Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pate a Choux

(Updated: For a step-by-step recipe for pate a choux check out this post!)

The second unit we conquered was pate a choux, or cream puff dough. This has probably been my favorite unit so far. I mean, profiteroles, eclairs, cheese puffs...does it get any better than that? 

There are lots of methods for making pate a choux. Some use the food processor, others cook the flour and water mixture for 2 minutes, 3 minutes. I've tried other recipes before, but have never gotten the results I wanted.

Until now.

This is by far the best method I've ever used. Like I would expect anything less from a school specializing in French methods.

First, you place water, butter, and salt in a saucepan over high heat. You want the water to boil just as the butter is melting so that neither evaporates, so cut the butter into cubes. When the mixture boils, remove it from the heat and stir in bread flour all at once using a wooden spoon. Return the pan to the heat and cook the paste to dry it out. A thin film will form on the bottom of the pan and the paste will start to come away from the sides. Cook it for about a minute, total. (Sidenote: to clean the pan with the leftover film in it, return it to the heat and scrape off the film as best you can with a wooden spoon).

Drop the paste into a mixing bowl and paddle it on medium speed to release steam. It is ready when very little steam is left. This will take a minute or two. 

Add eggs, one at a time with the mixer on until the dough has absorbed enough liquid. Depending on the humidity, your flour, etc. the numbers of eggs you need may vary from day to day. There are 3 ways to test the readiness of your dough: the ribbon, the trench, and the hook. 

The trench test is the easiest to use. Once you think you have added enough eggs (or maybe just before you think so), run your finger through the batter to make a trench. The trench should fill in, but do so slowly. If it fills in too quickly, you've added too much egg. If it doesn't fill in at all, try adding half an egg, and then test again. Add the other half if necessary.

Once your batter is made, pipe it into whatever shape you want, egg wash, and bake*. 

 Choux piped into small rounds and baked. The tops are sliced off and they are "filled" with vanilla ice cream and topped with chocolate sauce. My mouth is watering just thinking about it


These, I thought, were just a little silly. As our assistant Chef-Instructor put it, they are very French. The batter is piped into shapes for the wings and neck and head and baked. Once baked, each swan is assembled using a filling of pastry cream, sweetened whipped cream (Creme Chantilly) and fruit. We used pineapple. Not the best tasting dessert, but they look kinda cute, especially in a flock!

Gateau St. Honore
St. Honore Cake

This is a very traditional French dessert, that you don't see much of nowadays. The base is a disc of pate brisee topped with rings of pate a choux dough piped in several circles around the edges, and then baked. Separately, pate a choux is piped into rounds (like with the profiteroles) and baked. They are then filled with Creme St. Honore*, and one side is dipped in caramel, which is then purposely left to harden on a flat surface.

*Creme St. Honore is something used specifically for this pastry. It's essentially a vanilla custard, thickened with gelatin, and lightened with an Italian Meringue. There is a special pastry tip used to get the distinct pattern on the top of the gateau.

The filled choux rounds are then "glued" to the outer edge of the brisee disc with more caramel, and the center of the gateau is filled with more Creme St. Honore. 


We spent the last day of the unit making these adorable little towers. They are the traditional wedding cake in France, but more modern couples are beginning to request American-style cakes instead. They were really fun to make and decorate. 

Ours was technically hollow, since our choux rounds were empty, not filled with pastry cream as they usually are. To serve a croquembouche, rounds are broken off the pyramid and about 3 are served to each guest. Since ours were just for display, we left them empty. 

We also used a special croquembouche mold to ensure we all had nice pyramids. A croquembouche can be assembled freehand, but it is much more difficult to get the perfect shape. It is easier to ensure all your puffs are evenly spaced, though.

Looking down into our mold once we were finished.

