Friday, March 06, 2009

retro chic cream puffs


There are some baked goods and pastries whose names simply say delight - sticky bun, muffin, cream puff...And then there are some that call for thoughtful enjoyment - eclair, croissant, macaron...

Names matter. I prefer the former. So fun, so approachable.

Yet most "fun" pastries can't quite seem to earn the appreciation that say, a good croissant might command. You read heated debates about who makes a better croissant in the East Bay (Masse's or La Farine) - but no one can be bothered to comment on who makes a decent muffin.

The same is true for the cream puff, the ol' profiterole that's somehow made its way onto Bertucci's dessert menu. For the cream puff, raves are rare, the buzz factor, not so high. Which is why I was surprised to come across a Cream Puff recipe from who else but Thomas Keller of The French Laundry (Yountville, Napa), Per Se (New York), Bouchon (Yountville, Las Vegas), and seven-Michelin star fame.

So I made it for Valentine's Day.

Cream Puffs with Vanilla Ice Cream and Chocolate Sauce
1 cup water
5 1/3 tablespoons (about 3 ounces) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 to 5 large eggs
1 1/2 cups Chocolate Sauce (see below)
1 1/2 cups Vanilla Ice Cream

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Line one baking sheet with a Silpat and a second one with parchment paper (or line both sheets with parchment if you don't have a Silpat). Set up a heavy-duty mixer with the paddle attachment.

Combine the water, butter, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, add the flour all at once, and stir rapidly with a stiff heatproof or wooden spoon until the dough pulls away from the sides of the pan and the bottom of the pan is clean, with no dough sticking to it. The dough should be glossy and smooth but still damp.

Enough moisture must evaporate from the dough to allow it to absorb more fat when the eggs are added. Continue to stir for about 5 minutes, adjusting the heat as necessary to prevent the dough from coloring. A thin coating will form on the bottom and sides of the pan. When enough moisture has evaporated, steam will rise from the dough and there will be the nutty aroma of cooked flour.

Immediately transfer the dough to the mixer bowl and mix for a few seconds to release some of the heat from the dough. With the mixer on medium speed, add 4 eggs, one at a time, beating until each egg is completely incorporated before adding the next one; scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Turn off the machine. Lift some of the dough on a rubber spatula, then turn the spatula to let it run off: It should fall off the spatula very slowly; if it doesn't move at all or is very dry and falls off in one clump, beat in the additional egg.

Place the dough in a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip. Pipe 15 disks (this will give you 3 extras for testing) about 1 1/2 inches across and just under 1/2 inch thick on the Silpat-lined baking sheet, leaving about 1 1/2 inches between them, as they will expand when baked. Pipe the remainder on the other sheet. (You will have about 4 dozen in all.) Bake the 15 puffs for the recipe and freeze the ones on the second baking sheet until firm, then transfer to a freezer container and freeze for another time.

Bake the puffs for 10 minutes, turn the sheet around, turn the oven down to 350°F, and bake 15 minutes more. Remove one puff and break it open: It should be hollow inside and not gooey or eggy; if it is still moist, return it to the oven and check in 5 minutes. Cool the puffs completely on the baking sheet. Store in an airtight container until serving time.

Chocolate Sauce
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, such as Valrhona Equatoriale, finely chopped
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup light corn syrup

Place the chocolate in a metal bowl.

Combine the cream and corn syrup in a small heavy nonreactive saucepan and bring to a simmer. Pour the liquid over the chocolate and allow it to sit for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the chocolate has melted. Whisk to combine. Allow the sauce to cool slightly, then pour into a bowl or other container. (Stored in the refrigerator, tightly covered, the sauce will keep for up to 2 weeks.)

To Serve:
Preheat the oven to 300°F.

Warm the chocolate sauce in a double boiler or a microwave. Warm the profiteroles on a baking sheet in the oven.

Split each profiterole in half and arrange 3 on each plate. Place a small scoop of ice cream in the bottom half of each profiterole and top with the lid. Spoon the sauce over.

I've made no changes to the recipes above. For some reason, I've got no qualms messing around with something from Alton Brown or Gourmet, but when it comes to something on the permanent dessert menu at Bouchon, I draw a personal line. I will mention, however, that things will still turn out great if you 1) cut down the butter by 1 Tbsp, 2) do not have a mixer (use a fork and mix in clockwise circles), 3) do not have a pastry bag (a heaping teaspoon gets the job done), and 4) choose to use agave syrup instead of corn syrup (that's what Omnivore's Dilemma does to you).

What Thomas Keller also does not note is that these cream puffs perform a most wonderful wobbly dance as you pull them out of the oven. And that those 25 minutes of baking fills your home with a sweet smell of eggy goodness that will last for at least 36 hours.

It seems that it's become increasingly trendy to appreciate a sticky bun or cupcake in recent years. Cream puffs may still be more retro than chic, but you just never know when the tipping point will come.

For me, I'm still waiting for muffins to re-emerge as the finest modern-day delicacy.