Happy September, friends. It’s been weeks since I’ve been in touch, but I’ve been thinking about you and all of the stories I want to share with you.
The month of August was a busy and nostalgic one for me. My husband and I moved out of our apartment on the 31st, inspiring us to revisit and re-evaluate all of our “stuff” as we dug it up and decided whether it would make the journey to our new apartment.
Among this “stuff” were two pounds of pork liver, resting patiently in my freezer alongside a bag of pork fatback and another bag of pork loin. They were left over from a particular recipe I’d planned to share with you almost a year and a half prior: a meaty pork and pork-liver pâté baked in brioche dough. I’d taken photos and everything—only I let season after season slip on by without ever posting the recipe.
To give you a little backstory, I’m a huge appreciator of old, lengthy recipes. I like recipes that I can really get into—especially ones that take me to another time or place. This particular recipe is from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume Two. It’s one of my favorite books to cook from because the dishes feel so different from anything I would normally put on my weeknight dinner table. Its recipes are a time capsule of 1960’s French cooking and entertaining, where you and your guests could easily spend as much time enjoying your fancy meal as you did preparing it. It’s a romantic idea that I find both fascinating and comforting—so if I’m in the mood to slow down and celebrate a little, there’s a good chance I’ll be cooking from one of Julia Child and Simone Beck’s encyclopedias.
There was snowy weekend in March of 2015 where I felt this urge to slow down. I wanted to escape to 1960’s Paris by way of a meal, so I decided on this pâté. I went to my kick-ass butcher and asked for pork liver, pork fatback and pork loin.
“How much liver,” he asked?
I knew I needed a pound, but since I’d made the trek already, I might as well get a little extra. I figured a whole pork liver was a little over a pound, leaving me just enough for a small portion of liver and onions.
“The whole liver,” I finally answered.
He nodded his head and disappeared for a moment. He came back with a wobbly bag and plopped it on the scale, which read 4 1/2 pounds.
I couldn’t bring myself to back down from the entire liver, so I proceeded to order too much pork loin and too much fatback. I took it all home and photographed the liver next to a giant lemon, for scale. I separated the liver into four pieces. Three went straight to the freezer, and the other got used up that weekend for Julia Child and Simone Beck’s pâté.
It’s not every day that I get a hankering for pork liver, which is why half of it was still in my freezer over a year later. There was no way I was going to move all of that pork offal to my husband’s and my new apartment, so I made it a priority to revisit this recipe, take a few extra photos, and share it with you.
Most of the photos you see below are from March of 2015.
Prepare the Brioche Dough
Roll out the Dough, Prepare the Filling, Bake & Chill
The brioche is buttery and airy. The filling is meaty and dense, and tastes like a flavorful batch of sausage. The flavor of the pork liver doesn’t come through much at all, but it imparts an extra dimension of meatiness.
A quick note on timing: If you’re looking to serve the pâté for Sunday Dinner, you should ideally start the brioche dough on Friday night after work. The dough takes about 6 or 7 hours to rise (which you can certainly “stall” by placing it in the fridge—see note on rising). The filling, assembly and final rising takes about another 2 hours. You’ll need an hour to bake, another 3-4 hours to cool, followed by 12 hours in the refrigerator to set and chill the filling.
You can also wake up early on Saturday morning and knock it all out in a day. You’d really have to love spending the day cooking at home—but it’s absolutely possible. By Sunday morning, the pâté in brioche will be ready to slice and serve.
I know it’s a huge commitment, but if you like experimenting and you’re in the mood to travel without traveling, you’re going to like this recipe. It’s a delicious excuse to slow down and explore a dish from over 50 years ago.
This recipe transforms three cuts of pork into a meaty, flavorful pâté filling for a rich brioche dough. It’s not the most “modern” recipe, but it’s unique and a lot of fun to make—especially if you like working with your hands. The entire dish does require about a day and a half of mostly inactive time (see note on timing), so plan ahead if you’re looking to make this for a special event.
As for serving, slice it like a cake and serve it with something fresh like a green salad. If you’re thinking of throwing a classy French party, make it the centerpiece for a spread of hors d’oeuvres like olives, pickles, deviled eggs, nuts, cheeses and salami. If instead, you’re looking for something a little more casual, toast a slice of it in a frying pan with melted butter and dip it in a pool of cold ketchup. It couldn’t be less French, but a little heat from the pan makes it taste like a flavorful burger on a toasted potato bun. It’s my favorite way to eat this pâté.
