The biggest problem that we both have is that the milk curdles. I mean, why does it seem so difficult to us and the rest of the farm ladies just throw it together so easily. They don't even begin with a roux.
One of my favourite on-line sources of recipes is Epicurious.com. They had about 3 pages of recipes but I don't want a fancy city style scalloped potatoes with exotic cheeses. When I was a kid, cheese was not even seldom used, it was never used.
Perhaps I was slicing the potatoes too thickly. The recipes all seem to say 1/8" thick. That is very thinly sliced. And I have seen reference to "drying with a kitchen towel" before assembling.
Take #1 This recipe says not to use a glass dish so I used my adorable little individual cast-iron Le Creuset pots. I love these little cocottes. I use them for roasted vegetables, stews, hot dips...absolutely everything. Makes serving a snap and keeps the food hot.
3/4 t grated nutmeg
2 t salt
¾ t pepper
3 pounds large boiling potatoes (about 6)
3 T unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
2 c half and half cream
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in upper third. Generously butter a 2 1/2-quart shallow baking dish (not glass).
Stir together nutmeg, salt, and pepper.
Peel and thinly slice potatoes. Layer potatoes in baking dish, overlapping slightly and sprinkling each layer with some of salt mixture and some of butter. Pour cream over potatoes, pressing down gently to submerge potatoes in liquid.
Cover with foil and bake until potatoes are tender, 1 to 1 1/4 hours.
Remove gratin from oven and discard foil. Turn broiler on and broil gratin 2 to 3 inches from heat until top is browned in spots, 3 to 5 minutes.
Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
Cooks' note: Potatoes are best the day they're made but can be baked and broiled 2 days ahead and chilled, uncovered, until cool, then covered. Reheat, covered, in a 350°F oven about 40 minutes.
Take #2 Fennel seems to be a common ingredient these days. And, it is readily available, even here in the small town. I like the idea of fennel.
As I read many comments from people who truly make good scalloped potatoes, I still couldn't recognize what I was doing wrong. The most common threads were:
- slice the potatoes evenly
- don't use an oven temperature that is too high. 350F is the maximum that is mostly successful
- use a high fat cream. The higher the fat content, the less protein and the less chance of curdling. I used half and half (10%) in this recipe
- it didn't seem to matter what flavourings you like, onion, fennel, cheese
- don't layer the potatoes too thick. Layer only 3 slices deep.
- only add the milk or cream to just below the surface of the potatoes. Cover tightly with aluminum foil. Remove the foil for the last 20 minutes so the top can brown.
Scalloped Potatoes with Fennel serves 4
1/2 fennel bulb
salt and pepper
1 cup half and half cream
1/4 cup butter, diced
Slice the potatoes and fennel thinly. I used my food processor. Using a gratin pan or shallow casserole, layer the potatoes by overlapping slightly. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add half of the fennel. Add the next layer of potatoes and season with salt and pepper. Add the top layer of potatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the cream into the pan up to about halfway. Top with butter. Bake at 350F for 45-55 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 15-20 minutes.
Critique: These were just about perfect! They did boil over a bit even though I didn't overfill with cream. I guess you really only fill to the halfway mark. Add some cream near the end so they are moister. There was no curdling and the texture was great. The fennel flavour was very mild but 'there'. You could easily substitute with sweet onion. I baked at 325F because I don't trust this oven. I thought better to be too low than too high a temperature.