Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking has a terrific French bread recipe, but it takes about three days to prepare– still, it was one of the first loaves I ever was really, really happy with years ago. Back then, I wasn’t thinking about brioche, or brioche-wrapped beef tenderloin, but you can bet that I am now. The brioche recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day is one of the most popular ones in our book. Recently I remembered that Julia Child’s Beef Wellington recipe actually calls for brioche rather than the more traditional puff pastry (it’s in Volume Two of “Mastering the Art…”). Voilà! Easy Beef Wellington? Well, all I can tell you is that the pastry part becomes easy if you have our brioche dough in the freezer or fridge. And the result is scrumptious and festive. But five minutes a day? Well…
Defrost about 1 1/2 pounds of our brioche dough if it’s in the freezer (leave it in the fridge overnight), or use refrigerated stuff that hasn’t yest reached the five-day mark (beyond that and you run the risk of the eggs going bad). Now start prepping the beef, its stuffing, and the brown sauce Julia specified (she actually gives some choices (from Volume One!), but I just did a simplified version of her Sauce Brune.
First, finely dice carrots, onions, and celery to end up with about a third of a cup each:
Heat 6 tablespoons of butter or oil and saute the vegetables for about 10 minutes. Then add a quarter-cup of flour and continue over low heat until the mixture browns (about another 10 minutes). That super-flavorful thickening agent is known in French as a roux (pronounced “roo”):
Add 6 cups of boiling beef stock. Volume One talks about how to make your own, and I actually did an abbreviated version based on meat scraps and soup bones, but even Julia wrote that it’s not absolutely neccesary. You can use canned, so she says. I kid you not.
Whisk the mixture vigorously to suspend the flour, and create a thickening sauce. Julia calls for an herb bouquet, so in theory you’re supposed to tie up 3 parsley sprigs, 1/2 a bay leaf, and 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme in cheesecloth and simmer it with your sauce, discarding it at the end.
Not going to happen around here. I minced the parsely, still from our garden in a mild Minnesota September:
The minced parsley got thrown into the simmering sauce with the half bay leave and the thyme, and the result is a chunky sauce, not the elegant smooth one that Julia was going for, especially with 3 tablespoons of minced ham (she calls for that, so she couldn’t have wanted the sauce to be that smooth). Remove the bay leaf piece at the end of cooking, but everything else stays. My version here is more home cooking than French haute cuisine (I admit it). Simmer the sauce down to about 4 cups, and add salt and pepper to taste. Don’t be stingy with the salt. Set the sauce aside and move onto the mushroom stuffing:
Create another roux with 3 tablespoons of butter (I used more), 1 pound of minced fresh mushrooms and 1/4 cup minced shallots (don’t use onions; this butter-shallot-mushroom mixture is what makes the dish). As before, saute down the vegetable before adding the flour (about 5 minutes), and then continue for a while longer (this time only a couple of minutes). Then add 1/3 cup of dry Madeira wine (I used a light-bodied inexpensive red table wine), 1 egg yolk, and 1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon. Continue cooking another few minutes, until everything has set, and set the mixture aside.
Now, onto the meat. Prepare about 2 1/2 pounds of filet mignon (aka beef tenderloin) by slicing it into 1/2-inch thick portions. Salt and pepper each piece on both sides, and re-assemble the roast with about 1 1/2 tablespoons of mushroom stuffing between each slice:
Wrestle the whole thing into a large sheet of oiled cheesecloth, roll it up, and twist the ends together so you have a tight bundle. It looks very, very wierd, and if the result wasn’t so insanely delicous, I might be somewhat put off by this picture, which, take my word, is greatly helped by gauzy soft focus photography (thank you Nikon SLR technology):
Glad that’s over with. Make sure this is basted well with oil or melted butter, and bake in a roasting pan placed in the top third of the oven, pre-heated to 425 degrees F (your oven needs to be accurate here or the roasting time could be way off). I followed Julia’s directions for a 25 minute roast, but I did not baste or turn this beast. Remove from oven (it’s not done yet) and let it cool to room temperature (this is actually important in not overcooking the roast).
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F again. Roll out a large rectangle of brioche dough to a thickness of 1/4-inch, according to Julia (though I think it might benefit from being a little thinner). The piece needs to be large enough to accept your roast, and for us that was about 1 1/2 pounds of dough (small cantaloupe-sized). I did this like a huge calzone rather than Julia’s more involved but prettier method (see our calzone post), and I sealed it on the top after pulling the dough up around it.
The tricky part is removing the cheesecloth from the cooled roast, and getting rid of it without wrecking the stuffing. I ended up slopping some of it on top of the meat, rather than between the slices. But it all got sealed up in pastry anyway (don’t slit or the juice will go everywhere):
Use a pastry brush to paint egg wash (1 egg lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water) on the brioche dough. Do two coats, one just before baking, and one about 10 minutes into it. Lower temp to 350 when the crust has browned, and continue baking for a total of about 30 to 40 minutes. Cover with aluminum foil if it’s overbrowning. When done, you’ll begin to smell the meat and the stuffing and some juices will be escaping into the pan. Don’t over-do it… this was meant to be served medium rare:
Cut it up and make sure everyone a piece of steak with a good portion of the brioche, some sauce, and a glass of nice red wine. This dish was a kid crowd-pleaser (minus the wine).
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