Managing your choux pastry

Managing your choux pastry can be easy for some, disheartening for others. Well, good news, I struggled with it this week and because it was not the first time, I decided to write about it and share my choux pastry secrets.

Why choux pastry this week?

This weekend was Father’s day for us in Australia. My older daughter (8 y.o.) wanted to bake a treat for her father.  To get a change from chocolate cakes (please! – I never though I would say that), I made a few suggestions and she decided to go for eclairs.  Yes, of course she knows what they are! I have gourmet kids!

nd by the way, if you are going to make the choux pastry with your kids, it is a great opportunity to teach them and get them to practice the piping technique since it does not drip all over!

A small note: if you have access to a thermomix, save all the hard work and use it. I have had the opportunity to use one for a month last year and I must say that choux pastry is one thing I would praise it for (although not buy one just for that!).

Things don’t always go to plan

Because when you cook a dessert, prepare bread on the side, manage the younger child on Reading Eggs (an interactive program for early readers) and I can’t remember what else, you tend to be a little distracted.  In the end, round one of eclairs ended up flat, very flat. Check for yourself!  So, not willing to disappoint my daughter I expedited a second round of pastry (it takes 10 minutes really), this time with my full attention.  To be honest, I knew it was not going to work before baking round 1 when I realised the dough was more than coherent and flexible, getting towards Nutella consistency.

example of missed flat choux
Missed flat choux. The dough was too wet , we also placed a double line of dough for each eclair, a bad idea.

How choux pastry works?

Choux pastry is only made of flour, butter and water really (and eggs, sure).  Well, there is no rising agent or yeast.  But there is a fair bit of elbow oil, you would remember that if you have had a go to the recipe! To make the dough rise, there is only one way: trapping the steam made by the water and butter during baking with the gluten matrix of the flour.

Here you need to think more bread making that cake making.  The flour contains gluten.  When you work the dough, we speak of gluten development and this means the development of the structure of the gluten through alignment of the strands.  Professionals speak of short mix, improved mix and intensive mix to define how much structure development is required. It is worth noting that gluten can be overdeveloped and then can lose  its structural properties, but rest assure that cannot happen with manual handling.

In brief, the steam released during baking is trapped inside the choux structure and rises the choux or eclair.  It makes the “skeleton” of the choux.  The next stage is to get it to dry so the structure can hold its own weight.

Critical steps and tips

There are a few factors that make this pastry hard to master but not impossible.  For reference, the recipe can be found on its own page HERE.

Here are the tips for you to consider before starting:

The temperature of your saucepan

Early in the recipe, you will be asked to add the flour suddenly to the water.  Then you have to “dry” the dough over low heat until the dough detaches from the saucepan.  Here the amount of water lost during this stage will strongly depend on the type and temperature of your saucepan.  Keep that in mind, but do remove the saucepan from the heat when the dough detaches well from the sides of the saucepan.

The size of the eggs

The next point of attention is the size of your eggs. The recipe calls for four eggs.  If you use 60 g eggs (700 g box of 12), you will likely need three to three and a half.  If you use small eggs, this is the other way around, you may need an extra half to one egg.

To add half an egg at the time, beat the egg slightly in a small bowl and pour half of it.   What difference does it make? The dough will not be firm enough if you put too much egg.  It will not be liquid either but will not be firm enough to retain its shape and the shape will collapse in the oven.

Mixing hard to develop the gluten structure

The gluten development happens when you energetically mix the egg into the dough.    So make sure you mix heartily, no shortcut here!    When will you know the dough is ready? This is the multi million dollar question! The dough must be firm yet flexible:

  • So the “strands” must not break when you mix it.
  • the “shapes” made by the dough when mixing must remain 3D and not collapse to 2D.
  • expect gaps between sections of your dough as the ball of dough is moved one way and another by your wooden spoon.
  • If you know what the surface tension  of a fluid is, great! Imagine it here, there need plenty to keep the shape.

 

Doing the right thing during baking

Finally the baking.  All recipes will tell you to use a very hot oven for the first 10 minutes.  Some recipes will then ask to reduce the heat while leaving the door of the oven slightly open with a wooden spoon, others will only ask to reduce the heat.  The process during that stage is the drying of the skeleton of the choux (this is assuming the choux have reached their full size which often takes more than 10 minutes I find).  What happens if you do not dry your choux sufficiently? Well, the choux will look great for 2 minutes when pulled out of the oven and will then collapse. What a pity!

choux pastry
Flat choux (missed pate a choux) on the left, successful choux on the right

Father’s day eclairs

Curious to what the colours of our artisan eclairs hide?  You would have guessed the dark ones are chocolate eclairs.  The pink one is inside a vanilla, nutmeg and grilled pistachio custard.  The icing is a raspberry (using the juice of 1/2 cup of frozen raspberries) icing: raspberry juice, hot water, drops of lemon juice and icing sugar.

choux pastry

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Madeleine? Any time!

