Misadventures with Measuring Spoons

Monday, June 16, 2008

Puff, the magic pastry.

First, lets start off with some apologies.
Its been a month since my last entry, even though two more posts were waiting to be published. I apologize.
I haven't even been cooking as much as usual at home, making it even less likely for me to be trying recipes.Hopefully this will change.

That title sucks. I apologize.

In the last entry, I wrote about the Gâteau Saint-Honoré, a creme topped pastry round. Not wanting to anger the gods of the kitchen, i turned to a recipe by Carole Walter, the author of the splendid "Great Cookies" The pastry is light, fluffy, and easy to make, as it is mixed entirely in the food processor. If you dont have a food processor, treat this dough exactly like a pie dough. I won't tell you how to do this, mainly because i don't like pie and dont want to spend that much time on the subject. It gets complicated when it comes to rolling out the dough, something which Walters just describes, but doesn't provide pictures for. So, I've annotated the recipe, instructions, and added pictures.

Puff pastry is incredibly versatile, yummy, flaky, and ooh so good. You can wrap brie in it, make cheese twists, cinnamon sticks, turnovers, pies, tarts,,, and to risk sounding like Bubba talking about shrimp, I'll stop.


Puff Pastry


1 1/3 c. flour (or if you have cake flour, 1 c. all purpose and 1/3 c. cake flour... this will lead to a tenderer dough)
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 Tablespoons butter (1 1/2 sticks) cut into 1/2 squares, with four T separated away from the rest.
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/3 c. ice water


1. Pulse the flour(s) and the salt in a food processor 4-5 times. Remove 2 T of the flour mixture and place it into a ziploc bag with 8 T of the butter. Seal, shake until the butter cubes are covered, and refrigerate it. Leave the remaining 4 T out to soften and get to room temperature.

2. After everything gets all chilly, add the 4 T of butter to the workbowl of the processor. Pulse 4-5 times and then for 6-8 seconds. The mixture should look like a thicker cornmeal. Add the contents of your chilly bag and pulse 4-5 times. Mix the lemon juice and the ice water (which has been strained of all ice...) and add to the proccessor bowl. Pulse 3- 4 times. It should be really rough now and you should be able to see the butter in it. Do not over mix it by letting it form a bowl - you should still have crumbs!

3. Empty out the mixture onto where you are going to roll it. Make sure it is evenly floured, as you have a sticky dough. I used a pastry cloth this time to keep it from sticking to the countertops (where i normally deal with dough) A pastry cloth is basically a piece of canvas (or soft grain material).. after use and light flouring, it is a nonstick rolling surface that is sticky dough friendly, are pretty inexpensive and a great way to keep your dough from getting over floured (the material holds in the flour, keeping mounds of it from sticking to the dough).

4. Press the crumbs into a rectangle about 4X5 " I eyeballed this as the size of my hands in "L" shape with the thumbs touching. Roll the dough out to be a rectangle, about 8 X 16.
Even out the edges a bit, to make it a little more rectangularish...

5. Bring the bottom of the dough up to the halfway mark and the top of the dough down to meet it. It should look something like this:

(Note: ive made a mark there to make the 1/2 way point more visable... this weakens the dough and makes it more difficult to roll)

6. Now, fold the left side over the right, just like closing a book.
7. Make a quarter turn and repeat steps 4 -6 . Wrap in wax paper (or plastic wrap, whatever you have lying around, and refrigerate for 1o-15 minutes, or until cold.
8. Repeat steps 4 -6 again, rewrap, and refrigerate again until cool.

9. Repeat step 8 , rolling for a 4th time and folding it once more like a book. at this point, stick the dough back in the fridge: you want it to be cool when you work with it. It should last in your fridge for 3 days (untested...) but you can allegedly freeze it for 4 months. pretty sweet, eh?

Now that we have dough, you can make some yummy cinnamon sticks or cheese straws !

For cinnamon sticks, just sprinkle the dough (which has been rolled out to a nice 8 X14 rectangle, at least) heavily with cinnamon and sugar. Cut into strips, about a centimeter wide, and twist. Stick it in an oven at around 375 degrees F and bake on an ungreased pan for about 20 minutes, or until they are nice, brown and fluffy.

For cheese sticks, take a hard cheese, like Parmesan or Asiago, and grate it liberally over the rectangle. Add some freshly ground pepper, and sprinkle on some cayenne pepper for a little spice. Use the same method as the cinnasticks and munch away.


