A busy day; the filet still to be pre-roasted and the ‘croute’ for it still to be made – I’ve stopped for a gin and tonic! One disaster averted; I arrived at the butcher at 3.10 to find he’d closed at 3.00. Frantic banging on the door produced my wonderful piece of filet – aged for a month by farmer Charles Johnson of the farm at Mallard Grange in Sawley, North Yorkshire.

Filet of beef, from the 'coeur de filet', as bought

Filet of beef, from the ‘coeur de filet’, as bought

The trimmed filet

The trimmed filet

First job was to trim it. I have a local butcher who sells great meat but he’s not a French butcher so I didn’t trust him to trim the filet, a lesson learned when I asked him to ‘Frenchify’ a rack of lamb. I’m not that great at it either but with no trained chef or French butcher on hand, needs must. Being only two of us for dinner, I ordered just a short length from the central portion, the ‘coeur de filet’. Even so it’ll be too much but I bought a larger piece to make it easier to handle and the part I am not using is in the freezer for another day.

As I said when I first mentioned my main course, I’m making ‘filet de boeuf en croute’ but not ‘Beef Wellington’ because it won’t be long enough to enclose the calf of Wellington, it will be cooked already sliced to make serving easy, and the ‘croute’ will not be the usual puff pastry, but a brioche dough subjected to a little S&M, ie kept under restraint! But more of that after the pudding.

The ‘pudding’

The pudding is in the fridge; Alleluia! It’s basically a modified Bavarois cream tipped into a mould lined with slices of cake – a la Malakoff.

Buttered and sugared cake slices ready for the oven

Buttered and sugared cake slices ready for the oven

Toasted and sprinkled with kirsch

Toasted and sprinkled with kirsch

Mould lined with cake; gelatine in kirsch and toasted almonds ready

Mould lined with cake; gelatine in kirsch and toasted almonds ready

The cake (Madeira but could be Genoa or any firm sponge cake) was sliced about 1/4in thick, then cut into four quadrants for the bottom (which will become the top when un-moulded) and ‘fingers’ about 1.1/4 in wide to go around the inside of a 2.1/2pt mould, with a few spare ‘just in case’. They were painted with clarified butter, sprinkled with sugar and popped into the oven at about 200 deg C until golden brown after having put 7oz of almonds in at 180deg C for a few minutes until a deep golden brown. The almonds were then pulverised in a food processor. Meanwhile, 1.1/2 tbl of powdered gelatine was soaking in 4 tbl of kirsch.

Egg yolks, 7 of them (should have been 6 but they looked a bit small to me), were beaten with 6oz of sugar until very pale and ‘the ribbon’ survived a few seconds. Meanwhile a pint of milk, with a few drops of vanilla essence, was made very hot and then poured into the egg/sugar mixture in a thin stream while beating with the whisk. Back on the hob and carefully heated while continuously stirring until the wooden spoon had a thin creamy layer on the back of the bowl. Off the hob, a vigorous stir to cool a bit then the gelatine/kirsch tipped in and beaten with a whisk until certainly dissolved (2 mins). Now 8oz of unsalted butter was beaten in, adding 2oz at a time. Then the pulverised toasted almonds were mixed in. A taste suggested a small pinch of salt and a few drops of almond essence. Finally the cream, now tepid, was spooned into the cake-lined mould, putting the ‘spare’ cake fingers in when about 2/3 full. I found that the side fingers started to rise up when the mould was full so I covered with some non-stick baking paper and put a plate on to to keep them in place until set. Into the fridge till tomorrow. Phew! It’s very rich and far too much for two of us of course, but it freezes well.

The filet

Trimming the filet is quite a faff, even with a very sharp knife, especially trying to remove as much of the membrane and fat as possible without detaching the ‘side straps’ (often, of course, the filet is sold without these but it makes the slices rather small). Then I cut six slices about 1/2in thick; this is where a very sharp knife is needed and the larger than needed piece is helpful. The rest of the filet, as I said, went into the freezer.

