dungeness crab eggs benedict

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I don’t know what it is about January, but it’s been so fantastic that I don’t really want it to end. There have been some really good times – nights out with the girls, brunch and a lazy Sunday with the boys, a secret concert with the one and only Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings, which was mind blowing and totally the icing on the cake for the month.

There were also a couple of outstanding meals. I know we’re well into January, and I should be detoxing and eating sensibly like everyone else right now. But I’ve gotta be honest with you. I’ve been kind of bad. And I’m actually okay with that. Since it’s Dungeness crab season in these parts, I see that as a sort of get out of jail free card. I’ve had crab a least four times this month alone and I couldn’t be more pleased.

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It started with a crab dinner with the homies at the beginning of the month. We ate crab sauteed in olive oil, garlic, and shallots, accompanied by a beet, blood orange, and fennel salad, potatoes with preserved lemon, and crusty garlic bread. It was an incredible meal. We all had to lie down afterwards.

A few days later, my mama steamed eight crabs for Sunday dinner. My mom’s crab is like comfort food for me. There’s nothing complicated about it, but her crab dipping sauce is insanely delicious – garlic oil, ginger, and red wine vinegar. It’s my absolute favorite and no matter what I do, mine never turns out the way hers does.

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Luckily for those of us in the Bay, this is the time of year when you see Dungeness crab on restaurant menus everywhere. Dungeness crab beignets at Brenda’s (amazing, by the way). Dungeness crab rolls (better than a lobster roll, in my opinion). Dungeness crab eggs benedict, which I passed on during brunch one afternoon and much regretted afterwards. I knew what I had to do.

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I hadn’t made hollandaise sauce in years, but I knew I could rely on Julia Child for the perfect recipe. Her hollandaise sauce is divine – simultaneously rich and light, with just the right amount of lemon. I would happily eat this sauce on cardboard. Instead, it was the crowing glory of this Dungeness crab eggs benedict. There’s just something about the runny yolk of a poached egg that makes everything better. Combined with the sweet crab, sauteed spinach, toasty English muffin, and luxurious hollandaise you have yourself a breakfast fit for a king. A little frisee salad goes nicely alongside.

Resume your detox tomorrow.

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dungeness crab eggs benedict 

serves 2

for the hollandaise sauce:

from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child

makes about 1-1/2 cups sauce

6 ounces (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter

2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, divided

3 large egg yolks

1 tablespoon cold water

1 tablespoon lemon juice, plus extra to taste 

kosher salt

ground white pepper

Cut 6 ounces of butter into pieces and melt in a small saucepan over low heat. Set aside.

In a medium-weight saucepan, beat the egg yolks for about 1 minute, or until they become thick and sticky.

Add the water, lemon juice, and a large pinch of salt, and beat for half a minute more.

Add 1 tablespoon of cold butter, but do not beat it in. Place the saucepan over very low heat and stir the egg yolks with a whisk until they slowly thicken into a smooth cream. This will take 1 to 2 minutes. If they seem to be thickening too quickly, immediately plunge the bottom of the pan in cold water, beating the yolks to cool them. Then continue beating over heat. The egg yolks have thickened enough when you can begin to see the bottom of the pan between strokes, and the mixture forms a light cream on the wires of the whisk.

Immediately remove from heat and beat in the remaining tablespoon of cold butter, which will cool the egg yolks and stop their cooking.

While beating the egg yolks with a whisk, slowly add the melted butter, a few drops at a time, until the sauce begins to thicken into a very heavy cream. Then add the butter a little more rapidly and continue beating. Omit the milk solids at the bottom of the saucepan.

Season the sauce to taste with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Serve warm.

To keep the sauce warm before serving, place in a pan of lukewarm water.

for the eggs benedict: 

1 tablespoon unsalted butter 

1 6-ounce bag baby spinach 

kosher salt 

2 english muffins, split in half 

4 large eggs 

a few drops of white vinegar 

8 ounces Dungeness crab meat (about 1 whole crab), at room temperature 

hollandaise sauce 

chives (for garnish) 

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the spinach and season with a pinch of salt. Toss until wilted. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 450°F. Arrange the English muffins on a baking sheet. Bake until toasted, about 5 minutes.

Fill a wide, shallow saucepan with 2 inches of water. Add a few drops of vinegar to the water. Bring the water to a simmer. Crack one egg into a bowl. When the water is simmering, hold the bowl closely over the water and let it fall in. Immediately and gently push the white over the yolk with a spoon. Maintain the water at the barest simmer and proceed with the other eggs in the same manner.

After 3 minutes, remove the first egg with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel lined plate. The white should be set, the yolk still soft to the touch. Remove the rest of the eggs as they are done.

Place 2 muffin halves on each plate. Divide the spinach among the muffins, followed by the crab. Place one egg on each muffin. Top each egg with a generous amount of hollandaise sauce. Sprinkle with chopped chives. Serve immediately.

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sweet and salty cake

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This is how you end the year with a bang.

