Wednesday, May 21, 2014


I can't express the joys of making puff pastry and having it turn out perfect.  I can't express them because I've never had it happen to me.  But at the same time I've only made it twice in my life.  It's fun actually--time consuming--but fun.  Anyway, the two times I have tried it, I did with two different recipes.  The most recent, which pertains to this post, was from my Bouchon Bakery cookbook.  

As a side note, I am really enjoying this cookbook.  It's photos are pristine and mouth-watering and the recipes that I have made have not disappointed in the least bit.  That said, many of the things that I have made take time.  Like I really need to read the whole recipe before I decide to make it so that I know if I can get it done that day or two days later.  There's a lot of thought and care that goes into making these recipes.  As a side side note, I knew--from my past experience--that making puff pastry does take time but the recipe from this book takes even more time.  There's a lot chilling and resting going on.  And I had a bit of trouble this time around and I think it had a lot to do with the one thing you can't let happen when you are making puff pastry:  The butter began to melt.  

Yes, and it's not as though my apartment was super hot too.  I blame it partly on the butter that I used.  I used what I understood to be--and still believe is--a good quality European style butter (Kerrygold).  But the thing with this butter is that it just seems too soft and it melts faster than a crappier butter.  I think I used a lesser quality butter last time--although truth be told I can't recall for sure.  I just know that I didn't have a butter melting problem last time.  So anyway, every time I began taking the dough out to roll and fold, a little bit of butter would melt and smear into the dough.  I felt helpless.  Sad.  Mad.  Not glad.  Yet I trudged along hoping for the best and realizing I wouldn't find out the true damage until I made something with the dough.  

That was the other small predicament I found myself in.  It's one project just to make the puff pastry.  It's another to figure out what to do with it once you've got it.  So again I turned to the laborious yet beautiful Bouchon Bakery cookbook and decided on the Mille-feuille a.k.a. Napoleon.  

It's really a brilliant concoction this Mille-feuille.  It's so rich.  It has four layers of puff pastry sandwiching three layers of mousseline cream topped with whipped cream.  Damn.  Right?  And that mousseline cream is luxuriant--I could easily eat a bowl of it.  And then some.    

Once you have the puff pastry and the mousseline cream made, it's fairly easy to put together.  You can start by making the cream which is basically vanilla pastry cream and buttercream mixed together.  Then, get the puff pastry ready by rolling it out onto a baking sheet and weighing it down with as much weight as possible so the puff pastry doesn't "puff" up a lot.  Seems kinda wrong right?  Not letting puff pastry puff?  But the purpose is to create really thin sheets of puff pastry that have many many flaky layers squeezed in them.  And generally it worked.  But remember that butter melting problem I mentioned earlier?  Well I found the damage that it caused which is visible in my photographs.  Notice, if you will, the second pastry layer from the right.  It doesn't look flaky.  It looks like a big clump of dough which is basically what it is.  Again, sad.  But, the other layers seem to have turned out great!  So, not that sad.  

Also, something that you'll notice about this particular Mille-feuille is that it is turned on it's side so that the layers are side by side.  Typically they are turned so that the layers are on top of one another like a sandwich.  But not this one.  This one is constructed on it's side per Bouchon Bakery instructions.  I read that it is done this way because the pastry chef felt that with the traditional way you always end up squeezing out the mousseline cream when you pierce through it with a fork or bite down on it.  Although I can see the logic in this, and perhaps it is through my own misdoings in making the pastry, but it's not exactly easy to eat it this way too.  It's a little difficult to cut through the pastry.  It's flaky but not easily destructible and unless you're eating it with a fork and knife the cream still manages to ooze out between the pastry layers.  So, maybe my pastry wasn't tender enough.  I don't know.  Either way this is one really good dessert. 

