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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Citrus Curd Crepe Cake

Citrus curd crepe cake, macerated berries, vanilla ice cream 

I don't think I qualify as a Francophile, but I have a special place in my heart for the French, and how they cook. I mean, honestly, their blatant disregard for the dangers of butter in excess is mind-blowing, and I fully support that. Not to mention that most American culinary schools(at least that I know of) have a curriculum heavily rooted in classical French techniques. My school was no different.

Courtesy of Reddit-r dishesRdone
We learned some basic French terms in school--tournant, commis, chef de partie, beurre blanc, etc--and I think there was even a class where you could learn French as a second language. Or maybe it was just printed in the curriculum under 'electives' to look fancy. I don't know. As an Arizona girl, I thought it smarter to take Spanish instead of French. It's helped me greatly in cooking in professional kitchens, and I advise any who would care to join me in this career path to do the same and learn, at least, some basic Spanish. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The point is that we classically-trained Chefs owe a fair bit to the Frenchmen before us, in this writer's humble opinion. There are so many things that can be traced back to the French techniques. In Baking & Pastry, it was easier to name a dessert or technique that we used which was not French in origin. And I completely loved it. I fell in love with butter. So much butter. I owe my fabulous booty to butter. I dream of it. I think I'd bathe in it if society allowed. But they don't. Savages.

All of this is pointing to my love of French food, and my excitement when Bastille Day occurs. It's basically the French Independence Day. And they celebrate in Paris like no other. Everyone who has a musical instrument is out in the street playing it, and the Eiffel Tower is lit up like the Fourth of July! (Hey, I'm an American. I have to say such a thing!) There are fireworks and food...celebrations like no other. And every country should celebrate their independence in this way! It's only right, don't you think?

Courtesy of MarthaStewart.com
Here in Kansas City, we have our share of Francophiles. None beat out Cafe Provence, however, in the enthusiasm, though I will admit that Le Fou Frog is a very close second, and Le Fou Frog has a singing pastry Chef, as well as live performers on a regular basis. Their Facebook is full of pictures and promotions and news, and they have an excellent menu. Their kitchen is a machine, full of fine ingredients and Chefs who are committed--I should know, I briefly worked there. It was an amazing learning experience, to really get to know what it is to cook under such great chefs. Warm yet intimidating for a still-fairly-green cook, studying there was honestly one of the most-influential portions of my cooking career. I worked the pantry station and the meat station on Saturdays, and I loved the days that I got to make the pastry cream and vinaigrette. They have this awesome shop, now, in the Prairie Village shopping center called The French Market, which is a really cool place. A Chef friend of mine makes all of the pastries and whatnot for them, and she's pretty darn amazing. So, yeah, check her out.

I was luckily working on Bastille Day, so I decided to make a dessert special in honor or the occasion, and as a tribute to my education: a Crepe Cake. What is this contraption/confection, you ask? Why, it is a cake, made by painstakingly layering crepe upon crepe upon crepe atop one another, sandwiched (usually) with pastry cream or mousseline or something of the like. The result is a show-stopper, well worth the effort. It was Bastille Day, I had an extra moment...well, how could I resist?
I won't say that it was the best in the city, but I will say that it turned out pretty darn good, especially since it was made with a lighter, more summery lemon-orange curd versus the traditional pastry cream. The result was a bright, citrusy "cake" balanced out with the creaminess of ice cream. (Hey, it's summer, you need ice cream.) I hope the purists will bend a bit and try out my crepe cake recipe.

Citrus Curd Crepe Cake
For the curd

  • 1 cup ea. lemon juice and orange juice
  • 1 lb butter(not margarine, you peasant)
  • 12 egg yolks
  • 4 whole eggs
  • 3 1/4 cups powdered sugar
For the crepes
  • 1 1/3 cups flour
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 cups milk
  • pinch of salt
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 oz butter, melted and browned.

First, make the crepes. The easiest way, I've found, is to dump everything except the eggs and butter into a blender and let it go. While the blender is running, add in the eggs, one at a time, and then the butter in a slow stream. Let this mixture sit for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight. Using a ladel(ideally), make the crepes over medium heat using panspray as your lubricant. Use nonstick pans, if you have more than one, or crepe pans if you have them. But otherwise a nonstick will work in a pinch. I find it easier to have two burners and two pans going at once, with the ladle and mixture on one side of you and a plate to receive crepes on the other side to be the ideal. 