Between the slices I put a duxelles stuffing. Mushrooms finely diced (1/16in) and twisted in the corner of a cloth to extract as much moisture as possible. Into a frying pan with some butter heated until foaming, together with some chopped shallots and some finely diced ready-cooked ham; fairly high heat until the mushroom began to brown very slightly. A little flour was then added and stirred for a couple of minutes. Off the heat, I added a little dry sherry, then beat in some liver pate (should be foie gras but a good liver pate had to do), followed by an egg yolk, a pinch of tarragon and salt and pepper. Left to cool.

A double thickness of butter muslin (cheese cloth) was laid in a small roasting tin and painted with rendered pork fat (cooking oil would have done as well). The sliced fillet was then reformed with a thin layer of duxelle stuffing between each slice. A loop of butcher’s string was put on lengthwise to hold the slices in place, then the filet tightly wrapped in the muslin, twisting at each end (like a sausage) and tying, then wrapping a spiral of string around the whole thing to hold it together. Now it’s wrapped in cling film and in the fridge till pre-roasting after breakfast tomorrow. The ‘sausage’ will be roasted for about 25mins in a hot oven (210degC), turning a few times, then allowed to cool before covering with the brioche.

Whether I’ll get to the brioche dough this evening I’m not sure – I’m a morning person! But this is as much as I’m going to post today; I’ll catch up on the rest tomorrow, with one or two more pictures, one of the advantages of eating this meal in the evening.

Neither Petronela my wife nor I really like turkey, but many alternatives for Christmas dinner that I would relish – pheasant, partridge, even guinea fowl – are ruled out as Petronela won’t eat them. I say ‘dinner’ because for the first time in years we will be able to eat in the evening, which we prefer, rather than ‘lunch’ which was the preference of my mother, now sadly no longer with us.

Breakfast is easy as we’ve settled into our own tradition – smoked salmon, scrambled eggs and champagne – with some butter croissant (which – shame – I do not make myself). But what to have for dinner?

Simple pizza ready for the oven

Simple pizza ready for the oven

Simple pizza ready for the table

Simple pizza ready for the table

Then, on Monday evening, I watched a master class on BBC2 tv by the only ‘celebrity chef’ I’ve any time for, Michel Roux jnr. Regular ‘foodie’ readers of grumpytyke’s ramblings will know I have a preference for classic French cuisine; watching and listening to a master enthuse about the classics decided me. Classic cuisine it would be, with one exception – the starter, for which I’m going back to a recent post by another inspiring Frenchman (he says he isn’t a ‘chef’), the author of My French Heaven. More details of the final Christmas fayre in a later post but for the main it’ll be Filet de boeuf en croute (not Beef Wellington, as will be explained in the later post), for the ‘pudding’ maybe a Bavarois – perhaps chocolate or praline – or a cross between a Bavarois and a charlotte Malakoff (my wife doesn’t eat most fruit either!).

In the meantime, I’m having a kitchen rest so everything simple in the run up. One ‘simple’ was a pizza. Why someone would buy a ready-made pizza in the UK to eat at home is beyond me. I’ve had superb pizzas in the USA, and of course in Italy, but never in Britain – not from any of the pizza chains, not from the supermarkets, not even from otherwise excellent small Italian restaurants. But, with a bit of cheating, it’s so simple to put one together at home.

First the base: if you like the thin crispy variety, shop-bought can be fine, so I keep a couple in the freezer. That’s the first cheat. If you like the thicker, puffy variety the ready-mades are less satisfactory. Then there’s the tomato sauce to cover the base; the best solution is to make up a large batch, divide it up into single pizza portions and store in the freezer, but some of the bottled ‘cook in’ sauces can be good for the purpose – given a bit more sparkle with a dose of fresh herbs if necessary.  On this occasion I used a jar of ‘Tomato and chilli pasta sauce’, livened up with a dose of fresh basil. After that it was simple – what happened to be in the fridge.

Mozzarela of course, sliced and arranged on the sauce, followed by thinly sliced chorizo. Then sliced, pickled char-grilled peppers, halved stuffed olives, some grated cheddar cheese, and a liberal dose of good olive oil. Then it’s onto a hot pizza tray and into the hottest oven I can have without setting off the smoke alarm.

So, this was a very simple one and for 5 mins work something which, in my opinion, is much tastier (and much cheaper) than anything from a pizza house.