Of course, this was a multi-step process, which is why we took a full day to make them. First, choux is piped into rounds and baked. The inside of the molds are oiled and caramel is prepared. Each choux puff is dipped in caramel and then into decoration (or left plain with just caramel). We used cocoa nibs, dessicated coconut that had been colored blue and pink, and white pearl sugar. This process an be challenging and dangerous. It is necessary to continue to heat the caramel so it is the proper working consistency and doesn't get too thick or stringy. As you continue to cook caramel, it gets darker and darker, and can be very easy to burn, which results in a really unpleasant color and bitter taste. Not only did we have to be careful that our caramel didn't burn after multiple reheatings, we also had to be careful not to burn our fingers! Boiling sugar to caramel stage means it is well over 250 degrees. And when boiling hot sugar makes contact with your skin, it sticks. Having an ice bath nearby for quick first aid is ESSENTIAL. 

Once all the puffs are decorated, one is placed in the very bottom of the cone. This becomes the top once it is turned out. From there, the side of each puff is dipped in caramel and then placed inside the cone, and stuck to the puff right below it, forming circles that gradually fill the whole mold. One the entire mold is filled, caramel is drizzled inside to provide extra stability for the structure. The caramel is allowed to set for a few minutes and then it's time to unmold!

Thankfully, my mold was oiled well, and the caramel hadn't hardened too completely, and my croquembouche came out without a hitch!

With some extra batter, we piped the designs and baked them separately, attaching them to the final product with caramel. There are a lot of ways to finish a croquembouche, but my favorite is with a veil of spun sugar. Sadly, I don't think they trusted us enough to go around flinging hot sugar around the kitchen.

All the croqumbouches from our class! Mine is the one all the way to the left.

Oy. That's enough pastry for one day. Now I have a tummy ache. 

*A note on baking pate a choux. Again, there are various methods, but here's the way we do it. Preheat your oven to 500 and put the batter in. Turn off the oven and bake the choux for 15 minutes. Turn the oven back on to 350 and continue to bake until the choux is baked through. It should be well browned with no white spots. Check the bottom and look into any cracks to make sure they are thoroughly baked. Turn the oven off, and open the door slightly to let the choux dry out for 5-10 minutes more. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Tarts and Cookies

I've been a culinary student for six weeks now and have made my way through four units so far: Tarts and Cookies, Pate a Choux, Puff Pastry, and Viennoiserie. I haven't posted about school yet solely because I had older posts I still wanted to publish, but now that I'm all caught up, I'm ready to fill you in!

Preparing the Best; that's me!

I've been taking pictures of some of the more interesting or visually impressive pastry we've made, which I'll of course include here for your viewing pleasure, but I don't think I'll be posting all the detailed recipes. I did have to take out loans to get my hands on them, after all. If I can, I'll definitely give you the basic steps and ingredients though, so you'll at least get an idea of the components and procedure.

Sadly, I haven't been doing a lot of recreational cooking or baking since school pretty much satisfies my sugar cravings. Plus, after being in the kitchen for 6 hours, all I can really do is collapse on the couch when I get home and mainline Diet Coke like it's my job. So for now, you'll have to be satisfied living vicariously through my culinary school adventures, but I promise as soon as I get back into my own personal kitchen, I'll let you know.

The unit we started with was Tarts and Cookies. This was the longest unit so far, and by the end of it, I was so sick of tart rings, blind baking, and rolling pins, it almost soured me on pie baking all together.  Almost.

Keep in mind most of these pictures were taken with my iPhone under lots of fluorescent lights. Nothing makes food look less appealing than fluorescent lights.

Tarte aux Pommes
Apple Tart

This was the very first thing we made over the first two days of class. The powers that be who designed the curriculum certainly know what they're doing. So elegant. So delicious. And yet so simple. 

They like to build us up before knocking us down.

The crust is pate sucree, or a sweet pastry crust, but brisee, or flaky crust could be used instead, filled with an apple compote and topped with slices of very thin apples, baked until browned, sweetened, and irresistible. The apple compote was very simply flavored with a vanilla bean, and cooked until tender before placing it in the raw pastry. I think I'll be making this for Thanksgiving this year, maybe with some additional Fall spices in the compote, and definitely with some homemade ice cream. Cinnamon or Caramel?

