[I've updated my technique for making perfect soft-boiled eggs here. ~ Margy 10-05-12.]
We've been duped.
A few years ago, we thought we had found the perfect little bakery-restaurant for breakfast in New York: excellent coffees, dark hot chocolates, shatteringly crisp croissants, perfect soft-boiled eggs. It became part of our routine, and our breakfasts there were always an auspicious way to start our days of walking and sightseeing.
But it turns out that our ideal breakfast spot is not the independent corner bakery that we thought we had so cleverly discovered. No, it turns out that it is in fact an international chain, Le Pain Quotidien. Sigh.
It was a letdown at first, to be sure. As Olivia said, "I liked it better when it was somewhere special that we went only when we were in New York."
But now I'm getting used to the idea. A few have opened in the D.C. area, in Georgetown, Bethesda, and Alexandria. It's been convenient to have them closer to home and the quality is still excellent. It makes the world a smaller place, too, to know that from Mexico to India and Australia to Abu Dhabi, children are stirring that dark chocolate into steamed milk and cracking open a soft boiled egg.
Also, I owe PQ a debt of gratitude for getting my children hooked on soft-boiled eggs. They love dipping their strips of toast into the soft yolk, and it's a quick enough breakfast to make that they can have them before school.
It also has gotten me to continue my obsession with making perfect eggs. A perfect soft-boiled egg should have a firm white but a soft, runny yolk. As we have tried to master the perfect egg at home, we have eaten many hard boiled eggs that we had hoped would be soft and even the occasional way-too-soft-egg with a white that was still runny. Blech.
The timing is tricky. Some recipes say to boil them for a certain number of minutes, but it's always been unclear to me when you begin timing. Is it from the time the first bubbles appear or sometime after that? And dropping an egg into already boiling water invariable results in a cracked shell with some of the white leaking out in an unappealing way.
If PQ can churn out millions of perfect eggs around the world, surely I should be able to make one in my kitchen.
The key, I think, is to watch the water as it begins to boil. (Forget everything you've ever heard about watched pots.) Ignore the tiny bubbles that cling to the eggs almost as soon as you turn on the heat and, instead, look for larger bubbles begin to bubble up from the bottom of the pot. That's when to begin timing.
Not quite yet
I don't know how PQ does it without a cadre of pot watchers, but maybe someday I'll find out. In the meantime, we're having perfect eggs, every time. Now I'm wondering whether we could throw in some natural dyes to color the outside of the eggs for Easter. . .
Since I wrote this post, I discovered (thanks to one of my clever readers) an even easier way to make perfect soft boiled eggs. Read about it here.
About 10 minutes cooking and preparation time
5 large eggs
3 pieces sliced bread
butter for the toast
salt and pepper to taste
Place eggs in a pot of water deep enough to submerge the eggs. Put the pot over high heat. Once small bubbles appear, clinging to the eggs and the side of the pot, watch the pot carefully. As soon as a larger bubble -- about the size of a pea -- bubbles up from the bottom of the pot, set the timer for 4 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium. The water should continue to boil, but not violently.
Stay in the kitchen. Make the toast, butter it, and slice it into long strips. When the timer goes off, remove the eggs from the heat and run them under cold water for a few seconds. Serve immediately.
To crack the eggs open, use a spoon to crack the shell all the way around the circumference of the egg about one-third down from the top (how many degrees latitude would that be?). Use the spoon to lift off the top. Scoop the egg out of the top, season it, and eat it. Salt and pepper the remaining egg, dip strips of toast into the egg yolk, and then scoop out the rest of the egg with a spoon.