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gruyere

"The French Laundry Cookbook" by Thomas Keller

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I have, with great interest, been following the thread related to Keller’s Bouchon cookbook. For obvious reasons this book is more ‘au courant’ than his French Laundry cookbook. If it does not find its way into my collection following a birthday in less than a week (my hinting has been a tad over the top) I will be purchasing a copy and hopefully joining the discussion from a more informed point of view.

However the interest in this discussion caused me to search diligently for a similar thread related to the FL Cookbook. In response to my request for such a thread, others, like me, were unsuccessful in finding one.

I am therefore beginning the discussion with a few general points and more specific ones will follow.

Do you find the level of complexity and the obsession with thoroughness and everything from scratch, to be worth the effort for the home cook? My response would be yes in about 75% of the cases.

Does the cookbook which I believe is six years old still reflect the dishes which are served at the FL Restaurant? In general that is; anyone as creative as TK is bound to have made at least some changes.

I am really more interested in questions related to specific recipes but will wait to see if there is sufficient interest before spilling my blood.

BTW, if someone can point me to an existing thread I'll pick up the discussion there.

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I am glad you started this thread. I personally find this cookbook extremely valuable and informative. Some recipes are more complex than others but overall (and the same could be said of the Bouchon cookbook), I developed a genuine esteem for it because of its educational properties. It deals with recipes in a way that many cookbooks don’t. It explains the how, the when, but primarily the why. I think because of this book, I have gained a greater sense of respect and appreciation for the ingredients I work with.

Given that it was published a few years ago, I am also curious to know how each dish reflect the current FL food style or menu. I have never been to the FL. I have on the other hand been to Bouchon and I would say that a great majority of the restaurant’s dishes are actually in the book. I was also lucky enough to have dined at Per Se this past fall. I think that overall, what I ate very much reflected the approach and vision Keller has to food as he describes it in his FL cookbook (in terms of actual recipes, Salmon Cornets and Oysters and Pearls which are apparently always on the menu are also featured in the book). In terms of differences, what struck me was the change in plating style. In the FL cookbook, Keller stacks up close to everything in the center of the plate. At Per Se, most of the dishes had ingredients that were individually lined up on a plate, so no stacking up there (is it the same at the FL?).

I am looking forward to reading your impressions on specific recipes…

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My wife loves her French Laundry cookbook. Unlike most "cooking as art" books, most recipes are accessible to anyone with a modicum of skill. Most inigredients are relatively easy to come by if you live near a high quality grocer or gourmet market.

I have not heard her comment about her copy of Bouchon. I will ask her to find out what she thinks.

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I bought the Bouchon book and enjoyed it so much I ordered the FL book, which I'd always meant to get but hadn't gotten around to...

I love the really elaborate preparations (even though I'm unlikely to attempt many of them myself), but some of the simplest ideas (like the infused oils and spice powders) are very elegant and are likely to be of more practical use to me. The section on stocks and "quick" sauces also seems authoritative. Maybe I'll screw up my courage and try some of the more ambitious dishes, but for now I'm trying to start out with the more basic stuff and build from there.

The FL book is more than just a cook book - it actually makes for a very nice read. I would also recommend Michael Ruhlman's The Soul of a Chef as a companion book, since a major portion of it centers on the writing of FL.

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Hi gruyere,

Do you find the level of complexity and the obsession with thoroughness and everything from scratch, to be worth the effort for the home cook?

For me, yes. Anytime I can put something together at home that helps remove the mystery behind the packaging at the store is worth doing. Keller talks about the law of diminishing returns (page 14), and sometimes it seems more laborious to prepare the dish as written, so my own law of diminishing returns is to do it his way at least once, then find the shortcuts. To me the shortcuts I'm looking for are the time savers, not so much the money savers.

Does the cookbook which I believe is six years old still reflect the dishes which are served at the FL Restaurant? In general that is; anyone as creative as TK is bound to have made at least some changes.

The cookbook is but a very small representation of what the restaurant does. The only recipe I can guarantee that is presented every night is the salmon tartar in the cornet cone. I have been to The French Laundry four times and each menu is a different based on seasonality and availability of the ingredients, and based on how whimsical Keller and the staff are feeling that day. For example, there's always a caviar dish with some base to support it, foie gras seared or torchon with different garnishes every night, a fish dish depending on what came in that day, a crustacean, a veal or lamb from Four Story Hills Farm, pork from Hobbs Shore, a cheese plate, and 3 or 4 desserts including a pot de crème, and a crème brûlée... His agnolotti can have a different filling and sauce every night. If you look at his soups you'll see it's all about method. There's nothing on my four menus that's in the book, but the menus obviously carry the theme and spirit of the book.

