Saturday, December 26, 2015

Pommes Anna for Christmas

There hasn't been much to celebrate this year at our house but we've put a brave face on it and gone through the motions anyway. For Christmas Day brunch, Ann decided some days ago that she wanted pommes Anna and so how could I refuse?

But seriously, you ever heard of doing pommes Anna for Christmas? Me either.

Ann's Snowman Christmas Tree

A Little Splash of Color

Playing Christmas Carols
It wasn't all sadness this year though. Ann managed to convince Carter to come play some Christmas carols at the piano with her. That's a pretty decent accomplishment given that he's a teenager that really wants nothing to do with parents.

Pommes Anna Takes Serious Quantities of Butter
Pommes Anna is one of the great classics of French cuisine, introduced to America largely by Julia Child. For anyone inclined to the kitchen, it really is quite a simple dish to make. I have made dozens and dozens of them in my life. In France, they actually sell copper pans specifically designed for making this dish, but really, any heavy bottomed round pan can work and this is a perfect excuse for me to pull out the old Griswold number 8 cast iron pan, made sometime in the 1930s.

Ready for the Oven
You can use about any potato for pommes Anna. I typically use russets because their high starch content helps the cake stick together. I sliced these by hand, though I often use a mandoline. The first layer is key: it will be your show side, so take your time and make the first layer look nice. After putting a good bit of melted butter in the bottom of the pan which should be on a low flame, I lay the first potato slice in the center and spiral my way out to the edge of the pan.

Between each layer, I pour over more melted butter and sprinkle on some kosher salt. After the first show layer, how you do the subsequent layers is fairly inconsequential. The real goal is to make the layers tight and even with as few gaps as possible, especially around the edges. The more edge contact with the side of the pan, the better and more solid your edge crust will be and that will help hold your potato cake together.

Out of the Oven
I use the bottom of a large pan to compress the potatoes into as flat a cake as I can before it goes into the oven and then again when I pull it out to uncover it. I cover the cake with foil and put it into a fairly hot oven, say 400F, for about 25-30 minutes. Then I will pull it out and check the doneness of the potatoes. If the potatoes are fairly soft, I will compress the cake again and then put it back in the oven uncovered this time until I see a good crust formed all the way up the sides, another 15 minutes or so. The top layer of potatoes will be starting to brown by this point.

Ready for Christmas Brunch
Let the cake cool for a minute and then pour off the butter from the pan. You'll need to hold the cake in the pan as you tilt it to drain the butter: a plate works well for this. Then invert the cake onto whatever serving plate or platter you're going to us. I decided on a cake stand, since the pommes Anna was the star of our brunch.

A Touch of Indulgence
It is now tradition that we have Champagne and caviar for Christmas, and so I got two different caviars for our brunch. I scrambled some eggs to go with our pommes Anna and we topped the eggs with caviar. It was a bright spot in our Christmas season.

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