Monday, August 27, 2012

August Daring Bakers Challenge - Filled Pate a Choux Swans

Kat of The Bobwhites was our August 2012 Daring Baker hostess who inspired us to have fun in creating pate a choux shapes, filled with crème patisserie or Chantilly cream. We were encouraged to create swans or any shape we wanted and to go crazy with filling flavors allowing our creativity to go wild!

Pate a choux is one of my favorite things to make in the pastry world.  The textures of the "in progress" dough/batter is pretty cool.  First, when you add the flour to the hot butter/water/salt combo, the mass gets sticky and pulls away from the edges of the bowl.  It's neat.

But, the really, really, really cool part is when you add the eggs in, they and the batter slide into pieces and slip around each other in the bowl until - - POW - - it comes together.

Pate a choux

½ cup (120 ml) (115 gm) (4 oz) butter
1 cup (240 ml) water
¼ teaspoon (1½ gm) salt
1 cup (240 ml) (140 gm) (5 oz) all-purpose flour
4 large eggs

  1. Line two baking sheets with silicone mats or parchment paper, or grease pans well.
  2. Preheat oven to 375°F/190°C/gas mark 5.
  3. In a small pot, combine butter, water, and salt. Heat until butter melts, then remove from stove.
  4. Add flour all at once and beat, beat, beat the mixture until the dough pulls away from the sides of the pot.
  5. Add one egg, and beat until well combined. Add remaining eggs individually, beating vigorously after each addition. Resulting mixture should be somewhat glossy, very smooth, and somewhat thick.
  6. Using a ¼” (6 mm) tip on a pastry bag, pipe out about 30-36 swan heads. You’re aiming for something between a numeral 2 and a question mark, with a little beak if you’re skilled and/or lucky.

  1. Remove the tip from the bag and pipe out 36 swan bodies. These will be about 1.5” (40 mm) long, and about 1” (25 mm) wide. One end should be a bit narrower than the other.
  2. Bake the heads and bodies until golden and puffy. The heads will be done a few minutes before the bodies, so keep a close eye on the baking process.
  3. Remove the pastries to a cooling rack, and let cool completely before filling.

Vanilla Pastry Cream

1 cup (225 ml.) whole milk
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
6 Tbsp. (100 g.) sugar
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
2 Tbsp. (30 g.) unsalted butter
1 Tsp. Vanilla

  1. Dissolve cornstarch in ¼ cup of milk. Combine the remaining milk with the sugar in a saucepan; bring to boil; remove from heat.
  2. Beat the whole egg, then the yolks into the cornstarch mixture. Pour 1/3 of boiling milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly so that the eggs do not begin to cook.
  3. Return the remaining milk to boil. Pour in the hot egg mixture in a stream, continuing whisking.
  4. Continue whisking until the cream thickens and comes to a boil. Remove from heat and beat in the butter and vanilla.
  5. Pour cream into a bowl. Press plastic wrap firmly against the surface. Chill immediately and until ready to use.
  1. Take a swan body and use a very sharp knife to cut off the top half.
  2. Cut the removed top down the center to make two wings.
  3. Dollop a bit of filling into the body, insert head, and then add wings.
**These should be eaten right away, or at least the same day.  They don't store well, particularly once filled.***

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Flan for Mexican Night!

We're having some friends over for dinner tonight, Todd is cooking from one of his favorite new cookbooks, Latin Grilling.  (He's making the Yucatecan Barbecue.)  I told him I'd take care of dessert.  Although I'm sure there are many amazing Mexican desserts out there, flan is one that's easy, quick and almost universally loved!  So, that's what I'm making...

Flan is what's called a baked custard, meaning that it's baked to cook instead of stirred.  Very basically, a custard is a liquid thickened or set by the coagulation of egg protein.  Sounds yummy, huh?  Some other examples of baked custards are creme brulees, pots de creme and creme caramel (which is very similar to flan).  The other kind of custard is a stirred custard, which is a custard that is cooked by stirring on the stovetop, like creme anglaise, pastry cream and the liquid that's frozen to make ice cream.  A general rule for custards is that they can't be cooked to over 185 degrees internally or they will curdle. 

The amount and proportion of eggs, yolks/whites to liquid, as well as the type of liquid (cream/milk or combination) determines the consistency of the final product.  If a custard is going to be unmolded (like these flan), it needs to have more egg than a baked custard that will be served in the dish in which it is baked.  The additional egg provides stability, which is needed when the custard is turned out of the dish. Although the egg whites set the custard, the egg yolks make it creamy and rich.  Using whole eggs with yolks makes it the easiest to unmold after chilling. 

Here's my recipe...

Yield: six 4-oz servings

2 eggs
2 egg yolks
2 cups milk (whole milk works best for this)
1 tsp vanilla (or the contents of one vanilla bean)
pinch salt
1/3 cup sugar + 1/2 cup sugar

That's it!  Eggs, milk, sugar and vanilla!  Preheat your oven to 325 degrees and find a rectangular baking pan (that 9x12 you use to make brownies works here) and set aside.  To make the hallmark caramel topping for the flan, begin by making a caramel.  Take your 1/2 cup sugar, add a few ounces of water, stir and put the pan on the stovetop.  Cook until the sugar melts, then thickens, then finally darkens to a light amber caramel.  You should use a brush dipped in ice water to clean the sides of your pan of sugar so that the mixture will not crystallize.  If you are left with a big hardened mess, your sugar is crystallized and you will need to start again.  If the sugar is darkening too quickly for your liking, you can always turn the heat down on your burner.  Once the caramel is ready, move quickly and pour a little into the bottom of each of six ramekins, swirling around in the bottom to coat.  Do these one at a time, because the caramel will harden shortly after it hits the cool bottom of your ramekin.  It shouldn't take more than a few seconds for it to fully harden.

Ramekins with hardened caramel

Now, prepare your custard.  Put the 2 cups milk in a saucepan, heat to scalding.  While it's heating up, combine the rest of your ingredients in a bowl, whisk to combine, dissolve sugar.  Don't whisk so hard that you fully aerate the mixture.  Although you want the sugar to dissolve, you don't want a lot of bubbles.  Once the milk is scalded (thin skin on top, not yet boiling), pour it over your egg mixture, whisking constantly.  Whisk to combine, then pour through a fine-mesh sieve (metal strainer) into a clean bowl.  (Get a quart or so of water on to boil at this point for your water bath.)  Pour equal amounts of the custard into your six prepared, caramel-bottomed ramekins.  Put all the ramekins into your 9x13 baking pan and carefully move the pan to the oven.  Pour the hot water carefully into the side of the pan, making sure not to splash into your flans.  You want the water to go at least halfway up the sides of the ramekins.  Carefully push the pan into the oven, close the door and bake for about 40-45 minutes.  Remove from the oven, cool, then refrigerate.  These can definitely sit overnight! To unmold, remove from the fridge, wipe the bottom of the ramekin with a hot washcloth, then invert onto the plate.  You may have to wiggle it a little from side to side. The flan should slide from the ramekin and end up caramel side up on the dish, all beautiful-like.  Oh, and yummy.  Enjoy these, they are a treat!!

Here are some other pics of our feast: Pollo Pibil (wrapped in banana leaf), pickled red onions, guacamole, jicama lime salad, Yucatecan barbecued spare ribs and poblano quesadillas.  Our friends brought some delicious Mexican-spiced potatoes and fresh-squeezed margaritas!