Sunday, August 31, 2008

Daring Bakers August -

Lately, there have been a lot of things fueling my uncontrollable obsession for all things French. Edith Piaf hits were pumped into a restaurant I recently visited. My friend and Paris-via-Chicago restaurateur, Daniel Rose, treated me to a lazy lunch at Sepia while he was in town. The September issue of Gourmet, devoted to exploring Paris on a budget, landed in the mailbox, making me nostalgic and starry eyed.

Had I tried, I would have been unable to forget Paris this August. The Daring Bakers challenge for this month only fueled the fire. The assignment was to recreate the recipe for eclairs from French pastry master, Pierre Herme.

Upon reading the challenge, I was immediately returned to a state of pure bliss, as I recalled visiting one of the Herme boutiques in Paris last fall. Walking into the store was more like entering a haut couture fashion mecca than a pastry shop. The minimal decor, in shades of lavender, coral, and sunshine yellow was manned by stoic pastry professionals clad in black. The counters were brimming with colorful tortes, exotic macaroons, and layered mousses made from the freshest ingredients. Packaged chocolate bars and pates de fruits demanded to be taken home. For me, it was heaven, surrounded by all of that perfection in the form of beautiful edible art. Pierre Herme's pastry shops are yet another reason to return to Paris, as if I needed one.

After such an amazing experience at his shop, I was delighted to see that the August installment of Daring Bakers was a Pierre Herme formula. Our instructions were to replicate his recipe for eclair dough, professionally known as pate a choux. His original recipe fills the crisp dough with chocolate pastry cream and covers the top with chocolate ganache. We were given liberty to follow the recipe as written, or substitute either the filling or glaze. As an eclair purist, I chose to fill my batch with vanilla bean pastry cream, leaving Herme's ganache to act as the sole chocolate component.

Pate a choux, which can be used as a vehicle for a multitude of fillings, is an easy way to showboat. Although it may not seem like it, choux pastry is relatively easy to make, and it yields an impressive product that far outshines its production. Guests who eat it would not think that the dough is so simple. A combination of eggs, flour, and butter steam in the oven, creating a finished product that is crisp on the outside, and just a bit chewy inside. Steam builds inside the dough as it bakes, leaving crevices that act as a surface area to fill with custards, ice creams, mousses, or fruit curds. One basic pate a choux recipe can be formed into a variety of shapes, including profiteroles, swans, and of course, eclairs.

Herme's choux formula is one for the books. It works beautifully, becoming the perfect golden shell. It will replace my old stand by, as I know that it will consistently yield excellent results. His chocolate glaze recipe, although delicious, included several steps that seemed unnecessary. It involves first making a chocolate sauce that is incorporated into a chocolate ganache to reach the final product. The finished glaze tastes exactly like a much simpler, less time consuming ganache. Since it didn't set up as hard as I would have liked, I think that next time I make eclairs I will default to a basic ganache recipe.

I shared the eclairs with a few friends, and they were undeniably delicious, a real treat. If you missed out on them, here's what it looked like when a partially eaten eclair approached your mouth. It's not quite as good as the real thing, is it?

Participating in this challenge reminded me how of how simple, yet impressive, pate a choux can be. I look forward to making it again soon, and anxiously await the September installment of Daring Bakers! The recipe for Pierre Herme's choux paste and chocolate glaze, from his book, Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme, is below.

Pierre Hermé’s Chocolate Éclairs
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 20-24 Éclairs)

• Cream Puff Dough (see below for recipe), fresh and still warm

1) Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Divide the oven into thirds by
positioning the racks in the upper and lower half of the oven. Line two baking sheets with
waxed or parchment paper.

2) Fill a large pastry bag fitted with a 2/3 (2cm) plain tip nozzle with the warm cream puff dough. Pipe the dough onto the baking sheets in long, 4 to 41/2 inches about 11 cm) chubby fingers. Leave about 2 inches (5 cm) space in between each dough strip to allow them room to puff. The dough should give you enough to pipe 20-24 éclairs.

3) Slide both the baking sheets into the oven and bake for 7 minutes. After the 7 minutes, slip the handle of a wooden spoon into the door to keep in ajar. When the éclairs have been in the oven for a total of 12 minutes, rotate the sheets top to bottom and front to back. Continue baking for a further 8 minutes or until the éclairs are puffed, golden and firm. The total baking time should be approximately 20minutes.

1) The éclairs can be kept in a cool, dry place for several hours before filling.

Assembling the éclairs:

• Chocolate glaze (see below for recipe)
• Vanilla bean pastry cream

1) Slice the éclairs horizontally, using a serrated knife and a gently sawing motion. Set aside the bottoms and place the tops on a rack over a piece of parchment paper.