I am really more interested in questions related to specific recipes but will wait to see if there is sufficient interest before spilling my blood.

BTW, if someone can point me to an existing thread I'll pick up the discussion there.

I have been a part of a group of friends who have made two (or is it three?) dinners solely from the recipes in the FL cookbook. The recipes work without fail; all will take practice at least once before attempting to present to someone else. A couple of things to note:

The white truffle oil-infused custard on page 16. To make the chive tip the book says to preheat the oven to 275F. I've never been able to get it to brown at that temperature.

In the same recipe it says to place the egg shells filled with custard in a baking pan and fill the pan with hot water... He does not mean hot tap water. :smile: Use water that's at least 170F otherwise you'll be cooking this dish for a long dime.

I really enjoy reading every word in this book and had I known Michael Ruhlman was going to be at the Art Institute of Seattle last Friday I would have brought my copy in for him to sign his signature right next to Thomas Keller's. (side note: Michael, what are you writing now?)

Anyway, to me this is an important book because I use it as a measure of my own success in the kitchen. Did I treat each ingredient with respect, did I use the proper techniques and methodology (do my brunoise cuts look the same, or does it look like I just did a rough chop), and did I feel like I gained something from the process of preparing this dish that I can use elsewhere.

Edit to add here's a picture of a foie gras torchon from a recipe in the book (page 111). I didn't copy the recipe exactly, but the recipe/book influenced its outcome. Not bad if I do say so myself.

gallery_6987_347_12117.jpg

Foie gras torchon (poached in veal stock) with fleur de sel, pink Hawaiian sea salt, fresh ground pepper, golden delicious apple, gewürztraminer gelée, 50-year-old balsamic vinegar, and brioche. This was taken on the picnic table in my backyard. This was a good day. :smile:


Edited by Really Nice! (log)

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That looks great RN. Do you have any other pics of FL experiments?

[Edit to add: Did you make the brioche as well?]


Edited by MobyP (log)

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Complexity of recipes definitely good - gives me more confidence have the full recipe and it will work rather some cut down untested home version

very good passage about whacking bunnies

J

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Foie gras torchon (poached in veal stock) with fleur de sel, pink Hawaiian sea salt, fresh ground pepper, golden delicious apple, gewürztraminer gelée, 50-year-old balsamic vinegar, and brioche. This was taken on the picnic table in my backyard. This was a good day.  :smile:

Looking at your foie gras, it must have been a very good day indeed! I am quite impressed.

I enjoyed reading your comments on the book, it was very well said and a good overall representation of what the book has to offer. I would add that beyond the recipes, I particularly took pleasure reading Keller’s personal kitchen stories, which I think anyone interested in serious cooking, at home or in a professional setting, should read. Keller’s little anecdotes on the importance of rabbits (as Jon pointed out) and trussing chicken are my favorites.

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RN, I share your passion for this book. I’m not sure how it stayed out of my possession for so long, but it was not until Christmas last year (2004) when my daughter gave it to me, that I realized what a wonderful piece of work it is.

I agree that it is wise to prepare the recipes at least once before doing so under ‘game’ conditions. In my short experience with the FLC I have found that each preparation makes me more equipped for the next even if the two recipes are not in any way related. There is a certain pace and organization that seems to be present in many of the recipes.

Now on to some specifics (I am not at home as I write, so do not have access to the cookbook; I am therefore going from memory so some of the details may not be exact but I think the gist is valid) :

For the Parmesan Crisps:

If I leave the cheese in my oven to form the crisps at the recommended 350F (I think) for 7 or 8 mins as suggested they become far too crisp and are not pliable as required. Four or five mins works better for me. (Note: I have my oven calibrated on a regular basis and it is very accurate.) In addition, if I add the stipulated amount of heavy cream to the goat cheese the mixture becomes too liquefied to properly pipe into the parmesan tulips. Is my goat cheese possible to soft to start with? I am using 35% Cooking Cream. Is it possible that Keller uses the Devon or English cream?

All this said, the theory that one should try the recipe first, certainly holds, because my current methodology produces a canapé that my family and guests thoroughly enjoy.

For the Caesar Salad (in true Keller fashion this a significant twist on an old classic and is really more of a cheese custard over a large crouton and Caesar dressing with a chiffonade of Romaine on top)

On the two occasions that I have made this dish my Caesar dressing is a relatively dark brown and a little heavier than I think is called for. The illustration’s dressing is a more translucent golden brown. The texture of mine is also somewhat oilier than I think it should be. I was thinking that I would cut back on the quantity of Canola oil the next time. Comments?

