Sunday, January 1, 2012

(Partly) mastering the art of French cooking

Happy 2012 peoples!!!

I know my last post was a bit of a Debbie Downer, but sometimes you just need to put it all out there to start feeling better, ya know?  Since then I've noticed a change-- I've been feeling more myself, and I even spent the whole day New Year's Eve cooking. I can't remember the last time I spent that much time in the kitchen, and it felt phenomenal.

So far the year is off to a great start, as I've already accomplished one of my goals: cook something out of my new cookbook.

I <3 recipe books.

I found the two-book set at the used book store around the corner from my apartment for $40- and I absolutely love it! One thing I really like is the way that the recipes are written. Directions are grouped together by ingredients, instead of listing allllll the ingredients and then alllllll the directions.

I <3 logical books.

Conceptually, it just makes more sense as you're working through the recipe. You don't have to hunt the laundry list of ingredients at top to find the amount that's asked for when you want to use it. And if an ingredient get's used more than once in a recipe (eg, using sugar in both a pastry crust and in the filling), you don't have to worry about accidentally adding all of it the first time it shows up in a recipe. That's what I call thinking out of the box!

And if I do say so myself, I did a little thinking out of the box when I made these savory cream puffs with mushroom cheese filling. How? Well, what would you do if you put half of your cream puff batch on the lower rack in the oven (on wax paper) and burned all of their bottoms??

I really need a second silpat, stat!

First thing you'd do is what I did: swear. A lot.

I was taking these cream puffs to a New Years party, and I'd already made all the cream filling, and now I only had 1/2 of the d@mn cream puffs I needed. Needless to say, more than a few words that would make a sailor blush came out of my mouth when I took these out of the oven...

But their tops, oh my, they looked perfect and beautiful! So instead of tossing the whole half batch, I decided to slice off their burned butts, flip them over, and turn my cream puff into a cream cup.

Gruyere, parmesan, and mushroom filled deliciousness 

Let's be honest- a cream puff is just a vehicle for whatever delicious filling you're trying to stuff in your face. So an open-faced puff tastes just as good as a closed one. And having both kinds of puffs looked really nice on the platter.

Cream puffs and cream cups- both equally delicious!

You might recall that I've made (dessert) cream puffs before on the blog- a delicious pastry cream with hazelnut praline filled cream puff, which was turned into a croquembouche. I used a Cooks Illustrated recipe for those cream puffs, and Julia Child's recipe for these cream puffs. Honestly, I can't really say which I preferred. I'd say these might be a tad bit eggier in taste, and were also a little softer (the CI ones are cooked a little longer, but at a lower temperature, so the difference may come in how they were cooked vs. their ingredients). The Julia Childs' dough was also a bit wetter, so it had a tendency to "leak" more easily out of the piping bag.

So if you're making a savory puff these might be a good option. But if you're making dessert puffs, or are a bit sensitive to the egg-y taste in food (as I can be), or want a dough that's a bit firmer and a little easier to handle, the Cooks Illustrated recipe might be the way to go.

Either way, you can't go wrong. :)

Yours in fulfilling their first goal of the New Year (even though these were technically made on the 30th...),

Cream Puff Paste (pate a choux), adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking


1 cup water
6 TBSP butter (3 oz), cut into pieces
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
pinch nutmeg
3/4 cup flour
4 large eggs, room temperature
(Note: it's important not to use extra-large or jumbo eggs because they'll have more volume, will make the dough wetter, and could ruin the final product)

Preheat oven to 425˚F

1. Combine the water, butter, salt, pepper, and nutmeg in a heavy bottomed saucepan (at least 1.5 qt). Heat over medium/medium high heat and boil slowly until the butter has melted.

2. Remove from heat and immediately pour in all the flour at once. Beat vigorously using a wooden spatula/spoon for several seconds to blend thoroughly. Then beat over moderately high heat for 1-2 minutes until the mixture leaves the sides of the pan and spoon, forms a mass, and begins to film the bottom of the pan.

3. Transfer the dough to a mixer with a paddle attachment (or to a bowl using hand beaters, or to a food processor, as I did the last time I made cream puffs), and beat on medium speed for a minute to cool the dough slightly. Then add the eggs, one at a time (first on low, then on high speed). Each egg should be fully incorporated before adding the next one. After all the eggs have been added, beat for another 20-30 seconds to be sure all is well blended and smooth.

4. To make cream puffs, put the dough in a pastry bag (with 1/2" tip or with the bottom cut), or a large ziplock bag with a corner cut. Squeeze the dough onto 2 buttered baking sheets, making circular mounds about 1" in diameter and 1/2" high. Space the mounds at least 1 1/2" apart.

5. If they've got little tips from the piping, dip the back of a spoon in water and lightly press to smooth the tops of the puffs. Set the sheets in the upper and lower thirds of your oven (but not too low!!), and bake for 20 minutes. The puffs are done when they have doubled in size, are golden brown, and firm and crusty to the touch.

6. Remove the puffs from the oven (turn it off), pierce the side of each puff with a sharp knife, and return the puffs to the turned-off oven with the door ajar for 10 minutes. Cool the puffs on a rack.

7. Using a ziplock or piping bag, fill the puffs with something delicious. May I suggest...

Gruyere, parmesan, and mushroom filling, from Mastering the Art of French Cooking

2 1/2 TBSP butter
3 TBSP flour

1 1/2 cups boiling milk or light cream
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
pinch nutmeg
pinch cayenne pepper

1 egg yolk
4 oz (1 cup) grated gruyere and parmesan (I did about a 3:1 ratio)
2 TBSP butter

1/4 lb mushrooms, diced in small pieces and cooked in 1 TBSP butter until dry and concentrated in flavor, optional


1. Cook the butter and flour slowly together in the saucepan for 2 minutes, without coloring, in a 2 quart saucepan. Remove from the heat and slowly beat in the boiling milk using a wire whisk. Once it is fully added and no more clumps remain, add the salt, pepper, nutmeg, and cayenne. Boil, stirring for 1 minute. (Sauce should be very thick)

2. Remove the sauce from heat. Add the egg yolk and immediately beat it vigorously with the wire whip. Beat for a moment to cool slightly, then beat in the cheese, and finally the butter. Taste carefully for seasoning and add more spices, to taste. Fold in the mushrooms, if using.

3. If you're not using the sauce immediately, cover with plastic wrap (make sure your plastic wrap touches the top of your cheese mixture) to prevent a skin from forming.


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