Friday, May 29, 2015

You say Soy Eggs, I say Tea Eggs

I don't remember when I first tried tea eggs, but I must have been about eight or nine years old.  I remember loving the dark flavor and sipping the savory, vaguely sweet sauce as I ate my egg.  Delicious.

Years later, I still enjoy this treat, and I often look for it when I am in Asian markets.  Although these are sometimes sold as "Soy Eggs", I find that the tea part is really key to flavoring the eggs.  After several not-quite-so-satisfying samples, I decided that it was time for me to make my own.

The recipe is actually very easy, and I'm kicking myself for not making these earlier.  I could have been enjoying this treat on my own years ago!  Honestly the only extra ingredient that I needed to buy was star anise.  Being Asian, I always have soy sauce and black tea on hand, and as someone who cooks, I also always have eggs.  And who doesn't keep sugar in their house?  Aliens, that's who.  So now that we've sorted out our ingredients, let's talk technique.

I started this recipe the same way I make my soft boiled eggs.  Most recipes for tea eggs call for hard boiling the eggs first, but I think that when you hard boil the eggs before you add the flavoring, it's like searing a steak before you salt it.  However, you do need to cook the eggs so that you can crack the shell without raw egg going everywhere, so I compromised and soft boiled my eggs before cracking them.  Feel free to hard boil yours though if it makes your life easier!
After I soft boiled my eggs, I crack them gently all around, and then cooked them again in the soy sauce and tea mixture.  Then I strained out the tea and let the eggs sit for several hours (the longer, the better).  You can see that the eggs in the picture at the top soaked for about 8 hours.  The eggs in the picture below soaked for closer to 24 hours.

Now I'm sure that at this point, you're probably asking me one of two questions:
  1. Why don't I just do the entire cooking process in the tea mixture?  Because grocery store eggs are covered in a thin layer of wax and who-knows-what-else (e.g. bacteria), so I wanted to get rid of that before cooking up a tea mixture that I would later be eating / drinking.
  2. Why don't I just completely peel the eggs and soak them in the tea mixture that way?  Actually, you can absolutely do this.  The only thing is, you won't get a pretty cracked / marbled appearance to your egg, and as we all know, appearance matter.  However, after I snapped these pictures, I actually did peel the eggs completely and let them soak overnight.  They absorbed the flavors beautifully, so if you don't care about aesthetics, this is definitely the way to make delicious tea eggs.
One last comment: you use this recipe to make as many or as few tea eggs as you'd like.  Really, it's all about how many eggs can fit into your pot in one layer (that is the upper limit of how many eggs you should make).  You can store these eggs in the fridge for up to 5 days after making them.  I find that the longer they sit in the tea mixture, the better they get.  After you have eaten all your eggs, you can also reuse the tea mixture.  Just add enough water to mostly cover your eggs.  For every 1 cup of water, add an additional 1-2 teaspoons of soy sauce.

Delicious Tea Eggs Recipe
10 eggs (that's just what fit in my pot)
3 bags of black tea (or 3 tablespoons of loose black tea)
1/4 cup soy sauce (I used Kikkoman)
4-5 pieces of star anise (or 2 whole pieces)
1 teaspoon of sugar (I use raw / turbinado sugar)

To soft boil your eggs: Place them in a pot with just enough tap water to cover them.  Cover the pot with a lid.  Turn on high heat and allow the water to come to a boil.  For me, with a gas stove, this took 7-8 minutes.  As soon as the mixture is at a rolling boil (meaning the most bubbly it's going to get... aka the point when you would normally throw in your pasta), turn off the heat.  Leave the pot alone for 2 minutes.  Do not take it off the stove. Do not touch the lid.  Set a timer and don't touch the pot.
After two minutes, drain the eggs and cover with cold tap water.
Crack the eggs gently using a spoon or your kitchen counter (whatever is convenient).  Remember to be gentle!  These are soft boiled eggs.

To make the tea eggs: Place the soft boiled eggs back into the pot in a single layer.  Add just enough fresh tap water to barely cover the eggs.  Add the tea, soy sauce, star anise, and sugar.  Bring the pot to a boil over medium-high heat (should take about 10-12 minutes).
Once it has started boiling, turn down to low heat.  Remove the tea bags (or strain out the loose tea) and allow the eggs to simmer for roughly 30 minutes.
Turn off the heat.
Tap all the eggs again all over to make sure that they are really cracked.  Allow to soaked for at least 3 hours in the tea/soy mixture.

Note: You should store these cooked eggs in the refrigerator, in the tea mixture.  They will keep for at least 5 days.  I eat these eggs cold, straight from the fridge.  You can remove the eggs about 30 minutes before serving if you prefer them room temperature.