Madeleines are very versatile biscuits.  First, they taste great.  Then they are kind of cute.  The other advantage is that they take no time to make and that you generally will ave the ingredients at home!

Madeleines cooling down

Madeleines can be served on their own for the afternoon snack, or with coffee or tea.  I love them, and I am not the only one (tested for you!).  They are also perfect for children who come back again and again for a spare one!

Want to do it?

The recipe can be found HERE.

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We all love them: the crepes

Yes, we do, we all love them! They are the crepes!

First, a little note on vocabulary.  We will agree here that crepes and pancakes are two very different things.  The first will refer to the very thin hot cake, originally from Brittany in western France. The second is the English thick version of the flat hot cake, generally served for breakfast.

Origin of the crepes

A quick look on various website will give you the history of crepes.  The word crêpe is French for pancake and is derived from the Latin crispus meaning “curled”.  Crêpes originated in Brittany (fr. Breton), in the northwest region of France, which lies between the English Channel to the north and the Bay of Biscay to the south.  Crêpes were originally called galettes, meaning flat cakes.

Around the 12th century buckwheat was introduced in Brittany from the east.  Buckwheat thrived on the desolate and rocky Breton moors and is called “sarrasin” or “blé noir” (black wheat) due to the dark specs that are often found in it.  Buckwheat is one of the plants of the polygonaceae family, which also includes rhubarb and sorrel.  It is high in fiber and is an excellent plant source of easily digestive protein and contains all eight essential amino acids.  Another benefit is that it is gluten free.

White flour crêpes appeared only at the turn of the 20th century when white wheat flour which formerly had been as expensive as sugar, honey or meat, became affordable.  White flour crêpes are as thin as buckwheat crêpes but softer as a result of the eggs, milk, and butter used to make them.

The above is from Monique’s Crepes.

Crepes nowadays

In France, crepes are generally made out of wheat flour.  In the southern part of Normandie and in Bretagne (Britany), buckweat is also used to make crepes, there are then called “galettes” and generally served with a savoury fill.  Note that buckwheat is gluten free.

Crepes recipes may vary between regions.  In the northern and eastern part of France, beer is often included in the batter, it does a great job at lightening the dough and makes very thin and delicious crepes.  Also, quite often, the dough does not have any sugar.

If you are making crepes (at home that is), you will need a crepe pan.  I have tried in other pans, I can tell you, it is not easy because of the high edges and because your pan must strictly be not sticky and not scratched.

Note that large non-stick (tefal or other) fry-pans are perfect to make galettes as you need them larger and the buckwheat galette is ticker making it easier to handle.

Filling for savoury crepes or galettes

Savoury

Galettes or savoury crepes are generally filled on demand.  The filling is placed on the galette when the galette is turned over while cooking, the filling ingredients are added and the four “corners” of the crepes pulled an folded towards the middle to contain the filling (you end up with a square shape).  The basic filling is a full egg, ham and cheese, but there are many variations.  Combinations of the following ingredients make a great galette:

  • eggs
  • tasty cheddar / gruyere type of cheese
  • ham
  • Mushrooms (often sliced and precooked)
  • Bacon dices or “lardons” as known in France, precooked
  • Cream
  • sliced cooked potatoes

You can also use blue cheese (I personally love it in savoury gallettes), green asparagus, smoke salmon, salmon, tomatoes,…the list is endless!

SWEET

Sweet crepes are delicious when they remain simple! The most simple fillings are:

  • white sugar with (optional) a dash of lemon juice (yum!)
  • soft brown sugar
  • jam
  • honey
  • lemon curd
  • chocolate / Nutella.

One crepe recipe which became quite famous is “Crepes Suzettes”, this requires a little more work.

Many of you would have seen crepes filled and then folded in two and then further folded to form a triangle.  This is not the case everywhere.  In my family, we rolled them, much more fun especially when you are a kid!

crepe pliage triangle   crepe roulee

And now the recipes

The recipe of the galette can be found HERE. This is my adopted recipe.

For the crepes, the recipe is quite different.  The recipe below calls for a resting time of 2 hours, if you don’t have that time in front of you, it will also work, the crepes will be thicker.  If you have no beer or prefer not to use beer, use water and milk.  Crepes are very forgiving in terms of ratios.  Careful not using only milk or your crepes will be brittle. If you increase the quantity of eggs, your crepes will be quite thick and filling.

Ingredients:

This will easily serve 4 people for dessert. Left overs can be covered and placed in the fridge.

