Posts tagged French

choux pastry + chouquettes

Choux pastry is so named because a patissier in the 18th century created little buns from the dough, and they were shaped like cabbages, choux meaning cabbage in French.  Choux pastry is one of the last frontiers of pastry/dough-making for me, after having tackled macaron and meringue.  This egg-enriched dough is used for, among other things: profiteroles (cream puffs), eclairs, churros, beignets, and French crullers.  Also, chouquettes (“little cabbages”), which are choux pastry balls sprinkled with pearl sugar, a special kind of large-grained sugar found mostly in Europe.

Unfortunately (?) all of my chouquettes puffed, which I suppose is really a good thing, since I was making choux pastry after all.  I was expecting something a bit flatter and denser, but I won’t complain.  Since I saw that the crushed sugar cubes I was using weren’t adhering well enough, I chose to omit the sugar on most batches and fill the remaining ones with salted caramel sauce, or serve them plain.  No one complained.

choux pastry

This makes a huge amount of chouquettes or profiteroles, so, feel free to halve the recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 6 tbsp. sugar
  • 3 c. water
  • 3 c. flour
  • 1 dozen eggs
  • pearl sugar

Directions:

  1. In a medium saucepan, bring butter, sugar, salt, and water to a simmer.  Add flour and stir until combined.  Cook until the dough forms a ball and pulls away from the sides of the saucepan.
  2. Let cool about 5 minutes.
  3. Add eggs, one at a time, stirring to incorporate between each addition.  The dough is fairly thick and sticky, so this will take a little muscle.
  4. At this stage, you may use the pastry immediately, or even let rest overnight – the dough I let rest overnight puffed, and then fell, so if using for chouquettes, this is desirable, less so for profiteroles.
  5. Preheat the oven to 400.  Pipe small rounds or bars onto parchment-covered baking sheets.  Sprinkle with pearl sugar for chouquettes.  Cook 13 minutes, then open the oven door, and cook a further 5-7 minutes, or until lightly golden brown on top.
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chocolate macaron with two fillings

When I first began learning how to seriously cook, the place I started that set me off on the road to culinary exploration, was what you might call standard, traditional American cooking, perhaps with a Southern bent.  Macaroni and cheese, meatloaf, casseroles, biscuits, mashed potatoes, baconated green beans, etc.  I soon branched out into both nouvelle-American and vintage-style-nouvelle-American cuisine, thanks both to the cookbooks I had begun to accumulate (I have a particular interest in vintage ones) and to the Food Network, which I had begun to watch with some enthusiasm.

Around that same time, I started working at a place that offered Italian cooking classes, presided over by genuine Italian chefs, and I developed more than a passing interest in international cuisine.  Shortly thereafter, I started to explore the development of cuisine in other countries: Ancient Egypt, the American South.  Interested by the stereotype of British cuisine being dull, and yet finding that it was largely responsible for inspiring the traditional foods of America, I found myself sort of charmed by British traditions.  Being partially of Scots-Irish descent encouraged me to think of it as sort of discovering my roots.

This phase lasted for a few years, even after I had picked up my first Julia Child cookbook and had become enthralled by the simplicity of French traditional cooking.  In recent months, perusing blogs by those living in France and acquiring Julia Child’s first volume of French cookery, I have found myself developing into a full-blown Francophile.  I suppose I’m coming late to the scene of French obsession, and a very late comer to the world of the macaron, which has taken the culinary landscape quite by storm this last year or so.

I’d never actually had a Parisian macaron before attempting these myself, so I didn’t know what they were supposed to be like, but I quite enjoyed them.  I looked at a multitude of recipes before coming to the version I ultimately created.  Because it’s a fairly fussy recipe, I opted to give out weights rather than measures for most of the ingredients.  Also note, because I folded in the cocoa powder after the batter was complete, and I believe I over-folded, next time I would probably choose to sift the cocoa powder in with the powdered sugar.

chocolate macaron with two fillings (makes 40-80 depending on size)

Ingredients:

  • 6 egg whites
  • 100 g granulated sugar
  • 400 g powdered sugar
  • 220 g ground almonds
  • 2 tbsp. cocoa powder

Directions:

  1. Place the egg whites in a microwavable bowl, and microwave 30 seconds on medium power.  This will dry them out slightly, so there is no danger of excess moisture in the macaron recipe.  Or, you could leave your egg whites out around 48 hours to age them sufficiently.
  2. Pulse powdered sugar, ground almonds, and cocoa powder in a good processor to combine.
  3. In a stand mixer, whip the egg whites until foamy.  Then, gradually add granulated sugar until stiff peaks form, about 3-4 minutes on medium-high speed.
  4. Add powdered sugar mix to meringue and fold relatively quickly until dry ingredients are combined.  Batter is done when it ribbons down from your spatula and combines smoothly with the batter in the bowl.
  5. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.  Using a pastry bag with a 1/4-inch tip, pipe small circles of batter, about 1 inch in diameter, onto the parchment.  Space about 1 inch apart.
  6. Preheat the oven to 300.  Let the macaron sit out at room temperature anywhere from 30-60 minutes.  Bake 10-12 minutes, or until the top of the macaron slides just slightly on its base when you press them gently with your finger.  Let cool completely.  Fill as desired.

