Pâte à Choux or Choux Pastry

Because you asked for it, we’re tackling the French pastry dough called choux pastry (pronounced “shoo”) or, in French, pâte à choux. “Choux” means cabbage and pâte means paste. So, literally we’ll talking about cabbage paste.

And, why “cabbage paste” you ask? Well, if you use your imagaination the baked dough looks like tiny cabbages. But then they also look like Brussels Sprouts (which resemble tiny cabbages). How about instead of cabbage paste or tiny cabbages or Brussels Sprouts, we just call the dough pâte à choux. And of course we have the term of endearment “mon petit chou” my little cabbage. But I digress…

Omit the cheese and the mounds of dough after they’re baked become cream puffs (if they are filled with chantilly cream) or Profitroles (if filled with ice cream and  drizzled with melted chocolate). The dough can become Éclairs (if the shape is changed and the end result is filled with pastry cream and topped with chocolate ganache). Pipe the dough into a circle, fill the baked round of deliciousness with praline pastry cream, top with slivered almonds and a dusting of powdered sugar and you have a Paris-Brest. If you top them with pearl sugar before they are baked then they become a chouquettes when pulled out of the oven.

Omit the sugar, add grated gruyère or comté cheese and you have Gougères. Replace the gruyère with 1/2 cup parmesan and the dough becomes Gnoochi Parisienne when cooked.

For Cream Puffs, Profiteroles, or Eclairs:
1/2 cup (4 oz) water
1/2 cup (4 oz) whole milk
6 tablespoons (3 oz) butter, unsalted
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 cup (4.5 oz) all-purpose Flour
4 large eggs

For Chouquettes:
Follow the recipe above and add:
a sprinkle of pearl sugar to each mound of dough prior to baking. 
Pearl sugar can be found at King Arthur Pearl Sugar or Amazon
If you’re in Paris stop at this shop David Lebovitz mentions called G. Detou

For Gougères:
Omit the granulated sugar and add:
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
½ teaspoon Fresh thyme, finely chopped
1 cup (3.5 oz) gruyère or comté cheese, grated

For any of the above, prior to baking, brush the dough with:
1 large egg, beaten with
1/2 teaspoon water

For Gnocchi Parisianne:
Omit the granulated sugar and add:
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup grated Parmesan, divided
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
6 tablespoons (3 oz) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped

In saucepan, combine water, milk, butter, salt, and sugar.  Bring to a boil until butter is melted.  Remove from heat.  Add the flour all at once.  Return to heat and beat 1-2 minutes over moderate heat, until mixture begins to film the bottom of the pan. 

Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Beat in 4 eggs, one at a time, until absorbed. Stir in cheese.

Insert piping bag with ½” plain tip and fill bag with dough. Pipe dough in 1/2-inch mounds. Beat together 1 egg and 1/2 teaspoon water to make egg wash.  Brush wash on each mound.

Bake at 425ºF for approximately 20 minutes. If they start getting too browned lower the temperature to 375ºF and continue baking until lightly browned.  Pierce with knife; return to oven for several minutes.  Remove to wire rack.

To finish the Gnocchi Parisianne:
Add the pepper, Dijon mustard, and grated Parmesan cheese and beat until combined. Transfer to a 16-inch piping bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plan tip. Refrigerate for a half hour.

When ready to cook, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Line a rimmed baking sheet with paper towels or a clean kitchen towel.

Holding the piping bag over the barely boiling water, squeeze the mixture out of the bag, cutting it off with a kitchen shears into 1-inch pieces and letting them fall directly into the boiling water. Cook until the gnocchi float to the top, about 2 minutes. As they float, transfer them with a slotted spoon to the prepared baking sheet and repeat with remaining dough.

Melt the butter in a large high-sided sauté pan over medium heat. Add the gnocchi in an even layer, sprinkle with the thyme leaves, and let the gnocchi cook undisturbed until browned on the bottom, about 5 minutes. Gently flip and cook to brown on the other side, 3 to 5 minutes more, swirling the pan occasionally so that the butter browns evenly. Toss to coat the gnocchi in the brown butter. Transfer to individual bowls and serve garnished with the remaining Parmesan cheese.

