The Fallingwater Chef at Home: Comfort Food, Fallingwater Cookbook-Style
May 1, 2020
Chef Tom Shuttlesworth here once more, cooking my way through another week of The Great Quarantine of 2020. As I like to say every week, I can't possibly understate the current conditions on the ground: This is very serious business and I hope that everyone is keeping safe, keeping social distance and holding strong. I know for some this has already been interminable, but think of the quarantine just as you would taking antibiotics; just because the curve is flattening, or you are feeling better, doesn't mean you should stop pursuing the correct action. Finish the course!
As often is the case during this time of sequester, my next offering -- Grilled Gruyère on Homemade Challah with Tomato Bisque -- has its origins in a request from the lovely and delightful Mrs. Chef Tom. Though I had already been pondering the right bread to bake and was going to make a soup to help warm us during the damp, cool and rainy spring weather we've been having, recent perusal of "The Fallingwater Cookbook" sparked exactly the right comfort food I knew she desired.
A Departure from the Norm
Before I get further into this week's culinary adventure, I think a small disclaimer might be in order. I've heard this any number of times: “Mrs. Chef Tom is so lucky to have a chef for a husband.” While I can't quite bring myself to argue such obvious and unassailable logic, especially when that chef is me, the life of this chef's wife is hardly one of constant fine dining and home-cooked, multi-course dinners. In many cases, especially when Fallingwater is in full swing, I'm tired and unmotivated for a second round of cooking once I've arrived at home. Great meals are more often generated on off-days than work days, on holidays rather than random weekdays. Perhaps even more importantly, as I delve deeper into middle age, I am more conscious of staying a gourmet rather than evolving into gourmand; I am a man of some proportion, but an eye towards lower calorie, more healthful meals becomes more important in maintaining a vaguely healthy weight and lifestyle. A more typical meal at home is simply prepared vegetables, whole grains and a nice grilled piece of salmon, rather than the sheer decadence of butter-laden delights that I offer up here. I suspect these meals spark a bit more interest, if not vicarious enjoyment, than our more modest, but realistic dining.
Comfort Food for a Quarantine
That being said, the challah chosen from The Fallingwater Cookbook is a rich, butter-and-egg laden bread of wondrous texture and flavor. After a small amount of research, I was able to confirm my suspicions: This challah recipe is really more a brioche than challah; the non-traditional addition of butter enriches nearly to the point of being cake, while making it less easily integrated within the kosher tradition. I found the recipe to be quite easy to execute and beautiful to behold upon completion. It really does not get better than a warm slice of this bread (or two) with a schmear of Irish butter and a dollop of our homemade wild strawberry jam. It was worth every moment of production and easily 85 percent of the consumed calories. It also became clear that the planned grilled cheese would be about as wantonly over-the-top a grilled cheese as I could have conjured, for the betterment of palate if not waistline.
The tomato bisque I landed on as the best accoutrement for a perfect grilled cheese is not only a recipe from The Fallingwater Cookbook via my immediate predecessor, but one we have offered many times at the Fallingwater Café. I am not a particular fan of tomato soups (unlike Mrs. Chef Tom, a devotee of the grilled-cheese-and-tomato-soup combo), but this is a soup I really enjoy and has been a favorite of staff and guests alike. This also might be the perfect quarantine soup recipe, malleable and accepting of a wide range of seasoning and ingredients.
If you have basic canned tomato product of any kind – crushed, peeled, whole, pureed, sauce – and a little cream or half and half to bring it all together, you can make a delicious soup. The original recipe calls for fresh dill and herbes de Provence. I had no fresh dill and I do not like herbes de Provence (I am not a fan of floral scents or flavors, and the lavender in it offends both my palate and nose). I opted for the last of my fresh thyme, bolstered by a bit of dry basil and a pinch of thyme, augmenting the onions from the original with a healthy dose of freshly chopped garlic. I can imagine instead, perhaps from your own cupboards, a curry powder, or chipotle or fresh ginger in the sauté; tomatoes are a wonderful blank palette on which to experiment. (I had some concerns, after it was too late, that I might be making some terrible “marinara soup” with my chosen combo of ingredients, but the final, delicious results did not confirm them.) I used tomato products and stock in ratios according to what I had on hand and, rather than regular honey I used fermented garlic honey that I had available for an extra bit of sparkle. I also like to use an immersion or wand blender to make a smoother end result, but that's yet another decision the home cook can make according to taste.