Pork and Pork-liver Pâté Baked in Brioche Dough
methods and tools adapted from:
Pâté de Foie et de Porc en Brioche —From Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume Two by Julia Child & Simone Beck (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1970)
1 Recipe Pain Brioché Dough (see below)
8 ounces fresh pork fatback
8 ounces lean fresh pork (i.e., from the shoulder or loin)
1 lb pork liver
2 cups minced onions
1/4 cup dry bread crumbs
3 tbsp heavy cream
1 tbsp Cognac (you can also substitute scotch or brandy)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 medium clove of garlic, grated
unsalted butter, for greasing the pan
cold water, for adhering the dough
2 tsp Kosher salt
1 tsp épices fines
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
meat grinder or food processor
stand mixer (useful, but optional)
8-inch springform pan
rimmed baking sheet
2-inch metal “chimney” (i.e., metal tip from a pastry bag)
Pain Brioché Dough
methods and tools adapted from:
Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume Two by Julia Child & Simone Beck (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1970)
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the countertop
4 eggs, at room temperature
1 stick cold unsalted butter
1 1/4-oz package active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water, in a liquid measuring cup
1/4 cup tepid milk
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp Kosher salt
large mixing bowl, preferably with straighter sides (helps to monitor the volume of dough as it rises)
small piece of masking tape
Prepare the Pain Brioché Dough
- Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and allow it to sit and dissolve for about 5 minutes.
- Once dissolved, stir the sugar, tepid milk and salt into the mixture.
- Place the flour into a large mixing bowl and form a well in the center.
- Crack the eggs and pour the yeast mixture into the well. Using a rubber spatula, cut and stir the eggs and yeast mixture into the flour to create a shaggy, sticky mass of dough.
- Turn the dough out of the bowl onto a lightly floured countertop and allow it to rest for 2-3 minutes.
- Meanwhile, wash the mixing bowl to keep it from caking with dry flour. You’ll need it again for step 14.
- Begin kneading the dough by “lifting, folding, slapping, and pushing [the dough] with the heel of your hand.”¹
- Lift: use your bench scraper to lift the edge of dough closest to your body.
- Fold: grab the edge of dough and fold it away from your body onto the other side.
- Slap: pick up the folded ball of dough and slap it on the counter.
- Repeat for about 2-3 minutes, or until the dough begins to hold together. It should still be quite sticky, but if it feels abnormally so, sprinkle a bit of flour over the dough.
- Push: choose one hand for blending the dough (I use my left), and one for gathering the dough (my right). Using the heel of your “blending” hand, push the dough away from your body. With your “gathering” hand, use a bench scraper to slide the mixture back toward your body. Repeat until the dough elasticizes and begins to clean itself off of the counter. At this point, you should be able to “blend” and “gather” the dough with just one hand. It will be much more smooth than when you started.
- Unwrap the cold butter and place it on the same work surface. Place the wrapper over the butter (to prevent sticking) and begin beating it with a rolling pin.
- Using a bench scraper or your “blending” hand, smear the butter into a cold, workable spread. The goal is to make the butter soft and spreadable without warming it.
- Begin blending the butter into the dough 1 tablespoon or so at a time, using the same method above of “blending” and “gathering”. The dough will tear and separate into a sticky mess at first, but it will smooth out and elasticize as you work.
- Once you have worked in all of the butter, allow the dough to rest for 2-3 minutes.
- Continue working the dough until it’s springy and supple enough to “blend” and “gather” with just one hand. If the dough seems unusually sticky, sprinkle it with a bit of flour and continue working it until it cleans itself off of the counter.
Prepare the Dough for its First Rising (3-4 hours)
- The dough will need to rise 3 1/2 times in volume, totaling 10 1/2 cups of risen dough. Make a guideline on your mixing bowl by filling it with 10 1/2 cups of lukewarm water, followed by marking it off with a small piece of masking tape. Drain the bowl and dry it out.
- Working clockwise, turn the edges of the dough in toward the center to create an even ball. Place the ball seam side down into your mixing bowl . Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel.