For the record however, on both occasions the recipients thoroughly enjoyed the dish. Nevertheless my effort can, I believe, be improved upon.

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I had the same problem with the parmesan crisps and the goat cheese when I first made them. I very quickly learned using this book that none of the ratios or cooking times suggested in the recipes are absolute. Keller actually suggests this himself in one passage. I think they primarily act as general guidelines and they are there to give you a sense of direction. To me, what matters most in a kitchen is one’s own sense of touch, taste and smell as dishes are being constructed. Tom Colicchio in his book “Think like a Chef” also explains this very well. Kitchens vary drastically from one to the other and ingredients too. Such factors have an incredible impact on the way ingredients are prepared and the way foods are being developed. I personally never weight or measure any of my ingredients, I pretty much eyeball it and adjust as I go.

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That looks great RN. Do you have any other pics of FL experiments?

[Edit to add: Did you make the brioche as well?]

Thanks. I think I have some more pictures somewhere but it took me a while to find that one. I'll see if I can find more.

Yes, I made the brioche from the same cookbook.

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These were interesting and fun to try, if not entirely successful.

gallery_25710_754_24062.jpg

Re - the chive chip/custard - I also had problems with browning the things, but I'm embarrased to post pics of those because I got lazy and squared off the ends instead of having a nice "band-aid" shape and chickened out on the egg shell presentation and served it in ramekins. If the FL Cookbook is about anything, it's about not being lazy and chickening out.

General comments: The book is a good excuse to buy new toys if you don't have them. Could be called TFL Cookbook, Fun with a Silpat and Drum Sieve. Also, it gives you insight into the "classics," oysters and pearls, the butter poached lobster, coffee and doughnuts, etc. It was also one of the first books I got that introduced me to some of the more esoteric techniques that are not often used in the home kitchen, eg, chlorophyll extraction.

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Nice job Fauxtarga! Shame on me, I have never attempted to make what is probably one Keller's most famous "dish"!

Tried my hand at "Peas and Carrots"p.126 a month ago. Presentation was not as perfectly shaped as in the book :wacko: but I had quite some fun playing with the lobster. The lobster glace is so versatile in its use that I made about 4 or 5 different sauces with the leftover. I could not find pea shoot leaves so I substituted with baby tatsoy leaves which worked great for this dish. The carrot/ginger emulsion worked great but instead of seasoning with salt, i whisked in a little bit of lobster tomalley at the end to give it a salty ocean perfume.

gallery_23913_670_120777.jpg

The one element of a dish that I consistently failed after 2 attempts was the "Palette d'Ail Doux" p.156.

Since it hits the pan frozen, i either overcook it in which case it starts breaking apart (and I end up with a bready egg yolk/garlic puree) or i take it off the pan too soon in which case the center remains too cold. I think much has to do with the temperature at which the "pallette" hits the oil and/or the amount of oil I use which might be too much. I was wondering if anyone had tried making this before?

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Zeitoun, I made the Peas and Carrots a few years ago and my presentation looked exactly like yours. Try as I might, I couldn't get mine to have that "pillowy" look like the FLC picture.

I love this cookbook, in so many different ways.

Some general thoughts about other recipes that I've tried.

Pasta dough: The earlier comments about ratios was what I encountered when making this. Mine came out quite sticky. Fortunately I've made pasta dough from other books so I just added more flour until I got the right "feel".

Concord grape jellies: Ditto for the comment about cooking times. I've tried this recipe and variations on it three times, with consistent results. It takes a lot longer than 10 minutes for the mixture to thicken enough, regardless of what the thermometer says. I imagine this is where a refractometer would come in real handy. Also, parchment makes a much better pan liner than plastic wrap. Ever wonder what happens to plastic wrap when you pour 220+ F liquid on it? Severe shrinkage, and a mess.

Strawberry and Champagne terrine: Made with u-pick berries, to die for. Simple and perfect.

Coffee and Doughnuts: Also worked like a charm. I would make this more often, except that I dislike deep frying.

Whipped Brie: I couldn't get my brie to quenelle, the cheese was too sticky. I may have picked the wrong type of brie for this though. Ultimately I just put it into a small crock and served it that way. It tasted really good with the reduced port.

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I'm glad someone is talking about this book I got mine this fall and it was very inspirational. I have not attempted a complete recipe from this book but have used techniques and ideas that appear throughout the book. This christmas I managed to score foie gras from school and the books chapter on foie helped me approach it with a bit more confidence since he really gets in detail about the different methods of preparing it. I think there should be more cookbooks like this, while it is complex it is well organised and detailed.