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Tarte Flambée (Flammekueche)

From what I’ve read this recipe originated in the northeastern part of France known as Alsace. However, since this region has for centuries been volleyed back and forth between Germany and France the results are that language and food, not to mention architecture, have traces of both countries. This recipe is no exception.

At first glance Tarte Flambée if looking strictly at the ingredients of; crème fraiche (or fromage blanc), onions and lardon (bacon) seems quintessential French. But, as of yet I haven’t had any experience in other parts of France where these ingredients are used in this way. Plus, with this dish having multiple names, from the French tarte flambeé to the German flammekueche, can we at least deduce that it is from some French/German border region?

Regardless of where this recipe originated, these few ingredients are transformed into a truly amazing appetizer or first course! And, it’s simple to make, too.

For the dough:
2 cups (250 g) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
3 tablespoons canola oil
About ½ cup (120 ml) water

For the filling:
6 tablespoons very thinly sliced yellow onions
2 ½ oz or 75 grams thick cut uncooked bacon
1 teaspoon or so unsalted butter (optional)
¼ cup (60 ml) crème fraîche, fromage blanc or sour cream
¼ teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons freshly grated cheese, such as comté or Gruyère cheese
Chives, snipped (optional)

First, make the dough. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, salt, and oil. Stir in the water slowly, using a folk or dough whisk, until it comes together. (The exact amount of water needed will vary depending on the flour used, how it’s measured, the humidity, etc. so adjust accordingly.)

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead lightly to form a ball.  (If preparing the dough in advance, place the ball on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for up to 1 day.)

Preheat your oven to 250°C (480 F).

Cut the onions into thin strips and set aside. Cut the bacon into ¼-inch slices. Quickly fry the bacon; then with a slotted spoon remove to a plate lined with paper-toweling.

Reduce the heat to low and depending on the amount of bacon fat left in the pan, melt some butter. Add the onions and sauté on low heat for about 5 minutes or until just translucent. With the slotted spoon remove the onions to the plate alongside the bacon.

Divide the dough in half. On a floured kitchen counter, roll-out the dough into a circle or rectangle of about ¼” thick. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Spread the crème fraîche around the dough. Sprinkle half of the remaining ingredients (except the chives).

Let cook in the oven for about 10 minutes (the edges must be nice and brown). Remove from oven and sprinkle with chives.  Repeat with the second piece of dough.

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Ricotta Dumplings (Quenelles)

I recently had a hankering for gnudi (aka gnocchi). However, I didn’t want to spend the time rolling, cutting, and pushing each dumpling off the back of a fork. Don’t get me wrong, gnudi or gnocchi are delicous and worth the effort when they shine center stage at a dinner party. This time around though I wanted simplicity.

There are many ways to enjoy these dumplings; including in a cheese sauce, sautéed in butter (as pictured below), nestled in a tomato sauce or floating in a soup. They would also be a fine accompaniment for roasted chicken, broiled fish or even a steak off the grill.

This recipe will make between 18 – 20 but the recipe can easily be cut in half.

About 2 cups (15 – 16 oz) whole cow’s-milk ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups (4 oz) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup (4 ½ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
Minced chives for garnish

In a large pot bring about 3-inches of water to a boil; then reduce to a simmer. Add enough salt so that the water tastes like the sea or how you imagine the sea would taste.

In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, 3/4 of the Parmigiano, eggs, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.  Sprinkle the flour over the ricotta mixture and fold it in just until it all combines together.

Using one or two tablespoons make a quenelle (a football shape dumpling) with the batter and gently drop into the simmering water. Simmer the quenelle until tender and cooked through, between 6-7 minutes; drain. If not using immediately, shock in ice water to stop the cooking. Otherwise, sauté in butter, or add to a tomato or cheese sauce. Just prior to serving sprinkle with reserved cheese and garnish with minced chives.

