Friday, 27 December 2013

Basic recipe #4: Pȃte feuilletée (puff pastry)

The next challenge of the week calls for pȃte feuilletée otherwise known as puff pastry. The first mention of this usually has home cooks running for the hills so I am going to start off with a note of reassurance: it's OK to buy and use ready made puff pastry. Really. Yes, it is. However, homemade puff pastry, is not hard or complicated, but merely takes a long time as you have to rest the pastry a lot.

I made my own for the challenge and so took the opportunity to document it and include it here as a basic recipe. Even if you decide to buy it ready-made, it's a fascinating insight into the method behind, and I always think things taste so much better if you realize the sheer amount of work that went into them.

Pȃte feuilletée is, in essence, a basic dough (la détrempe) that is laminated with butter. Through a process of folding and turning, known as le tourage, 729 fine layers of butter and pastry are created which puff up magically to form the characteristic texture when baked.

Pȃte feuilletée

Active time: 30 mins
Total time: 4 hrs

250g  / 2 cups flour
120g / 1/2 cup water
5g / 1 tsp salt
extra flour for dusting
250g  / 1 1/4 cups unsalted butter and room temperature

La détrempe

Ingredients for la détrempe

Place the flour in a mixing bowl. Dissolve the salt in a little water and pour into the bowl. Add more, but not all of the water and mix the dough with your hand. You are trying to achieve a homogeneous dough, and this will require more or less water depending on the level of humidity in the air. Add more of the water until this has been achieved. Then form the dough into a ball, wrap it in cling film, and refrigerate for 2 hours.

la détrempe before resting

Le tourage

1. Place the dough on a floured work surface and cut a cross in the top using a sharp knife.

2. Starting in the middle, fold the corners of the dough outwards like the petals of a flower.

3. Using a rolling pin, flatten out the petals, but be sure to leave a thick mound of dough in the middle.

4. Place your butter in the middle on top of the mound.

5. Fold in the petals to completely enclose the butter, like a parcel.

6. Very gently roll the dough to form a long thin strip. Be very careful that none of the butter manages to break through the dough.

7. Fold the bottom third and the top third of the dough over each other into the centre of the dough.

8. Turn the dough so that the seam is to the right. This is one turn.

9. Repeat the process of rolling ...

10. ... and folding, until you have completed a second turn.

11. With the flats of your fingers, being very careful not to pierce the dough with your nails, make two dents in the dough. This will remind you that it has had two turns. Now, wrap it in plastic film again and put it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. At this point there are nine layers of butter in the pastry.

12. Repeat stages 8-11 twice more and mark the dough with four dents to signify that it has had four turns (81 layers) and then return it to the fridge for another 30 minutes.

13. When they dough has rested give it another two turns (steps 8-11) and then the dough is ready to be used immediately. It will now have 729 layers of butter. Bon appetit!

Friday, 20 December 2013

Challenge of the Week #3

The challenge: Choose a classic pastry from Paris and using it as inspiration create a similar recipe that can be made easily at home.
The pastry:  La Bûche de Noël

This week's challenge is a little different since I haven't tasted one of these—yet! That's because we still have a few days to go before Christmas, and this week's challenge is the French Christmas classic, the Bûche de Noël, often translated into English as the Yule Log. Based on the ancient custom of burning a huge log in one's fireplace from 24 December until 6 January, since the end of the Second World War, the French have recreated the log in cake, which they eat throughout the festive season.

Early Bûches de Noël sought to emulate the look of a log by rolling a sheet of chocolate biscuit covered in cream and then piping chocolate chantilly or ganache over the whole to imitate the bark. This was often decorated with meringue mushrooms to give it the look of the forest.

Nowadays, although traditional ones are still to be found, for the most part the bûche has metamorphosed into an elaborately constructed dessert, with dream-like layers of airy sponge, in bed  with velvet smooth creams, slumbering under quilts of fantastical colours and impossible textures. For most pâtissiers, the bûche is an annual exercise in outlandish originality, a kind of baked haute couture with a price tag to match.

I will confess that I don't really like chocolate—I'm anticipating hate mail—so I decided to have a plain white biscuit joconde, ivory crème pâtissière, all rolled around a raspberry, a decadent fruit for the middle of winter. The honey-sweet flavour of muscadet de rivesaltes wine would be used tp pervade the sponge and make it easier to roll.  Then I would create a traditional bark covering, in white chocolate crème chantilly, but colored a rather avant-garde raspberry as an homage to the great Parisien pâtissiers. The result is a really easy cake that you can make any time leading up to next Wednesday's festivities, although if you serve it cold after 24 hours in the fridge, well, oh là, là!

