Friday, May 20, 2016

Croissants revisited

Always striving to perfect my croissant technique, I've recently been looking again at longer fermentation methods for croissant making.  Of course I turn to various online sources to read about different techniques, but this time I also referred to my copy of Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel's Bouchon Bakery with its decidedly French flair and way of doing things.

I haven't made croissants in some months, and, now that our kitchen remodel is finished (a much improved and fantastic work space!), it was definitely time.

I looked back to my October, 2014 croissant post written soon after I first started this blog.  At that time I compared my usual method with Philippe Conticini's of Pâtisserie des Rêves and found his sorely lacking, both in process and in final product.

This time I compared Keller/Rouxel's method with the one that I had developed for myself some years ago.

WARNING!  Technical stuff coming up!!

Here are just a few things in the Bouchon recipe that vary from my usual method:  a pre-ferment (poolish) that sits for 12-15 hours; water instead of milk; higher butter:flour ratio; slightly higher in sugar; long kneading time (20 minutes!); different technique to envelop the butter; freezing the dough for 20 minutes in between all steps; different shaping technique; lower oven baking temperature - whew, that's a lot!

This post is geared to those of you who are familiar with the steps of croissant making.  If you've never made croissants, there are tons of resources available that will help you understand the process.

Let's go through some of the steps in pictures.  Once past the poolish steps I show comparisons between Bouchon's dough and mine.

Bouchon poolish

poolish after a 15 hour overnight

lengthy knead of Bouchon dough

smooth, tight Bouchon dough vs. my more lax and open structured dough

Below are two commonly used ways of enveloping the butter - what I like to think of as rectangle vs "baseball diamond".  They both work, so you choose.

ready to envelop the butter

packages ready to roll
first turn completed

second turn completed

The Bouchon dough on the left is smoother and tighter than mine, however rolling it was a more arduous task since it was more elastic and required more rolling pressure.

Freezing the Bouchon dough for 20 minutes in between each step didn't seem detrimental, but I must admit that I prefer my usual method of resting the dough in the fridge as opposed to the freezer. For me the primary issue is that the butter be cool yet malleable and not too cold and hard to break apart during the rolling.

Once all turns were completed I divided each dough into two in preparation for final rolling and shaping.  Check out the layers below.

The Bouchon dough is tighter and the laminations look more precise . . . .

Bouchon dough

whereas my dough looks more rough.

my dough

Once the doughs were rolled out and cut into triangles, I shaped them using the approaches below.  I had never seen the Bouchon method of turning the corners IN before rolling the croissant.  Interesting.

Here are the rolled up end results.

I egg washed and proofed . . . .

ready for the oven

then egg washed again and baked just a few of each (the remainder of the shaped and unbaked croissants went into my freezer).

Unusual for me was the 325ºF oven temp recommended for the Bouchon version, whereas I bake my croissants at 400ºF.  I was taught that the hotter oven temp helps the initial oven rise when baking laminated dough.

The Bouchon version required 40-45 minutes before I was happy with the degree of browning.  Mine looked good after the usual 20 minutes or so.

Bouchon on left, mine on right

The size difference is due to the fact that Bouchon's recipe is a slightly larger amount of dough cut into 16 portions, whereas mine is cut into 12 portions, yielding larger croissants.

Once cooled it was time for cutting and tasting.  The Bouchon croissants felt heavy.  What a disappointment when I found the interior to be doughy with flat layering and a vacant space in the center!

Bouchon version

My version felt light to the touch and exhibited a honeycombed, airy interior.  While I would like to see more distinct laminated layers, the appearance still beat Bouchon's.

my version

While the Bouchon version had a crisp, shard producing exterior and a decent flavor with a hint of sweetness, the texture was doughy and unpleasant, and the croissant left a greasiness on my fingertips and lips that suggested too much butter for my taste.

Bouchon version

My version had some decent crisp exterior shards, although not as impressive as Bouchon's.

my version

When all was said and done, it was clear to me that I should stick with what I know.  I'd still consider tweaking my approach with perhaps a slightly longer kneading time, but otherwise I'll move forward with my standard recipe and technique.

I always love experimenting - it's one of the best ways to learn!!

And remember - there's never an end to the story.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Petite Pavlova

For last weekend's Mother's Day a friend asked if I would make a Pavlova with fresh berries for her Sunday dinner celebration with family.  As I was in the mode, I decided to make some small versions for my own use.  Et pourquoi pas?!

Pavlova, reportedly named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova who danced in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is a baked meringue that is typically filled with whipped cream and topped with fresh fruit of choice.

The French also use the word vacherin (NOT the cheese) for a similar meringue based dessert, often filled with ice cream and topped with fresh fruit.  Ice cream?  Whipped cream?  Either one works, so you decide!

A general meringue formula uses approximately 2 parts sugar to 1 part egg white, often with a pinch of salt or cream of tartar added to help the mixture hold its shape once whipped.

