Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Basket-Woven Bacon and Thurber Cookies

This is a sidebar to the various posts about my aunt and her life/death/memorial service.  My aunt was a major foodie, and of course it made sense to create a menu for her memorial luncheon that contained some of the foods people associated so closely with her.  I proposed a menu that included a homemade pâté de campagne (accompanied by crudités, Dijon mustard, cornichons, and freshly baked baguettes from the local bakery The Blue Duck); various forms of charcuterie and cheeses; a potato and green bean salad dressed with pesto; and of course, Stoned Wheat Thins.

I had never made a pâté before, but it isn't difficult.  The only part that can become difficult is the part where you (meaning I) decided to make a basket-weave/pie crust-style pattern of the raw bacon that lines the pan in which the pâté bakes.  This is not easy.  The recipe only asked that I lay the bacon in and up the sides of the pan, which is easy.

This is my recipe.  The only other difficulty I had was with the seasoning, because obviously you can't taste raw ground pork to see if you have enough salt/pepper/etc.  I suggest taking a spoonful of the fully mixed raw pâté, forming it into a small, flat patty, and quickly cooking it to taste for seasoning.  Suffice to say that the richness of the pâté demands fairly bold seasoning, so use a heavy hand with the pepper, allspice and thyme.

Serve at room temperature with a sprinkling of salt, cornichons, Dijon, and a baguette.

Yield: Makes 20 servings


3/4 cup Cognac

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup minced onion

2 1/2 pounds ground pork

12 ounces bacon (8 to 10 slices), finely chopped
14 ADDITIONAL bacon slices for lining pan [buy two packages]
3 garlic cloves, pressed

2 1/2 teaspoons salt

3 teaspoons dried thyme

1 1/2 teaspoons allspice

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/3 cup whipping cream

1 6-ounce piece ham steak, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick strips

Coarse sea salt

Cornichons (tiny sour pickles)

Dijon mustard

  1. Set rack at lowest position in oven and preheat to 350°F. 
  2. Boil Cognac until reduced to 1/2 cup, about 1 1/2 minutes. Cool.
  3. Melt butter in heavy medium skillet over medium heat. 
  4. Add onion and sauté until soft and translucent but not brown, about 8 minutes.
  5. Combine ground pork and chopped bacon in large bowl. 
  6. Using fork or fingertips, mix together until well blended.
  7. Add sautéed onion, garlic, 2 1/2 teaspoons salt, thyme, allspice, and pepper to bowl with pork mixture and stir until incorporated. 
  8. Add eggs, cream, and reduced Cognac and stir until well blended.
  9. Line 9x5x3-inch metal loaf pan with bacon slices, arranging 8 slices across width of pan and 3 slices on each short side of pan and overlapping pan on all sides. Using hands, lightly and evenly press half of meat mixture (about 3 1/4 cups) onto bottom of pan atop bacon slices. 
  10. Arrange ham strips over in single layer, lying longways [this is so you will get little ham squares in each slice]
  11. Top with remaining meat mixture.
  12. Fold bacon slices over, covering pâté [if your bacon strips are too short and don't actually cover the whole surface, it doesn't matter because this side of the pâté will be the bottom when served]. 
  13. Cover pan tightly with foil. 
  14. Place pan in 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan and transfer to oven. 
  15. Pour boiling water into the larger baking pan to come halfway up sides of loaf pan. 
  16. Bake pâté until a thermometer inserted through foil into center registers 155°F, about 2 hours 15 minutes.
  17. Remove loaf pan from baking pan and transfer to rimmed baking sheet. 
  18. Place heavy skillet or 2 to 3 heavy cans atop pâté to weigh down. 
  19. Chill overnight. 
  20. This can be made 4 days ahead.
  21. To unmold, place loaf pan with pâté in larger pan of hot water for about 3 minutes. Invert pâté onto platter; discard fat from platter and wipe clean. Cut pâté crosswise into 1/2-inch slices.

Here are some observations I made while making this recipe.

  • Cold bacon is much easier to work with than room-temperature bacon.
  • Don't even bother trying to hand-mince the bacon unless it's frozen.  I recommend putting large chunks of chopped frozen bacon in the food processor and pulsing over chopping it.
  • Before loading the pâté mixture into the pan, do my trick of making a mini-burger out of some of it and tasting for seasoning.  
  • The type of salt you use greatly impacts the overall saltiness of the finished recipe.  Regular table salt (such as Morton's) is very fine-grained, whereas Kosher salt is much larger and flakier.  A teaspoon of table salt has much less air in it than a teaspoon of Kosher salt.  If you are using Kosher salt when you make this, I recommend adding about another 1/2 teaspoon.  But again, you can mix, cook a patty, taste, and adjust if needed.
  • Another time, I'd take twice the number of ham strips (buy two steaks), and make three layers of pâté with two layers of ham instead of the one layer the recipe calls for.  Also, I'd buy extra cornichons and lay a few lines of them alongside the ham strips so we got little green dots in each slice.
  • After you bake the pâté and remove the foil, you will see a TON of liquid and fat has accumulated.  Be assured that MOST OF THIS IS LIQUID, NOT FAT!  Therefore, you really should let the meat sit in its juices for about 20 minutes so they redistribute through the pâté and keep it moister for serving.  You might also just leave the juices alone and weight/chill the pâté without draining at all.  If any gelatinous or fatty residue remains on the surface of the pâté after unmolding, you can gently scrape it off using a knife.

As for the Thurber cookie, I got a bee in my bonnet about Father's Day and couldn't think of anything to make for my own father that wasn't hopelessly twee.  I decided, instead, to bake him a giant cookie (about 10" x 8") depicting one of his favorite James Thurber cartoons (the caption is "Alright, have it your way. You heard a seal bark.")  This method is applicable to any relatively simple cartoon, or any design at all, I suppose.  For the best royal icing and sugar cookie recipes for this type of thing, search my blog posts from last December.  Roll out to the appropriate thickness, and lay baking parchment over the flat dough.  Using a pencil, sketch the OVERALL outline of the shape you want onto the paper, then using a very sharp paring knife cut out the design right through the paper.  To assure sharp borders, chill the cut dough for at least 15 minutes in the freezer before baking.  My dad liked it a lot...this kind of thing is right up his alley.  Maybe next year I'll do some Charles Addams.


  1. .

    I just had to say: That's pretty much the best cookie ever.