You will notice that this recipe combines two of our basic recipes and this is a hallmark of French cuisine in general, where basic recipes are adapted or combined into myriad dishes. A good technique requires the mastery of these basics from which, in time,  you can then create your own.

Bûche de Noël

Active time: 45 mins
Total time: 6 hrs

biscuit joconde
muscadet de rivesaltes
crème pâtissière (double the basic recipe)
125g / 1 cup fresh raspberries
500ml / 2 cups heavy cream
1/2 tsp red powder food coloring
120g / 2oz white cooking chocolate
icing sugar to decorate

1. Bake the biscuit joconde and let it cool: using a pastry brush, soak the biscuit in the muscadet. Then spread crème pâtissière evenly over the biscuit. Place a row of raspberries along one of the short edges of the biscuit and then roll it up with the raspberries in the middle. Place it on a serving plate and refrigerate for a couple of hours.

2. Add the food coloring to the cream until you have achieved the desired color. Break the white chocolate into small pieces and place in a bowl. Boil the heavy cream and then pour over the white chocolate and leave for 10 minutes. Stir the cream until the chocolate has been dissolved completely. Refrigerate for 4 hours.

3. Using a stand mixer, whip the cream until it forms soft peaks. Using a piping bag and a star nozzle, pipe long stripes of cream to cover the cake. Place three rows of raspberries on the top and sprinkle with icing sugar. Voilà!

Notes: Any sweet white wine such as Tokaji Àszu, a sauternes, or a sweet sherry, can be used to replace the muscadet. Strawberries, redcurrants, or even cranberries soaked in sugar syrup, would all provide alternative fruit.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Basic recipe #3: Biscuit joconde

Pieces of biscuit joconde cut out and ready for use

The word biscuit in French has a wider use than it does in British English, where it has the meaning 'cookie' (for my US readers) or in American English, where it means something like 'scone' (for my British readers). In French, it could be used for all of the above, but it also has the meaning of 'sponge cake', particularly thin layers of it used as the basis for other pastries.

There are many slight variations of biscuit, such as the plain genoise, the dacquoise—somewhat akin to an almond meringue, and a cousin to the macaron—and the biscuit joconde, most famously used in the Opéra cake I mentioned last week. A well-baked joconde has an unexpected feather lightness, with a fragile flavour lent by the almonds and it takes on the character and flavor of whichever cream it's layered with, or whichever drink it's impregnated with, depending on the recipe.

For this week's challenge, I have chosen to use a biscuit joconde and so I am adding the recipe for it here, to our library of basic recipes.

Biscuit joconde is uniformly 3-5mm (1/5") thick

Biscuit joconde

Active time: 10 mins
Total time: 20 mins

30g / 2 tbsp butter
20g / 1 tbsp flour
75 g / 3/4 cup icing sugar
75g / 3/4 cup ground almonds
2 whole eggs
2 egg whites
a pinch of salt
12g / 2/14 tsp caster sugar

1. Pre-heat the oven to 200° C / 390° F; grease and line a lipped baking tray with greaseproof paper.
2.  Melt the butter and then let it cool.
3. Sift the flour, icing sugar, and ground almonds into a bowl; add the whole eggs and beat until you have a light creamy mixture. 
4. Place the egg whites in a bowl with the salt and caster sugar; whisk until they form stiff peaks. 
5. Fold the egg whites into the other mixture, being really careful to keep as much air as possible. This is what will give the biscuit it's light character. When they are combined, add the melted butter and continue folding until it is incorporated. 
6. Place the mixture into the baking tray and spread with a spatula until is it even; bake for 8‑10 mins. Let it cool, remove the paper and the biscuit is ready to use. 

Friday, 13 December 2013

Challenge of the Week #2

The challenge: Eat a classic pastry from a top pȃtisserie in Paris and, using it as inspiration, create a similar recipe that can be made easily at home.
The pastry: macarons
The pȃtisserie: Dalloyau, 101 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, 75008, Paris

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to attend a masterclass by Christophe Michalak, one of the top pȃtissiers in France. At the beginning, he went round the group asking people what they liked to bake and home and what they wanted to be able to bake. One woman said, ‘I would love to be able to bake macarons, but …’ and everyone else in the room, Chef Michalak, included, gave a knowing sympathetic look.

Macarons are to France what cupcakes are the the USA. However, unlike cupcakes, they have a mystique surrounding them based on their supposed difficulty to make. A recent episode of Le Meilleur Pȃtissier contributed to this mystique when almost every contestant completely bodged their macarons and more ended up in the bin than before the judges.  They consist of two almond meringue shells with a flavored filling sandwiched between. The shells are colored to reflect the flavor of the filling.