Once your crepes are all cooked and cooled, you can either use them right away, or use what you need and freeze the rest. Seriously, crepes freeze perfectly. You can use butcher paper, parchment paper, or even wax paper to separate them, but I just pop what I don't use in a freezer all at once, since there usually aren't that many left, anyway. 

To make the curd, boil the butter, citrus juice, and sugar together in a medium sauce pot. Whisk the egg yolks and eggs together in a bowl with a pinch of salt. You can add a 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract if you are so inclined, but I never saw the point, so I don't. Temper the egg mixture by pouring a splash of the hot liquid in and whisking. Then return the lemon juice mixture to the heat, and whisk in the tempered eggs in a thin stream, stirring/whisking constantly. Continue to beat over medium-high heat until it reaches a gorgeous thickness. Don't let it exceed 180 degrees F, though, or the eggs will scramble. Use a thermometer if you need to. Don't be ashamed. We all did at a point. 

Gotta put one more shot in! I love my new camera!
Once the curd has cooled, it will be delightfully thick and spreadable. Assemble the cake by alternating a tiny spread of the curd between crepes, stacking atop each other, gently. My cake took about 25 crepes, but you can stack as high as you want. Keep in mind, though, that citrus curd won't be as thick as pastry creams will be, so the higher you stack, the more unstable it can be. Chill thoroughly before slicing, so your curd can set. Remember, you don't need a lot of curd in between the layers. Just a teaspoon(if that) will do. And this curd can be replaced with nutella, buttercream, pastry cream, chocolate mousse, pretty much anything to suit your needs. The results are, like I said, a real crowd-pleaser, and you'll be thanked for your effort  and applauded, as well you should be, you Francophile-for-a-day, you!

Hope you guys had a great Bastille Day. Happy cooking!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Chocolate Guinness Cream Puffs(pate a choux = love)

These were the books I kept after sorting through a pile 5X this high
I live for the days that I get to experiment at work. It's not terribly often, I'll say that, but it's often enough that I get to think about it on a fairly regular basis. Not that there isn't something beautiful about repeating the same mechanical thing every day, slowly perfecting every inch of your technique, of course. But I do love when I get to put those practiced techniques into play. The words of my Pastry Chef Instructor Damian Fraase(who, to this day, is one of the most-influential voice-in-my-head mentors) ring true, when I asked him about doing a stage for my first ever Pastry Chef job:

"I would rather see a single, well-executed eclair than the most elaborate thing in the world with all flash and no substance."

And such is the truth. To become a great cook, one must master not recipes, but techniques. Technique, technique, technique. The rest will come. This is why I feed my addiction to food with libraries. I mean, seriously, I spend at least four hours of every day off I get at the library 10 minutes from my house. I love libraries. I love the quiet. The reverence I feel from the (probably) billions of pages of recipes, ideas, pictures is indescribable. When I was a child, I would volunteer in my school's library as an assistant, shelving books. The "cool girls" all congregated together and shelved fiction. Ever the outcast, I was stuck with the non-fiction. And you know what? I'm glad those girls were nasty to me. I learned to love non-fiction, and a whole new form of escapism.
"...that same faint arousal."

All of this knowledge-driven curiosity has influenced my work. I think about it while I'm working. I think about all of the different ways I could improve or change something I'm doing. I was thinking about this when I got a call on my way into work.

"Somebody called wanting something called a "crock-in-bush"?"

A pause. "Do you mean a croquembouche?"


"Okay, when?"


A long pause. "Does he know what a croquembouche entails?"

"Well, he asked about a special dessert on Monday, but just got back to me today asking about it. Here's his number. He said if you can't do it, he would love to talk about something else."

I called. It was a man wanting to make a special something for his wife's birthday. And he didn't just want a cake. Gods be praised for that. I asked him what was special about the croquembouche. He said he just thought it looked neat. I told him that the issue wasn't so much the time, but the environment.

I'm a Southwestern girl. I was born and raised in the southwest. You know what they have there? NOT HUMIDITY. Seriously, I never learned how to deal with humidity! And it just happened to be a particularly-gross weekend. I told him that my biggest concern was the sugar work. That I could do it, but I - quite frankly - was just not that skilled of a pastry chef yet to do a croquembouche with confidence in this humidity. To tell you the truth, I was just scared. So I offered an alternative: cream puffs.

We call them cream puffs when in reality they're actually pate a choux puffs. Profiteroles. And, when in the long shape, eclairs. But your average American will call them cream puffs. I suggested a trio of cream puffs, and he loved the idea.

"What flavors were you thinking?" I asked.

"Chocolate? She likes chocolate..."