 

orange chocolate filling

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 c. bittersweet fudge sauce
  • several drops orange extract or 1/2 tsp. orange zest

Directions:

  1. Microwave fudge sauce briefly until pourable (the kind we bought is basically solid at fridge temp).
  2. Stir in the orange extract, and let cool until it thickens somewhat.

 

salted caramel filling

This makes WAY more than you need for filling macarons.  Luckily it can be used on lots of other tasty things: apple pie, ice cream, spoons…

Ingredients:

  • 2 c. sugar
  • 1 1/2 sticks butter, room temperature (lower-moisture European style is best)
  • large pinch of fleur de sel (omit if using salted butter)
  • 1 1/4 c. heavy cream, room tempature

Directions:

  1. Place sugar in a medium-large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Stir as it melts, and let cook to a dark golden brown color.  It should be fragrant, but not beginning to burn.
  2. Add butter (and salt, if using), and stir in until incorporated.  I threw in butter straight from the fridge, and it is possible that the temperature shock caused mine to seize at this point.  This is why I recommend warmer butter.  If yours seizes, though, do not panic.  Turn the heat down to low, and continue whisking until the butter has been re-incorporated.  This took me perhaps 5-10 minutes before I had a smooth mixture again.  Another possible solution is adding a few tablespoons of hot water, allowing it to bubble a little, and whisk it until the mixture is smooth.
  3. Add the heavy cream, and whisk until smooth.  It is too thin to use as filling right away, so let cool to room temperature before you use it for filling macarons.

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Herb-‘Nilla Brown Butter Brioche

Before I say anything else on the topic of brioche, I want to say that, although I did in fact make this batch with my new stand mixer, YOU CAN make this by hand!  When I wanted to do it long ago before I had a stand mixer, I looked all over the web and didn’t really see directions for doing it this way.  I saw everyone saying you HAD to have a stand mixer, or else it was impossible.  It’s not.  I guarantee it.  It’s not easy – boy, is it not easy.  But it’s possible, I’ve done it.  You can use a hand mixer until it starts to stress the motor – you don’t want to break it.  After you turn your hand mixer off, go ahead and use a wooden spoon (or your hands) until you reach the desired consistency of the dough.

Here’s what I discovered after I made this, my third batch of brioche: I don’t really like brioche all that much.  I realize that’s going to sound sacrilegious to all of my fellow bread-and-butter lovers, but it’s true.  I actually find brioche too rich for me to eat anything but thin slices.  I guess I just like my butter ON my bread more than IN my bread.

During my “can I make puff pastry from scratch” experiment awhile back, I wondered whether it would be possible to make a puff pastry with brown butter.  It occurred to me that perhaps if I melted the butter, browned it, and then allowed it to reharden, I might be able to use it just the same as fresh butter.  Since I was planning to make brioche, I considered that the same thing might be possible.  And, as I was going to be melting butter, why not infuse it with some herbs?  And heck, I have a few vanilla beans around here, let’s throw one of those in for aromatics and sweetness.

So… was it amazing, toothsome, delicious?  Was browning the butter worth it?  Honestly… I would have to say, probably not really.  It made the entire process take longer, about a half hour longer, and there are other ways of flavoring your brioche besides infusing the butter – say, adding fresh chopped herbs or vanilla seeds.  I suppose if you’re committed to a pure, pale yellow dough, it would be worth it.  But, I didn’t taste much of a browned-butter flavor.  Then again, I have kind of felt that brown butter was overrated and overly rich, so perhaps I’m not the right person to ask.

Otherwise, I apologize profusely that I didn’t take photos, and plan to take some during the entire process next time I make brioche so newbies can see how it’s supposed to look.  The recipe is a totally serviceable (read: awesome), easy, and tasty version of brioche, so I recommend, if not the brown butter part.

