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Le Creuset’s classic French recipes are more approachable than you think |

Le Creuset’s classic French recipes are more approachable than you think

To a girl growing up in western North Carolina, gougères might have sounded like something made in a fit of boredom with a sharp stick and winter gleanings.

Sheri Castle’s culinary horizons have broadened considerably since her youth in Watauga County. The Chapel Hill writer and recipe developer is the author of more than a dozen cookbooks, several of them ghostwritten for well-known clients.


In one of her latest projects, she served as writer and recipe editor of “Le Creuset: A Collection of Recipes from Our French Table.”

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Le Creuset Cover

The collection marks the first cookbook from the renowned maker of prestige cookware’s U.S. subsidiary (pronounced “luh cru-say”), which is based in Charleston, S.C. Handsomely illustrated with images from award-winning food photographer Peter Frank Edwards, it includes 80 classic French recipes created by Le Creuset’s culinary team to appeal to an American audience.

Castle promises that a platter of garlic and herb gougères – savory cheese puff nibbles – will dazzle the audience you gather with at festivities this time of year.

“If all you did for a party is hand someone a few gougères and a glass of champagne,” she says, “you’d make a magnificent party.”

The hors d’oeuvres look hard to make but aren’t, she adds. They can be served warm or at room temperature, and even can be prepped in advance and baked at the last minute. Master this and a few other clearly explained techniques, and you’ll be well on your way to transforming your Carolina kitchen into a Paris salon.

Castle came to Le Creuset’s attention two years ago when she served as a culinary producer in a series of 20 how-to videos featuring Vivian Howard of Kinston’s Chef the Farmer restaurant. In the videos, Howard demonstrates everything from searing and sautéeing to braising and roasting. Le Creuset is a sponsor of her award-winning PBS series, “A Chef’s Life.”

Kristin Mancia, director of marketing for Le Creuset’s U.S. operations, says Castle was key to the book’s mission to demystify French cooking, which has an intimidating reputation for being slavishly technique-driven and dependent on rich ingredients.

“She was able to understand the nuance of telling a great food story, while also imparting valuable knowledge about the tools and ingredients needed to achieve great results,” says Mancia, a Winston-Salem native who graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2001 and earned her MBA from Duke in 2010.

Mancia said the goal is for the book to feel like a “kitchen companion” with an empowering voice, one focused more on solid technique than a product sales pitch. Castle achieves this by providing engaging history and insights on dozens of dishes. She also offers informative breakouts that spotlight techniques or ingredients some home cooks may not be familiar with. You might need a restorative nip of cognac after reading her sensual take on the luxurious delights of 82 percent butterfat French butter.

Sheri Castle

If you’re looking for something special to make, Castle considers the boeuf bourguignon a true standout, though it’s equally appropriate for formal or casual dining.

“It’s one of those dishes people think of when they think about great French food,” she says. “When it’s made well, it’s just astonishing.”

While she wasn’t responsible for testing any of the recipes, this was among the first recipes in the book Castle made for pleasure in her own kitchen.

“It’s nice and homey, as it should be,” she says. “And it’s best made ahead, which makes it great for entertaining. There’s nothing worse that a host who misses their own party because they’re stuck in the kitchen.”

A great dinner deserves a great dessert, and this book offers several tempting options. If you’re not confident about trying a chocolate souffle, Castle says the chocolate pots de crème are well within reach of most home cooks.

“They are intensely chocolatey but not overly sweet,” says Castle. “Your own pot de crème can’t be beat. People are charmed and touched by having their own individual serving.”

Jill Warren Lucas is a freelance writer from Raleigh. She can be reached at 3lucases@gmail.com or via Twitter at @jwlucasnc.

Boeuf Bourguignon

If you want to capture the heart and soul of simple French cooking in a single pot, then make boeuf bourguignon. The recipe is rooted in Burgundy, home to world-class red wines and also to the Charolais cattle that were once the preferred source of beef for this recipe. Leave it to the French to care about a signature dish so deeply that they have a favorite kind of cow to use in it.

For making boeuf bourguignon stateside, opt for high-quality and well-marbled chuck steak, an economical cut perfectly suited for a long, slow simmer in red wine that turns it tender and delicious, transforming this peasant dish into something elegant, filling, and sure to become a family favorite.

For the stew:

2 cups beef broth

10 ounces slab or thick-cut bacon, cut into lardons

3 to 3 1/2 pounds lean chuck steak, cut into 2-inch chunks

3 cups full-bodied, dry red Burgundy or Pinot Noir

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 medium carrots, cut into thin rounds

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

1 bouquet garni

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

5 large shallots, thinly sliced

14 ounces gourmet mushroom blend, cut or torn into bite-sized pieces

For the Beurre Manie:

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Balsamic vinegar and chopped flat-leaf parsley (for garnish)

To make the stew: In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, simmer the beef stock until reduced to 1 cup, about 15 minutes. Set aside.

