Crunchy topped choux

As a brief respite from traveling, moving and trying to figure out where we're going to live, I wanted to prepare something for dessert for my Aunt Marian's birthday lunch.  Part of the reason Steve and I are transitioning back to Michigan is so we can be on the ground, as it were, to lend a hand to my Mom and her sibs and sibs-in-law, all of whom are aging as we speak.  But then, aren't we all??

At first I was going to turn to one of my standards - financier, a tart of some sort, shortbread - all the usual suspects.  And then my thoughts turned to choux!

Some years ago while visiting my pastry friend Misato in Mulhouse (Alsace) I was perusing one of her pastry books by Jean-Michel Perruchon.  I was intrigued by the recipes for crunchy topping for pâte à choux, as well as the different fruity variations of pastry cream - a whole new world opened up to me!

Since then I had tried the crunchy topping thing as well as a pear pastry cream version for a tart I created and found them very satisfying.  For some reason I put those ideas aside as other things in the pastry world seemed to grab my attention.

But now, as I reviewed Dorie Greenspan's "Baking Chez Moi", I found her recipes for "Crackle-Top Cream Puffs" and "Bubble Eclairs".  The wheels started spinning.

Inspired by raspberries on sale at Meijer for $1! per 6 oz, I decided to make a raspberry pastry cream to fill my version of "bubble-crackle-top eclairs".

OK - so let's get to it.

First - the crackle-top dough.  This is basically akin to a crumble - mix 64 gm cool, diced butter, 100 gm sugar (in this case brown sugar), 85 gm all-purpose flour, a pinch of salt and 3/4 tsp vanilla extract . . . .

les ingredients

and form a rough dough that just holds together.

crumbly but holds together when squeezed

Form a disc . . . .

and roll it to 1/16" thick between two sheets of parchment paper.

Freeze it for a couple of hours (or until ready to bake your choux puffs), then cut into rounds that will later top the puffs.  You can hold this dough frozen and wrapped for many days!

I wrapped the scraps and froze them for another time.

Second - the pastry cream.  The beauty of this is its make-ahead-by-a-day-or-two feature.

Initially I found the whole idea of a fruit version of pastry cream (hmmm, fruit puree and milk?) kind of odd.  But, as I thought about it, we use fruit purees and dairy in many ways -ice cream,  smoothies, cheesecake, mascarpone cream to name a few.  Instead of using only milk as the liquid base as is typical for standard pastry cream, one can create variations by using a combination of fruit puree and milk, proceeding with the very same process used to make pastry cream with egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch.  I like to think of it as a cross between pastry cream and curd.

I wasn't sure how much puree my 12 oz of fresh raspberries would yield, so I smooshed and strained them with a yield of 215 gm.  Now I could figure out the quantities for the remaining ingredients.

In Perruchon's recipes a greater proportion of fruit puree is used compared to the milk e.g. 500 gm puree + 100 gm milk.  I tweaked the proportions based on my 215 gm of raspberry puree, using equal weights of puree and milk.

To sum up, my recipe used 215 gm raspberry puree, 215 gm whole milk, 95 gm egg yolk, 77 gm sugar and 40 gm cornstarch; 20 gm butter is added at the end of the cooking process.  If you don't know the standard process for making pastry cream, you can find many sources on line to help you.

Once the raspberry pastry cream was made I covered and chilled it until I was ready to use it the next day.

Next up - pâte à choux.  For this I went with my standard recipe from Michel Roux - in a medium pan bring 125 gm milk, 125 gm water, 1 1/2 tsp sugar, 1/2 tsp salt, 100 gm diced butter to a boil; remove from the heat and stir in 150 gm flour all at once; place back on the heat and stir for a minute or so to dry it (you'll see a thin film on the bottom of the pan); stir in 4 eggs, one at a time, until you have a smooth, silky paste.

Here is the panada (the paste before the eggs are added) . . . .

check out the thin coating on the bottom of the pan

and after the egg addition . . .

silky smooth

I piped out the puffs in series of three, each ball snuggling up to the next . . .

and topped them with the chilled crackle dough rounds.

ready for the oven

 Pretty cool!

Bake them at 375º for about 35 minutes until the tops are browned and the puffs are golden and firm to the touch.

Oh yeah - lookin' good!

Once the puffs are cooled it's time to garnish.

I typically lighten my pastry cream with a small percentage of whipped cream.  In this case I blended 100 gm whipped cream into my raspberry pastry cream.

whipped cream and pastry cream ready to be blended together

One can garnish puffs or eclairs in two different ways - slice the choux, pipe the cream decoratively on the bottom half and sandwich- OR fill the choux from the bottom.

the non crackle-top in the foreground was my practice version!

I opted for the fill-from-the-bottom technique, finding it much more user friendly than slicing each one in half.  Plus, I've filled a LARGE share of puffs and eclairs over the years, and it's like riding a bicycle.