My base recipe for an 8-9 inch Pavlova calls for 4 large egg whites, a pinch of salt and a cup of superfine sugar whipped to glossy peaks.  Since I was making an 8 inch-er plus a bunch of small ones I made 1.5 times the recipe.  Plenty for my needs.

There are three methods of making meringue.

The French method, which I use here, involves whipping sugar and room temperature egg whites to glossy, stiff peaks, piping out shapes and drying them in a low oven to achieve a crispy exterior with a somewhat chewy interior.

love those peaks!

The Swiss method involves heating the sugar and whites over a barely simmering bain marie and then whipping them until cooled, glossy and peaked.  This version is more stable and can be piped and shaped.

Side note:  I used the Swiss method when I made "Baked Rhode Island" (a Kenyon's white cornmeal cake/coffee ice cream version of "Baked Alaska") at Gracie's in Providence many years ago.  I piped a lot of those little babies!  Reminds me of a hedgehog or sea urchin!

Gracie's "Baked Rhode Island"

And last but not least is the Italian method.  This calls for boiling a sugar syrup to the soft ball stage (240-245ºF), cooling it slightly, then pouring it over stiffly beaten whites while continuing to whisk until completely cool and glossy.  This is the most stable of the three and can be used alone or as a base for buttercream for cake icing or folded into mousses and creams to lighten them.  Some French macaron recipes call for Italian meringue as well.

Let's get on with the petite Pavlovas!

Once my French meringue was nicely whipped I blended in a mixture of 1.5 teaspoons each of cornstarch, water and vanilla extract.  This served to add a bit of flavor from the vanilla as well as enhance the crispy tenderness of the meringue.

For piping I used a simple trick that I had learned back in 2007 during my stage at Pâtisserie Pascal Pinaud in Paris - use a round cutter or tart ring dipped in confectioner's sugar to provide a size guide for your desired shapes.  Pretty nifty!

Psst!  I prefer to bake meringues (macarons included) on Silpats - they pop off very easily once baked.

I piped simple circles with a star tip while my oven was heating to 300ºF . . . .

. . . popped them into the oven, turned the temp down to 250ºF and left them in to bake (i.e. dry) for 1.25 hours.  Then I turned the oven off and let it cool down before removing the meringues.

all dried out

 Invariably there will be some cracks in the finished product, but that's par for the course.  Don't worry.

These will keep for several days in a covered container in a cool, non-humid environment OR can be frozen for several weeks.  Just pop a few out as you need them!

I chose to fill my petite Pavlovas with a whipped ricotta cream (one cup ricotta whipped with 1/2 cup heavy cream) to which I added seeds scraped from a vanilla bean and my homemade caramel sauce.  What's not to like!

see those vanilla bean specks?

I must confess that I'm not a big meringue fan (sorry you macaron lovers), but I found this combination quite pleasing.  The meringue was crisp with a hint of chew inside and the ricotta creamy and luscious with vanilla and caramel.  Yum.  And, of course, you simply CAN NOT go wrong with fresh fruit.

And to top it off, as a test I put several of these (uncovered no less) in my fridge for a day.  Boy oh boy, were Steve and I pleased!  The flavor was superb, the exterior of the meringue still crisp, the interior had softened to near gooey-ness and even the fruit was none the worse for wear after a day sitting next to leftovers.

Yes indeed.

And wouldn't you know I still have several meringues in my freezer and some freshly churned lemon ice cream waiting to go?

Now what do you think of that?!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

My first afternoon tea menu

I've finally done it!   My first afternoon tea menu has been created, implemented and served - yay!!

le menu

I created this tasty tea assortment as the result of partnering with Kim Murphy, the activities director at Heron Manor, a local assisted living facility just down the street from my home.

Kim contacted me several weeks ago with the idea of putting on a royal tea for the residents in commemoration of Queen Elizabeth's 90th birthday.  I was all ears.

la table

I was responsible for all the food planning, preparation and set up, and Kim kindly provided the tables, linens, assorted tea cups and saucers (many of which belong to a 97 year old resident there!), place settings, tiered servers and rose nosegays.

Everything but the fig spread and the strawberry jam was made by my own two hands.  I love that. 

orange currant and lemon scones

finger sandwiches

sweet treats

salted caramel, chocolate and lime ginger shortbread
It was a grand time.  There were a handful of men in the largely female audience of 25 attendees.  Some of the ladies donned lovely hats or tiaras in addition to dressing up for this queenly occasion.

Kim had chosen Earl Grey tea with vanilla and lavender, as well as a lemon herbal tea to serve alongside the goodies.

I spoke briefly about the practice of afternoon tea, and Kim presented some interesting facts about Queen Elizabeth along with showing a series of royal photos covering her life and reign.

A lovely afternoon with even more lovely people.

And so it has begun.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Strawberry pistachio feuilletés

Forever scheming about ways to use ingredients I have on hand, whether in the freezer or cupboard, I hit upon feuilletés, puff pastry cases filled with whatever your little heart desires.

