December 12, 2010
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In honor of finishing Julie & Julia, I thought it might be fun to make one of the handful of dishes that Julie Powell seems to have actually enjoyed, rather than endured, in her mastering the Art of French Cooking: croustade de champignons et œuf poché. I’ve been thinking about making something in a croustade – a little free-standing pie crust that holds your dinner – ever since that Alinea adventure with its Pigeonneaux a la Saint-Clair . But the pigeonneaux is an incredibly involved classical preparation involving poaching tiny squab breasts and making the legs into tiny little mousselines, and it’s way out of my league. I already had some very fresh eggs from our farm share. This sounded like fun!

It wasn’t.

The crust rolled out just fine. I tried folding it into my muffin tins, just the way Julie had. But the muffin tins looked too small. Maybe Julie has big muffin tins? My muffin pan makes dinky muffins, too. Julie probably has a better muffin tin.

But I have ramekins! In two sizes! And that’s probably more authentic, anyway. So I used the ramekins instead. I tore one of the little croustade crusts trying to refold it, and had to patch it up. OK: it’s that kind of day. I put the ramekins in the refrigerator to chill – a step I tend to forget with pies. I didn’t forget this time! I was hot stuff. I was cooking with gas.

Julie complained that she should have used pie weights. Julie had no pie weights. But not me: I was prepared! So, I weighted each little croustade with a handful of pie weights, and popped them into the oven.

And then I started sautéing the mushrooms (garlic, olive oil, plenty of salt), halving and parboiling some lovely fingerling potatoes for a side dish, and boiling the water for poaching the eggs. And I started to gather the ingredients for the sauce choron Fresh tarragon? Check! Shallots from the farm? Check! Butter? Not really as much as Julia would want, but probably enough for a half-yolk bearnaise if I don’t screw it up. Check! Tomato paste?

No tomato paste.

About this point, a vague sense of doom started to seep into the kitchen. There was no tomato paste, so no lovely rosy-fingered sauce choron. How could there be no tomato paste?

OK: the dish doesn’t really need a fat-based sauce. And I could get by with hollandaise or bearnaise, right? Hell, if you google this dish, you’ll find someone suggesting that the modern Julia would serve the eggs on hunks of bread. If Julia wanted you to use a crouton, she would have suggested one. There’s a name for that dish: poached eggs on toast, side of ’shrooms.

So, I dithered about the sauce. No need to jump on it right away. I thought a quick peek at the croustades, just to admire them and make sure they weren’t scorching might improve my morale and dispel the sense of doom.

I considered the advantages of mixing a stiff drink instead. That might have been a better idea. For three of the four croustades had slumped into misshapen folds in the bottom of their little white ramekins. The fourth was neat and round and nicely brown and mocking in its near perfection.

It was time to get the pie weights out, anyway, I thought. Besides, with the croustades slumped over, the weights were in danger of being baked into the pie. So, I tried to pour out the pie weights, and the whole croustade came with them – in several distinct pieces. And there were no spares.

OK: I fished out the pieces, swore, threw them back in the ramekin, and tried to extract the pie weights more carefully from Failed Croustade Unit (FCU) #2. This ended in the same fiasco. FCU #3 yielded more easily, so it remained in one misshapen piece instead of a pile of torn fragments.

Then I turned to extract the weights from that one, successful croustade. The crust was perfect -- and in this one, each pie weight had burrowed into a buttery little nest, surrounded by pie crust. I tried extracting them, one by one, with a little spoon. No dice, just torn crust. I tried tongs. I tried tweezers. I was not happy, and the croustade was no longer very perfect. So FCU #3 no inherited the proud mantle of being the one that wasn’t totally ruined.

In the end, we had roustade de champignons et œuf poché consisting of a later of pastry fragments (bland but adequate), a scattering of sautéed mushrooms (delicious but far from sufficiently numerous), and a poached egg. I liberally buttered the four nonstick egg poaching cups , since there was no way in this mood was I going to attempt freeform poaching and my nonstick egg poaching cups always ruin poached eggs. This time, only one of the four eggs was ruined, though two were overcooked.

I bailed on the sauce. Ruhlman says that hollandaise can smell fear. I suspect the amount of cursing might have made the hollandaise blush, but the better part of valor suggested that we didn’t really require more butter.

So, it was a total mess, but we ate it, I didn’t quite crack a tooth on the covert pie weight that got away, and on the whole it tasted good and looked like something rustic and tasty.