Monday, May 26, 2008

Digging for Blessings: the Gâteau Saint-Honoré

While contemplating what to make for this monumental, first recipe, i came across the legend/story of Saint Honoratus of Amiens (also known as Honoré, Honorius, and Honortus.) Honoratus, a Roman Saint, died around 600 A.D, and is the patron saint of bakers. He first became associated with baking when he became a bishop. The tale goes that his nursemaid, who was baking bread, refused to believe that he was a bishop and that if he was one, the spatula she was using would become a tree. It supposedly grew roots and became a beautiful blackberry tree, complete with flowers and fruit. In the mid 19th century, a French baker created a cake, Gâteau Saint-Honoré, to honor the Saint on his day, May 16th. While it is a little after the 16th, we can still hope that the Saint Honoré will bless the blog with all his mightiness.

This cake is a little atypical of what i would like to do with my blog; its complicated, sweet and somewhat not good for you. But, oh well, that rule was sure to be broken sometime, why not with the first post. Apologies for the coloring in some of the photos... i'm still getting a knack for what photographs well in my kitchen .
And for those of you who were wondering, the reason for the delay was my employment.
Now, on with the pastry.

Gâteau Saint-Honoré

This cake features a bottom round of puff pastry that is topped with rings of
pâte à choux, or choux pastry, which is what éclairs are made out of. That is then topped with a pastry creme and garnished with creme puffs and drizzled with caramel. Whew! Thats a lot. Even if you short-cut it with premade puff pastry (frozen brands like Pillsbury), this cake is a lengthy battle. Worth it? Probably. It was pretty good; not the best i have ever had, but i am not one for this type of cake... in my opinion, with the addition of some fresh fruit, this cake would have been amazing, like a modified fruit tart. But then it would lose the traditional aspect, and for fear of angering the gods of the kitchen, i restrained from making major modifications...what Odyssey of the Mind-ers would know as a spirit of the problem violation.

I'll start off with a basic list of the ingredients:

For the cake base:
  • 1 recipe, chilled (or defrosted package of) puff pastry (recipe to follow)
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 3 1/2 Tbsp. butter
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 eggs
> For Whipped Cream:
  • 1 1/2 cups cold heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tbsp. sugar
> For the Pastry Cream:
  • 1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. milk
  • 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 Tbsp. + 2 Tbsp. sugar, separated.
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1 Tbsp. flour
> For Caramel:
  • 2 3/4 cups sugar
  • 6 Tbsp. corn syrup
  • 3/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. water
Now on to the processes:

For the base:
Take the chilled pastry and roll it out into a rectangle about 1/8 inch thick. If using premade dough, make sure that it is fully defrosted to ensure that the dough does not break. Press down on the dough harder than usual, to ensure that the dough doesn't rise too much. Cut out an 8" circle from the dough. I used an 8" cake pan as a stencil, which made the circle, well, a circle. Place this onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Now you are faced with the dilemma of all those yummy puff pastry scraps. Throwing them away is simply not an option. I suggest cutting the into 1" (or so) strips and dusting them with Parmesan/Asiago or cinnamon and sugar. Twist them, and bake until puffy and golden brown. On to the pâte choux: Now would probably be a good time to preheat your oven to 425° F. In a small pot, bring the sugar, milk, butter, salt and water to a boil. Add the flour and cook until it forms into a ball of dough, like this: Remove the pan from the heat, and put the dough into a bowl. Mix the eggs into the bowl, beating until the dough is light and holds a soft peak. If you have a pastry bag, transfer the dough into it, and use a tip that is about 3/8" in size (try to use one that is a plain circle, not one with a star tip.) I couldn't place my non star tip of that size, so i chose to just wet my finger and trace around the ridges to keep them from baking that way. If you lack real pastry bags, you have two options. The first is my preferred method: at craft stores, such as Michael's, they sell disposable pastry bags that are essentially thick plastic bags in triangle shape. They are reusable, should you chose to wash them, but are otherwise inexpensive. You can either use a tip or just cut the bottom of the bag to your desired size. Option 2 is the plastic bag method. Really not ideal, as they tend to break and not hold shape well, but when faced with no other option, they work. Find your puff pastry circle. Pipe along the outer circle, making a circle on top of the edge. Then, pipe a circle in the middle. Then pipe one right in the middle, creating a bullseye type thing. Using the remaining dough, pipe 16 rounds, about 1" wide onto These are for the creme puffs. if you have some extra dough, don't shy away from making more for snacking :) Using a wet fingertip, smooth out the tips and ridges. (This picture is pre smoothing. Its not a necessary step, just makes it look better in the end) To bake the puff pastry circle, bake 12-14 minutes on 425° F, until they are just beginning to brown, then lower the heat to 325° until golden and dried out, about 10-12 minutes. For the puffs, bake for 12-14 minutes on 425° and then 6-7 minutes on 325°. Let them cool.

>For the Whipped Cream:
Beat the cream and vanilla in a large bowl into soft peaks. I like to use the whisk beater on my hand mixer, but you can do this by hand. When the soft peaks form, add the sugar and beat until stiff. I was burnt out on taking pictures by this time... just imagine what that would have looked like. Separate 2 cups of the whipped cream and refrigerate it. This is for the garnishing. Reserve the rest of the cream to fold into the pastry creme.