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Garlic Aïoli

For some folks aïoli is considered a sauce. It’s quite popular in the south of France where there is an abundance of garlic and olive oil. The word garlic in French is Ail and oil is a derivative of oli so aïoli literally translates to garlic oil. 

Since there are so few ingredients in aïoli it’s important that each is le meilleur (the best). Seek out the freshest, organic, free-range eggs. The olive oil can be fruity or peppery or a combination but again use the best you can afford. The same holds truth for Dijon mustard. As always though, use what you like and bring joy to your taste buds.

Once you’ve made this delicious sauce, there’s nothing better than to serve it with perfectly steamed vegetables, and/or broiled fish. That was lunch at a bistro in Lyon where I fell in love with this sauce all over again. And, I would never turn down a cone of piping hot pommes frites and a ramekin of this “garlic oil.”

YIELD: Makes about 1/2 cup

1 – 2 garlic cloves
1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt plus more as needed to your taste
1 large egg yolk, fresh and organic is preferred
1/2 teaspoon Dijon Mustard (optional)
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
1/4 cup excellent-quality, extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
Freshly ground white pepper

Mince and mash garlic to a smooth paste with a pinch of salt using a large heavy chef’s knife. Set aside.

Wrap a damp kitchen towel around a medium bowl to hold in place. Whisk together the egg yolk, garlic, and mustard (if including) in the bowl. Add a few drops of oil at a time to the yolk mixture, whisking constantly during each addition, until all of the oil is incorporated, and mixture is emulsified. (If at any point the mixture begins to separate, stop adding oil and continue whisking until the mixture comes together, then resume adding oil.)

After incorporating all the oil whisk in about a teaspoon of the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Taste and then continue adding the lemon juice to your liking. If aïoli is still too thick, whisk in 1 or 2 drops of water. Transfer aïoli to a small bowl, cover, and keep chilled until you are ready to enjoy it.

 Cooks’ Note:
*Raw egg is not recommended for infants, the elderly, pregnant women, people with weakened immune systems or people who don’t like raw eggs. But they won’t have to forgo this aioli altogether. Instead use pasteurized egg yolk.

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Baking Powder Biscuits

Being a southern boy, when making biscuits it is self-rising flour that I  generally use and White Lily Flour is my go-to brand. I’ve even been known to pack 5 or 10 lbs of it in my checked luggage when flying home from Florida. Not everyone travels to Florida though or keeps self-rising flour on hand. I came up with the recipe below that uses all-purpose flour to which is added salt, baking powder, and optionaal baking soda.

Self-rising flour already has the salt and baking powder added. Also, White Lily has only about 9 percent gluten (with other brands having between 11 – 12 percent) because it is milled using 100% soft winter wheat. Less gluten makes for a more tender biscuit. If you happen to have self-rising flour, skip the baking powder, salt, and baking soda and proceed with the recipe below using the same amount of flour.

The baking soda is optional because I’m using buttermilk. It’s a whole chemistry thing between the baking soda as the leavener and the acid in the buttermilk. Whether using self-rising or all-purpose flour, the method for making these biscuits is the same and both are delicious.

3 1/4 cups (14 oz / 400 g) unbleached all-purpose flour, divided
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda (add if using buttermilk)
½ cup (4 oz / 115 g) unsalted butter, cut into 8 or so pieces
1 – 1 1/4 cups whole milk or buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425° F or 400° F. Grease 9 – or 10-inch cast iron skillet.

In a large bowl sift together 3 cups flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.

Scatter the butter pieces over the sifted flour. Using two butter knives, a pastry cutter, or your fingertips incorporate the butter into the flour until the butter pieces are the size of peas.

Make a well in the flour and add about three-quarters of the milk.  Using a butter knife mix the flour and milk together, adding more milk until incorporated (note you may or may not use all the milk). Finish incorporaating the mixture with your hand. Move the dough to one side of the bowl and add the remaining 1/4 cup of flour.

Divide dough into eighths or ninths. One at a time, toss each lump of dough in the remaining flour. With the palms of your hands roll dough into a ball and press into greased cast iron skillet.