Almost every eatery in Paris, MacDonalds included, serve macarons. Two boutiques in particular, Ladurée and Pierre Hermé specialize in them and are often have queues the length of which seem proportional to their prices. It would have been obvious to have visited one of these for this challenge, but instead, I chose what is supposed to be one of the oldest pȃtisseries in Paris, Dalloyau.

Dalloyau, Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré

From 1682-1789 four generations of the Dalloyau family served as master pȃtissier to the kings of France at the palace of Versailles. As the macaron was popular even then, it seems inevitable that Dalloyau would have baked them for Queen Marie-Antoinette, and it is for this that I chose them. After the revolution, in 1802 the Dalloyau of his day set up a pȃtisserie in the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré which is where I found them ready and waiting. Later, the shop was responsible for the introduction of another Parisian classic, the Opéra Cake, but that’s a different challenge.

I chose four different flavors of macaron from Dalloyau: pistachio, pink grapefruit, raspberry, and caramel fleur de sel. They all had a delicately crisp outer shell, with a gooey interior and fillings that I would say were competent rather than inspiring. I would have liked for the raspberry filling to have been more tart.

For my macarons, I chose to fill them with a home-made lemon curd as I adore the deliciously sour flavor that adds to the comfortingly sweet almond shells. For the recipe below however, I concentrate on the shells, as you can really fill them with anything you like but it’s the biscuits themselves that fill people with dread. However, like any baking, if you are meticulous about the measurements, oven temperatures and baking times, then you will master the macaron in no time. 

Note: I have written the recipe in weight measurements as they are more exact than volume measurements and for macarons, you have to be exact. The method is an amalgam of advice I have collected from top french chefs and cookery writers and a bit of trial and error from myself. However, for me, this produces perfect macarons every time. 

Macaron shells
Coque de macaron

Active time: 15 mins
Total time: 2 hrs

125g /4 1/2 oz ground almonds
225g / 8 oz icing sugar
¼ tsp food coloring powder
30g / 1 oz caster sugar
110g / 4oz egg whites

1. Heat the oven to 150° C / 300° F . Place the almonds on a baking tray and toast them for 10 minutes. Allow them to cool completely. Then pass them through a sieve, discarding any pieces which are too large. Sift them, together with the icing sugar, into a bowl.

2. Mix the food coloring with the sugar. Place them in the bowl of a stand mixer and add the egg whites. Using the whisk attachment, beat until they form stiff peaks. The consistency should be such that if you hold the bowl upside down, the mixture will not fall out.

 3. Add the egg whites to the almonds and icing sugar. Using a plastic spatula, scoop the almond mixture over the egg whites twice, and then flatten the mixture and slightly turn the bowl.  Continue to scoop, flatten, and turn until all the ingredients are combined into a smooth mixture. As soon as the ingredients are combined, draw a line in the mixture with your finger. If it closes up again, the mixture is ready. If not, continue to scoop, flatten and turn once or twice more until it does.

 4. Place the mixture in an icing bag. Then pipe small disks onto a silicon mat placed on a baking tray.  Lift the tray about three inches off the work surface and drop it to knock out any air bubbles. Do this three times. Then leave the macarons to dry at room temperature for one hour.

5. Heat the oven to 160° C / 320° F. Bake the macarons for 12 minutes. Then gently press the tops of the shells with your finger. If they are still soft, give them one more minute. Remove from the oven and allow the shells to cool completely before carefully removing them from the silicon mat. Refrigerate overnight before filling them.

Macarons filled with lemon curd

Monday, 9 December 2013

The Great French Bake Off

Tonight is the semi-final of what has become my favourite TV programme over the last few weeks, Le Meilleur Pȃtissier. A version of the cult BBC TV programme, The Great British Bake Off, people from all over France go through three baking challenges every week, at the end of which, one person is eliminated. The format, and even the set, of the programme is almost identical in both countries, but as you might imagine, there is a different flavour to the items baked. The GBBO is about reviving the art of the home classics our grandmothers were proficient in, but which our generation seems to have lost the ability to produce. The French version is much more about reproducing professional standard cakes and pastries and to this end, a professional pȃtissier comes in and gives a masterclass every week.
Despite the differences, both programmes are compulsive viewing and so, I can't wait to see Mounir, Aurélie, Agathe, and Gérald battle it out. 

