Posts Tagged With: Charles Ranhofer

106/365: National Eggs Benedict Day*

We’ll consider you a traitor if you don’t help us celebrate today’s food holiday. April 16 is National Eggs Benedict Day! (It’s also National Day of the Mushroom. We love mushrooms, but Eggs Benedict feels more exotic. Besides, National Mushroom Day also occurs on October 15. We’ll revisit the fungus then).

Eggs Benedict is one of those dishes that is delicious and feels upscale despite its relative simplicity. Take an English muffin, split it in half, top with ham or Canadian bacon, poached eggs, and Hollandaise sauce. Voila! Breakfast is served.

There are two separate origin stories for Eggs Benedict. According to one claim, a patron of Delmonico’s in New York – the first restaurant ever opened in the U.S. –  by the name of Mrs. LeGrand Benedict was bored with the same old menu choices, and wanted to try something new for lunch. So she conferred with the chef, Charles Ranhofer, who created Eggs a’ la Benedick in her honor. He published a cookbook in 1894 that included his recipe: Cut some muffins in halves crosswise, toast them without allowing to brown, thn place a round of cooked ham an eighth of an inch thick and of the same diameter as the muffins on each half. Heat in a moderate oven and put a poached egg on each toast. Cover the whole with Hollandaise sauce.    

Version #2 appeared in the December 19, 1942 issue of New Yorker MagazineIt must be true, because it’s in print! According to the article, Wall Street broker Lemuel Benedict, suffering from the mother of all hangovers after a late-night bender, ordered “some buttered toast, crisp bacon, two poached eggs, and a hooker of Hollandaise sauce.” It’s unclear just how drunk he still was, ordering a hooker in public like that, but the Waldorf Hotel’s chef, Oscar Tschirky, complied, and was so impressed with the results he added Eggs Benedict to the menu after making a few substitutions (English muffin instead of toast, Canadian bacon instead of crisp bacon, no hooker).

Whipping up a little homemade Hollandaise sauce.

Whipping up a little homemade Hollandaise sauce.

It’s unclear which of those stories is true. Or if either of them is true, as there are other theories pertaining to its origin that include Popes and French Commodores, but it really doesn’t matter how the dish came to be. What’s important is, the dish came to be!

There are many variations on Eggs Benedict. At least twenty different varieties exist, with inventive chefs constantly adding new takes. We recently went out to breakfast at a place in Portland that served a version of Eggs Benedict with pepper bacon and tomatoes, and it was wonderful. But I prefer the original version best, and when it came time to celebrate today’s challenge, we decided to make the dish from scratch. A feat we had never before attempted. Slicing the English muffin was a cinch, and the leftover ham from yesterday’s challenge made the perfect topping. But neither of us were familiar with poaching an egg or making Hollandaise sauce. That’s why they invented cookbooks (my inspiration for the Hollandaise was Martha Holmberg’s Modern Sauces) and the internet (thank you, Allrecipes, for the egg poaching instructions). We tag teamed this dinner effort: I made the sauce, Tara poached the eggs, and together we created Eggs Benedict. The result? Absolutely delicious! The leftover HoneyBaked ham was the perfect base, too. This was one of our favorite Eat My Words challenges to date!

Eggs Benedict

Categories: Breakfast | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

32/365: National Baked Alaska Day

Happy February! Today is National Baked Alaska Day – one of a handful of holidays that gave us pause when initially looking over the food calendar. Because Baked Alaska isn’t a real common dessert, and can be difficult to find when dining out. Plus, it’s a pretty complicated recipe to make yourself. Which wouldn’t be a big deal – Tara and I can handle anything – but we just happen to have plans tonight involving a concert and an overnight stay in Portland. So, we were sweating it a little – until my mom came to the rescue.

“I’ll make a Baked Alaska for you,” she said.

“That’s okay, you don’t have to do that, it’s an awful lot of work and we’d hate to put you out, but…well…okay, if you insist!” we replied. “What time should we be there?”

Whew. Thank you, mom. Growing up, we used to dine often at the NCO Club on Hickam AFB in Hawaii, and I remember my mom was always fond of the Baked Alaska. The servers would light it on fire and carry it to the table, which was a pretty cool spectacle for a kid. Plus, it tasted phenomenal. Ice cream wrapped in sponge cake and topped with meringue – what’s not to love? I hadn’t had Baked Alaska in probably 30 years, before today.

The dish has been around for awhile, and was originally called omelette à la norvégienne (Norwegian omelette). My idea of an omelette differs from the Norwegians’, apparently (where’s the cheese and mushrooms and meat?). Actually, the name makes sense, since meringue is nothing more than whipped egg whites. In 1876, Secretary of State William Seward purchased the Alaska Territory from Russia for $7.2 million, which amounts to two cents per acre, from Czar Alexander II (the same dude who may or may not have been the inspiration for the Brandy Alexander). Despite what seems like a really good deal on paper, critics scorned the move, calling it “Seward’s folly.” One New York Tribune writer said Alaska “contained nothing of value” and “would not be worth taking as a gift.” And then gold was discovered in the 1890s and everybody started praising Seward for his magnificent foresight. Lot of good it did the poor guy, as he was dead by then. Anyhoo, chef Charles Ranhofer at Delmonico’s Restaurant in New York didn’t think Seward was off his rocker, and wanted to celebrate the purchase of Alaska with a dessert. He whipped up a Norwegian omelette and simply renamed it Baked Alaska. Not exactly original, I suppose, but kudos to the guy for not getting all up in Seward’s grill.

A slice of Norwegian omelette. Err...Baked Alaska!

A slice of Norwegian omelette. Err…Baked Alaska!

Since we have plans tonight, we met up at my parents’ house for lunch today. Nothing like a sandwich topped off with a slice of Baked Alaska! There hasn’t been a more interesting combination of hot and cold since Heat Miser and Snow Miser squared off in the Rankin-Bass Christmas classic The Year Without a Santa Claus. The result? Pretty freakin’ delicious! Good job, mom. Not only was it her first time making a Baked Alaska, but she had never even done a sponge cake, either. It turned out great, and saved us a lot of time and trouble.

I told her she was free to make us a carrot cake on Sunday, but she kind of rolled her eyes. I guess the buck has to stop somewhere.

Categories: Desserts | Tags: , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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