It was pretty much three years ago today that I read an article in the food section of Austrian newspaper "der standard" ... a restaurant review that would change our breakfast habits forever.
Most of the reviews back then were written by Florian Holzer - he may be a grumpy old sod from time to time, but his reviews were not only spot on 99% of times, more often than not they were also great fun to read. And something else kept me coming backL There's something funny about the Germanic countries, which I observe on food blogs as well: people can be very harsh with their criticism and part of the fun with reading the food column in said newspaper was the mudslinging that would ensue after pretty much every of FH's reviews. The virtual rotten eggs regular readers used to throw at him and each other after pretty much every one of his articles was a secret pleasure to behold and I spent many hours caught the firing line, observing insult after insult being published, some so bad that they would make me gasp. Now the most controversial critic of all times has sadly left the paper and his successor is not really able to fill his shoes, which wouldn't be too bad if he only lacked the humour, but his reviews are just too tame for my liking and I get the feeling that his judgement can't really be trusted. But that's beside the point.
I don't remember which establishment Mr. Holzer reviewed that fine morning, but he highlighted the fact that Austrian cafes, great institutions of Austrian coffee drinking traditions as they may be, usually make a mean breakfast, but most of them don't know what oeufs cocotte are. Now, back then, I didn't have a clue either... You see, in Austria, the translation for this much-loved breakfast treat is "Ei im Glas", or "egg in the glass" or rather ramekin. But most cafes take this literally to mean a soft-boiled egg served in a water glass - which is a disgrace, I now agree. Reading the article, I started some research, as you do, and came across the real definition of oeuf cocotte and a few loose recipes as well, and a new breakfast star was born... Florian Holzer derserving all the credit, of course.
Much as my husband complains that no matter how much he likes it, he never gets to eat a dish twice since I started my food blog, there are a few treats which feature regularly on our menu. For pure indulgence, nothing beats an oeuf cocotte, or baked egg. Not only are they incredibly easy to make, they can also be varied a lot. I make them simply with cream and parmesan some times, then again with tomatoes and chorizo, or with creamy mushrooms or with fresh truffles when I've got some at hand... they are a perfect treat for a Sunday morning, the sort of thing where I can easily forget the pains of getting up. Yeah, you guessed it - to say that I am not a morning person would be an understatement, I am one of the grumpiest people around at the start of the day. And if I do make the effort to venture out of bed, the breakfast better be pretty darn good!
Ham & shitake oeufs cocotte
6 shitake mushrooms
1 sprig thyme
1 tsp olive or groundnut oil
9 tbsp single or sour cream
70 g wafer-thin roast ham (eg Brunswick)
2 tbsp grated cheese (eg Comté or Gruyère)
crushed black pepper
3 ramekins (buttered)
Brush or wipe clean the shitake mushrooms and slice them roughly.
Fry them in the oil with the leaves of half the thyme sprig. Slice the
ham thinly. Spoon 1 tbsp of cream into each of the ramekin dishes, top
with the mushrooms and some ham, add another spoonful each of the cream
and some cheese, then carefully beak in the egg. Arrange the rest of
the ham around the egg yolk, then pour over the remaining cream, taking
care not to cover the yolk.
Put into the oven at 150 C for about 12 minutes until the egg whites have set, but the yolks are still runny. Sprinkle with pepper and decorate with a few of the remaining thyme leaves.
Serve immediately with come crisp toast on the side.