>For the Pastry Creme:
In a small pot over medium/low heat, bring the milk, vanilla, and sugar until it starts to bubble around the edges of the pan. In a bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar until lightened in color and thick. Add the flour and cornstarch. Slowly drizzle the hot milk mixture into the yolks, beating as to not end up with scrambled eggs. Return mixture to the pot and cook over medium low heat to make the pastry creme... it should be very thick. Cover and refrigerate until cold.

When mixture is cold, fold the whipped cream into the pastry cream. Transfer it into a pastry bag or other device. If using a pastry bag, try to have a tip. If unavailable, have a paring knife on hand and be prepared for a slight mess..

>The Assembly:
Now its time to make those 16 puffs into creme puffs. Holding one, take your piping bag and puncture the side of the puff.( If no tip, cut a small hole and ease the bag inside) Fill the puff with creme, pulling out as it fills. Repeat for the other puffs.
Take the remaining creme and pipe it on top of the puff pastry/choux base that we made before:

>The Caramel:
And guess what? This step will take the longest... yay...

First, prepare your area. We are going to drizzle the caramel over the creme puffs, and if you want, make some decorations to stick on top of the cake. I used a silpat, a silicone baking liner, (which i don't approve of for cookies, but works marvelously for not letting things, like sugar, stick to it) I left my pastry puffs on the parchment lined pans for the drizzling, and was just light-handed with it. If you don't have one, you can use aluminum foil, wax paper, anything you have that you think would be good. Just be prepared to maybe create a mess, if you get carried away with your extra caramel-ing. (you'll have a lot left over, so if you want to get things to coat, get it out too.

Have a large pot/ bowl full of ice (water) that your small pot will fit into while really really hot. <-- must have. Bring the sugar, corn syrup, and water to a boil in a small pot over medium heat. Cook until golden, anywhere from 20- 40 minutes. Keep an eye on it - it is really better to under cook it than over cook it, and once it starts browning, it will burn in seconds.
**As soon as you remove it from the heat, put it into the ice, making sure that no water/ ice gets inside the pot. If you don't do this, your caramel will continue cooking burn and you will be left with a horrible pot of inedible badness. i didnt do this at first, so i could get some pictures... resultingly, it got a little darker than i would have hoped, as you can see from above.

Wait for the caramel to cool a little, so that it isn't too runny. Remember: this is very hot and will burn you if it gets on your skin! Using a tool of sorts (fork, spatula, spoon, chopstick, etc) drizzle the creme puffs with caramel. With the rest of the caramel , you can make shapes, coat things, whatever you like. I made a few ovals, and a bunch of drizzles on top of each other, to for a solid piece. Let the decorations cool before you lift them off.

> The Assembly, pt. 2
Arrange the cream puffs around the edge of the cream-topped base. Remove the remaining whipped cream from the refrigerator. You can either use a spoon, offset spatula, or piping bag (of sorts) to apply the whipped cream to the top of the cake in a decorative fashion.
When cut, you can see the ridges of the choux on top of the pastry. This was actually piece number two... The first one slid off my spatula and i caught it with the plate... upside down.

My next post will be the puff pastry :)

Hope you enjoy :)

All comments are welcome, and please, send me recipes !


Friday, April 25, 2008

Facing Unemployment in 1.2 weeks

It is once again that time of year when the sun warms the surface of the earth, when the wind gusts through the green trees, when some of us must part ways in favor of free housing and reliable meals. But fret not! We shall not lose track due to our distance (and in my case, lack of my own automobile...), rather gather over the things we find dear - cooking. As I am still (unsuccessfully) looking for a job, and generally like to start things that i maybe will never finish, I propose a food blog. I cook often, mostly baking, but a general mix of things. I want to explore new horizons, have my own share of adventures and misadventures, and i invite you to do the same. Things i want to learn how to make: indian food, yummy food, rustic bread, interesting food, food, things, play-doh (which i havent made since an early age) I would also like to work on concreting my eyeballed recipes, allowing them to be shared :)

So heres a way for me to share my favorite recipes with you and you to do the same. That being said, if you have a recipe you would like me to make and post, hollar. I can also add another author or two to the account if you would like a more authoritative role (but of course i would encourage you to start your own food blog so that we may have more fun all around :) )

I guess i should share some bit about what type of food i like, to give the general populous an idea of what to expect. Thats crazy... but ill try anyway... I like good food that makes people happy. Something that brings together fresh ingredients, good friends and spontaneity. I hope to use the summer to build up a collection of recipes and then in the fall have some dinner parties (with the consent of my lovely roommate, of course :) )

While this is a way for me to share my favorite recipes / concoctions with you, i impatiently await your favorites :)

So. T minus 1.2 weeks. then, it shall begin.