Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Easy As A Cream Puff

I know the phrase is "Easy as pie," but after making pâte à choux dough for the first time, I have to say it was pretty easy.  Easier than pie, frankly, because I'm not the best crust maker around.  I think it has to do with my impatience with getting the cold butter to the right size when combining with the flour, but I digress.

I'm actually kicking myself for not ever making it before this!  My inspiration to tackle pâte à choux was actually an earlier post of mine about breaking the rules and taking risks . I had never made this particular pastry, although I remember my mom making cream puffs on occasion when I was little.  I was having a Tupperware party and thought I would make gougère as an appetizer and cream puffs for dessert. That was my excuse to go down this particular culinary road, but again, being appallingly stupid bold by making something for company that I had never made before.  Here's a tip: always have some back up cheese and crackers to pull out if your Plan A appetizers don't work out.  Be bold, but don't be dumb.

Here is a picture of the finished gougère, along with the other appetizer, which was amazingly easy and tasty.  Just slice a cucumber in thin rounds (If you want, you can use mini cookie cutters to make them look extra fancy.  I used Pampered Chef's creative cutters set). Then slice radishes thinly (I used a mondoline), put one slice on top of each cucumber slice.  Then make the cheese topping.  For about 2 dozen cucumber slices, I used 2 ounces of goat cheese and 1 ounce of cream cheese mixed together, then added lemon zest (about 1/2 tsp) and fresh mint, cut up fine (about 2 big leaves).  Mix all of that together, then spoon little bits (about 1/4 of a teaspoon) on top of each cucumber/radish stack.  Easy peasy.

Okay, back to the puffs.  I was a little skeptical about the process, since the dough is a gooey, paste-y consistency, and I didn't think it would ever puff up crispy, airy and light. But I was wrong.  Clearly, I really need to finish the book, "What Einstein Told His Cook," which is all about food science, and I'm sure it will explain the science behind the magic of pate a choux.  :-) The dough was also really forgiving, because I made it earlier in the day, piped it out on parchment-lined cookie sheets, then put them in the freezer until I was ready to bake. I just added time on the the listed baking time, but they still turned out puffy and yummy.

I turned to Martha Stewart for help on a basic dough.  Here's a link to the recipe I used, but I used half of the recipe for the gougeres (adding 3/4 cup grated gruyere) and the other half for the cream puffs, which ended up more like mini-eclairs. I really should get a proper tip for my pastry bag.  I don't have a big, plain round tip, so I just put the coupling on without a decorator tip and made do with that.  It worked fine, but was a little challenging to control the dough coming out.

I was so excited to see the finished product that I forgot the suggestion to smooth out any pointy parts with a little water on your finger before putting in the oven, so my "eclairs" looked like little slugs, to be honest.  I didn't get a chance to take a picture of the finished eclairs, because people ate them up pretty quickly, but I just filled them with vanilla pudding and a chocolate glaze (you can find a gazillion recipes for both of these on line).  They turned out better than I had expected, and I will definitely be making more of them in the future!

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