pate a choux

I am not a morning person.

So, I’m taking Intro to Baking & Pastry this quarter. It is on Monday and Tuesday mornings from 7am to Noon. Yeah. 7 MOTHER EFFING AY-EM. It’s kind of sucked some of the fun out of Sunday afternoons with the boyfriend, because there’s this huge “You have to go home and finish the ridiculous amount of handwritten homework for Baking and Pastry tonight” cloud looming over the whole thing. It stinks. And also, the waking up early on Monday morning so I can catch the bus to school. That isn’t fun.

Fortunately, there’s only three weeks left in the class. Also fortunately, I have managed to function well enough to learn something. Mostly, that if someone held a gun to my head and asked me to make them a pretty, edible dessert or face my immediate demise, I could now do it and save myself from death by massive head wound. So, yeah, I’ve got that going for me.

There will be a recipe coming later this week, I hope, but just to prove to you that things have been learned, I thought I’d share some photos of the work I’ve been doing this quarter.

We spent most of the first four weeks working on breads… including one of my favorites– Challah. That braid is a lot tougher to learn than you might think, but once you figure it out, it sure is pretty, yeah? I had tried Challah once before on my own and it was ok, but this time I was really pleased with the results. I love using Challah for French toast and bread pudding, so I’m glad to have finally learned how to make it properly.

CHALLAH

After week four, we moved on to slightly more advanced stuff. This was about when I started to figure out that I like plating desserts a lot more than I like baking them.

We made pate a choux dough… which I’ve made before here on the blog so I felt a little more comfortable with this one. We’ve made it three or four times this quarter, and I feel a lot more confident. I’m not really sure when I’ll use it again, but it’s good to have in my repertoire.

PATEACHOUX

File this one under, “I can’t imagine why anyone would do this to themselves on a regular basis.” It’s puff pastry from scratch. Granted, once it’s made you can turn it into so many things, from cookies to tarts to napoleons, like this one. But getting there… hoo boy. It felt like the never ending recipe. Make the dough. Roll out the dough. Beat the butter into submission. Roll out the butter. Cover the butter with the dough. Roll it out, fold it, freeze it. Wait. Repeat at least five times. Someday, when I have an entire day to do nothing but make puff pastry, I’ll show you how. (Don’t hold your breath.)

PUFF PASTRY NAPOLEON

 

Cake week was the first time I’ve ever tried to actually frost a cake with any sort of intent. My fallback for cakes has usually been to just frost the whole thing with white icing and then stick candy or cereal or something all over it. That, or sheet cakes, which require very little skill at all in terms of decoration.

I don’t think any professional cake decorators anywhere should be quaking in their boots that I’m about to steal their livelihoods. But, it was sorta fun and turned out pretty ok for a first try, I think.

CAKE

 

And that brings us to last week, which was Plated Dessert Week. It’s the week we spend a full class period prepping elements we’ve learned how to make all quarter, so that on the second day of class we can plate them all up in interesting ways and invite in all the other classes to try out the goods.

One of mine was this chocolate torte, which I garnished with chocolate sauce, salted caramel sauce, and some pepita brittle I whipped up in a hurry because it needed some crunch. Flavor-wise, I think this one was the biggest hit. I think my plating got a little sloppy, though.

TORTE

 

We also made a batch of crème brûlée. The dessert itself is already in a pretty ramekin, and I can’t imagine jacking up that lovely crispy sugar topping by putting anything else on there, but we added some interesting touches to the base plate to up the glamour factor.

HINT: If you’re ever making crème brûlée at home, do your sugar topping in three layers to get a restaurant quality crust. Lay down your first layer of sugar, brûlée it, then let it harden. Repeat that two more times, and you’ll have that lovely caramelized, crunch sugar we all love about crème brûlée.

BRULEE

 

Until next time… Bon Appétit!

Put Yourself In My Choux

If you’ve ever had an eclair, or a cheese puff at a party, chances are you’ve eaten it, maybe without even realizing it. It’s called Pâte à Choux. It’s  pronounced paht-ah-shoo (bless you!).