Poke holes in the bottoms and, using a pastry bag with a 6 mm tip, fill each section until the cream starts to ooze out of the adjacent holes.  That way you know you've filled adequately.  Once you've done this multiple times you begin to understand what the "heft" of a well filled puff is all about.

I'm told that Parisians get mighty peeved if their eclairs and profiteroles aren't filled properly!

I scrape the excess off with a small offset spatula, place them crunch side up and dust them with powdered sugar.  And we're off to the races!

These were well received by the family, who had gathered at Uncle John's Clear Bottom Lake cottage to celebrate Aunt Marian's 86th birthday.  The crunchy top is such a wonderful contrast to the cool, creamy filling and the light as air choux.  I enjoyed the raspberry cream, although Steve still holds out for classic pastry cream (praline and chocolate are some of his faves too).

Happy Birthday Aunt Marian!

Cannelés Bordelais

cannelés Bordelais

I first made a Christophe Felder recipe for cannelés back in late winter/early spring of 2013 in my pastry studio at Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket RI.  While the batter is trés simple I soon learned these delectable treats required baking in a hot oven (450-500º) for a good hour (or more!)   Since I couldn't justify dedicating the oven to one thing for that long, I didn't bake them on a regular basis.  But man are they good!

We're talking one tasty little tidbit.  With a custard like interior and darkly caramelized exterior they are a true taste and mouth-feel experience.

Also known as canelé de Bordeaux these babies are well known and very popular, not only in and around Bordeaux, but in many parts of France.  For years they have been baked traditionally in copper molds coated with beeswax, but, now that silicone molds are so prevalent, there's much less muss and fuss involved, especially for the home baker.

One of the big producers in France is Baillardran.  They have a shop in Paris, and when Steve and I were there in May, 2013 (soon after I had first made cannelés) we felt we HAD to try them.

yup - nicely caramelized

custardy pockets are de rigueur as I understand

Sad to say, we found them rather dry and unappealing, not like the delicious, custardy treats we had sampled at The French Tarte.

At any rate, fast forward 2 years to now.  Inspired by Dorie Greenspan's "Baking Chez Moi" it seemed only natural to try out her recipe for cannelés.

The batter preparation is straightforward and includes milk, sugar, butter, egg, flour, vanilla and usually rum.  Not being a rum fan, I substituted hazelnut liqueur.  Part of the planning involves making the batter at least a day before baking since it requires a good 12 hour (or more) rest in the fridge.

les ingredients

Here we go.  Bring 480 ml (2 cups milk), 150 gm (3/4 cup) sugar and 28 gm (2 TBSP) butter to a boil, stirring occasionally to make sure the sugar is dissolved.  Let it cool 10-15 minutes.

In a separate bowl sift 136 gm (1 cup) flour plus 100 gm (1/2 cup) sugar together.

Whisk 2 large eggs and 1 yolk in another bowl, then slowly add the warm milk mixture while whisking.  Then whisk in the flour/sugar mixture, beating vigorously as needed to blend everything.

ready to strain

Strain it into a clean bowl or pouring container and whisk in 2.5 TBSP rum (or liqueur of choice) and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract.

ready to cover and pop into the fridge

Cover and refrigerate for at least 12 hours (FYI - you can keep it in the fridge for several days).

On baking day brush the cannelé molds with melted butter and put them in the freezer for 30 minutes while heating the oven to 450º.

getting ready to butter the molds

When ready, take the batter out of the fridge and whisk it up, since the ingredients have a tendency to separate during their chilling time.  Fill each mold about 3/4 full.

ready for the oven

Bake at 450º for 30 minutes then lower the temp to 400º and bake another 30 minutes.  In my case I took Dorie's advice and removed one of the cannelé from the mold with a bamboo skewer so I could check the progress at about 40 minutes.

after a 40 minute bake

custardy pockets

I kept the remainder of the batch in the oven for another 10 minutes (total 50 minutes) and felt the browning was just right.

just out of the oven (the empty spot is the for the one I removed early)

Once out of the oven let them cool on a rack for 10 minutes before turning them out of the molds.

whoa baby!

not bad, eh?

Upon cutting one open the interior had the same custardy pockets as the one I had taken out of the oven ten minutes earlier.

So could I reduce the oven time in the future?  With these petite molds I say "yes"!  However, based on my previous experience a couple of years ago when I used a slightly larger mold, the cannelés required a full hour (if not more) in the oven.  Just remember that baking times vary depending on the size of the goods.

The moral of the story?  Pay attention to what's going on in your oven.

A quick note about the taste - firm and chewy on the outside yet with a moist and custardy interior.  In a word - delicious!

Steve took a bunch of these to work, later reporting that they were gone in 5 minutes and were enjoyed by all!

Yes, I would make these again (and again and again and again)!!