Our local grocery store, Meijer, has recently started carrying local Michigan, greenhouse-grown strawberries, which look world's better than the usual year round California giant, and often anemic looking, berries.

not bad for "out of season" fruit

I also had some pistachio paste on hand and decided on a pistachio pastry cream filling topped with fresh strawberries and pistachio crumble for this particular adventure.

I rolled out my puff, cut squares and fashioned the turned-corner feuilletés as seen in the photo below.  I popped them into the freezer while heating the oven to 425ºF.

Once the oven came up to temp, I brushed them with a little milk, sprinkled on some vanilla sugar and baked them with an overturned cooling grid across the top of the sheet pans - this technique keeps the puff even as it rises.

After about 10-15 minutes I removed the cooling grids and continued baking until nicely puffed and golden brown (another 10 minutes or so).

just out of the oven

love those layers!

I had made a classic crème pâtissiere au pistache earlier that day.  I added a bit of whipped cream to lighten the chilled pistachio cream.

Once the feuilletés were cooled, I simply pushed down their centers to make room for the filling, piped in some pistachio pastry cream and topped them with slices of strawberry.  Pistachio crumble finished them off, along with a dusting of powdered sugar.

Et voila!

These made for a delicious flaky, buttery, creamy, fruity, crunchy treat after a traditional Easter dinner of ham, cheesy potatoes, asparagus, strawberry spinach salad, carrot souffle and more.

Tasty.  Now just get into YOUR kitchen and create your own version of feuilletés!

Yes indeed.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Hot cross buns

Last week, as the days ticked by before Easter, I kept thinking about the hot cross buns my mom used to buy at the Fremont bakery when we were kids.  They were always a treat back then, and, since I hadn't eaten one in years and had never made them myself, I thought it was high time.

There are a variety of stories about the history of these buns, a topic I'll let you research for yourself.

Popular in many countries, particularly with the Brits, these lightly spiced, yeasted, fruit-studded sweet buns are traditionally served during the Lenten period leading up to Easter, particularly on Good Friday.

They are usually baked with raisins or currants mixed into the dough, although some recipes suggest other dried fruits or candied citron.  I considered dried tart cherries and apricots for a somewhat more modern switch, but ultimately went with currants, orange zest and spices.

As usual, I did a bit of recipe research, including checking out Joy of Cooking (which has been sitting on my cookbook shelf for years).  Joy's recipe is basically a Parker House roll with a few tweaks.  I found a few other sources and compared amounts of sugar and egg, opting for less of those two ingredients in creating my own version.

Let's go!

les ingredients

Here I'm working in my mom's kitchen since ours is currently under renovation.  Just a couple more weeks, and I'm back into the baking swing at home.  Can't wait!

This dough is a straight forward direct dough, meaning there is no starter, pre-ferment, poolish or sponge (for all you bread bakers out there).  It comes together easily, is on the moist side once mixed, and kneads up into a luscious, soft, silky dough.

First I briefly microwaved 3/4 cup currants in 1/4 orange juice to plump them up, then let them cool.

Add 10 grams instant yeast to 240 ml (1 cup) tepid whole milk, along with a pinch of brown sugar and let sit for 10 minutes or so until foamy.  Whisk in 75 grams melted (but not hot!) unsalted butter, 1 egg yolk and 1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract.

In a separate large mixing bowl whisk together 390 grams (3 cups) all purpose flour, 50 grams (1/4 cup) brown sugar, zest of two oranges, 3/4 tsp kosher salt, 1/2 tsp coriander, 1/4 tsp allspice, 1/4 tsp powdered ginger and a few fresh grates of nutmeg (or more according to your taste).

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the liquid in.

yup - wet and dry

Mix with a wooden spoon or spatula until moistened and the dough comes together in shaggy ball.

Drain the currants and briefly knead them in.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead by hand for about 8 minutes until the dough becomes soft and elastic.

I love kneading by hand and getting a real feel for the dough, but you can also knead in a stand mixer with the dough hook for about 4-5 minutes.

finished kneading

Place the dough in a lightly buttered bowl . . . .

cover and let rise in a warm environment for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours until about doubled.  I planned it so I could go out for my daily walk during the rise.  Not a bad deal, eh?

after the first rise

Now divide the dough into 15 pieces of sixty grams each (about 2 ounces) and form into balls.

Place them in a buttered 9x13 pan . . . .

cover with buttered plastic wrap and let rise about 45-60 minutes until puffed and touching.

after the second rise

Heat the oven to 375ºF.

Brush the rolls with egg wash or milk and bake about 25 minutes until nicely browned.

right out of the oven - smells great!

Once cooled a bit, gently pull the rolls apart and finish cooling them on a wire rack.

looks just like a good roll should

To make the icing I mixed 1 cup confectioner's sugar with 1 tablespoon milk and a teaspoon of vanilla extract, yielding a consistency just right for piping.

Steve, Mom and I couldn't wait too long for the first taste test - it just HAD to be done!

Soft, lightly sweetened, citrus scented, spiced pillows of goodness indeed.

Not bad for my first hot cross buns.