Bake for 20 – 23 minutes or until golden brown and serve while piping hot right from the skillet.

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Gyu Donburi (Sweet Simmered Beef and Onion Over Rice)

Gyu refers to beef. Don is short for donburi which is a large rice bowl. So Gyudon literally is “Beef Bowl.” Thinly sliced beef, onion and other ad-libbed goodies, are cooked in sweet soy sauce and then enjoyed on top of some delicious Japanese short grain rice.

When you make this, you want to use thinly sliced beef with some fat.  Because as they say, fat is flavor and without some, the beef will be tough and dry when cooked. Therefore, use a cut of beef with enough fat such as chuck shoulder roast, ribeye, or chuck steak.

1/2 pound (225g) thinly shaved beef ribeye or chuck steak (see headnote)
6 large dried shiitake mushrooms (optional)
1 medium carrot (optional)
1 small (about 4 oz / 120 g) yellow onion
1 1/2 cups (120ml) homemade dashi*
2 tablespoons sake
3 tablespoons mirin (sweet cooking wine)
2 tablespoons (30ml) soy sauce 
1 tablespoon (12g) sugar, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon (5ml) grated fresh ginger 
Kosher Salt to taste

To Serve:
2 cups cooked white rice
2 – 3 poached eggs (optional)
Sliced scallions
Beni-shoga (Pickled Ginger)
Togarashi (Japanese spice blend)

Freeze beef for about ½ hour; then thinly slice against the grain. Set aside.  While the beef is freezing bring a medium saucepan of water to a simmer. Turn off heat and add dried shiitake mushrooms to rehydrate. Let sit until soft; then drain and squeeze the mushrooms to remove as much water as possible. Flaten them out and cut into 1/4 – 1/2-inch slices. Set aside.

Grate carrot using the largest holes of a box grater. Set aside. Cut the onion in half (from pole to pole not through the “equator”); then thinly slice, again from pole to pole. Set aside.

While the mushrooms are rehydrating in a medium saucepan combine onion, dashi, sake, soy sauce, and sugar and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes.

Add beef and cook, stirring until beef is cooked through and liquid has reduced down to an intensely flavored broth, about 5 minutes. Stir in ginger, sliced mushrooms, and grated carrot and simmer for 1 -2 minutes longer. Adjust seasoning with salt and sugar to taste.

Divide rice between 2 to 3 bowls and top with beef and sauce mixture. Garnish each bowl with a poached egg (if including), sliced scallions, beni-shoga, and togarashi. Serve while hot and enjoy.

1 quart (2L) water
1/2 oz (15 g) dried kombu (see note)
1/2 oz (15 g) packed dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi, see note)

Combine water and kombu in a medium saucepan. Bring to a bare simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat and add bonito flakes. Let stand for 5 minutes.

Strain through a fine mesh strainer and discard kombu and bonito, or reserve to make a second, weaker batch of dashi. Any dashi not used can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

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Béchamel Sauce

A béchamel is one of the five classic French sauces. A trick I learned is that to make a smooth béchamel, either the roux or the liquid should be cool.  If the roux is hot the liquid is cool. If the roux is cool, the liquid should be hot. Also, add the liquid to the roux about a third of the volume at a time whisking constantly.

This white sauce is also a building block for other variations down the road. The first variation is really a short jaunt because with the addition of grated cheese, such as Gruyère or Emmental, it becomes a Mornay sauce. Incidentally, adding grated cheddar makes it the perfect sauce for Mac & Cheese.

4 whole cloves
1/2 medium yellow onion, peeled
1 – 1 1/2 cups (8-12 oz / 350-475 ml) whole milk
1 – 2 whole garlic cloves, peeled (optional)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon white peppercorns, coarsely crushed
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons (1 ½ oz / 40 g) unsalted butter
1/3 cup (1 1/2 oz / 40 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 – 3/4 cup (2-3 oz / 60-80 g) grated Comté cheese (or any of your favorite hard cheese)
1/2 – 3/4 cup ( 2-3 oz / 60-80 g) grated parmesan cheese
A small handful of fresh breadcrumbs (one slice of bread will do)

If making a gratin using the béchamel, preheat oven 400 degrees F.

