I love baked eggs, no matter the season! –SB
From left: LUXE AND LUSCIOUS | Eggs en cocotte with herbs and cream; OR HEARTY AND HEALING | Garlic potage with egg-in-a-basket. Ryan Liebe for The Wall Street Journal, Food Styling by Jamie Kimm, Prop Styling by DSM
POISED BETWEEN austere February and muddy, mild April, March demands the same kind of cooking it does clothing: something that straddles the seasons, warming and fortifying while anticipating the new and the green. It’s an ideal moment for oeufs en cocotte à la crème—otherwise known as eggs baked in cream.
They sound swanky, but eggs en cocotte (also called shirred eggs) have been a classic since the days of Escoffier for a reason: They’re dead easy to throw together. Just crack a few eggs into buttered ramekins, pour on a drizzle of cream and, if you fancy a little color, finish with a sprinkle of fresh herbs (I like tarragon, sage and thyme). Then plunge the ramekins into a pan of boiling water to make a bain-marie, and pop them into the oven. This method will unfailingly produce creamy whites and luscious, sunshiny yolks full of the promise of spring.
As with most matters egg-related, timing is all: Perfect eggs en cocotte should strike that elusive balance between opaque whites and yielding yolks. The key is to pull them from their bath the moment they appear done and devour them urgently, before they can cool.
Once you grasp the method, there’s no end to the potential improvisations. Follow in the footsteps of Elizabeth David by lining your ramekins with a bed of cooked asparagus. Or if it’s true luxe you’re after, take a cue from James Beard, who ups the ante with shallots and seared duck livers.
“ It’s uncomplicated but hardly meager, and blessed with lots of soothing, molten bits to sop up. ”
Still, for my money, there’s nothing quite as elementally elegant as the basic version. While pretty enough to serve as a meal for company, with a baton of toasted bread it’s a singleton’s ultimate one-dish repast, uncomplicated but hardly meager, and blessed with lots of soothing, molten bits to sop up when no one else is looking.
In the past few weeks, trapped in what’s felt like an endless loop of snow and sore throats, I’ve not only found myself craving eggs en cocotte again and again, but recalling another breakfast of my youth: that raft of crusty toast with a soft egg set into its center known as egg-in-a-basket, toad-in-a-hole or one-eyed-jack.
When I was little, my grandma served it to me under the moniker Egyptian eggs. I have no idea why and can only offer its vague resemblance to the Eye of Horus as a possible reason. I loved it as a kid, yet it hadn’t occurred to me to make it in ages—until recently, that is, when a chilly Saturday, a head cold and a leftover pot of garlic soup gave me an unexpected flash of inspiration.
The soup in question was a plain but pungent potage of immune-boosting roasted garlic and creamy potatoes I’d adapted from Anna Thomas’s wonderful 2009 book, “Love Soup.” The morning after, with some almost-April sunshine peeking through the windows, I had to wonder what it might become with a little embellishment. Ms. Thomas suggested serving it with petite garlic crostini, but I found my mind wandering back to those Egyptian eggs and also the hearty broiled toasts that anchor French onion soup.
And so, out of the cupboard came a little gratin dish. Into the dish went a puddle of chunky soup and a slab of sourdough, drizzled with olive oil and punctured in the center with a hole just the right size to crack an egg into, which I did. Then it was off to the broiler with the lot.
Five minutes later, the dish was sitting in front of me, forged by fire into a blistered, aromatic whole, and dusted with smoked paprika. I’m still not sure what to call it—not a soup, not a stew, not eggs en cocotte or Egyptian, just a breakfast I’d happily curl up with every morning until the thaw.
Eggs en Cocotte With Herbs and Cream
Total Time: 20 minutes Serves: 4
2 tablespoons butter
8 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Place a kettle full of water on the stove and bring to a boil.
2. Place four 8-ounce ovenproof ramekins in a large baking pan. Divide butter evenly among ramekins. Crack 2 eggs into each ramekin, then spoon 2 tablespoons cream overtop. Combine herbs, divide evenly and sprinkle over ramekins. Season each ramekin with ¼ tablespoon salt and pepper to taste.
3. Arrange ramekins in a deep baking pan, then pour boiling water into pan so it comes halfway up sides of ramekins. Place pan in oven and bake until egg whites are set but creamy, 12-15 minutes.
Garlic Potage With Egg-in-a-Basket
Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes Serves: 4
2 heads garlic, papery outer husks removed and ¼ inch sliced off top of each head
6 teaspoons olive oil
5 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, cubed (about 2 cups)
3 cups vegetable stock
1 sprig thyme
1 bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Four ½ -inch-thick slices country white or sourdough bread
Smoked paprika, for garnish
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Drizzle garlic heads with 2 teaspoons olive oil, then wrap loosely in aluminum foil and place in oven. Roast until flesh yields when pressed, about 50 minutes. Remove from oven, unwrap and let cool.
2. In a large, lidded pot over medium-high heat, combine potatoes, stock, thyme and bay leaf. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until potatoes are fork tender, about 20 minutes. Discard thyme and bay leaf. Squeeze cooled garlic cloves from their skins and add to pot. Using an immersion blender, pulse potato-garlic mixture until it’s creamy but still has plenty of chunks, 5-10 seconds. (Alternately, soup can be poured carefully into a blender or food processor.) Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Turn on broiler. Ladle potato-garlic mixture into four wide, shallow oven-proof bowls. Poke a hole 1½ inches in diameter into center of each bread slice, drizzle with 1 teaspoon olive oil, then place one slice on top of each bowl. Crack an egg into each hole. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Place bowls under broiler and cook until whites are set but yolks are still soft, about 4 minutes. Remove from oven. Sprinkle each serving with a pinch of paprika.