2) The glaze should be barely warm to the touch (between 95 – 104 degrees F or 35 – 40 degrees C, as measured on an instant read thermometer). Spread the glaze over the tops of the éclairs using a metal icing spatula. Allow the tops to set and in the meantime fill the bottoms with the pastry cream.

3) Pipe or spoon the pastry cream into the bottoms of the éclairs. Make sure you fill the bottoms with enough cream to mound above the pastry. Place the glazed tops onto the pastry cream and wriggle gently to settle them.

1) If you have chilled your chocolate glaze, reheat by placing it in a bowl over simmering water, stirring it gently with a wooden spoon. Do not stir too vigorously as you do not want to create bubbles.

2) The éclairs should be served as soon as they have been filled.

Pierre Hermé’s Cream Puff Dough
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 20-24 Éclairs)

• ½ cup (125g) whole milk
• ½ cup (125g) water
• 1 stick (4 ounces; 115g) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
• ¼ teaspoon sugar
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 1 cup (140g) all-purpose flour
• 5 large eggs, at room temperature

1) In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan, bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to the boil.

2) Once the mixture is at a rolling boil, add all of the flour at once, reduce the heat to medium and start to stir the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon. The dough comes together very quickly. Do not worry if a slight crust forms at the bottom of the pan, it’s supposed to. You need to carry on stirring for a further 2-3 minutes to dry the dough. After this time the dough will be very soft and smooth.

3) Transfer the dough into a bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using your handmixer or if you still have the energy, continue by hand. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each egg has been added to incorporate it into the dough. You will notice that after you have added the first egg, the dough will separate, once again do not worry. As you keep working the dough, it will come back all together again by the time you have added the third egg. In the end the dough should be thick and shiny and when lifted it should fall back into the bowl in a ribbon.

4) The dough should be still warm. It is now ready to be used for the éclairs as directed above.

Chocolate Glaze
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 1 cup or 300g)

• 1/3 cup (80g) heavy cream
• 3½ oz (100g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 4 tsp (20 g) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature
• 7 tbsp (110 g) Chocolate Sauce (recipe below), warm or at room temperature

1)In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Remove from the heat and slowly begin to add the chocolate, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula.

2) Stirring gently, stir in the butter, piece by piece followed by the chocolate sauce.

1) If the chocolate glaze is too cool (i.e. not liquid enough) you may heat it briefly
 in the microwave or over a double boiler. A double boiler is basically a bowl sitting over (not touching) simmering water.

2) It is best to glaze the eclairs after the glaze is made, but if you are pressed for time, you can make the glaze a couple days ahead of time, store it in the fridge and bring it up to the proper temperature (95 to 104 F) when ready to glaze.

Chocolate Sauce
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 1½ cups or 525 g)

• 4½ oz (130 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 1 cup (250 g) water
• ½ cup (125 g) crème fraîche, or heavy cream
• 1/3 cup (70 g) sugar

1) Place all the ingredients into a heavy‐bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil, making sure to stir constantly. Then reduce the heat to low and continue stirring with a wooden spoon until the sauce thickens.

2) It may take 10‐15 minutes for the sauce to thicken, but you will know when it is done when it coats the back of your spoon.

1) You can make this sauce ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator for two weeks. Reheat the sauce in a microwave oven or a double boiler before using.
2) This sauce is also great for cakes, ice-cream and tarts.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Wisconsin and the Great Big Stink

On a mini-trip this past weekend, Dave and I bought a variety of local Wisconsin foodstuffs. We crammed a cooler full of all the usual suspects: bratwurst, summer sausage, bacon, cheeses, and a couple of microbrews. Our findings also include some lesser known items, like hard honey candies with liquid centers and a couple kinds of wine from the Wollersheim Winery in Prairie Du Sac. In an old fashioned general store we drank a yummy grape soda brewed by Gray's in Janesville, WI, and a Sioux City Sasparilla of Big Lebowski fame. It lives up to its nickname, "The Grandaddy of all root beers."

In an antique store I came across a very old, very well preserved cake decorating set, made all of aluminum. I was amazed that it wasn't rusted, and that it only cost $5.

At a local market, I bought a block of Beer Kaese, a cheese that I was unfamiliar with. From it's name, it sounded like it had to be delicious. Beer and cheese - need I say more? It wasn't until today, when I snipped open its plastic packaging for the first time, that I realized how wrong I could be. The scent was so putrid that words fail me, even though I am five hours removed from it. I felt lightheaded, like the air was being hoovered out of my lungs, when the odor hit me. I tried not to breathe as I reluctantly put the tiniest morsel of cheese in my mouth. Spinning nausea ensued. As quickly as I could, I bagged up the stinky cheese in a double-sealed Ziploc and shoved it back into the fridge. After scouring my hands twice with dish soap, I could still smell the Beer Kaese on me. More spinning nausea.

