~ Duchess Potatoes (Pommes de Terre Duchesse) ~
Mashed potatoes are the quintessential American side-dish for the Sunday roast or pot roast and the gravy that comes with it. While there are a lot of ways to prepare potatoes, the ethereal smell of a chicken roasting in the oven or a pot roast simmering on the stovetop compels me to peel potatoes and bring a pot of water to a boil. To us Americans, mashed potatoes are the ultimate comfort food, and duchess potatoes, a fancy French-named mashed potato dish made of piped egg-laced mashed potatoes which are baked to a beautiful golden brown, is an impressive-to-look at, easy way to dress them up in their Sunday best. They're just so pretty.
Potatoes are not native to North America. The first potatoes arrived in the colonies in 1621 when the Governor of Bermuda, Nathaniel Butler, sent two large cedar chests containing what historians believe to be yams and/or sweet potatoes to Governor Francis Wyatt of Virginia at Jamestown. It wasn't until 1718, when the Reverend James McGregor and his Scotch-Irish immigrants arrived in New Hampshire with sacks of potato seed that the first white potatoes, of the type we now use to make mashed potatoes, got planted on American soil. Idaho planted its first potatoes in 1838 and by 1900, their yearly production was exceeding one million bushels.
It's all in the name & the French are famous for fancy names.
"Pomme" is the French word for "apple", "de" means "from", and, "terre" is the word for "earth". "Duchesse" means "duchess", a woman monarch and/or member of nobility (a "duc" is a duke or a male of the same social status). The word "pomme" used to mean "excellent fruit" in Old French. In Old France, associating another food with a "pomme" was a huge complement, as apples were considered to be nature's perfect fruit. "An apple from the earth", or "earth apple", the name the French bestowed upon the potato, is indeed a potato dish worthy of a duchesse:
In 1748, potatoes were banned by the French government because it was believed they caused leprosy and death. Then, in 1756, war broke out between France and Great Britain. During The Seven Years War, as it is referred to, a medical officer by the name of Antoine-Augustine Parmentier was given nothing but a diet of potatoes to eat in a prisoner-of-war camp. Because he did not die, after the war, Parmentier dedicated the better part of his life to changing the minds of government officials regarding potatoes. In 1772, potatoes were finally declared edible for humans and it became legal to cultivate them. Parmentier began hosting dinner parties and serving potatoes to dignitaries like King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette. Potatoes soon became very trendy in French social circles, which is where our own Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson enjoyed them served in creative ways and in fancy French style.
Duchess Potatoes: Crispy outside, light & airy inside.
Beside their elegant, swirled presentation, it's the textural variation that makes this dish a real exercise in deliciousness -- baking them until golden gives them a crispy outside which protects their delicate centers. That said, the preparation of the mashed potatoes for this dish does vary from that of run-of-the-mill bowl-served mashed potatoes. The mixture contains very little cream or milk, but, it contains plenty of egg and/or yolks which gives them the ability to bake up fluffy.
How long they bake is determined by the size of the piped potatoes and the desired degree of golden color, which is at the discretion of the cook. My favorite seasonings are sea salt, white pepper, and sometimes a pinch of nutmeg. I often add grated white cheddar cheese too (my family loves it), which pairs really well with my holiday prime rib roast. While my favorite method of baking is to pipe them directly onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, when I'm looking to serve larger portions, usually for my roasted turkey day feast, I pipe them into one-cup sized ramekins. There's more. Duchess potatoes can be piped and refrigerated overnight prior to baking them, which is convenient when entertaining during busy holidays or for special occasions.
2 1/2-2 3/4 pounds peeled, rinsed, then cut into 1" chunks, gold potatoes
1 tablespoon salt, for seasoning water
2 ounces butter, at room temperature (1/2 stick)
2 jumbo eggs, at room temperature, lightly-beaten
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
8 ounces store-bought, pre-grated sharp white cheddar cheese, at room temperature
1/2-3/4 cup heavy or whipping cream, added at the very end, just enough to achieve a very-fine-grained to smooth consistency
~ Step 1. Place potatoes in a stockpot, cover with cold water, season with salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Adjust to a simmer and continue to cook, until fork-tender and fully-cooked, meaning: cooked through to their centers without falling apart, 9-10 minutes.
Note: This timing is going to vary depending upon the size you have chunked your potatoes.
~ Step 2. Drain potatoes into a colander. Immediately return the hot potatoes to the still hot stockpot and return the pot to the still warm stovetop. Add the butter and cheese. Give the mixture a stir and cover the pot, until the butter has melted, about 5 minutes.
~ Step 4. Using a hand-held vegetable masher, mash the potatoes, adding cream, in 2-3 increments, until a fine-grained to smooth consistency is reached. Texture is important because they need to flow cleanly through the pastry bag. Note: These aren't your typical mashed potatoes. They are going to seem thick and heavy, but, the eggs are going to make them cook up light and airy.
Proceed to pipe potatoes in 2 1/2" rounds, about 20 on one pan and 16-20 on the other. One-pan-at-a time, bake in preheated oven for 35-40 minutes until golden.
Pipe potatoes in 2 1/2" rounds onto baking pans:
Special Equipment List: cutting board; vegetable peeler; chef's knife; wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot; colander; hand-held vegetable/potato masher; 1-cup measuring container; fork; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper
Cook's Note: It's hard to imagine the food world without traditionally-made creamy and comforting mashed potatoes in it. To learn all I know about making great mashed potatoes, click into Category 4, 11, 15, 18 or 19 and read my post: ~ Basic Machinations for Mashed Potato Perfection ~.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)