My second recipe from "Baking Chez Moi"

I was delighted to receive Dorie Greenspan's recently published book "Baking Chez Moi" as a Christmas gift from Steve.  I simply love immersing myself in a new baking book, perusing the recipes and all of the great tips and techniques offered throughout the pages.  And, to top it off, Dorie's Paris connections and on-the-ground access to so many local French recipes makes it all the more enticing!

A few weeks back I made the custard apple squares recipe that had been highlighted online, and, being on the hook for dessert for a family gathering this past weekend, I was eager to delve deeper into the book for my second trial.

But, before I launch into that . . .

Last evening we took a quick drive through the entrance roads to Meijer Gardens to take a gander at the holiday lights.  The sun had just set and there was still a hint of pink in the western sky, but the lights were all illuminated and a pleasure to behold!

entrance to the main building at Meijer Gardens

There were many more lights to see and the picture doesn't even begin to do them justice, but, suffice it to say, if you happen to be in Grand Rapids over the Christmas and New Year holidays, be sure to stop in for a visit.

Now on to the recipe!  I decided on a version of the "pear tart with crunchy topping", since I had already purchased apples for my dessert prep.  I even had some of my pâte d'amande tart dough in Mom's freezer from my late summer visit, so out it came, making my prep much more straight forward.

In a nutshell this tart consists of a fully blind-baked crust, fruit filling and a crunchy nut topping made with egg whites, confectioner's sugar and nuts (in this case sliced almonds).  Dorie's recipe calls for sautéeing diced pears in sugar and butter to caramelize them, after which they are placed into the blind-baked crust and topped with the nut mixture.  Bake at 400º for about 25 minutes until the topping is golden and shiny and voila!

just out of the oven

For my version I used a combo of Golden Delicious and Granny Smith apples instead of pears and added some orange zest and a splash of OJ to my sauté mixture.  My fruit didn't caramelize like I had hoped, but I didn't want to cook it too long for fear of mushiness (I always prefer a hint of crunch to my apple tarts.)

My first bite gave me pause.  Although the apples were just the degree of al dente I wanted, I wasn't sure about the overall flavor of the apple mixture and the ever-so-subtle hint of orange.  The crust was done to perfection, but the crunchy almond topping seemed almost too much.  I think I prefer a nice nut crumble to add the necessary crunchy texture and light buttery sweetness that marries so well with the fruit.

All in all the tart was a hit with the family, no doubt due in part to the accompanying vanilla bean gelato.

And I must say - not bad with the next morning's cup of coffee!

A simple apple dessert

I've been a fan of Dorie Greenspan's for some years now.  With her book "Paris Sweets" in hand,  I spent a few weeks in Paris during the spring of 2009 searching out the pastry shops from whence the recipes came and then making and comparing my results with the shops' products.   I only made it through a portion of the book, but it was great fun and a terrific way to visit the many wonderful pâtisseries à Paris.  I hope to resume the project some day.

At long last I finally got off my duff and subscribed to Dorie's blog in which the current focus is her new book "Baking Chez Moi".  I was slated to make dessert for a family supper at my brother's this past weekend, and my interest was piqued by the "Custardy Apple Squares" video and recipe.

What a simple and delicious dish!  Here it is in all of its golden glory.

Dorie recommends using Fuji apples, so I followed her lead.  I think this is actually the first time I've baked with Fuji's, and they worked beautifully in this recipe. With so many apple varieties available, it can be somewhat dizzying to decide which ones to use. For example when I make chausson aux pommes, I like to use Granny Smith, diced and sautéed in a little butter and vanilla sugar before assembly. The tart apples marry so nicely with the buttery puff pastry. Whereas when making an apple tart, I often use a mixture of Macintosh or Macoun with Golden Delicious. With those apples there is a pleasant flavor and texture combo going on that I find very appealing.

Here we go. I'm calling this a custard apple cake.  It's rather clafoutis-like and trés simple!

Butter an eight inch cake pan.  Heat the oven to 400º.

The ingredients couldn't be more straight forward:  flour, baking powder, egg, sugar, a pinch of salt, vanilla extract, milk, melted butter and, of course,  three peeled, cored and thinly sliced apples.

Whisk 1/2 cup flour and 1 teaspoon baking powder.  In a separate bowl whisk 2 eggs with 1/3 cup sugar and a pinch of salt; blend in 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 6 tablespoons of milk, 2 tablespoons melted butter; fold in the dry ingredients, then the apples to coat them in the mixture.

Heat the oven to 400ºF. Scrape the apple mixture into the prepared pan . . .

and arrange the apples, if you must . . . .

This baked about 40-45 minutes in my convection oven. I looked for the filling to be set and the apples to be oh so golden brown before calling it done.


After about 15 minutes I turned the cake out onto a wire rack to finish cooling. You have the option of serving it still warm, but, since Steve and I were transporting it elsewhere, I opted to serve at room temperature.

Before serving I gave it a dusting of powdered sugar . . .

then portioned and garnished with a dollop of crème chantilly and a sprinkling of nutty granola and toasted sliced almonds.

Yes indeed!  Thanks Dorie!!