Friday, October 23, 2009

FRANCE - Cream Puffs


The French consider cooking an art, and French cuisine is famous worldwide. The first French cookbooks date back to the Middle Ages, and French standards were the early gauge of fine cooking. Regional traditions are strong. There are several types of cooking, ranging from hearty, inexpensive fare to sophisticated dishes with costly ingredients. Nouvelle cuisine, created in the 1960s, was a reaction to heavy cooking. While still made of expensive ingredients, it is much lighter, portions are smaller, and the presentation is more artistic.
Most people eat a light breakfast of coffee and bread or croissants. Lunch was once the main meal of the day, but urban society has changed and many people now have a light lunch, eating their main meal in the evening. In Paris, lunch (déjeuner) is usually eaten around noon or 1 p.m. and dinner often is not before 8 p.m. In other parts of the country, particularly rural areas, people eat earlier.
Filled croissants and sandwiches can be bought in shops and cafés. Cafés also offer toasted ham-and-cheese sandwiches (croque-monsieurs) and salad-type vegetables for a light meal. Pâtisseries (pastry shops) sell cakes, and some restaurants sell crêpes. The French population tends to resist foreign fast food because of health concerns about genetically modified foods and worries about globalization, which is seen as a threat to France's small farmers.

cream puffs

Cream puffs (and eclairs) start with pate-a-choux, which is simply water, butter, and flour cooked on the stove and then mixed with eggs, scooped or piped onto baking sheets, and baked. The dough rises quickly in the oven, becoming crisp buttery puffs, hollow in the middle. The cream filling is a sweet vanilla custard lightened with whipped cream. And on top—a glistening crown of bittersweet chocolate ganache.

1 cup water
6 Tbsp unsalted butter (3/4 stick)
1/8 tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
1 cup (liquid measure) eggs - approx. 5 eggs beaten lightly together
{pour any extra egg (anything over one cup) into separate cup and mix with a splash of water to use as an egg-wash before baking}

Preheat oven to 425.
In a medium saucepan, bring the butter, salt, and 1 cup water to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and add the flour. Using a wooden spoon, stir vigorously to combine. Continue to stir, using a figure-eight motion and smearing the dough against the sides of the pan to cook the flour and work out any lumps, for 2 minutes. The mixture will be thick and look like a firm ball, or balls, of sticky mashed potatoes that pull away from the pan sides. During this process, it’s normal for a thin layer of dough to stick to the bottom of the pan and sizzle.

Remove the pan from the heat, keep stirring to cool slightly.  Make a well in the center of the dough and add 1/4 of the eggs.  Stir until incorporated.  Keep adding eggs 1/4 cup at a time and mixing thoroughly between additions.  When finished, dough should be the consistency of cake batter.

Fill a pastry bag half full with dough and pipe onto a well-greased sheetpan.  Hold the bag straight up and down, squeezing evenly until one blob is formed, with a slightly smaller atop it.    Then stop squeezing and lift bag straight up to form a point.  Space them 1 1/2 inches apart.

Dip pastry brush into eggwash and lightly touch each puff.  
Immediately place the puffs in the oven and bake 10 minutes.  Turn the pans and switch shelves, then bake for about 10 more minutes.  Bake until the puffs have about doubled in size, are a nice golden brown, and are crisp to the touch. Rapidly remove from the oven and make a slash in each to let out steam.  Return to the turned-off oven for 5 minutes.

Pastry Cream Filling
You can use a  packaged pudding like Cozy Shack, and mix it with whipped cream as we did in class, or you can use the following recipe to make your own vanilla pastry cream:

1 cup whole milk
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbs. cornstarch
1/8 tsp. table salt
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Warm the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat until tiny bubbles appear. Meanwhile, in a medium heatproof bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until pale yellow. Add the cornstarch and salt and whisk well. Pour the hot milk into the yolk mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, whisking constantly. Return the mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until it thickens to the consistency of thick pudding, about 2 minutes. (It will look lumpy as it starts to thicken but will smooth out as you continue to whisk.) 
Remove from the heat and scrape the pastry cream into a large clean metal bowl. Whisk in the vanilla and then lay a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, about 1 hour.

Mix 1 cup pastry cream with one cup whipped cream.  Fill a pastry bag (with a small tip) halfway full, and pipe filling into puffs.  Do not overfill or they will be a mess to eat.
Next make your glaze and brush or spoon it on each puff.

Chocolate Glaze
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I prefer 55% to 63% bittersweet chocolate)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. light corn syrup

 In a small saucepan, warm the cream over medium heat until the cream begins to simmer around the edges of the pan. Remove from heat and add the chopped chocolate pieces and the corn syrup. Let stand for 5 to 7 minutes and then stir until smooth.

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