Kitchen accident unveils new cult egg dish

Special to The Globe and Mail

Molten eggs have become a modern-day short-hand for delicious; a nod to both wholesomeness and pure sensual pleasure. It’s no wonder the cover of Yotam Ottolenghi’s must-have cookbook Jerusalem features four glistening golden egg yolks in reflective pools of barely cooked whites, and why superstar food writer Michael Ruhlman’s new book is dedicated to eggs. Chefs, home cooks and greasy-spoon-lovers alike are endlessly enamoured by the novelty and nostalgia of the sunny, runny, oozy egg.

The most famous egg dish in the culinary world is the L’Arpège egg. Created by Chef Alain Passard 25 years ago, the “hot-cold egg” is still being served as an amuse-bouche at his Michelin-star restaurant L’Arpège in central Paris. The golden yolk, poached inside its own delicately decapitated shell, is enriched with a dollop of crème fraiche whipped with sherry vinegar and finished with a drizzle of maple syrup.

Itself a take on oeuf à la coque, this dish continues to be reverse-engineered and reinterpreted around the world. Devotees include Josef Centeno, one of Los Angeles’s most influential chefs, and Mark Best, owner of Marque, a top fine-dining spot in Sydney, Australia. The recipe, which is Google-able, was published in Patricia Wells’s The Paris Cookbook and takes up an entire chapter in trailblazing California Chef David Kinch’s new cookbook, Manresa: An Edible Reflection. You might say it’s the thing for which the term “signature dish” was created. You might also say it’s a reminder that in the world of food, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

It was only a matter of time before another soft-cooked number achieved cult status. The idea for the Rebel Within – a runny-yolked egg baked inside a savoury cake – came via one of those happy kitchen accidents. About five years ago, William Werner, co-owner of the San Francisco patisserie Craftsman & Wolves, was running a pop-up stall at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. He asked an intern to hard-boil some eggs while he filled moulds with stiff batter studded with asiago cheese, sausage and green onions. “The eggs came out undercooked but we baked them off anyway and cut into the cake and the yolk was still kind of runny,” says Werner. “That was the aha moment.”

When Jo-Ann Laverty, the chef and co-owner of Ottawa’s Red Apron food shop, visited California on a research trip in January, the Rebel Within was on her hit list. When she cut it open – as instructed – she swooned as its melting heart of gold was revealed. “I thought it was brilliant,” she says, “I loved the wonder of figuring out how you could bake a muffin without cooking the egg inside too much.”

She began experimenting with her steam-injecting oven, working on the timing and combination of ingredients. She customized the recipe by using a cornbread muffin batter and added sharp cheddar, chives and chopped bacon. Eating it is reminiscent of the best of the sunny-side-up breakfast sandwich crossed with the ultimate moist buttery muffin. In a word: irresistible. It took about two months and at least four test batches before Laverty landed on the “sweet spot” of doneness to achieve the supremely soft interior. “You can’t use a toothpick to test it because you’d pierce the egg,” she says.

Chefs always experiment with concepts gleaned from other chefs (just look at the Cronut fad). Laverty argues, though, that the inventors of truly novel ideas deserve recognition. She credits Chef Werner and even sent him a message to let him know about what she’d come up with. “I wanted to tell him that we were so inspired by what he was doing. I wanted him to feel it was a compliment to what he created.”

Laverty and her staff had fun brainstorming names for their version of the Rebel, eventually landing on the bilingual pun: M’oeuf-in. It is available in her shop this week and by pre-order by the half-dozen until Saturday. While the M’oeuf-in is scheduled to disappear after Easter, the Rebel Within remains a signature dish at Werner’s shop. He sells about 200 of them every weekend and limited quantities means it’s often sold out by 11 a.m. “I like the idea that we’re making something that people want to recreate,” says Werner. “And I love the name M’oeuf-in – it’s awesome.”