Caprese gougères

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Tomatoes and basil here we come!! It's sum-sum-sum-sum-sum-sum-summertime, and we're deep into it. I've been dreaming of a caprese salad and now's the time.

Another visit to The Cheese Lady was in order to score some fresh mozzarella and a tasty grating cheese for some delicious gougères, essentially a cheesy version of profiteroles.

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Gruyère is the cheese that's often used in savory gougères but one can certainly waver and choose something equally as tasty. Since I was filling them with mozzarella, tomato and basil, I thought some mozzarella or similar cheese would be a decent addition to the pâte à choux, but I didn't really want a run-of-the-mill grated mozz from the supermarket.

The Cheese Lady to the rescue! A pecorino Toscano was suggested as a good stand in for mozzarella, so that's what I chose for my choux paste. Wanting a little something to grate on the choux tops, I went with a Comté.

You might notice on the package above that the label reads gruyère de Comté, prompting one to ask "What's the diff between that and gruyère, eh? From my very brief research, I learned that a classic gruyère is produced in Switzerland, while a gruyère de Comté comes from the Franche-Comté region (newly re-formed as Bourgogne-Franche-Comté in early 2016) of France on the Swiss border. And, just to add to the confusion, I'll throw one more name in there - the similar Emmental which is also produced in Switzerland but has holes, unlike gruyère. They're all good if you ask me.

So let's make some gougères already.

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Basic pâte à choux is made with milk, water, butter, a bit of salt and sugar, flour and egg. For a savory version like this I delete the sugar, add in some black pepper and mustard powder, as well as grated cheese. You could also add herbs if desired, like some dried thyme or basil. Just click here for the full recipe.

Once you've completed the process, just pipe or scoop 'em out onto parchment lined sheet pans. 

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In this case I topped them with some grated Comté before popping them in the 400ºF oven.

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It's generally recommended that you leave the oven door closed for the first 10 minutes of baking, otherwise the puffs can fall. I usually turn the temp down to 375ºF at that point and give them another 15-20 minutes to finish. Remember to pay attention to what's going on in there!

Ooooh - nice and browned and just begging to be filled and tasted.

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On of the beauties of making choux puffs is you can freeze them for later, either unbaked or baked. Cool! Just add 5 minutes or so to the baking time if baking right out of the freezer or, if using already baked puffs that have been frozen, re-crisp them in a 350º oven for 10 minutes or so before filling. The perfect do-ahead treat.

Time to make the caprese salad.

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Fresh mozzarella balls from The Cheese Lady plus fresh basil and campari tomatoes from the Fulton Farmer's Market are ready to be chopped and combined with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.

For around 40 puffs I used 8 ounces mozz, a generous cup of seeded and chopped tomatoes, about 1/2 cup chopped, packed fresh basil and 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste.

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Et voilà!

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The puffs were crispy outside and creamy-cheesy inside with just the right amount of moisture for my liking.

Since I was making these for an afternoon event, I waited as long as possible before filling the puffs so as to avoid sogginess. I lit upon an idea and lightly toasted up some panko bread crumbs, stashing a few in the bottom of each puff. What genius!

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Once they were all filled, I boxed them up and hit the road! Of course, I had made extras so I could sample a couple. Not bad at all, folks, although I did hanker for a more upfront cheesiness to the gougère and decided the pecorino Toscano was too mild. So next time - gruyère or Comté here we come!

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Raspberry-currant cream berry tart

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Planning a dessert for the recent Bastille Day celebration with the local GR chapter of L'Alliance Française, my thoughts turned to tarts (of course!). I had fresh raspberries, blueberries and even currants from the Fulton Farmer's Market, and it was definitely time to incorporate those goodies into a delicious tart.

I've previously written about Breton dough (one of my faves), the most recent post being in early July using a céréales version to support some fresh pastry cream and strawberries. Besides the flavor and delicious texture of Breton dough, on the more practical side, it calls for egg yolks which I always see as the perfect opportunity to accumulate egg whites for financier batter or meringues. Love it.

My Breton dough was already made and in the fridge, as was a batch of raspberry currant cream that I had used the previous day for some petite fresh berry tartlettes. The plan - layers.

First I rolled the dough out to 1/4" thickness, trimmed the edges as needed and pressed it into my lightly buttered 4"x11" rectangular tart form. (Side note: this is the one tart dough I use that I butter the tart ring or form - otherwise it sticks). I wanted to build up an edge that would bake up around the filling and fruit, so I cut narrow strips of additional dough and placed them around the periphery. Then I spread a thin layer of raspberry jam on the dough within the borders. 

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Next up - a layer of raspberry currant cream. Now here is just one of the wonderful things about pastry cream - you can replace 75-80% of the whole milk in your favorite pastry cream recipe with fruit purée(s), proceed with the usual preparation and voilà - fruit cream! For this one I used equal weights of fresh raspberry and fresh red currant purées made with some of my farmers's market booty. So tart yet creamy and delicious.