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When someone says “pastry” it’s what I picture, and it’s one of those recipes that I always felt I ought to try, but was maybe just a little too intimidated.

But when I was hunting around for a recipe that wouldn’t require me to make another trip to the store, it felt like The Universe (oh, ok, just Google) was telling me that with flour, butter, and eggs, I could make this mythical pastry and conquer that fear once and for all. Maybe I’m never going to be a pastry chef, but one day I might want to teach other people how to make it, and who wants a teacher who is afraid of a pastry?

So into the kitchen I went, Steamy Kitchen’s Pâte à Choux walk-through pulled up on my smart phone, ready to make this dough my bitch.

Equipment:
Medium pot
Wooden Spoon
Measuring cups and spoons
Mixing bowl (optional)
Gallon sized plastic bag
Scissors

Ingredients:
1 C water
1 stick of butter
1 C flour
4 eggs
1 pinch of salt
1 additional tsp of salt to make them savory
Or 2 tsp sugar to make them sweet

Pre-heat your oven to 425° F.

Bring the water and butter to a simmer. Add the flour and stir, stir, stir as fast as you can in a single direction. The flour will start absorbing the liquid. Keep stirring until it looks something like this:
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If, like me, you don’t have a stand mixer, you’ll have to do this next bit by hand.

You can either transfer the dough to a mixing bowl, or, for the sake of keeping the dishes to a minimum, let the pastry and the pot cool off for about five minutes. Steamy Kitchen says you can actually just run the bottom of the pot through some cold tap water until the pot is cooled off. That’s what I did, because I’m an impatient mofo.

Add the salt, and the additional salt or sugar, depending on which way you’re going with this. Then, one at a time mix in the eggs. You’re going to have to pretend that your arm can stir as fast and as strong as the paddle attachment on a stand mixer to get the eggs to mix in. It’s hard to explain, but the egg just really gets slippery and you really have to put a little muscle behind it to get the dough to allow the egg to incorporate. As you mix each egg in, the dough will get thicker, and a little harder to stir. It will also get pretty sticky. Here’s an extreme close-up of what mine looked like after all the eggs were in.
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You can put the finished dough into the fridge for up to a day before using it, or get after it right away.

Put all the dough into the large plastic bag. I found it was a lot easier when I put the bag into a plastic container to hold it steady while I spooned the dough into it.
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Cut about a 1/4 inch off of one corner, and pipe the dough out onto a lightly greased (I just used the spray stuff) cookie sheet. You can decide how big you make them, but they will get bigger as they bake so leave plenty of room between them.  Also, if you get any peaks, wet the tip of your finger and push those down. I know they look cute, but they’ll just burn.

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They’ll bake for 6-10 minutes (depending on the size) at 425°, and then for another 18-30 minutes at 350°, according to the recipe. However, I made mine pretty small so they were only in there for about 12 minutes or so after I took the oven temperature down. Try to avoid opening and closing the oven door to check on them a lot, but maybe just give them a little peek after you lower the oven temp to see where they are. That’ll give you an idea of how much longer they have to go.

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If you made the dough sweet, you can fill these with anything from pastry cream (or pudding) to ice cream to chocolate sauce.  For my filling, I diced up one apple, then cooked it until soft in 2 T of butter, 2 T of brown sugar, and 1 T of the vanilla/chamomile infused maple syrup I got in my Hatchery box. I was going to take a picture but oops! I ate them too fast.

If you’re making them savory, throw in some finely grated cheese or some chopped chives or something like that before you add the eggs to the dough, or fill them with something savory afterwards. Steamy Kitchen gives a yummy sounding recipe for a mushroom pate at the bottom of her recipe.

So, not so scary after all.

I think once you get the hang of this one, you could repeat it any time you want to without too much trouble. I do like the fact that there was only one pot to clean, and how much fun it is to come up with interesting things to fill them with.

Have fun!