- Allow the dough to rise until it reaches the 10 1/2-cup line, about 3-4 hours.
Prepare the Dough for its Second Rising (1 1/2-2 hours)
- Using a rubber spatula (or your fingers), turn the dough out of the bowl onto a lightly floured countertop.
- Spread a little flour on your fingertips and use them to gently press the dough into a 10-12-inch rectangle. Fold the dough in 3’s—as if you were folding a business letter (right side toward the center, left side over top).
- Press out the dough one more time, and fold it like a business letter once more. You should be left with a square shape.
- Place the dough seam side down into your mixing bowl . Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel. Allow the dough to rise until it dips right below the 10 1/2-cup line, about 1/2-2 hours.
A quick note on rising: once the dough has risen for a second time, you can either proceed immediately with the rest of the recipe, or you can place the dough in the refrigerator and finish out the recipe tomorrow.
Either way, turn the dough out of the bowl onto a lightly floured countertop and form the dough into even ball by turning the edges of the dough in toward the center.
- If using right away, set the dough aside and cover loosely with plastic wrap.
- If using tomorrow, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Once refrigerated, the dough will need about 3-4 hours to come to room temperature (which it will need to be) for the following steps.
Prepare the Filling
- Place the fatback, pork and pork liver in the freezer 30 minutes before grinding them.
- Cut the fatback into 1/2-inch to 1-inch cubes. Grind it using a meat grinder or food processor. Place the ground fat in a container and refrigerate until ready to use. Repeat for the pork and pork liver, taking care to refrigerate them separately.
- In a large frying pan, melt 1/2 of the ground fatback over low heat. Place the other half into the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large mixing bowl, if you plan to mix the filling by hand).
- Add the onions to the pan and sauté gently for 15 minutes, until they are fragrant and translucent.
- Add the ground pork to the pan and cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring and mashing frequently.
- Add the ground liver to the pan and cook, stirring frequently, until it is brown and no longer reddish and shiny. This should take about 5-6 minutes.
- Meanwhile, mash and soak the breadcrumbs in the heavy cream and cognac.
- Add the hot meat mixture, soaked breadcrumb mixture, grated garlic, Kosher salt, épices fines and ground white pepper into the same bowl as the remaining pork fatback. Beat the ingredients together until uniform.
Assemble & Rise
- On a lightly floured countertop, roll 1/4 of the dough into a circle the size of your pan. Refrigerate on a lightly floured parchment-lined baking sheet until ready to use.
- Roll the remaining dough into a circle about 15″-16″ in diameter and 1/4″ thick. Grease the springform pan with a bit of butter and carefully place the dough inside. Gently wiggle the dough around to ensure that it’s snug to the pan.
- Meanwhile, remove the chilled dough circle from the refrigerator. Cut a small circle in the center that will fit the narrower end of your metal “chimney”.
- Spoon the meat mixture into the pan, taking care to smooth out the top of the filling.
- Fold the overhanging dough in over the filling. Brush the top of the dough with cold water and place the chilled dough circle on top. Press down to seal the edges.
- Place the “chimney” in the small vent hole of the dough and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rise for about 1 hour, or until the dough rises above the edge of the cake pan.
- Arrange oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat oven to 425°.
- Remove the plastic wrap from the pâté in brioche. Brush the top of the dough with the beaten egg. Allow it to set for a minute, then brush it again.
- Using a pair of scissors, make several diagonal cuts radiating from the center of circle (mine has 7).
- Place the cake pan on a baking sheet and bake for 18-20 minutes, until the brioche has risen and begun to brown. Rotate the pan to ensure even cooking.
- Lower the oven temperature to 350° and bake for an additional 40 minutes.
- The brioche is ready when the center of the meat filling is bubbling and sizzling at a temperature of 160-165° (you can confirm this by probing your thermometer right through the metal “chimney”).
- Remove the pâté in brioche from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool. After 30 minutes, remove the metal ring from the springform pan to allow the brioche to cool completely.
- Once cool, wrap the brioche in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours to allow the pâté to set.
- To serve, remove the metal “chimney” from the brioche and slice it like a cake.
1. Julia Child & Simone Beck, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume Two (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1970), 83.