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Homeplate: Incredible eggs

  • Boston cream cupcakes<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

    Boston cream cupcakes

    Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

  • Savory egg meringue salad.<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

    Savory egg meringue salad.

    Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

  • Boston cream cupcakes<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor
  • Savory egg meringue salad.<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

The flock of Black Jersey Giant hens I share with my sister-in-law has just turned four, and they’re still laying more eggs than our two families can absorb. Getting rid of the excess is no problem, though; actually it’s quite the opposite.

Okay, I’m going to brag a little here – forgive me. Our eggs are really good. Our chickens are true free rangers, spending most of the day outside eating bugs and greens. The proof of their excellent diet is in the egg yolks, which are calendula orange – so bright that when I make cakes with them, the batter looks as if I’ve dyed it with yellow food coloring.

It turns out, according to several studies done by Mother Earth News, that the average egg produced by pastured chickens contains seven times more beta carotene than the average conventional supermarket egg, hence the brilliant yolks. The studies also show pastured chickens produce eggs with one-third less cholesterol, one-fourth less saturated fat, two-thirds more vitamin A, twice as many omega-3 fatty acids, three times more vitamin E, and between four and six times as much vitamin D.

Here are two egg-rich recipes. The first is for a whites-only nut and cheese meringue cracker that’s a delicious contrast to spring greens. The second recipe is a good way to use up the leftover yolks, Boston Cream Cupcakes, light enough that you’ll want to eat two, but rich enough that you should probably only eat one. The pastry cream recipe makes more than you’ll use filling the cupcakes, but it’s delicious on its own or as a topping for fresh berries or stewed rhubarb.

Goat Gouda and Pecan Meringues
with Spring Greens

1∕2 cup pecans

2 ounces goat gouda, grated (about 1∕2 cup)

1∕2 teaspoon salt

1∕2 teaspoon cayenne or hot red pepper flakes (or to taste)

1∕2 teaspoon freshly grated black pepper

4 large egg whites

tiny pinch cream of tartar

mixture of fresh spring greens, washed and dried, about 8 cups total

Lemony Herb Salad Dressing (recipe below)

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line a half-sheet tray with parchment paper; butter and flour the parchment. Set aside.

Place the pecans, cheese, salt and peppers in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the nuts are finely chopped. Be careful not to pulse so much that the mixture turns into a paste.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, whip the egg whites and the pinch of cream of tartar using the whisk attachment until the whites form soft peaks. Fold the nut mixture into the whites carefully, trying not to deflate the whites completely.

Spoon the batter evenly into eight spots on the prepared parchment, leaving lots of space between the spots. Use a spoon to flatten and spread into approximately 4-inch-wide rounds – don’t let the rounds touch.

Place in the oven – if your oven has a convection fan, turn it on as it will speed the cooking process. Cook the meringues until they are just golden brown, about 25 minutes. Turn off the oven, but leave the meringues in it and leave the convection fan on.

After half an hour, remove the tray from the oven and allow the meringues to cool completely. To serve, place each meringue on a plate. Toss the greens with the dressing, then top each meringue with greens. Serve immediately, before the meringues get soggy.

Serves 8.

Lemony Herb Salad Dressing

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about half a lemon)

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar (or other mild white vinegar)

1∕2 teaspoon sea salt

1 small clove garlic minced

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 tablespoons mild oil, such as sunflower

leaves from several sprigs fresh thyme, lightly chopped (about 1∕2 teaspoon)

1 teaspoon fresh chopped dill

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, vinegar, salt and minced garlic. Gradually whisk in the oils, dribbling them in slowly so the mixture emulsifies. When all the oil has been added, whisk in the herbs. Makes about 3∕4 cup.

