Sunday, April 10, 2011

Pastry Elements

I go to school twice a week learning about all facets of food service--nutrition, sanitation, sauteing, baking, knife skills--but now I really feel like I know a few things. Amanda and I had another potluck last night. I made a clafoutis and some gourgeres. Right. What the hell are those?

Clafoutis is a baked custard, like creme brulee except spotted with whole cherries. I have seen the recipe and corresponding photos before, which are enough to make you jump right in, but I was too intimidated to give it a try. Intimidated in the way things are scary before you try them, like learning to ride a bike or drive a car. It's easy, you just don't know it's easy.

I warmed the milk, sugar, vanilla and almond extract on the stove, removing it from the heat just as it started to boil and poured it slowly while whisking into an egg and flour mixture. To make pastry cream, you just put the entire egg, milk, sugar mixture back on the stove until it thickens to a pudding consistency. But in this case, I pour the custard into my fluted tart pan with a removeable bottom, careful not to spill, which I of course did. Amanda had to help me emotionally and physically. I plopped the cherries into place and slid the pan into the oven at 425 for about 40 minutes until it had set. Only a bit of the custard ran out the bottom of the pan and burned in the oven. Somehow I popped the custard out of the pan without inflicting too much damage on the tender dessert. It sliced like a dream, little slivers of cherry-flecked cream. Smooth with a thick cherry syrup stuck in the cracks of the custard.
Then came the gougeres, which are a variation on pate a choux for eclairs and cream puffs. These morsels were piped onto the baking sheet with parmesan cheese and thyme blended into the paste. They puffed up in the heat of the oven, leaving gaping holes on the inside that could have been filled with cheese but which I left alone. I grated parmesan cheese on the top of the gourgeres that ended up flaky and light. Very easy, once you know what you're doing.
Clafoutis: from Tartine Bakery Cookbook
2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3 eggs
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon flour
2 cups cherries
1/4 cup sugar for topping

Both recipes came from the Tartine Bakery cookbook, which has served as a nice resource since I got it a month or so ago. They wrote that baked cherry pits often have an almond aroma to them, so in lieu of pits I decided that almond extract would suffice (and be elicit fewer complaints). I might even consider topping a clafoutis with toasted almonds in the future.

Heat the milk, sugar, vanilla and almond extract on medium low in a heavy saucepan. Meanwhile whisk together eggs and flour until smooth. Once the milk comes to a boil, pour it slowly, while whisking, into the bowl with the eggs. Pour the entire batter into a 10-inch greased pan, leaving room at the top for the cherries to displace some custard. Arrange the cherries in the custard. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes at 425 or until set. Remove from oven and turn the heat up to 500. Sprinkle the clafoutis with sugar and bake until it has caramelized (or use a blow torch if you have one).

Gougeres: from Tartine Bakery cookbook
1 1/4 cup skim milk
10 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
5 eggs
3/4 cup parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 egg
pinch salt
parmesan cheese

In a heavy saucepan, bring the milk, salt and butter to a boil. Whisk in the flour once it has boiled. Remove from heat and place batter in the bowl of an electric mixer. Once mixture has cooled slightly, add eggs one at a time beating to combine. Stir in the parmesan cheese, pepper and thyme with a spatula. Transfer the paste to a pastry bag and pipe 1-inch rounds onto a baking sheet. Bake at 350 for 25 to 30 minutes or until the gougeres are golden brown and dry. I ended up turning down the oven to 325 for the last 10 minutes.

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