Recipe ever so slightly adapted from Bouchon Bakery

What you need:

600g puff pastry
375g pastry cream
375g buttercream
300g whipped cream

Pastry Cream

132g egg yolks
1 1/2 tsps of vanilla bean paste or extract
110g granulated sugar
50g all-purpose flour
550g whole milk
27g room temp. butter cut in 1/2" pieces

-Set up an ice bath and place a clean medium bowl in the bath
-Place the egg yolks in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment and pour in the vanilla
-Whisk on low speed for about 30 seconds and then slowly add the sugar
-Increase the speed to medium-high and whisk until the yolks have lightened up in color--about 1 1/2 minutes
-Scrape down the bowl
-Turn the mixer back on to medium-high and whisk until it's thickened and even lighter in color
-Reduce the speed to low and add the flour and whisk for another 30 seconds or until fully combined
-With the mixer running, slowly pour in the milk and mix until combined
-Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a large saucepan
-Set pan over medium heat while whisking constantly until the mixture thickens and simmers, very slow bubbles just start to pop at the surface
-Pour the mixture into the bowl that is sitting in the bath and whisk in the butter
-Press a piece of plastic wrap on the surface of the pastry cream and set aside to cool/refrigerate until ready to use


75g egg whites
150g + 33g granulated sugar divided
42g water
227g unsalted butter at room temp. and cut into pieces

-Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment
-Place the water and 150g of sugar in a small saucepan and stir until combined
-Bring the sugar/water to simmer over medium-high heat
-When the temperature of the syrup reaches 230 degrees F, turn the mixer on medium speed and gradually pour in the remaining sugar
-Whip the egg whites until they form soft peaks.  If the syrup has not yet reached 248 degrees F and the egg whites have formed soft peaks then turn the mixer to the lowest setting and continue to cook the syrup until it reaches 248 degrees F.
-Once the temperature of the syrup reaches 248, remove the pan from the heat and slowly pour the syrup into the mixer while the mixer is still running at its low setting
-After the syrup is in, increase the speed to high and whisk until the bottom of the bowl is at room temperature and the egg whites have formed stiff peaks
-When the egg whites are cool, put the mixer back on its low setting and start adding the butter one piece at a time--adding the next piece only after the previous one is fully combined within the mixture
-When the buttercream is at the proper consistency, turn off the mixture and set it aside or refrigerate it.

Note:  I didn't end up using all of the butter--I think I had a quarter of it left over when it started coming together.

Whipped Cream

150g heavy cream
5g powdered sugar
1 1/2 tsps vanilla bean paste or extract

Place everything in the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk on medium speed until the mixture seems stiff enough to pipe through a pastry bag

Mousseline Cream

Pastry cream

-Place a piece of parchment paper on the bottom of a 9x13 jelly roll pan
-Place the pastry cream in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment and whisk until smooth
-Add the buttercream and whisk until fully combined
-Pour the mixture into the jelly roll pan and with an offset spatula smooth and even it out
-Place it in the freezer overnight

For the puff pastry dough

-Roll out the puff pastry to the size of a 12x16 jelly roll pan and trim it to fit in it
-Freeze the dough for an hour
-After an hour preheat the oven to 350 degrees F
-Once the oven is preheated, remove the dough from the freezer and place another piece of parchment paper on top of the dough
-Place the same or as similar as you have sized baking sheet on top of the dough and weigh it down as evenly as possible.  This is to prevent it form puffing up.
-Bake for one hour and ten minutes or until the bottom of the dough is golden brown
-Remove pastry from oven and remove the other baking sheet and any applied weights
-Invert the pastry on another sheet pan, place a piece of parchment paper on top of that and then another sheet pan to continue to weigh it down
-Put it back in the oven for another ten minutes
-After ten minutes, remove the sheet pan that is weighing the pastry down and the piece of parchment paper sitting on top and bake for an additional eight to ten minutes
-Remove from oven and let cool

Note:  When baking the pastry you might want to place another sheet pan or something below the sheet pan holding the dough to catch any butter that might seep out.  I didn't do this and to this day every time I use my oven it smokes from all of the grease sitting at the bottom of it (Yes, I need to clean it)

Putting it all together

-Take the cooled pastry and trim it to a 10x12 rectangle
-Then, cut it lengthwise into 4 strips each 2 1/2 inches wide
-Remove the mousseline cream from the freezer and invert the sheet of cream onto a cutting board
-Cut the mousseline cream to match the size of the strips of pastry
-Once everything is cut to size, lay flat a piece of pastry, then lay a strip of mousseline cream on top of that and continue with another piece of pastry, then cream etc... until you have what you something like you see in my pictures
-After you have everything all sandwiched together, turn the whole thing on its side and with a serrated knife, trim about a half inch off on each end.
-Pipe the whipped cream on top to whatever pattern or design of your choosing--I did the petal thing because that's all I know.  In the Bouchon Bakery book, he does something else which is fancy and nice--beyond my grasp at this stage..