Grilled Gruyère on Homemade Challah with Tomato Bisque
I shan't bore you with the rather mundane detail of making a grilled cheese sandwich, nor revel in the gory details of just how much butter went into this process. Sufficed to say, this pairing hit the spot and then some. One might even say it was dis-comfort food (trademark pending, thank you) as neither of us could actual finish our meal of golden caramelized challah-cum-brioche oozing with melted tangy Gruyère and cream-enriched tomato soup. Afterwards, we retired to our respective resting places to quietly reflect on this meal and wonder “How soon before the gyms open back up?”
Ingredients for Challah
This recipe is adapted from "The Fallingwater Cookbook."
- 1 package dry yeast
- 3/4 C warm water
- 1/2 C sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3 eggs, plus one yolk (save egg white for glaze)
- 1/2 C (4 oz) butter, room temp
- 2 C all-purpose flour, plus an additional 2-2 3/4 C
- 1 Tb sugar for glaze
- In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water with a pinch of sugar. Allow to proof for 10 minutes.
- Put the sugar and butter in mixing bowl (or stand mixer) and beat until smooth.
- Add yeast, eggs and salt, mix well.
- Add 2 C flour and mix well (best done with a dough hook if using a stand mixer), then gradually add more flour (please use a slow setting if using a mixer or flour shall be well distributed throughout your kitchen!) while scraping down the sides often, until the dough comes away from the sides and forms a ball. This dough should neither be sticky nor dry to the touch. The recipe allows for up to 2 3/4 C more flour; when I made the dough, it took but 2 more cups for a total of 4.
- Knead on a floured board for 5-8 minutes, then place in greased bowl and let it rise in a warm spot for 1-2 hours and doubles in size. (My house was running a bit cool that day and it took most of 3 hours, so results and times might vary.)
- Punch down the proofed bread and knead again until elastic, another 5 minutes or so. Divide the dough into thirds, then roll each into a long, round strip. Braid the three strips and tuck in the loose ends.
- Place the braided bread on a greased or parchment-papered cookie sheet, cover loosely with a towel and let it rise a second time, for another 1-2 hours or more.
- Right before baking, brush on the egg white and 1 Tb sugar that have been beaten together.
- Bake in pre-heated 375 degree oven for 35-45 minutes. The bread will be golden brown and sound hollow when tapping the bottom. (Note: Evidently my oven runs a bit hotter than I realized and I ended up with a slightly darker-than-desired loaf, fully baked at a mere 25 minutes. I would advise other home bakers to check and perhaps rotate their loaves 15-20 minutes in to the baking process to keep an eye on the progress.)
- Let cool and enjoy!
Ingredients for Café at Fallingwater Tomato Bisque
This recipe is adapted to sequester from "The Fallingwater Cookbook."
- 4 Tb butter
- 1/2 C or one small, diced onion
- 2 Tb garlic
- 1 Tb fresh thyme, chopped
- 1 Tb dry basil
- 1 tsp harissa
- 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
- 16 oz can tomato sauce
- 16 oz chicken or veggie stock
- 2 Tb honey
- 1 C heavy cream
- ½ C half & half
- Salt, black pepper
- 1/4 to 1/2 tsp Tabasco or other hot sauce, as desired
- In a large soup/sauce pan, sauté onion, garlic, herbs and harissa until soft, about 8 minutes.
- Add tomato products and stock, bring to a simmer and stir occasionally.
- Add honey, cream, half & half, salt and pepper, hot sauce if desired. Blend with immersion blender if available and/or desired.
- This recipe is easily manipulated to taste: Any combo of herbs, spices or seasoning can be used in the initial sauté; different tomato products can be used; one can always use olive oil to sauté; a bouillon cube and water or other appropriate liquid in place of stock; use more or less dairy to taste, etc....a great blueprint on which to build from your own pantry.
I will assume a grilled cheese recipe is unnecessary, but I always toast both sides of the bread in butter at medium heat for maximum golden deliciousness and to allow plenty of time for the cheese to melt. We used Gruyère because we had it, but any number of cheeses can be used: cheddar, other Swiss-style cheese, Gouda, Havarti, etc.
Recommended wine pairing
Enjoy this meal with a light-to-medium bodied red, such as a rosé or red blend.
Continue to stay safe!
"The Fallingwater Cookbook" is available online for purchase in the Fallingwater Museum Store. Did you make these recipes or buy the cookbook? Let us know by sharing your results on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.