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Took advantage of my local library and checked out the book. It sure is fun to read. I recently made one of the desserts: Salade du Printemps (Spring 'Salad').

It is a fruit compote with fresh, sectioned navel oranges, strawberries, rhubarb 'confit' and candied fennel. It is served drizzled with the rhubarb and fennel poaching syrups, dots of fennel oil around periphery and a quenelle of mascarpone sorbet on top and a sugar-dusted pirouette cookie on top.

I had fun making all the components! The oil came out quite well--brilliant green as promised. I made the cookies ohne silplat-- just buttered and floured the pan and they didn't stick at all! The cookies are trickier than some rolled cookies I have made--you really have to roll them quickly before they get too brittle; even when leaving the cookie sheet half in the oven as instructed. I only needed four 'good-looking' cookies though so I was in luck! I don't have (yet!) a #12 melon baller so I just slices the berries into small chunks.

Overall comments: The dish looked great; very similar to the photo on pg. 271! It tasted great too although I was hoping for more of a pronounced contribution from the fennel and rhubarb. (Next time I will probaby use a higher proportion of those two and will not cook the rhubarb as long preserving more of it's texture and perhaps, tartness.) The mascarpone sorbet is very nice---great rich texture and a pleasing tang from the cheese. Here I might also like it a little less sweet--maybe cutting down on the amount of sugar syrup (although I'm not sure if that would affect the texture too much) and maybe adding more lemon juice.

It is a lot of work for preparing for a few portions--- but it was very nice and lovely to look at. I served it as a 'sweet' fruit and cheese course/palate cleanser before a final dessert torte and it worked very well in this way. The nice thing is that everything can be prepared well ahead of time, so if you have the time to prepare the components it is a snap to serve.

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I was inspired by the "Cookbook you've never used" thread to pull out my French Laundry Cookbook.

My wife reminded me that I've never actually made any of these recipes, so I've committed myself to making a full five course (soup, appetizer, entree, cheese course and dessert) meal from the book.

My hope is to document my progress and post some pictures here of the food in process and the final results.

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I was inspired by the "Cookbook you've never used" thread to pull out my French Laundry Cookbook. 

My wife reminded me that I've never actually made any of these recipes, so I've committed myself to making a full five course (soup, appetizer, entree, cheese course and dessert) meal from the book.

My hope is to document my progress and post some pictures here of the food in process and the final results.

I don't mean to discourage you, but I've spent quality time with this cookbook and, unless you are running a brigade of prep cooks and dishwashers YOU ARE INSANE to try to do a five course meal from it.

Just a thought.

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I was inspired by the "Cookbook you've never used" thread to pull out my French Laundry Cookbook. 

My wife reminded me that I've never actually made any of these recipes, so I've committed myself to making a full five course (soup, appetizer, entree, cheese course and dessert) meal from the book.

My hope is to document my progress and post some pictures here of the food in process and the final results.

I don't mean to discourage you, but I've spent quality time with this cookbook and, unless you are running a brigade of prep cooks and dishwashers YOU ARE INSANE to try to do a five course meal from it.

Just a thought.

I appreciate your positive thoughts. :raz:

That's partially my point in this. I'm trying to get a few things out of it.

1) I want to see if the book is really as difficult to use as many have said it is (I'm not doubting that it is, but I want to try it out anyway).

2) I'd like to give my cooking skills a good test - I feel like I've been coasting lately, and want to give myself a challenge.

2b) I'd like to integrate some of the lessons in the eGci plating course into my cooking. In looking back at my posts on the dinner thread - most of my dinners are of the one-bowl variety - pastas, asian stiry-frys, stews, soups, salads. This is the way I prefer to eat, but it tends to be of the "plop it in the bowl" style of plating.

3) And not least, I want to get an appreciation of just how much work does go into a meal like this. I've eaten at both TFL and Per Se (in addition to many other similar places) and this sort of task might help me get more out of those meals and not take them for granted. (Yeah, I know how jaded that sounds - see, I need help here).

Besides, I'm not a total dope. I'm going to make things easy on myself. I'm only cooking for two (me and my patient, grateful wife, jenrus) and I'm not going to have the pressure to have everything come out at a proper interval, although I am going to try. I'm trying to pick "relatively" easy recipes that can be prepared over the course of a weekend.

We'll see how it goes (and barring my total humiliation, everyone will see via my pics).

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See, there's where you and I differ. I say "as long as I'm going through all that, I'm damn well going to have someone over who's going to feel obligated to say something nice about the dinner (an obligation my wife doesn't always feel)."