I found it easiest to pipe thin stripes of the cream over the raspberry jam, so as not to mess it up by trying to gently spread it. Piping makes things so neat, doesn't it? 

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Then comes a nice sprinkle of berries - in my case raspberries and blueberries. Another cool trick is if you freeze your raspberries a few hours ahead, you can easily break them up into halves or smaller pieces while still frozen to distribute them over the cream. You try that with fresh raspberries and you'll have a juicy mess! And you can pop the tart right into the oven - no need to wait for thawing, just go for it.

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For the final touch I brushed the dough edges with a bit of cream, sprinkled on some raw sugar and added chopped pistachios over the whole kit-n-kaboodle, not only to provide a wonderful color contrast but also some added crunch for the tasting portion of the program.

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This one baked at 325ºF (convection) for about 25 minutes. I always check things half way through, rotate my sheet pan to provide even browning (yes, even in a convection oven!). You want the crust to be nicely browned and the cream to be set.

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Let it cool for 15-20 minutes, gently slide a knife or offset spatula around the edges to loosen the tart form and lift it right off.

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Part of a dessert buffet for the Bastille Day L'Alliance gathering, I sliced it into strips and added a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream to each portion. Oh my, I love this dough sooooo much! Light, buttery and a wonderful complement to the tart, fruity cream and berries. And, to top it all off, I had some extra components to make another petite blueberry tart for Steve and myself to enjoy the next day. Scrumptious.

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Sablé Breton au céréales avec fraises et crème

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Multigrain Breton shortbread, smooth luscious pastry cream and fresh strawberries. Yup. That's it.

Summer is upon us with a vengeance, with heat and humidity spending time with us for some days to come. Great for those who are spending the July 4th week at the beach or campground, but not ideal for the bakers of the world. There are some mornings when one gets up that simply announce themselves as baking days but, alas, not right now.

The good news is that strawberry season is in full swing here in west Michigan, and in fact is already starting to wane. What a delicious, albeit short, time of year, making it so important to take advantage of it while we can. 

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I had made some sablé Breton dough the other day, adding a mixture of seeds and grains to it for a change of pace. The base recipe is a favorite of mine, kind of a cross between a tart dough and a buttery dense, yet light and airy cake. Bake it on the thin side and it's a crispy texture, but on the thicker side it's kind of like a soft-ish, chewy cookie. You just have to taste it to know what I mean.

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It's a straight forward preparation and can be accomplished by hand or with a mixer. First you whisk 3 large egg yolks with 140 g sugar for several minutes to blanch and thicken it. Then blend in 150 g soft, unsalted butter until homogeneous. Sift in 200 g flour (I used half whole wheat pastry flour and half all purpose flour) along with one teaspoon baking powder, add in 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt and 70 g almond flour and mix it all together. Finally blend in 80 g mixed grains, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill one hour. (See my previous post about Breton dough here and the full recipe here).

All mixed up

All mixed up

For the grains I decided on King Arthur Flour's Harvest Grain Blend, a combo of oat groats, wheat flakes, rye flakes, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flaxseed, poppy seeds and hulled millet. I've already used this mix in a simple wheat sandwich bread as well as in my favorite buttermilk scone recipe - wonderful toothsome chew and crunch going on. I'm definitely in.

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On our recent spring time trip to Paris I visited Mora, that wonderful all-things-pastry shop near the Etienne Marcel line 4 metro stop. There I purchased my first perforated tart form, a relatively new iteration that comes in all shapes and sizes for the avid and/or professional tart maker. The idea is to expose more of the dough to the heat of the oven for even better browning. I like that.

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For this Breton dough project I wanted a simple flat base, no edges, so I just had to roll and shape a piece of dough about 1/4 inch thick to fit my form. Easy. The quantity of dough needed is up to you, something you have to gauge based on size of the form or pan you are using and thickness desired. Remember - thicker is softer and chewier while thinner is crisper.

In spite of the heat I proceeded to bake the dough during the earlier morning hours while the temps were still on the coolish side. This one baked at 325ºF, convection, for about 20 minutes (look for golden brown and a lovely aroma). 

I had already been imagining the pastry cream/strawberry garnish, so my pastry cream was made and chillin' in the fridge. I just had to gently wash, pat dry, hull and slice my fresh local strawberries from the Fulton Farmer's Market.

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I sliced my Breton base into strips, piped on simple rounds of crème pâtissiére and topped with the fresh berries. The result was a delightful combo of creamy, fruity and that nutty, seedy chewiness of the Breton dough. Not bad at all. 

I can imagine this multigrain Breton option as a lovely biscuit on a cheese board. Hmmmm. . . . now there's an idea.

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In the meantime have a wonderful Fourth of July week and stay cool everyone!