Place the bacon in an unheated Dutch oven, then cook over medium heat, stirring often, until rendered and crisp, about 20 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined plate. Reserve the fat in the pot.

Increase the heat to medium-high. Working in batches, add the beef to the pot and cook until deeply seared and browned on all sides, turning with tongs, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Deglaze the pot with 1 cup of the wine, stirring to loosen the fond from the bottom of the pot. Return the bacon and seared meat to the pot. Stir in the remaining wine, 1 cup at a time, letting it reduce slightly and stirring well after each addition.

Stir in the reserved beef broth, garlic, tomato paste, carrots, salt, pepper, and bouquet garni. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer gently until the meat is spoon tender, about 2 hours. Discard the bouquet garni.

In a medium skillet over medium heat, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter. Stir in the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are deeply caramelized, 15 to 20 minutes. Scrape into a bowl. Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter in the same skillet and stir in the mushrooms. Cook, stirring often, until browned and tender, about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.

To make the beurre manie: In a small bowl, stir together the butter and flour to form thick paste. Roll into balls the size of marbles. Bring the stew to a low boil and whisk in the beurre manie balls one at a time. Continue to cook until the stew thickens slightly, about 2 minutes. Stir in the reserved shallots and mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish each serving with a few drops of balsamic vinegar and a sprinkle of parsley.

Yield: Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Recipes reprinted by permission of Le Creuset from “Le Creuset: A Collection of Recipes from Our French Table.”

Garlic and Herb Gougères

The airy cheese puffs known as gougères make fantastic hors d’oeuvres. Served warm or at room temperature, they are often the first morsel delivered to the table in the restaurants and cafes of Burgundy. They start with pâte à choux, the same dough used for cream puffs, eclairs, and profiteroles, but the dough for gougères is infused with freshly grated Gruyère, rather than filled with pastry cream. They are a reliable make-ahead item to keep in your freezer. Freeze the uncooked gougères right on the baking sheet after piping. When solid, transfer them into a freezer bag. There’s no need to thaw them before baking. Just pop them back onto a pan and bake as directed, adding 1 to 2 additional minutes in the oven.

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup whole milk

10 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup all-purpose flour

4 large eggs

1 cup freshly grated Gruyère cheese

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a medium saucepan, bring the water, milk and butter to a boil, stirring occasionally to melt the butter. Add the flour and stir vigorously until the mixture is smooth and thick. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until the dough pulls away from the sides of the pan, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and let stand until the dough no longer steams and is warm to the touch, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring vigorously until well blended after each addition. Stir in the cheese, thyme, rosemary, garlic, salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Place the dough in a pastry bag fitted with a 1-inch tip. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat and pipe mounds the size of walnuts onto the prepared sheet, spacing them 2 inches apart. (Alternatively, pipe the dough from a sturdy freezer bag with one corner snipped away or portion it with a 1/2-ounce ice cream scoop or two spoons. Use a dampened fingertip to pat down any dimples on top of the mounds.)

Bake until puffed and golden brown, about 20 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Yield: Makes 2 dozen.

Recipes reprinted by permission of Le Creuset from “Le Creuset: A Collection of Recipes from Our French Table.”

Chocolate Pots de Crème

There is nothing plain about simple desserts made perfectly, such as these cups of silky dark chocolate custard. The French regard chocolate with reverence and respect, so be sure to use high-quality chocolate. For this version, pinches of salt and fiery cayenne pepper in the toasted almond topping add a contemporary touch to a classic dessert.

For the custard:

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1 cup whole milk

5 ounces bittersweet chocolate (70% cacao), chopped

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch of kosher salt

6 large egg yolks

1/3 cup sugar

For the spiced almonds:

1/2 cup raw slivered almonds

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

Pinch of kosher salt

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Lightly sweetened whipped cream (for garnish)

Fresh chopped mint (for garnish)

To make the custards: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. The custards will bake in a hot water bath, so arrange six 6-ounce ramekins in a roasting pan or large baking dish that is at least 2 inches deep.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the cream and milk to a simmer. Remove the pan from the heat, add the chocolate, and let stand until the chocolate begins to soften. Whisk until melted and smooth, then whisk in the vanilla and salt.

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar. Whisking constantly, add the warm cream mixture in a slow, steady stream. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Let stand 10 minutes, then skim any foam from the surface.

Evenly divide the custard among the ramekins. Pour enough hot tap water into the roasting pan to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake until the custards are set, but the centers still jiggle slightly when shaken gently, about 40 minutes. Remove the ramekins from the water bath and refrigerate until chilled, about 3 hours.

For the almonds: In a dry, heavy skillet over medium heat, toast the almonds, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate, drizzle with the butter, sprinkle with the salt and cayenne, and toss to coat. Let cool, and then chop coarsely.

Just before serving, garnish the custards with whipped cream, spiced almonds and mint.

Yield: 6 servings

Recipes reprinted by permission of Le Creuset from “Le Creuset: A Collection of Recipes from Our French Table.”

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