Boston Cream Cupcakes

2 cups all-purpose flour (fluff the flour a bit with the measuring cup before scooping and leveling with a knife - don’t pack it down)

1 cup sugar

1½ teaspoons baking powder

¾ teaspoon salt

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at cool room temperature, cut into 12 pieces

3 large eggs, at room temperature (put in a cup of warm water if necessary)

¾ cup whole milk, at room temperature (heat a little in the microwave, if necessary)

1½ teaspoons vanilla

butter and flour to grease the cupcake pan

Light Pastry Cream (recipe below)

Chocolate Glaze (recipe below)

To make the cupcakes: preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine about 1 tablespoon of softened butter with about 1 tablespoon of flour to make a smooth paste. Use this mixture to grease the cupcake molds evenly and thoroughly.

Place the dry ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer and stir gently with the paddle to combine. Add the butter a few chunks at a time while mixing gently. As the butter is cut into the dry ingredients, add more butter until it is all mixed in. You should wind up with a mixture that resembles coarse cornmeal.

Add the eggs, one at a time, combining well after each addition. Finally, add the milk and vanilla. Beat well for a minute or two, until the mixture is light and fluffy.

Divide the batter evenly between the 12 cupcake impressions. Place in the oven and bake, turning once, for about 20 minutes. The cupcakes are done when they have risen and spring back when touched in the center. A toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake will come out clean.

Let the cupcakes cool a few minutes before gently lifting them onto a cooling rack. Cool completely before filling and frosting.

To fill, cut the top off each cupcake and use a small sharp knife to cut a cone shape out of them – leave enough cake on the bottom and sides so that the cupcake doesn’t fall apart. Fill the cavity with pastry cream, enough so that a little squeezes out the side when the top is replaced. Spread the top of each filled cupcake with some of the chocolate glaze, enough so that it drips down the side. Chill the cupcakes until they set, then serve. Makes 12.

Cupcake recipe adapted from “Cook’s Illustrated: The Science of Good Cooking”

Light Pastry Cream

11∕2 cups whole milk

1∕2 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla

4 large egg yolks

1∕2 cup sugar

1∕4 cup flour, sifted

2 tablespoons cold butter

3∕4 cup cold whipping cream

Have ready a sieve fitted over a clean bowl, a whisk and a wooden spoon. Place the milk in a medium saucepan. If using the vanilla bean, split it in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the milk. Add the bean halves to the milk along with about 2∕3 of the sugar. Heat the milk over medium heat until it is just about to a simmer.

Meanwhile, place the yolks in a medium bowl and whisk in the remaining sugar. Continue whisking for about a minute, until the yolks are lighter in color and a little thicker. Whisk in the sifted flour.

When the milk is hot, lower the heat beneath it. Temper the egg yolks by scooping out about a cup of the milk and pouring it into the bowl of egg yolks, whisking constantly. Add another cup of the hot milk, whisking constantly. Finally, pour the tempered egg yolks into the pot of hot milk, whisking constantly.

Heat the mixture over low, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Scrape the pot with the spoon to incorporate the thickening mixture on the bottom back into the thinner mixture on top. Occasionally whisk the mixture briskly to break up lumps. Continue cooking the mixture, stirring constantly, until it just barely begins to bubble; it should be very thick. Pour the pastry cream through the sieve into the clean bowl. Stir the cold butter into the pastry cream until it melts and is completely incorporated.

Place the bowl of pastry cream in a bath of ice and water in a larger bowl, being careful not to let any of the water get into the cream. Cover the surface of the cream with a piece of plastic wrap to keep a skin from forming on it as it cools. When the pastry cream is cooled, you may place it in the refrigerator for up to a day before proceeding.

When the pastry cream is completely cold, place the whipping cream into the chilled bowl of an electric mixer and whip with a chilled whisk attachment. Whip the cream until very stiff and thick, almost to the point of over-whipping. Fold whipped cream into the cold pastry cream and use to fill the cupcakes.

Chocolate Glaze

8 ounces good quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped or chips

2∕3 cup heavy cream

3 tablespoons corn syrup

3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter

Combine the first three ingredients in a small pot and heat over a low flame. Stir gently until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is homogenous. Remove from heat and stir in the butter until it has melted and is incorporated. Allow the mixture to cool a little before using it to frost the cupcakes.

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