I think you'll find that Keller's recipes are pretty much idiot-proof, not that you would need them dumbed down, and that you will learn something good and important from every recipe.

The trouble comes, and this is where I bow out, when you try to follow every single one of the two million steps in each recipe -- spending two hours on a fairy dust garnish or burning the alcohol out of the marinade, or whatever. Damn exhausting. Have fun.

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The menu I am looking at is as follows:

Soup: Puree of English Pea Soup with White Truffle Oil and Parmesan Crisps, page 37

Appetizer: Dungeness Crab Salad with Cucumber Jelly, Grainy Mustard Vinaigrette, and Frisee Lettuce, page 92

Entree: Roulade of Pekin Duck Breast with Creamed Sweet White Corn and Morel Mushroom Sauce, page 172-173

Cheese: Ashed Chevreaux with Slow Roasted Yellow and Red Beets and Red Beet Vinaigrette, page 239

Dessert: Lemon Sabayon - Pine Nut Tart with Honeyed Mascarpone Cream, page 294-295

Anyone made any of these or have any suggestions? Any help would, well, help.


Edited by bilrus (log)

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The menu I am looking at is as follows:

Soup: Puree of English Pea Soup with White Truffle Oil and Parmesan Crisps, page 37

Appetizer: Dungeness Crab Salad with Cucumber Jelly, Grainy Mustard Vinaigrette, and Frisee Lettuce, page 92

Entree: Roulade of Pekin Duck Breast with Creamed Sweet White Corn and Morel Mushroom Sauce, page 172-173

Cheese: Ashed Chevreaux with Slow Roasted Yellow and Red Beets and Red Beet Vinaigrette, page 239

Dessert:  Lemon Sabayon - Pine Nut Tart with Honeyed Mascarpone Cream, page 294-295

Anyone made any of these or have any suggestions?  Any help would, well, help.

We eat the pea soup almost every weekend that peas are available in the farmers' markets. Buy a lot more peas than you think you need. A high-test blender, which we don't have, would be very helpful. A tamis -- drum sieve -- which we do have, is helpful, too, as the fine texture of the soup is part of its appeal. Sometimes, we make teensy little croutons from rye bread instead of the crisps. Make extra crisps, they're tough not to snack on. This recipe is exquisite, and for best results you should shell the peas from a rocking chair on the front porch on a warm spring afternoon. You can borrow ours.

The Lemon Tart is also tasty and relatively simple. In our experience, the crust takes much longer to brown than the recipe suggests. Making the saboyon does, too. THey're not kidding, the top will go from picturesquely dimpled to carbonized within seconds -- watch at every moment. We used to call it Lemon Disaster Tart. If the phone rings and the top chars as you look away for an instant, you can strip it off and re-brown. If they aren't completely out of season, a combination of Meyer Elmons and the regular kind yield a superior custard. This has become a go-to dessert for us.

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Thanks - you must have worked your way through a good portion of the book if you've tried two of my randomly chosen recipes, not that I ever doubted.

See - I did try to start with recipes that don't have a full page of ingredients. And only one of those ingredients (quick duck sauce) refers me to another recipe.

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I've tried several of the recipes and I find all of them pretty much doable. I think the key is to read the recipe over several times before attempting and really have a plan of attack. The first recipe I tried was the chocolate veloute' with cinammon stick ice cream. Everything went well until I realized I didn't have any gelatin sheets! I guess it goes for any recipe, but yeah, being prepared is always a plus.

Other recipes I've tried:

Tomato Tartare with Haricot Verts and Frisee

This one was pretty easy. The only problem I had was that the yeild of tomato confit from the amount of tomatoes I used was nowhere near what I thought it would be. Several large tomatoes only ended up yeilding about half a cup of confit.

Lemon Sabayon Tart with Pine Nut Crust and Honey Marscapone Cream

This recipe is very easy and delicious. It helps to have very small tart pans with a removable bottom. I had to use a baking dish and use a circle mold to cut out pieces for serving, which was a little hard to do.

Pacific Moi with Soy Orange Glaze

I substituted salmon as the fish in this course and it worked quite well. This is one of my favorite preparations.

Goat Cheese Mousse In Parmesan Crips

As easy as this was, I found that I didn't like the way that goat cheese tasted against the pamesan at all. Perhaps it was the quality of the cheeses that I had.

All in all, I think I've learned more from this book than any other book I own. It's truly a gift to cooks of all stripes.

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See - I did try to start with recipes that don't have a full page of ingredients. And only one of those ingredients (quick duck sauce) refers me to another recipe.

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