Saturday, February 19, 2011

They'll Probably Serve This in Heaven

Eclairs don't travel well as you can see, but it doesn't really matter does it. They taste the same whether smashed or not. These were a product of my baking basics class--perhaps, no undoubtedly my favorite skill to have learned. It's actually a combination of skills. Three elements go into this pastry: pate a choux, pastry cream and ganache. None are hard, but they all require this knowing familiarity. The pate a choux has to be this certain consistency in order to puff up just so in a hot oven. The pastry cream should be thick, but you have to take caution not to burn it. And the ganache is just a simple blend of melted chocolate with heavy cream finished with butter for a shine but it should be poured (or dipped in this case) at just the right temperature or it will melt off (I've done it) or it won't pour.

Familiar knowing. I think "to know" is better said in French or Spanish, languages that have two words for "to know." Connaitre (or conocer) means to know a person and to me evokes this feeling of having met someone, talked to them, been in their presence. Whereas savoir or saber is to know about something, to have a well of information. Perhaps I'm being cavalier with my translations, but when I think if savoir, I think of reading. And when I think of connaitre, I think of doing. I would like to connaitre pastry cream. I'd like to connaitre it so well that I can transform it into other things. Something with a different flavor perhaps. Strawberry, saffron, lavender. I'm not there yet with chocolate eclairs. These are just plain ol' pate a choux with vanilla pastry cream and straight-up chocolate ganache.

Pate a Choux: yields 12
4 ounces butter
8 fluid ounces water
5 ounces flour
3 to 5 eggs

Preheat the oven to 400. In a small sauce pan, bring the butter and water to a boil. Stir in the flour with a whisk, let the mixture get pretty dry with the excess water evaporating out. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a standing mixer. Let it cool down a bit, until the bowl is just warm to the touch. Add the eggs one at a time being sure they fully incorporate each time, until the consistency is pasty and not too runny. You'll be pipping it out, so it has to hold its shape. Using a pastry bag, pipe into logs or rounds (those can be cream puffs) and bake at 400 for 15 minutes and then reduce heat to 350 and bake until they're dried out and nice and brown.

Pastry Cream:
12 fluid ounces milk
4 fluid ounces cream
3 3/4 ounce sugar
5 egg yolks
1 ounce cornstarch

In a heavy saucepan, bring the milk and cream up to a boil being careful not to scorch it. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar and cornstarch. Once the milk boils, carefully and slowly pour one-third of it into the eggs mixture to temper it while whisking. Once the eggs have warmed slightly, pour it all into the saucepan with the milk and return to heat. Bring to a light boil and continue whisking (do not stop whisking) until the mixture thickens up quite a bit. Remove from heat and refrigerate.

Chocolate Ganache:
1 part chocolate
1 part whipping cream
a couple tablespoons butter

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Add the cream slowly until you reach a desired consistency, which should take no more than the same amount of chocolate you used. Finish by melting in some butter. Pour over cakes or pastries once it has cooled to 90 to 100 degrees, which is barely lukewarm.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

At Last

These scones signify a couple things for me. First off, a free weekend. Saturday I had nothing planned whatsoever, which meant I slept in, had time for French-press coffee and journaling, and made scones. Second, these are my new go-to scones. I shouldn't say new because I've never settled on a scone recipe. I've tried all sorts of scone recipes from Molly Wizenberg to Martha Stewart to Better Homes and Gardens. They've been too soft, too hard, too sweet, not sweet enough, and never ever flaky enough. But here it is, from the Tartine Bakery cookbook I just bought, my scone recipe.

With two sticks plus a tablespoon of butter blended (by hand--and this may be the key), I just knew I could get the flakiness I wanted. The outer edges of the currant scones caramelized to a crusty golden brown while the inside is soft like a buttermilk biscuit. Biting into them after 35 minutes in the oven at 400 wasn't the hallelujah moment I expected to have once I accomplished what feels like the goal of this blog. I tore off a piece, popped it into my mouth, and thought, "Yeah, this is it. I think this is the one." Like the rocky turning of winter to spring, or the slow realization of sweet, simple love: Yes, this is right. Yesterday was the pits, but today I can make scones and spring will come.

My sister and I were sitting at the bar of Senor Matias earlier this week, before the weather changed from 4 degrees to 54. We were both sipping on margaritas counting our woos on both hands, both of us down in the dumps. I kept saying, between bouts of lying my head on the bar, "It's going to get better once it's spring. The sun is going to come out and the snow will melt and it will be better." All said more as a reassurance to us both than in a real sense of hope. I swear that everyone I know is just aching for the long days of summer. I can think of so many people emerging slowly and limping from the great cloud that is winter in a temperate climate zone. It's so funny to talk of the weather, but do you realize what an impact the environment has on people? Of course we all talk about it. I'll celebrate 54 degrees on a Saturday in Feburary with scones, perhaps I'll commemorate 68 degrees coming up this Thursday (!) with a cake.
Buttermilk Scones: from Tartine Bakery yields 12
3/4 cup zante currants
4 3/4 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup and 1 tablespoon cold butter
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon lemon zest

top with melted butter and large-grain sugar crystals

Preheat oven to 400. Soak the currants in hot water for 10 minutes to plump up. Sift flour, baking powder and baking soda into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar and salt and stir to combine. Cut the cold butter into cubes. Cut butter into the flour with your hands. Before my baking basics class, I used a pastry blender, but my teacher says she likes to get in and touch everything she bakes. I love the philosophy. Get to know it by feeling it, sort of thing. It works well in this case. Blend the butter into the flour until the mixtures forms pea-size crumbs. Pour in the buttermilk, lemon zest and currants. Stir with a wooden spoon to blend. Add more buttermilk if the mixture is too dry, which mine was but that's probably because it's winter and there's no moisture in the air. Once the dough has come together, turn out on a heavily floured work surface. Form into a log that is 18-inches by five- and is two inches thick. Cut out scones with a chef's knife. Arrange on baking sheet. Brush scones with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. I actually ended up needing to bake it for 35 minutes. But bake until the top is nice and golden brown.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Drunken and Sunken

My world right now is sludgy and slick. Stepping outdoors requires a certain application of layers and once outside, walking down my outdoor steps is treacherous work (I fell two weeks ago and still have a bruise). But Tuesday I was gifted with a snow day. I woke up to check the school Web site and then slid back under the sheets, barely crawling out sometime around 10 to do some work. By noon I was ready to experiment in the kitchen. As you can see from the above photo, that experimentation did not go well the first round.

My sister gave me a cookbook from the Humingbird Bakery in London, which interestingly enough sells American baked goods specifically cupcakes. I forget about all the great sweets Americans bring to the global table: brownies, cookies, pies, a sweet and moist cake and cupcakes. My problem is that I often come to things like brownies, cookies and cakes and think they're too boring or too sweet, which they often are, so I want to mess with them. So I do things like replace the milk with whiskey, which frankly should be a lifelong rule of thumb, and add instant coffee. Using my now somewhat scientific knowledge of the baking process, I figured the moisture with the milk and with the whisky would equal out, what doesn't even out is the fat content--there being none in whiskey. So batch one of the drunken mocha cupcakes was a flop, literally.

I think the friends I rounded up to watch movies on the snow day would have been happy with the drunken-sunken cupcakes, but pulling what little bit of a perfectionist I have lying around deep down inside, I made another batch, which didn't turn out perfect (the recipe was listed in weight and I lost my scale, so measuring was a touch inaccurate) but it was acceptable. Someday I'll find a good American chocolate cupcake recipe, and when I do, I'll share it with you.