For the béchamel sauce:

Poke the cloves in the onion. Place a saucepan over low heat and add the clove studded onion, milk, garlic, nutmeg, salt, peppercorns, and bay leaf. Slowly bring the milk to the boil. As soon as the milk boils turn the heat off and leave to infuse while making the roux or allow to infuse for up to a half hour before starting the roux.

When ready to proceed in a medium saucepan gently melt butter over low heat. After the butter is melted add the flour and mix well using a whisk.

When the flour and butter are blended keep whisking for 2 to 3 minutes keeping the heat very low and making sure that the mixture takes on no coloration (it should stay a creamy white color). After it’s cooked remove from the heat and set aside.

After the milk has been infused with the aromatics return the pan with the roux to the stove and heat on low. After the roux is hot using a sieve pour about 1/2 cup of the warm milk over the roux and whisk to incorporate. Continue adding about a 1/2 cup at a time until all the milk has all been whisked into the roux. Turn the heat to medium and keep whisking until the sauce thickens and reaches the boil.

Once the sauce reaches a boil, turn the heat back to very low and keep cooking the béchamel for another 2 -3 minutes, stirring continuously (this is to ensure that all floury taste has been removed from the sauce).

Once cooked turn the heat off, taste and adjust seasonings. Add grated Comté and parmesan cheese; mixing until melted. Pour over steamed vegetables or use as part of any recipe calling for a béchamel (if the cheese is omitted) or Mornay sauce (if the cheese is added).

Making an Asparagus Gratin
1 bunch (about 1pound) fresh asparagus
Kosher salt
butter for greasing baking dish

Wash the asparagus under cool running water and trim away the bottom 1/3 of the stalk. With a vegetable peeler, peel off the rough part (leave the tip intact).

Fill a medium to large saucepan with water, about halfway to the top. Add salt and bring to a boil. Add the asparagus and reduce heat slightly cooking for about 10 minutes, or until crisp and tender, depending on thickness of asparagus.

Drain and place on a buttered oven-proof dish. Pour béchamel sauce over asparagus, drizzle with breadcrumbs. Cook in a preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until golden. You can place dish under the broiler for a couple of minutes towards the end if you prefer (it will brown faster).

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Herbes de Provence Crackers

The Holidays are upon us and this means it’s time to party.  These crackers can be made ahead and stored in an air-tight container until ready to enjoy during your next fête.

David Schmit Photography

2 cups (9 oz / 255 g) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1 tablespoon poppyseeds
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for brushing
½ cup water, room temperature
1 tablespoon herbes de Provence, or more to taste
Fine sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Set a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees F. In the bowl of a food processor using the metal “S” blade blend together flour, poppyseeds, and sugar by pulsing a couple of times.

Turn off the motor and the pour oil around the parameter of the bowl. Pulse a few times to combine the oil. Turn off motor and using a rubber spatula mound the mixture towards the center of the bowl. Pour water around the parameter and run the machine until the mixture forms a ball.

Remove dough from the bowl and cut into 4 parts, each weighing roughly 110 g or 3-3/4 ounces. Form each piece of dough into a disk and set aside. On a floured surface roll out each into a rectangle about 10 x 15-inches.

Transfer each piece to a separate parchment lined baking sheet. Brush with olive oil. Sprinkle with herbes de Provence, salt, and pepper. Cover with another piece of parchment paper and set another baking sheet on top. (This prevents the crackers from forming large air bubbles.) 

Bake for 8 – 10 minutes then remove the top baking sheet and continue baking for another 5 minutes or until the cracker is golden brown around the edges. Let cool completely, break into pieces and store in a airtight container until ready to serve.

If you don’t have herbes de Provence, feel free to sprinkle with any dried herb or crushed spices, like cumin, coriander or even just freshly ground black pepper.

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