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Basic recipe #3: Pȃte sucrée

It's not part of the next challenge, but today, it being December and me being British, I made some mince pies and decided to use traditional french pȃte sucrée instead of the usual shortcrust. You have to roll the pȃte sucrée thinner than shortcrust and then it develops a delightful, delicate, crispiness that makes you feel that it's OK to eat more than one mince pie. But then, in December, it's always OK to eat more than one mince pie. This is based on the traditional french recipe, but I have adjusted the measurements a little by trial and error.

Pȃte sucrée

155g / 1 1/4 cups plain flour
60g / 1/4 cup butter
60g / 1/4 cup
1 medium egg

1. Place the butter in a bowl; sift in the flour and sugar and rub the butter into the mixture with your fingertips. Keep going until the mixture has the consistency of rough breadcrumbs.
2. Add the egg, and mix with your hand until everything comes together to form a dough.
3. Allow it to rest in the fridge for at least two hours before using. 

Friday, 6 December 2013

Challenge of the Week #1

The challenge: Eat a classic pastry from a top patisserie in Paris and, using it as inspiration, create a similar recipe that can be made easily at home. 

The pastry: religieuse

The pâtisserie: Cyril Lignac, 2 rue de Chaillot, 75016, Paris

In Catholic Europe, it is no surprise to find food and beverages named after members of the church. In Italy, for example, the cappuccino, takes its name from the capuchin monks, who wear coffee colored robes and always seem to have long white beards. France is no different, where one of its most traditional cakes is la religieuse, which literally means nun. A large choux bun, filled with coffee flavored crème pâtissière, with a smaller one, stuck on top by means of a cream necklace, and both buns covered in chocolate ganache, la religieuse is a common site in pâtisseries all over Paris. 

I am no big fan of chocolate and coffee in pastries, so I visited Cyril Lignac's patisserie in the trendy 16th district of Paris, since I had heard he did a raspberry religieuse that sounded intriguing. Originally from the south-west of France, Lignac came to Paris thirteen years ago, and trained and worked with some of the best chefs in the city, namely Alain Passard, the Pourcel brothers, and the legendary Pierre Hermé, and Alain Ducasse. He now owns three restaurants, including Le Quinzieme, which holds a Michelin star, and two pâtisseries, all in Paris. 

Lignac is a common sight on French TV, where he is currently one of the hosts of Le Meilleur Pâtissier, the French version of the BBC TV cult, The Great British Bake Off

Cyril Lignac's shop on the Rue de Chaillot, Paris 16ème

Lignac's religieuse was quite extraordinary. He used red choux pastry, which gave it an original look, reminiscent of a cardinal, but which was clearly a woman, in her Sunday best all ready for church. She wore a collar of chocolate which had been colored a metallic bronze, and her raspberry hat was topped off with gold leaf—an extremely elegant touch. The pastry was filled with a rich chocolate cream with mouth-wateringly tart raspberries throughout. I remember thinking, as I ate it in a nearby park, in full view of the Eiffel Tower, that it was one of the most exquisite things I had ever tasted—a truly religious experience. 

I decided to make my version to suit my own taste. Out went the milk chocolate, and in came white, combined with strawberries, my favorite fruit since childhood. I kept the red colored pastry, but decided to try and make it look like a cardinal, dressed up for a grand Vatican ceremony. To achieve this, I used white chocolate ganache as his surplice, and cut a strawberry in the shape of a mitre on top. To keep it simple to make at home, I abandoned the necklace, as this would have required piping skills and voilà the result. Not so stylish as Lignac's but impressive for a family gathering or as a dinner party dessert. I am going to work on refining the presentation and will give you an update when I have, but remember, the challenge was to prepare something that could be made quickly and easily at home. So, how did I do?

The recipe follows after the pictures. 

Strawberry and white chocolate religieuse

Active time: 45 mins
Total time: 2 1/2 hrs

1/2 tsp red powder food coloring
12 strawberries
50g / 1/4 cup white chocolate
50g / 1/4 cup cream

1. Pre-heat the oven to 250°C / 480°F. 
2. Prepare the choux pastry, but mix 1/2 teaspoon of red powder food coloring with the flour. When it is ready, put it in a piping bag and pipe six large and six small buns. Turn the oven off and place the buns in the oven for 25 minutes. Then turn the oven on to 160°C / 325°F and cook the small buns for 10 mins and the large ones for 20 mins. Leave to cool completely on a wire rack. 
3. Prepare the creme pâtissière. When it is ready, chop 6 strawberries into small pieces and stir into the cream. 
4. Break the chocolate into pieces and place in a glass bowl. Boil the cream and then add it to the bowl. Leave for 10 mins and then stir to incorporate all the chocolate. Leave to cool. 
5. Make a small hole in the top of the choux buns with a skewer. Place the creme pâtissière in a piping bag and fill each of the buns. Then dip the large buns in the white chocolate. Pipe a small amount of creme pâtissière on the top of each large bun. Dip the bottom of the small buns in the white chocolate and then stick them, upside down, to the large buns using the creme pâtissière. Cut the remaining six strawberries into mitre shapes, and then place on the top of each small bun. 