See?  A ton of steps!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Ron de Jesus Reception

I have a friend who is on the board of the Ron de Jesus dance company here in Chicago.  And he recommended me to make some pastries/baked goods for a reception they were having after one of their performances.  So I agreed to do it.  Clearly I love baking so it was a great chance to make stuff I really like to make.  The reception was supposed to host somewhere around 70 people so I decided to make four different items because that seemed right in my head.  David Lebovitz--through his blog--introduced me to chocolate caramel tartlets.  Those were the first things I thought of making for this event.  They are small, easy and richer than a mofo.  Then I thought about eclairs because I've made them before too and I knew I could do it and make a lot of them with some confidence.  Also they are kind of fancy--or look fancy and you have a plethora of flavors that you can add to them.  I had a hard time at first figuring out what kind of eclairs I wanted to make but eventually I decided on two different flavors.

During my trip to Italy last year I came across Crema Pistacchi (a.k.a. pistachio spread).  I had never seen, tasted, or heard of it before but with a tiny sample of it that I got from a vendor selling it out on the street, I realized that I was addicted to it.  It's quite possibly the most wonderful thing you will ever taste--sent down from pistachio heaven.  So obviously I had to have it and thus I bought some--just a tiny 3.8 ounce jar of it.  It was amazing but it's also not cheap. Anyway, on my way back to the U.S. I figured I could just stow it in my carry-on because I wanted it close to me and I didn't want it to break which I was mega paranoid about.  But then I got flagged--or rather it got flagged--at airport security and I was told that either I had to throw it away because it was just over the amount allowed or...

OR...I could go back and re-check my bag that contained the tiny--but not tiny enough to get through security-- jar of  heavenly pistachio spread and go back through security.  I chose the latter.  I chose the latter because I figured I would clearly never come across this stuff again and it was my one and only chance to own this jar of amazingness.  In the end everything worked out and my pistachio spread came home with me unfettered.  I was pleased.  However, very shortly after I came back from Italy, Mario Batali's Eataly opened up in Chicago.  I trekked over there one day and amongst the various eateries that are contained within this mammoth establishment is also a small market.  So as I was perusing the market you'll never guess what I came across...  Yes, yes--jars and jars of Crema Pistacchi!  All small 3 ounce jars but nevertheless I felt like I had struck gold because this stuff is splendid and I had found a local source.  Praise be to Eataly! 

But getting back to my eclairs.  Eataly has other hard-to-find spreads that are all imported from Italy.  Another one that I found was hazelnut spread.  Not chocolate hazelnut spread like Nutella (which FYI they have a whole separate dedicated Nutella bar with all things Nutella) but more similar to the pistachio one and equally good.  So, after remembering all of this while trying to figure out what flavor of eclairs to make it occurred to me that the higher powers at be were easily convincing me to make pistachio and hazelnut flavored eclairs with a chocolate glaze.  It was so clear.  Obvi.  

For the other two desserts I knew I wanted one more fancy thing and then just a simple one because if I had to make four fancy ones for 70 people I might get a little too stressed.  Also, I wanted to make a cake because cake is the best but I didn't think a whole cake would be appropriate at an event like this.  But then I remembered financiers.

Financiers are little almond tea cakes.  They are very easy to make.  I had made chocolate ones before which turned out well but I wanted to make non-chocolate ones this time since I already had other chocolate items on the menu.  My Bouchon Bakery cookbook had a recipe that I wanted to try out.  Traditionally--from what I've read--financiers were made into small rectangular loaves that look kind of like gold bars after they've been baked. The fact that they look like gold bars some how relates to the origin of their name:  financiers ===> gold ===> money...stuff like that I guess.  I didn't investigate the issue much but I learned something, you've learned something so that's nice.  Anyway, you can make them in mini muffin pans too which I had done before but I wanted to make these cool little bars and decorate them with buttercream petals.