An extra tea liquid will keep in the fridge for about 2 weeks.  It can be reused to make more batches of tea eggs.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Creme Brulee French Toast - my new favorite

This is it.  You've found it: the only thing you'll want to eat for breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dessert for now on.  I mean, who doesn't like French toast?  Now add on the textural component of a crunchy caramelized crust and this dish is irresistible.

I made this crème brûlée French toast (aka The Best French Toast Ever) for the first time when I had some girlfriends coming over for brunch.  I've never actually hosted a brunch before, so I wanted something that was easy, but also really delicious.  Step in New York Times.  A few months ago when I was browsing their food section, I stumbled across this recipe, which I immediately printed out.

The New York Times recipe was for oven baked French toast with a brown sugar caramelized crust.  I typically make my French toast in a skillet (as I assume most people do) and it ends up being very annoying because you can't make French toast and eat it at the same time.  This obviously makes serving breakfast or brunch to other people somewhat difficult if you're trying to do a big batch.  The idea of baking French toast is not unheard of, but it was the caramel that really sold me.

Now, of course, if you  know me, you know that I never follow any recipes, so I had to make some edits.
First of all, the original recipe calls for challah bread.  I don't know about you, but I never have challah bread just sitting around at home.  I also don't know if my regular grocery store sells it all the time.  But I do know that they sell croissants.  In fact, in the "clearance" section of the bakery, where they place items that are close to expiration, there is almost always a container of croissants, which are perfect for making French toast (especially since French toast is best made with bread that is slightly stale).  I also find that croissants make much more attractive French toast and their texture is perfect for absorbing the "custard mixture" while still retaining some wonderful pastry flakiness.
Secondly, I didn't soak my French toast overnight.  To me, this is overkill since I prefer my French toast "crunchier" or "flakier."  Feel free to soak yours though, if you're partial to the bread pudding texture.  I only did a quick dip into the egg mixture and that was enough.
Third, the original recipe had a ridiculous amount of liquid: 6 eggs and 3 cups of liquid.  Too much milk, too much cream, and way too many eggs.  What for?  You just end up throwing away most of it!  It's wasteful!  So I seriously cut back on the liquids.  I wanted to use every single drop.  I also didn't use cream, since this is already a pretty indulgent dish; we don't really need that extra fat content.
Lastly, and most importantly, I wanted the sugar to truly become caramel; I didn't just want wet sugar.  So I actually place the baking sheet with the brown sugar in the oven first, so that the sugar starts to melt and caramelize, and then I put the French toast slices on top to bake.

The result was stupendous.  The croissants were flaky on top, crunchy with on the bottom from the caramelized sugar, and luxuriously decadent in the middle.  Served with some bacon (which can be baked in the oven at the same time!) and some berries, this is a great way to entertain any breakfast guests... or, just you and your partner!

Crème Brûlée French Toast  aka 
The Best French Toast Ever
3/4 cup pack dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons salted butter, cut into small pieces
4 croissants  (alternatively, use 8 one-inch thick slices of challah bread)
2 large eggs
1 cup milk (I use non-fat)
2 tablespoons dark rum  (optional, if you're serving this to children)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
generous dash of kosher salt
pinch of cinnamon (optional)
pinch of nutmeg (optional)

1.  Cut the croissants in half like you're about to make a sandwich.

2.  Spread the brown sugar evenly over a 9x13 baking pan and add the piece of salted butter on top.

3.  Preheat the oven to 350F.  Put the baking pans with the sugar mixture into the oven on the middle rack.  This will start to cook the sugar while you prepare the rest of your ingredients.
*The whole process of making the "custard" and dipping the slices should take you less than 5 minutes.  If it takes you longer than that, don't put your tray into the oven until later; you don't want the sugar to burn.

4.  In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, rum, vanilla, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon.  

5.  Dip each slice of croissant / bread into the custard mix, making sure to coat both sides evenly.  Make a pile of dipped slices on a plate.

6.  Once all of the slices have been dipped, take the baking pan out of the oven.  The brown sugar and butter should be melted and bubbling hot.

7.  Arrange the croissant / bread slices onto the baking tray, on top of the caramelized sugar.  I placed the cut-sides of  my croissants face-down (in the picture above, the slices were flipped, after they finished baking).

8.  Bake at 350F for 20-25 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.

9.  Serve while hot, with the caramelized brown sugar side up.  Goes well with berries, sliced peaches, and bacon.

10.  Bask in the glory of crème brûlée French toast.