Herb-‘Nilla Brown Butter Brioche (makes 2 loaves)

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz. unsalted butter (preferably European, organic)
  • 2 tsp. fresh thyme
  • 2 tsp. fresh rosemary
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise down the middle
  • 2 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 1/2 c. warm milk, 100-110 degrees
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 3 1/2 c. all-purpose flour (I used Baker’s Choice from the bulk bins at Whole Foods)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 egg, beaten, or cream, for glaze
  • flaky or coarse sea salt for sprinkling, your choice

Directions:

  1. Place butter in a small saucepan, and add thyme, rosemary, and vanilla bean.  Heat over medium, and cook until butter boils.  Continue cooking until milk solids and butter are brown and the mixture is fragrant.  From solid to browned, this took me approximately 10-15 minutes.  Remove from heat, strain into a bowl, and freeze for about 15-20 minutes (or refrigerate until firm).
  2. Rinse the inside of your stand mixer bowl with hot water so that your milk will stay warm to prime the yeast.  Add warm milk and yeast to the mixer bowl, and stir gently.  Add a pinch of sugar and wait 5-10 minutes, or until foamy.
  3. Add sugar, flour, salt, and eggs to mixer bowl.  Mix on low speed until it comes together.  Rest dough for a few minutes, while you prepare the butter.
  4. If you chose to freeze your butter, around this time, it should be getting firm, so you can remove it and let it set at room temperature until you are ready to use it.  Mine was solid on the top and sides and still melted in the middle, but by stirring it, it became soft throughout and I left it out at room temperature.
  5. Turn your mixer to medium-high, and beat for 15 minutes, stopping the mixer to rest the motor and the dough, and to scrape the sides of the bowl, every 5 minutes.  The motor of my stand mixer got pretty warm, and I just rested it briefly to be on the safe side.  My mixer also bounced about a little bit, as this is pretty thick dough.  Just keep an eye on it and you should be fine.  By the end of the second 5 minutes, the dough should be wrapped around the dough hook and slapping the sides of the bowl, which should be relatively clean.  If your dough still seems too loose and sticky, add a little bit of flour.
  6. Be sure your butter has softened, and give it a quick stir.  Turn your mixer to medium speed, and while it beats your dough, add butter a tablespoon or so at a time, waiting until dough has somewhat incorporated before adding the next tablespoon.  My dough split into two sections, one wrapped around the mixer and one near the bottom of the bowl, and much of the butter was slicked in the gap between the two until I was finished adding butter.
  7. When all the butter has been added, increase the speed by a notch and beat about 5 minutes, or until sides of bowl are relatively clean and the dough is all one ball wrapped around the dough hook again.  You are looking for smooth, shiny, slightly sticky dough.
  8. Transfer to a large oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warmish place until it has doubled in size.  I let mine rise for 3 full hours.  Deflate by lifting up the edges of the dough.  Recover, and place in the refrigerator for 6-24 hours.
  9. Separate into two loaves, or individual rolls.  Place in their appropriate pans, cover, and allow to rise another 2 or 3 hours, until they have doubled in size once more.  Brush with egg or cream, and sprinkle salt over the top.
  10. Preheat oven to 375, and bake for 15-45 minutes, depending on the size of your bread, and your individual oven’s variations.  When loaves/rolls are done, they should be a medium-dark golden brown and sound hollow when tapped.

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Tomato Tarte Tatin

Okay, so, this wasn’t entirely my own idea.  It was featured in the July issue of Bon Appetit magazine, as part of their Tomato Tasting Menu.  I won’t take credit for the idea, just the execution of it.

Tarte Tatin is a French upside-down apple tart with puff pastry, supposedly made accidentally by Stephanie Tatin at the Hotel Tatin in 1898 – one of the only food origin stories I’ve ever heard that involved a woman inventing something amazing.  It’s very simple, essentially the same process as a pineapple upside-down cake – caramelizing fruit, topping with pastry and baking until puffed.

I opted to make my own puff pastry for this one, and had it not been for the fact that I had no one to take shots while I worked, I would be putting up a photo tutorial as we speak.  As it is, the making of the puff pastry was so difficult, I’m not sure when I’ll do it again – I’m still sore, and it’s been two days!  I followed Julia Child’s recipe from “From Julia Child’s Kitchen” on this one, except for replacing the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour, and as I had plenty left over, I expect I will be using it to some purpose where I can taste it on its own, and let it puff as high as it can, since with this tart, the layers collapse under the fruit.  Or mine did, anyway.

Tomato Tarte Tatin (1 9-inch tart)

This tart received mixed reviews at our table: three really enjoyed it, even the one who normally despises tomatoes!  The other two of us were lukewarm at best on the tomatoes, but liked the caramel and crust.

Ingredients:

  • puff pastry, thawed, trimmed into a 9-inch circle (to fit a cast iron pan)
  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 8 large plum tomatoes

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400.
  2. Melt butter in cast iron pan.  Sprinkle sugar over the top and cook, swirling often, until all the sugar has dissolved.
  3. Cut tomatoes in half and scoop out their innards.  Arrange them, cut side up, in the cast iron pan.  Continue to cook until caramel has turned dark amber, about 5-10 minutes.
  4. Place puff pastry on top, tucking edges under with a knife.  Place in the oven and cook 25 minutes or until golden brown and puffed.  If top of pastry browns too quickly, place a sheet of foil lightly over the top.

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