Tarte Alsacienne
 Alsatian Apple Tart

This tart was also made with pate sucree, and is filled with flambeed apples and a simple custard. Maybe not the prettiest one, but we got to play with alcohol and fire and no body singed their eyebrows off.

Tarte aux Fruits
 Fruit Tart with Pastry Cream

This tart was filled with pastry cream and topped with apricot quarters. Probably not my first choice of fruit in terms of flavor, but it made for a very pretty picture.

Tartelettes aux Fruits Frais
Fresh Fruit Tartlets

These are a miniature version of a 9'' tart that was made a day I was absent. They're composed of pastry crust that is baked, then filled with pastry cream, and topped with fresh fruit glazed with apricot jam. I love how these look and really liked how they tasted as well. I've come to realize that I don't really like pastry cream, but the fresh fruit help to cut the richness of the cream. The key is not to fill the tart shell with too much pastry cream that it becomes too sweet and rich.

Tartelettes au Citron
Lemon Meringue Tartlets

Your basic Lemon Meringue Pie: pastry crust filled with a lemon curd and topped with Swiss Meringue. I made and decorated the 4 at the top of this picture that are only slightly browned as opposed to dark brown. The rest are examples other students in my class made. The darker browning comes from using a hardcore propane torch, something wasn't quite ready to take my chances with. Instead, I baked mine in a hot oven for just a few minutes. This causes the meringue to brown only lightly, and also sets it slightly, which I like.

Tarte Bavaroise au Chocolat
Chocolate Bavarian Tart

Finally, some chocolate! This tart has the typical pastry base and is filled with a chocolate Bavarian and chilled until set. The Bavarian starts with a creme anglaise base. While still hot, chopped chocolate and gelatin are added. Once cool, whipped cream is folded into the custard base, which is then poured into the baked pastry and chilled. The decoration on top of the tart is just some melted white chocolate. The surface should be smooth, and was before I wrapped it in plastic to bring it home. Since this is filled with a Bavarian, the chocolate flavor is a little subtle, but still nice and satisfying. The addition of the gelatin results in a pretty firm filling, so when the tart is cut, each slice will hold its shape, but it was a little Jello-y for my taste.

Tarte au Ganache Chocolat
 Chocolate Ganache Tart 

Now this was a chocolate tart. Simply pastry crust filled with chocolate ganache, which is made by boiling cream and pouring it over chocolate and butter, stirred until melted.

This tart had a much more intense chocolate flavor, that was almost a bit too much when I tried it. By my second piece, it had grown on me. This tart will set up at room temperature, and thanks to the natural cocoa butter in the chocolate and addition of butter to the ganache, will also hold its shape when sliced.

 Please note the glass of milk. And two pieces of pie. Both clearly necessary.

Linzer Torte

This was one of my favorite tarts we made in this unit. It is comprised of a Linzer dough and filled with a layer each of almond cream and raspberry compote. The Linzer dough is made with hazelnut flour (or ground hazelnuts), cinnamon, and cloves, all of which give it a really beautiful complex, spicy flavor, that still manages to be a little subtle. Although you think it may sound busy, somehow all of that pairs deliciously with the almond and raspberry filling.

We all know by now that I'm not a big fan of nuts, but for some reason, I love almond cream. It's probably the same reason I hate tomatoes but love salsa, kethup, and tomato sauce. Almond cream is basically just butter, sugar, ground almonds, eggs, and a little starch. It has a wonderful sweet, slightly nutty flavor that I have just really come to love. Combine that with homemade raspberry jam inside that yummy pastry- DELICIOUS.

Our next unit? Pate a choux. Stay tuned! Think eclairs, profiteroles, cheese puffs....

And if you have any questions about culinary school or pastry classes, feel free to ask! I'll probably have no idea what the right answer is, but I'll make one up.
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