Long story short, we had a nice long chat about his relationship with his wife and I drew inspiration from that. She loves chocolate so I voted for a chocolate pate a choux puff with a trio of fillings. Chocolate mousse had to be one of them, of course, with a sour-cream glaze, for the chocoholic in all of us...the other would be a citrus curd-filled puff with a milk chocolate glaze. The last, my favorite, was a stout pastry cream-filled puff with a Guinness glaze. Because, on their first date, they went to a bar and shared a beer together. (So I'm a romantic. Sue me.)

Forgive the poor quality of my camera phone. I was shaking with delight.
Chocolate Pate a Choux
  • 8 oz butter
  • 3/4 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 c water
  • 1 c whole milk(WHOLE MILK)
  • 11 oz. bread flour, sifted(AP can work fine)
  • 1 oz cocoa powder(or two Tbsp, kind of rounded)
  • 10 - 12 lg eggs, room temperature

Preheat your oven to 400. Line baking sheets with either parchment paper or a silpat mat, whatever you have.

Combine the butter, milk, water, sugar, salt, and vanilla into a heavy-bottomed saucepot, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add in the flour and cocoa powder and, using a wooden spoon or spatula, stirring to bring everything together. Beat the flour into a bit of a paste for about 30 seconds. You'll know your dough is done when there is a film on the bottom of the pan, and the dough has formed a mass lump.

Pop this mixture into your standing mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, and beat on medium-low speed. The mixture will be steamy, but let it cool off this way for about 2 minutes. This is where you add in the eggs, one at a time, beating continuously until this paste is smooth and shiny. You will know you have added enough egg when a ribbon of dough forms and does not break when pressed and pulled between your fingers. Or you dip your finger in and the valley it forms doesn't really collapse in on itself.

Pop this final mixture into a piping bag, fitted with the pastry tip of your choice(I chose star, but you can use plain), and pipe out your shapes. I just did 'globs', but you can use this versatile paste to make any shape you like. Make sure you have a little cup of water nearby, though, to dip your fingers in and smooth out the tips. We wouldn't want any crispy burnt tops on our choux puffs, would we?

Turn your oven down to 350 at this point. Bake these dudes for about 15 minutes. Remove, poke holes in the bottom to let the steam escape, and return them to the oven. Turn the oven off and let them continue to bake for another 25 minutes, or until dried out and hollow-sounding. Or you could just sacrifice one and break it open to make sure it's not soggy in the middle. Then eat it. I won't judge.

This little vessel is a miraculous thing for pastry creams, curds, mousses, even ice cream! Or you can omit the vanilla and make it 12 oz of bread flour instead of 11 + 1 oz cocoa powder to make it your standard pate a choux, which can be used in savory options as well. They look particularly fancy at parties. If you want to make the stout pastry cream, though, keep reading.

Guinness Pastry Cream
 (adapted from Epicurious.com's Stout Creme Anglaise)
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 3/4 c packed brown sugar(I used light)
  • 1/4 c heavy cream(half and half can work, too)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 c Guinness(or any stout you have on hand, I just used Guinness)
  • 1 oz butter, unsalted

Whip your egg yolks, cornstarch, and sugar together using a whisk attachment on your standing mixer, or just finish off that Guinness and go nuts with a whisk in hand. Bring the cream and stout to a boil with the vanilla and a pinch of salt, and then remove from heat. Splash in a bit of the hot liquid to the egg yolk mixture to temper the eggs, then pour egg mixture into the pot with the remaining liquid, whisking all the time. Return to the heat(medium heat, if you please), and whisk-whisk-whisk until it thickens nicely. DO NOT LET IT EXCEED 180 DEGREES F! Keep a thermometer on hand, if you need. But, dear God, don't.

Or you could just cut it in half and put ice cream in the middle. That's a profiterole!
Remove from heat immediately and add in the butter, whisking it in to both stop the cooking process and giving it a wonderful texture. Strain through a chinois or a tamis strainer if you have one, or just your plain ole' wire mesh guy in the back of the cabinet will do fine. Set it into a container and cover with plastic wrap, actually laying the plastic on the surface of the custard. This will prevent a skin from forming, which you do not want.

Once cool, pipe into your puffs. Or just eat it with a spoon while watching "Fargo" in your bath robe. Seriously, that's a really good show. Martin Freeman is masterful in that.

Oh, and just make a glaze using Guinness, powdered sugar, an egg white, and a touch of salt. Whisk it up and go bananas.(Otherwise known as a royal icing.)
Happy cooking, everyone!