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With recipe-testing assistance by Sarah Strauss
he south of France, where chef Robert Barral grew up, is not dairy country like his current home region of central Vermont. It was not until he was a young culinary school graduate on his first internship in a French mountain town that Barral was introduced to the full glory of cream.
"They had the richest cream there. There were a lot of cows in those mountains," he recalls. "There the chef was making a sauce for chicken with morels and cream. I was crazy about that dish. It was served with rice in copper pots. The richness of the cream, the way it coated and enhanced the rice and the chicken, the way the morels turned the cream sauce an ivory color. That memory has never been matched."
Now as chef and co-owner of Cafe Provence, Gourmet Provence and the new Center Street Bar, all in Brandon, Barral uses heavy cream -- "always local from Thomas Dairy in Rutland" -- to enrich an emerald-green parsley-pesto sauce he serves around stuffed filet of flounder, scallops or chicken. He swirls in a little at the end of his risottos, and it is a key ingredient in the velvety custard of his deep-dish quiche, which he teaches in his regular cooking classes.
"There is that richness only cream provides," he says.
Gesine Bullock-Prado, a pastry chef who now lives near Quechee, also grew up in Europe and has vivid memo-ries of cream. "When I was a kid, I'd steal sips from my grandmother's coffee, heavily laced with gorgeous cream," she says. "In Germany and Austria, you don't have dessert and coffee without a side of schlag (whipped cream). No added sugar, just cream. If you get the great stuff, high-quality cream I grew up with in Europe, you'll notice you really don't need that added sugar. It's been something of a miracle to have moved to Vermont only to rediscover the beauty of cream again, where it's not so heavily pasteurized and the cows are grass-fed."
Bullock-Prado owned an eponymous bakery in Montpelier for three and a half years and continues to bake her signature French-style macaroons, for sale at Gillingham's in Woodstock and on the web. She also writes cook-books, most recently "Pie It Forward," due for release in April.
"I use Vermont cream in my daily batches of pastry cream, fleur de sel caramels -- and fleur de sel pastry cream, for that matter. I love to lace pies with cream, like my caramel apple pie recipe and when I make chicken pot pie," Bullock-Prado says. "Using a beautiful quality cream can elevate the simplest desserts. I use Vermont cream to make frozen custard at home, the best homemade creemees ever."
Fleur de Sel Caramels
Chef and cookbook author, Gesine Bullock-Prado, Quechee
his recipe is adapted slightly from Bullock-Prado's 2011 book, "Sugar Baby: Confections, Sweets, Cakes and Other Delicious Recipes for Cooking With Sugar" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang). Armed with a good candy thermometer (she recommends Maverick brand), these creamy, chewy caramels include a sprinkle of crunchy salt to balance their sweetness, and they make simple but sophisticated holiday gifts -- if you are able to package them up without eating them all.
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 teaspoons flaky sea salt, such as fleur de sel (coarse kosher salt will do in a pinch)
Prepare an 8-by-8-inch baking pan by lining it with parchment paper as smoothly as possible and spraying liberally with nonstick cooking spray. In a large, heavy saucepan set over medium-low heat, combine the cream, sugar and corn syrup. Heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has melted. Raise the heat to medium and continue to stir until the mixture begins to boil. Stop stirring and cook until the caramel reaches 257 F (hard-ball stage) on a candy thermometer. (You want the mixture to stay at a steady, rolling boil, but you may need to lower the heat to prevent the mixture from boiling over. Time can vary widely -- from 20 to 40 minutes or so depending on all manner of variables -- and you do not want it to go over the target temperature, so keep an eye on it.)
Immediately remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter. Add the vanilla and 2 teaspoons of the salt. Stir again until the butter has melted, the vanilla is evenly distributed and the mixture is completely blended. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Let it cool for about 5 minutes (but not longer) and sprinkle evenly with the remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Let it sit at room temperature until the caramel is firm enough to cut, at least a couple of hours. Cut the caramel into small squares or strips with a chef's knife. Wrap individually in wax or parch-ment paper and store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to a week. (If you don't wrap them, they tend to lose their shape.) Makes about 30-40 small candies.
Chef Robert Barral, Cafe Provence, Gourmet Provence and Center Street Bar, Brandon
arral doesn't remember where he first learned this particular recipe for the French classic, a standard in his re-pertoire, but its impressive height, buttery crust and rich but light-textured custard make it a standout. We also love making it with Vermont cheddar subbed in for the Swiss cheese and quartered, sautéed mushrooms for the ham. (You'll want to start with 12 ounces of raw mushrooms to end up with a generous 2 cups cooked.) Please note that while quite straightforward, between chilling times, a long baking time and cooling, this quiche should be started at least five hours before you plan to serve it.
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
½ teaspoon fine salt
14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
5 to 7 tablespoons cold water
6 large eggs
3 cups heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
About half a dozen generous grindings black pepper
2 cups (about 8 ounces) shredded Swiss cheese
2 cups (about 8 ounces) diced ham
To make crust: In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together the flour and salt to blend. Add the butter and blend into the flour mixture with about 10 one-second pulses until the mixture is pebbly with a few bigger pea-size lumps of butter. Pour 5 tablespoons of water into the feed tube and pulse four times. Continue to add water by the tablespoonful, pulsing three or four times after each addition, until walnut-sized chunks of dough come together. Get out a large plastic bag or cut a large square piece of plastic wrap before your hands get all doughy in the next step. Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface and gather it into a cohesive 6-inch disk. Put it in the plastic bag or wrap it up and refrigerate for about 30 minutes. (You can chill the dough for up to 24 hours, but let it soften at room temperature for about 15 minutes until it can be rolled fairly easily with a rolling pin.)
Take the pastry out of the fridge and roll it out on a lightly floured surface into a circle about 1/4-inch thick and about 15 inches in diameter. Line a 9-inch (2 1/2-inch-deep) springform cake pan with the pastry, folding over a little extra at the top to crimp into a decorative edge. (You may have a ping-pong-sized ball of dough left over.) Refrigerate the crust for 30 minutes.
To make custard and bake quiche: Preheat the oven to 375 F with the rack in the lowest position. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs together. Stir in the cream, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Place the chilled crust on a rimmed cookie sheet and scatter evenly with half the cheese and then half the ham. Pour half the custard evenly over the fillings and then scatter with the remaining cheese followed by the remaining ham. Finish with the remaining custard, making sure to pour it evenly across the quiche so as not to push all the filling into one place. Bake for about 1 1/2 hours until the custard is a dark golden brown and cracked on top (it will settle after cooling). A cake tester should come out clean but the quiche will still jiggle. Allow the quiche to cool completely in the pan, at least two hours, on a rack. After that, chill the quiche if you prefer a firmer texture or if you're not serving it within an hour or so. Remove springform pan collar (and base, if desired) and slice to serve. Serves 8–10.