I found a place online that's in Philadelphia that sells sheet pans with the molds for them but after ordering one, realizing it was the wrong size, then re-ordering the right sized one and having it delivered overnight I made a visit to Sur la Table and found out that they sell individual molds there that were the same price as the ones I bought online but cheaper with no shipping.  So I bought them too because I was mega paranoid again and feared that my other molds that I had over-nighted wouldn't really be over-nighted and I needed a back-up.  But I was wrong and needless to say I can make a lot of financiers now. 

The last item was a sable cookie.  In general, I think cookies are the easiest things to make.  A sable is just a butter/sugar roll-out cookie.  I found a great recipe on Smitten Kitchen that was a snap to make so I went with it and then pressed some pearl sugar into it.  The one adaptation I did make was the vanilla bean I added.  I read that if you scrape the seeds into the sugar of a recipe and rub it into the sugar crystals all that great vanilla flavor is fully and truly embedded within the sugar.  I guess by rubbing different herbs and spices into the sugar of a recipe it will really enhance the flavor.  More learning.  As cliche as it may sound, this whole process was really a learning experience.

The biggest worry I had with this project was getting everything done on time and with my own approval.  The only way I knew I could make it work was by making one or two components of recipes every night after I got home from work.  I did this for a week before the event.  I ended up freezing a lot of things so that they would stay fresh.  The two things I felt like I could only finish the day of the event were the eclairs and the financiers.  I made the eclair shells and the pastry cream a few days before and froze the shells and refrigerated the pastry cream.  But I felt like if I had filled them a day or two before they would be soggy and gross.  So I waited for that.  Also, the financiers were a bit tricky only because I kept reading that they are really only good the day that they are baked--one source said only within a few hours...  I was silently freaking out about his.  But I tested the recipe a few times before I made them and decided that they tasted fine throughout the whole day.  Also, one thing I read that helped was that the batter can be made beforehand and refrigerated--which apparently also helps to let all of the flavors marinade.  So I made the batter the night before and baked them on the day of the event which worked out well.

As far as sprucing each of the desserts up was concerned, I wanted to keep it simple--mostly.  For the cookies a lot of recipes suggest using "dusting" sugar to coat them.  I found this at a few stores but I also had some pearl sugar sitting unopened in my cabinets for months--saving it for a recipe that I have yet to make.  So I decided to just use that.  For the eclairs, I had mixed the respective nut spreads into the pastry cream but figured I needed some sort of identifier outside of the pastry cream. This came in the form of the respective nut (hazelnut and pistachio)-- in a crushed form sprinkled over the chocolate glaze-- that each eclair housed within its doughy interior.

I actually wanted to dye some modeling white chocolate a pistachio color and a hazelnut color and overlay some fancy design on each eclair but I didn't have the time..  Nonetheless, I think they looked good.  The chocolate caramel tartlets were easy with just sprinkling some fleur de sel atop.  With the financiers--often people will just sprinkle some powdered sugar on them or set some fruit within the batter which I'm sure is delicious but I love cake and buttercream frosting so I wanted to pipe some butterceam on them--specifically a Biscoff flavored French buttercream.  I also had a clear vision of using that petal technique that I've used before--perhaps over-used. It just seemed right...

Everything turned out well.  I write that with a good amount of surety. The woman that I was coordinating with for the event sent me a nice message the day after it and said that everything went well and the desserts were a big hit.  So that was nice to know.

I'm not sure what I would do differently next time.  Aside from some kinks I thought I was pretty organized and prepared.  I do think that working in a kitchen for hours on end it a tough job--I don't know that I could do that on a daily basis because I'm exhausted from  my measly one week stint--grant it I was working my full time gig simultaneously. But still, I think baking professionally isn't an easy way to make a living.  I love cake.