, this recipe is scaled down a bit. First I preheated the oven to 425 F. I put a few dashes of salt and one dash of pepper on the duck, breast up (fat on top) in a roasting pan, and then added a bit of thyme, 1/4 of a diced shallot and 1/5 of a chopped carrot.
I put the pan in the oven (she calls for the middle rack) for 15 minutes. Then I turned the temperature down to 350 F and roasted it for 30 more minutes. Make sure that the fat doesn't burn and from time to time remove some of the fat that has accumulated on the bottom of the dish (this didn't happen for me). Julia estimated that the duck would take 1 hour and 20 minutes give or take, but mine was very well done at that point and I would recommend removing it 15 minutes or more before the 80 minute mark (you can check by cutting duck a bit and observing its color).
In the last 15 minutes you can add some more salt. When the duck is done, leave it in the oven and begin the sauce. This step is very important and patience is required. Spoon out the the juices into a pot (do not tilt the roasting pan to pour it, take my word for it). Then add 1 1/2 cups of beef or brown duck stock to the pot and boil it, letting it reduce by half or less.
While the duck was cooking, you should peel and slice 2 large peaches and put them in a fireproof dish. Coat them with 2 tbs lemon juice, 3 tbs sherry, and 2 tbs sugar. After the sauce has reduced, pour it over the peaches and their sauce, which should now be in a new pot and cook below simmer for about 3 minutes to poach the peaches.
She recommends using a slotted spoon to remove the peaches and arranging them around the duck. Then bring this new sauce to a boil and reduce it by half and add 2 tbs butter. Fin! (I'm using exclamation points in Julia's honor as she seemed quite fond of the little buggers in her book). The duck was delicious by the way and not nearly as messy as some other experiences I've had with the birds. For the Chocolate mousse, I beat 4 egg yolks in a ceramic bowl with 3/4 cup sugar and then added 1/4 cup Grand Marnier.
Then I placed it over water on the lowest possible setting in a pot and stirred it until there was foam and the mixture was hot. This never quite happened for me, possibly due to the thickness of my bowl. Then I did the same process (beating with a whisk) over a bath of cold water until as Julia puts it, "It has the consistency of mayonnaise." I melted 6 oz of semi-sweet chocolate and once that was done added 1 1/2 sticks of butter, a bit at a time until they melted.
I whisked the chocolate mixture into the egg yolk and sugar bowl until they were incorporated. Next, I beat 4 egg whites, added 1 tbs sugar and continued beating until I had stiff peaks. I stirred 1/4 of the egg whites into the mousse and then folded the remainder in. This should be refrigerated for a minimum of 2 hours and makes about 5 1/2 cups.
Lastly, I made the custard sauce by whisking 1/2 cup of sugar with 4 egg yolks. Then I poured in 1 3/4 cups of boiling milk and whisked vigorously so as not to have scrambled eggs. I added the custard to a pot and beat it over medium heat (keep your eyes on this part).
The final product should be mildly thick and should never get over 165 F otherwise the egg cooks too much. I finished by straining the custard through a sieve and added 1 tsp Grand Marnier (or vanilla extract). You should let this chill until you're ready to serve the mousse. The custard cut the sweetness of the mousse and all was good with the world. Off to Baltimore now.

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