  • 500 g of plain flour
  • 4 eggs (depending on size)
  • 1 beer (300 ml)
  • 1/2 cup oil (sunflower)
  • 1/2 L milk
  • water
Method:
  1. Place the flour in a large bowl, make a hole (we all it a well in French) in the middle and place in it, the eggs, oil, beer and milk.
  2. Mix with a whisk until smooth.  You may have a few small lumps, don’t worry to much at this stage.  The batter will be quite thick, you want to make it thinner by adding water, the consistency must be the one a drinking yogurt.

pate a crepe

  1. Let it rest for at least two hours.
  2. Get yourself ready to cook, things can go quickly, get organised, everything must be in close reach.

Cooking crepe

  1. To cook, use crepe pan (s).  Heat up the pan, when hot pour 2/3 of a ladle in the pan, by turning your wrist (while holding the pan), spread the batter over the bottom of the pan.  Pour out the excess if too really too much. Pop any bubbles if they form.
  2. Cook until the sides are brown AND the bottom is fully dry (no wet spots), turn over, cook for a bit less.  Transfer to a plate.

Now 3 MAJOR tips:

  • The first crepe if most of the time a write off (for the cook)
  • If you pan needs a bit of greasing, cut a potatoe and stick the section cut at the end of a fork.  Place the flat edge in oil then “paint” the bottom of the fry-pan.  This method will limit the amount of grease you use and avoid using multiple absorbent paper sheets. If you have a piece of lard, it works perfectly well too.

    crepe oil as necessary
    Tip – use a cut potato to grease your pan
  • The heat under the fry-pan will need adjusting, somewhere between low and high.  It will take a few crepes to get there.
manger des crepes
Yum yum crepe!

 

 

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Galette des Rois

 

Galette des rois – Kings’ Galette

Early January (the 6th to be exact) is the celebration of the Epiphany.  In the Christian tradition, the epiphany represent the visit of the three kings to baby Jesus and the presentation of gifts.  In France, this is a very social occasion and celebrated by all with a spacial cake called “la Galette des Rois”.

The galette contains a small piece of ceramics, if you end up with it in your piece, you become the king or queen and get to wear a crown! Then you may choose a queen or king and even a buffoon.  To avoid cheating when distributing cake slices, the younger person (often a child) gets under the table and cites peoples at random as someone serves the cake.

IMG_2278

The cake is made of puff pastry and fragipane custard cream.  In France, you will find many at bakeries and in supermarkets that week, but in Australia, this is much harder to find.  Below is the recipe.

Ingredients

The filling cream consist of a small custard mixed with a small frangipane cream.

  • 2 sheets of puff pastries. Mine came as frozen squares, but the cake is more often of round shape
  • 1  ceramic piece (they come in all shapes) or a small coin (washed) or small shell (washed), this piece is called the “fève” in French.
  • frangipane cream: 125 g of almond meal, 100 g of softened butter, 80 g of caster sugar, 2 tablespoon of rum (optional)
  • Creme patissiere: 1 egg yolk, 1 tablespoon of cornflour, 1 tablespoon of caster sugar, 10 cl of milk, a few drops of good quality vanilla essence
  • 1 egg yolk dissolved with 2 tablespoons of water to seal the cake and glaze

Preparation – 20 min

Method

  1. Preheat oven at 180 ºC
  2. For the creme patissiere, mix the egg yolk, corn flour, vanilla, sugar  and milk together in a small saucepan. Heat up while mixing (with a whisk), as soon as the mix is about to boil remove from the heat and mix until thick and glossy. Add rum is desired. Cool down in a different recipient.
  3. For the frangipane cream, work the butter until soft and smooth with a spatulla.  If your butter is hard (was in the fridge), you may use the microwave on very low heat setting (max 30%) for 20 sec bursts until just soft.  Add sugar and almond meal and mix well. Then mix with the creme patissiere and place in the fridge until needed for use.
  4. On a baking tray, place a sheet of baking paper, place the first sheet of puff pastry on it. Using a pointy knife, score all around the edge first centimetre and brush with the egg yolk- water mix.
  5. Add the frangipane custard that was in the fridge making sure not to cover the scored area.  This is where you must put the ceramic piece.  Now try not to put it where the knife will go through where cutting. For example, if cutting in triangular pieces, not in the middle; if cutting in squares (works only for the square shape cake and if you need to share it among quite a few people), try to place in a middle of a square.
    IMG_2201
  6. Cover with the second sheet of puff pastry and seal by pinching the edges together.

IMG_2203           IMG_2251

  1. Using your sharp knife, draw a floral pattern on top or even simpler geometric intersecting lines. Brush with the egg yolk and water mix.  Put in the oven and bake until the top is well golden. Remove and transfer to a cooling rack, then on a serving dish.
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