A quick trip to Wikipedia reveals that Beer Kaese is originally a German cheese, also known as Weisslacker. It is a pungent (read: vile) salted, semi firm cheese that ripens for seven months in highly humid conditions. There is actually no beer in the cheese, but since it is too pungent (read: inedible) to serve with wine, it is often served with beer, for dunking. It is a relative to Limburger, and is frequently found on menus in the Czech Republic.

That's great for the Czechs. They can keep their Beer Kaese. It will never again be found in my home.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Omnivore's Hundred

Below is a list of foods that all omnivores should try at least once, according to Andrew Wheeler of Very Good Taste. It's circulating around the food blogosphere, and I thought it would be fun to see how I compare to others. The items I've eaten are in italics. I'm missing 31 items. Roadkill will probably never make my list. Haggis probably will.

Try it yourself!
1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at linking to your results.

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile (I guess gator doesn't count?)
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue (I think I own a fondue pot)
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush (Sultan's Market!!!)
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich (Most recently, this afternoon)
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes (shout out to Kreilkamp Distilleries!)
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects (Read all about it here)
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal (Although I've never had a Big Mac, I've had my share of McD's)
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV (Delirium Tremens is one of my favorites)
59. Poutine (I must have this immediately)
60. Carob chips (They're not fooling anyone. They're nothing like real chocolate.)
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian (This fruit, native to the Philipines, tastes like barf)
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake (Yes, yes, yes, and yes)
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe (No, but there's an absinthe tasting at Lush later this month. Anyone want to go?)
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake (The same night as the bugs)

How Far Would You Go?

Read this post from the Reader's Food Chain blog, and then let's discuss the stupidity of the drunken hipster who was brazen enough to break glass to alleviate his munchies. What a moron.

My poor Alliance. When I was a cake decorator there, I remember thinking, on more than one occassion, that it was quite surprising that the place didn't get ransacked. All those rows of colorful cookies, cakes, and pastries shining like fishing bait from the cold cases, fully visible to all passers-by, but calling even stronger to the hundreds of loopy bar patrons that roam the area.

Ah, my sweet, sweet Alliance...sometimes I still miss you.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Friends Who Lunch (At Hot Doug's)

Who says unemployment is so bad?* I can think of much worse ways to spend an hour than with a spread from Hot Doug's. Geff and I went for lunch today. Gluttony ensued.

Hot Doug's lunch spread, complete with duck fat fries. Clockwise, from top left:

Foie Gras and Sauternes Duck Sausage with Truffle Mustard, Foie Gras Mousse and Sel Gris
Pretty much the most decadent encased meat delicacy you can ever hope to taste. Seriously, where else can you get a sausage that's made with French dessert wine and fattened goose liver? My guess is now where. The meat is topped with truffle oil laced mustard, three enormous pats of foie mousse, and a sprinkling of unrefined sea salt straight from the Brittany coast. In a fancier restaurant, a sandwich of this caliber could easily go for $25.00. Hot Doug's practically gives it away for $8.00.

The New Chicago: Smoked Mexican Chorizo with Chili Mustard, Asian Pear Chutney and Indian Fried Paneer Cheese served on a Pretzel Roll
How many ethnicities can be squeezed into one lunch? The flavor combinations seem overwhelming until you realize that paneer is the unsalted Indian equivalent to queso fresco. Hot Doug's dices and fries the farmer's cheese and lets it mingle with the pear chutney. Just imagine all of that heat and sweet hitting your mouth at once. Pretzel rolls enhance anything put inside of them, including The New Chicago. $7.00.

Brown Ale and Chipotle Buffalo Sausage with Bacon-Garlic Mayonnaise and Smoked Cheddar Cheese
I am often compelled to try the game of the week sausage, and I've never been disappointed. Past trips have included rabbit, venison, and boar. Today's pick lived up to its predecessors: a slightly charred buffalo sausage smothered in creamy, meaty mayo, and smothered again with small cubes of slightly oozing cheese. The sausage casing snapped perfectly, yielding a slightly spicy lean meat. $7.50.

Duck Fat Fries
These potatoes are elusive. They're only available on Fridays and Saturdays. The spuds are always hand cut, but the rest of the week they're cooked with standard oil. They're good every day, perhaps my favorites in the city, but Fridays and Saturdays these perfectly crisp fries will make you weep with happiness. $3.50 for an order that easily feeds two. It should probably serve more, but I don't like to share.

I wonder if Doug Sohn is married? Not for me of's just a general curiously.

*I am looking for a job. If you hear of something you think I would be interested in, please let me know.

Megan & Andrew

Meyer Lemon Cake
Fresh Raspberry Filling
Lemon Vanilla Buttercream

Vertical Stripes, Hairy Finishes, and Three Pin Cushion Flowers

August 2, 2008, Catalyst Ranch