With your favorite people by your side. Sequined shorts. Deviled eggs. An obscene amount of Thai food. A lemon cream tart. Bourbon cocktails. Bottles poppin. Sparklers. Fireworks. And an impromptu living room dance party in the wee hours of the new year (New Order! Robyn! T.A. and Ryan!!!). It was perfect. I’m kind of in love with 2013.

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This cake actually happened two days before the new year. We started celebrating early because all of the boys were in town from the East Coast and because a certain someone turned thirty-one. And since someone loves caramel, and because I have a thing for making tall layer cakes, a chocolate cake with salted caramel and chocolate-caramel frosting was just the thing.

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This cake got around. It went from the East Bay to Pacific Heights, from Pacific Heights down to a restaurant in the Mission, from the Mission to the Castro, where the guys at our favorite late night pizza joint very graciously babysat our take-out boxes of leftover cake while we danced at the bars up the street. It got on two buses and went home with us at the end of the night. And then made it back to Pacific Heights the following morning, where we all ate it with our breakfast, and more later that afternoon when we woke from our naps.

I really appreciate that this is a cake with two personalities. Straight from the refrigerator, the chocolate-caramel frosting is dense and fudge-like. At room temp, it’s more like a chocolate mousse cake. It’s pretty fab either way. I can almost guarantee that you’ll get a few oohs and ahhhs upon unveiling. She’s a showstopper.

Here’s to a fabulous 2013!

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sweet and salty cake 

from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito

makes one 8-inch cake

for the chocolate cake layers: 

3/4 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder 

1-1/4 cups hot water 

2/3 cup sour cream 

2-2/3 cups all-purpose flour 

2 teaspoons baking powder 

1 teaspoon baking soda 

1/2 teaspoon salt 

3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened 

1/2 cup vegetable shortening 

1-1/2 cups granulated sugar 

1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar 

3 large eggs, at room temperature 

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract 

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter three 8-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper, and butter the parchment. Dust with flour, and knock out the excess flour.

In a medium bowl, combine the cocoa powder, hot water, and sour cream and set aside to cool.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together into a medium bowl and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening on medium speed until ribbonlike, about 5 minutes. Add the sugars and beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, then add the vanilla and beat until incorporated. Scrape down the bowl and mix again for 30 seconds.

Add the flour mixture, alternating with the cocoa mixture, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.

Divide the batter among the prepared pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean. Transfer the cakes to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes. Invert the cakes onto the rack, remove the pans, and let cool completely. Remove the parchment.

for the salted caramel: 

1/2 cup heavy cream 

1 teaspoon fleur de sel 

1 cup sugar 

2 tablespoons light corn syrup 

1/4 cup sour cream 

In a small saucepan, combine the cream and fleur de sel. Bring to a simmer over very low heat until the salt is dissolved.

Meanwhile, keeping a close eye on the cream mixture so it doesn’t burn, in a medium saucepan combine 1/4 cup water, the sugar, and corn syrup, stirring them together carefully so you don’t splash the sides of the pan. Cook over high heat until an instant-read thermometer reads 350°F, or until the mixture is dark amber in color, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool for 1 minute.

Add the cream mixture to the sugar mixture. Whisk in the sour cream. Let the caramel cool to room temperature, then transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate until you are ready to assemble the cake.

for the whipped caramel ganache frosting: 

1 pound dark chocolate (60 to 70%cacao), chopped

1-1/2 cups heavy cream

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, soft but cool, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

Put the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl and set aside.

In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer over very low heat.

Meanwhile, keeping a close eye on the cream so it doesn’t burn, in a medium saucepan combine 1/4 cup water, the sugar, and corn syrup, stirring them together carefully so you don’t splash the sides of the pan. Cook over high heat until an instant read thermometer read 350°F, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat and let the caramel cool for 1 minute.

Add the cream to the caramel and stir to combine. Stir slowly for 2 minutes, then pour the caramel over the chocolate. Let the caramel and chocolate sit for 1 minute, then, starting at the center of the bowl, and working your way out to the edges, slowly stir the chocolate and caramel mixture in a circle until the chocolate is completely melted. Let the mixture cool, then transfer it to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.

Mix on low speed until the bowl feels cool to the touch. Increase the speed to medium-high and gradually add the butter, beating until thoroughly incorporated. Scrape down the bowl and beat until the mixture is fluffy.

to assemble the cake:

2 teaspoons of fleur de sel, plus more for sprinkling  

Place one cake layer on a serving platter or cake board. Spread 1/4 cup of the caramel over the top. Let the caramel soak into the cake, then spread 3/4 cup of the ganache frosting over the caramel. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of the fleur de sel over the frosting, then top with the second cake layer. Spread with 1/4 cup caramel, then spread 3/4 cup of the frosting and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of fleur de sel. Top with the third cake layer. Spread with caramel. Crumb coat the cake and put the cake in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to firm up the frosting. Frost the sides and top with the remaining frosting. Garnish with a sprinkle of fleur de sel.

The cake will keep beautifully in a cake server at cool room temperature for up to 3 days. If your room is not cool, place in the refrigerator. Remove the cake from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for at least 2 hours before serving (or not).

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