Friday, May 31, 2013

Savory & Sweet - Pate Choux

Earl Gray Creampuffs (left) and Cheddar Gouda Gougeres (right)

Behold, pate choux, a twice cooked pastry shell invented by the French. Buttery and light, it’s most commonly known as the shell of sweet pastries including the cream puff, profiterole and ├ęclair. But, like the crepe, it has roles outside of the dessert and breakfast world. We decided to create a joint post and make two different pate choux pastries – the iconic creampuff and cheesy gougere.

So first, let’s talk about the science behind the pate choux. In its very basic form, it’s made of flour, milk or water, eggs and butter. The butter and water phase are combined and brought to a simmer before the flour is unceremoniously dumped into it and the resulting dough is stirred until smooth. This coats the flour granules with fat, inhibiting gluten formation, and hydrates the starch. The eggs are added, providing both valuable structure and richness. When baked, the outside of the pastry sets before the inside, leaving little to no escape for the incorporated air and steam. The steam and air coalesce within the pastry and form a large air pocket in the center.

Baking these pastries requires two baking temperatures. First, 400 F for 15 min in order to set the crust, and then another 15-25 minutes at 350 F to brown, finish cooking the egg proteins and remove excess moisture.

Having made cream puffs together before, we wanted to be more experimental. I made cream puffs with earl grey pastry cream while James used the base of a pate choux recipe to create his own version of gourgeres. We created mini sandwiches with steak, sauteed spinach, fresh tomato and caramelized onion.

The earl grey cream puffs were good, but it needed a stronger tea flavor. It was difficult to describe what flavor it was if you didn't already know. An easy way to solve this, which is also added to the recipe instructions, is to add extra tea bags to steep. Of course, using an extract produces a strong flavor, but it would probably be difficult to find some to buy. As an alternative to steeping multiple tea bags, you can make earl grey tea or any other tea extracts by making it in the same way you would make vanilla extract. Instead of placing vanilla beans in vodka, you can steep tea bags in vodka. I haven't tried it myself yet, but we will definitely test this out with some future recipes.

Pate Choux (Cream puff/├ęclair shell)
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon granulated white sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup milk
2 large eggs, beaten
1) In a saucepan, combine the sugar, salt, butter and milk and heat at medium-high until boiling.
2) Once the butter and milk mixture begins to boil, add all of the flour at once, reduce the heat to low, and stir vigorously until dough is formed. Cook the dough in the pan for ~ 2min until it begins to pull away from the pot when stirred. Preheat the oven to 400 F
3) Transfer the dough to a large mixing bowl, stir for 2-3 minutes (this develops gluten and releases steam), and then allow it to come to room temperature.
4) Once the dough has cooled, slowly add the egg while stirring (add in about ¼ egg to ½ egg intervals; this will make your life a lot easier). The dough will separate when the egg is being poured in, but will come back together. The degree of separation depends on the amount of egg added in.
5) Transfer the mixture into a piping bag or ziplock bag with the corner cut out and then pipe the dough onto a parchment or silicone mat lined baking sheet in 1.5-2” dollops (this is an approximate diameter measurement).
6) Bake for 15 minutes before turning the oven temperature down to 350 F. Continue baking the shells until they’re golden brown.
7) Remove the shells from the oven and with a paring knife, poke venting holes in each of the creampuffs. Turn the oven off and place the shells back into the oven with the door slightly ajar until they cool.
8) Either use a pastry bag to fill or cut each shell in half and spoon/pipe in the filling.
*For the gougeres,  add 3 ounces of grated cheese (we used a mixture of cheddar and gouda) in step 3, after the dough has cooled slightly. Grate another 1/2 ounce of cheese and sprinkle some on top of the shells after they're piped (step 5).

Pastry Cream
2 cups milk (or half & half)
1/4 cup white sugar
3 egg yolks
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon AP flour
1/3 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (for the earl grey tea flavor, we omitted the vanilla and steeped two packets of tea in the milk/cream)
A pinch of salt
1) In a heavy sauce pan, bring milk to a near boil on medium-low heat (you should see some bubbling, swelling, and steam). If you're making a tea flavored pastry cream, heat the milk until it starts to steam and froth, then take the milk off the heat, place the teabags into the pot and allow to steep for 10-15 minutes. For a stronger tea flavor, steep additional bags of tea. The number of extra tea bags depends on the strength of the tea and personal preference. In another bowl, mix together the eggs, cornstarch, sugar and salt until incorporated.
2) Pour the hot milk into the egg mixture and stir. Pour the mixture through a mesh strainer back into the saucepan. Constantly stir until it thickens.
3) Once thick, remove the pan from the heat or pour the pastry cream into another vessel. Add the vanilla extract and butter and stir until incorporated. Place plastic wrap directly on top of the pastry cream and refrigerate until ready for use.

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