Thursday, February 5, 2009

In Memoriam Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

"The discovery of a new dish confers more happiness on humanity, than the discovery of a new star." Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

February 2nd marked the 183rd anniversary of the death of Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin the great 18th to 19th century gastronome. Brillat-Savarin was a renaissance man in the truest sense of the word having studied law, chemistry, medicine, and of course food in the context of living the good life. He had a command of five modern languages as well as Latin and used them frequently in both conversation and the written word. A good example of this was his fondness for the English word sip for which he did not find a suitable counterpart in French.

Brillat-Savarin's jobs included provincial lawyer (his family's trade), he was a deputy to the National Constituent Assembly, during the Revolution he was a political refugee living in Switzerland, Holland, and the United States where he tought French, gave violin lessons, and played in the Park Theater orchestra where he was the first violin. With the formation of the Directorate in 1797 he was welcomed back to france where he became a judge and author of several books on law, politics, and his most famous on food published just two months before his death: Physiologie du Goût, ou Méditations de Gastronomie Transcendante; ouvrage théorique, historique et à l'ordre du jour, dédié aux Gastronomes parisiens, par un Professeur, membre de plusieurs sociétés littéraires et savantes. Despite it's unwieldy title and occassionally unwieldy language the book has become a classic among gastronomes and the English translation by M. F. K. Fisher, published in 1949 is a classic in its own right.

His influence in food remains today with Brillat-Savarin cheese, a soft cow's milk cheese created in 1930's Normandy and named after Brillat-Savarin. And the often overlooked Gâteau Savarin cooked in a Savarin mold (see picture below). Many of his quotations live on, perhaps most famously, "Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are." And one of my favorites, "A dessert without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye."

Here's a recipe I've been perfecting for a Gâteau Savarin inspired by one I had in Bruge, Belgium several years ago. Please forgive the absence of a photo as I have never photographed the process nor the finished product.

9-10 inch Savarin (ring) Mold (or Bundt pan)
1 Large mixing bowl

Ingredients for the dough:
3 large eggs
120 grams white sugar
3 Tbsp whole milk
90 grams unsalted butter melted
210 grams cake flour
3tsp dry yeast

Ingredients for the syrup:
1/2 l water
1 black tea bag
250 grams sugar
Zest of 1 orange
1 vanilla bean
1/3 cup light rum (100 Cane or similar)

1. Cream the eggs and sugar together until smooth, add milk and melted butter.
2. Stir in flour and yeast, work for no less than 10 minutes until firm and well formed ball, roll ball into a log sufficient to coil into the Savarin Mold.
3. Put into a greased and floured Savarin Mold, cover with a towel, and put in a warm place until it doubles in volume.
4. Bake in an oven pre-heated to 375 degrees F for 25-35 minutes until golden in color.
5. While the cake is baking bring water to a boil, remove from heat and add tea bag. Let stand for 3 minutes.
6. Remove tea bag and return to heat and add sugar and split vanilla bean, simmer until sugar is completely dissolved.
7. Remove vanilla bean and add orange zest, continue to simmer for two minutes. Remove from heat and cover.
8. Remove cake from oven and immediately pour syrup evenly over the top of the cake. Let stand up to 8 hours.
9. One hour before serving pour rum over cake.
10. When ready to serve remove from mold and slice.

Tomorrow tips from Brillat-Savarin on hosting a dinner party.

1 comment:

Pigtown-Design said...

That sounds lovely. I am using my ring mould for my paperwhites. I put a lot of seaglass in the mould and then put the bulbs on top. They are just now blooming and smell wonderful!