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Basic recipe #2: Pȃte à choux

choux buns

My recipe this week also calls for pȃte à choux  or choux pastry, which will be used again and again, so I am filing it here under a 'basic recipe' post. This doesn't feel like a pastry in the traditional sense, but is rather a mixture of milk, water, and butter that is thickened with flour. It is the basis of chocolate éclairs, profiteroles, and also the ubiquitous chouquettes.

Chouquettes are tiny puffs of choux covered in giant grains of sugar, and eaten for breakfast, or as a four o'clock snack. The bakery opposite my apartment always has a tempting stack of them in a basket on the counter, pleading with you to take a couple home with your daily bread. I regularly oblige. The neutral, creamy flavour of the little balls of air is sweetened perfectly by the perles du sucre, which look beautiful too.

I remember Mrs. Cook—real name—my High School cookery teacher, talking of the mysteries of choux and propagating the myth of its difficulty. As always with French pâtisserie, if you respect the method and quantities, it's really not hard. Try the recipe below and you will see, that it's a quick and easy way to impress your friends and family. When you have finished reading, scroll down for a surprise.

Pȃte à choux

Active time: 10 mins
Total time: 10 mins

125 ml / 1/2 cup milk
125 ml / 1/2 cup water
100g / 1 stick butter
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
150g / 1 cup plain flour
4 eggs

1. Put the milk, water, butter, salt, and sugar into a saucepan and bring to the boil.
2. Remove from the heat and add the flour all in one go; stir with a wooden spoon until it is combined.
3. Return the pan to a medium heat and stir until the mixture forms a ball and comes away from the pan, about 1 minute.
4. Leave to cool for about 1 minute and then add the eggs individually and stir them into the mixture with a wooden spoon. Don't worry if it looks like the mixture has curdled at this point. Just keep stirring and the egg will miraculously disappear into the mixture. When all the eggs are combined, voilà, the pastry is ready to be used.



Active time: 10 mins
Total time: 30 mins

pȃte à choux (see recipe above)
pearl sugar

1. Prepare a pȃte à choux. Using a piping bag, pipe small balls of the pastry onto a lightly greased baking sheet. The amount of choux pastry above should make about 24 balls of 2cm / 1 inch diameter.
2. Sprinkle the balls with pearl sugar. If it doesn't stick, press a few grains on by hand.
3. Bake at 180°C / 350°F for about 20 minutes. Leave to cool on a wire rack and then enjoy.

TIP: If you can't find pearl sugar, then wait until the puffs are cooked and cooled and then sprinkle them with confectioner's sugar.

Challenge of the Week

So, it's almost time for the challenge of the week. How does it work? Every week I will try a pastry from a top shop in Paris and then use it as inspiration to develop an easy-to-make recipe that you can use at home. Looking forward to this week's challenge? Come back tomorrow and find out what it is. 

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Basic recipe #1: Crème pȃtissière

The recipe I am working on this week calls for crème pȃtissière. This is no big surprise, since this thick, creamy custard forms the basis of many classic French cakes such as éclairs, fraisier, mille feuille, and so on—have I got you drooling yet? If you don't know what these are, you will in the next few weeks, as all of them will feature on this blog.

So, rather than repeating the recipe over and over, I thought I would give you my version of crème pȃtissière, now. I have adjusted this recipe over the years, primarily cutting the amount of sugar, because the classic recipe is very sweet and I feel this version suits modern tastes better.

Crème pȃtissière

Active time: 20 mins
Total time: 1 1/2 hours

½ vanilla pod
250ml / 1 cup milk
3 egg yolks
50g / 1/4 cup caster sugar
20g / 2 tbsp flour
20g / 1 1/2 tbsp butter

1. Place the vanilla pod and milk in a saucepan and bring to the boil; remove from the heat and leave the pod to infuse for about 10 mins; remove the pod and discard. 

2. Beat the egg yolks together with the caster sugar in a mixing bowl; then sift the flour into the bowl and mix until smooth. 

3. Pour the milk into the mixing bowl and combine with a whisk; then put the entire mixure into a saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring all the time with the whisk; simmer, still stirring, for one minute. 

4. Remove the mixture from the heat and add the butter; stir until combined. Cover the mixture with cling film which should touch the surface of the cream to stop a skin forming and leave to cool completely.