Thursday, May 27, 2010

daring bakers: piece montée (croquembouche)

The May 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Cat of Little Miss Cupcake. Cat challenged everyone to make a piece montée, or croquembouche, based on recipes from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and Nick Malgieri.

This was my favorite DB challenge so far. I've been meaning to make cream puffs for quite a while now, but I've been too intimidated. And croquembouches sounded even more fun, and even more intimidating, than regular cream puffs. Thanks to Cat, I've conquered my fear of choux pastry. The recipes she provided were easy to follow and the results were delicious. For eating out of hand, I prefer the vanilla pastry cream. But for the actual cream puffs, the chocolate pastry cream won, no contest. Everyone who tried them preferred it. Unfortunately, I was the only one who liked the croquembouche. Or perhaps not so unfortunate, as it left more for me. I love the feel of the caramel coating cracking in my teeth.

The pastry cream and the choux pastry were simple to make, but I'll need more practice to get my pastries a consistent size and shape. And to be able to assemble a piece montée without burning my fingers or having the finished dessert come out lopsided.

Anyway, we all loved these. I ended up making a whole batch of both the chocolate and vanilla creams and two batches of the puffs. One just wasn't enough. And my son particularly loved the cream puffs. They were just the right size for his hands. I don't have any of Nick Malgieri's cookbooks yet, but that's going to have to change after trying these. Thanks to Cat for such a great pick.

cream puffs

vanilla crème patissiere (half batch)
1 C whole milk
2 TB cornstarch
6 TB sugar
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
2 TB unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla

Dissolve cornstarch in ¼ cup of milk. Combine the remaining milk with the sugar in a saucepan; bring to boil; remove from heat.

Beat the whole egg, then the yolks into the cornstarch mixture. Pour 1/3 of boiling milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly so that the eggs do not begin to cook.

Return the remaining milk to boil. Pour in the hot egg mixture in a stream, continuing whisking.

Continue whisking (this is important – you do not want the eggs to solidify/cook) until the cream thickens and comes to a boil. Remove from heat and beat in the butter and vanilla.

Pour cream into a stainless steel/ceramic bowl. Press plastic wrap firmly against the surface. Chill immediately and until ready to use.

chocolate pastry cream (half batch)
Bring ¼ cup milk to a boil in a small pan; remove from heat and add in 3 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped, and mix until smooth. Whisk into pastry cream when you add the butter and vanilla.

pate a choux (yield: about 28)
¾ cup water
6 TB unsalted butter
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 C all-purpose flour
4 large eggs

egg wash: 1 egg and pinch of salt

Pre-heat oven to 425 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Preparing batter:
Combine water, butter, salt and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and stir occasionally. At boil, remove from heat and sift in the flour, stirring to combine completely.

Return to heat and cook, stirring constantly until the batter dries slightly and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan.

Transfer to a bowl and stir with a wooden spoon 1 minute to cool slightly.

Add 1 egg. The batter will appear loose and shiny. As you stir, the batter will become dry-looking like lightly buttered mashed potatoes. It is at this point that you will add in the next egg. Repeat until you have incorporated all the eggs.

Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with a large open tip. Pipe choux about 1 inch-part in the baking sheets. Choux should be about 1 inch high and about 1 inch wide.

Using a clean finger dipped in hot water, gently press down on any tips that have formed on the top of choux when piping. You want them to retain their ball shape, but be smoothly curved on top.

Brush tops with egg wash (1 egg lightly beaten with pinch of salt).

Bake the choux at 425 F until well-puffed and turning lightly golden in color, about 10 minutes.

Lower the temperature to 350 F and continue baking until well-colored and dry, about 20 minutes more. Remove to a rack and cool. They can be stored in a airtight box overnight.

When you are ready to assemble your piece montée, using a plain pastry tip, pierce the bottom of each choux. Fill the choux with pastry cream using either the same tip or a star tip, and place on a paper-lined sheet. Choux can be refrigerated briefly at this point while you make your glaze.

Use one of these to top your choux and assemble your piece montée.

chocolate glaze
8 ounces/200 g. finely chopped chocolate (use the finest quality you can afford as the taste will be quite pronounced; I recommend semi-sweet)

Melt chocolate in microwave or double boiler. Stir at regular intervals to avoid burning. Use the best quality chocolate you can afford. Use immediately.

hard caramel glaze:
1 cup (225 g.) sugar
½ teaspoon lemon juice

Combine sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan with a metal kitchen spoon stirring until the sugar resembles wet sand. Place on medium heat; heat without stirring until sugar starts to melt around the sides of the pan and the center begins to smoke. Begin to stir sugar. Continue heating, stirring occasionally until the sugar is a clear, amber color. Remove from heat immediately; place bottom of pan in ice water to stop the cooking. Use immediately.

assembling your piece montée:
You may want to lay out your unfilled, unglazed choux in a practice design to get a feel for how to assemble the final dessert. For example, if making a conical shape, trace a circle (no bigger than 8 inches) on a piece of parchment to use as a pattern. Then take some of the larger choux and assemble them in the circle for the bottom layer. Practice seeing which pieces fit together best.

Once you are ready to assemble your piece montée, dip the top of each choux in your glaze (careful it may be still hot!), and start assembling on your cake board/plate/sheet. Continue dipping and adding choux in levels using the glaze to hold them together as you build up.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

paneer with spinach and simple pilaf

B and I love Indian food. Well, we love almost any kind of food. But Indian is one of our absolute favorites. I've tried to cook Indian food in the past, but the results have been nothing like the wonderful things we eat when we go out. Toasting and grinding spices is a lot of work for a meal that tastes terrible. So I haven't tried to make Indian for a few years. But I found Anjum Anand's Indian Food Made Easy on sale at the bookstore a while ago and when I read her description of her food as not being for purists, I thought this was something I could handle.

The first thing I made was saag paneer, which she calls "paneer with spinach." I served it with her simple pilaf. The saag paneer is my new favorite. I like hers better than any of the ones at the local restaurants--it has a lovely, bright flavor. And true to her title, it was very easy to make.

The recipe makes a rather small batch, so I always at least double it. I've since had a bit of trouble making the paneer successfully, but it has worked when I've used yogurt with a bit of lemon juice, so that's how I'll make it from here on. I used ghee instead of oil to cook in, and I throw a pinch of asafoetida in the cooking oil (on the recommendation of the former chef who owns the Indian spice shop I go to). There's really nothing more to say about this--a little blanching, a little chopping, a little frying, and you've got dinner. Couldn't be easier.

paneer with spinach and simple pilaf (from Indian Food Made Easy, by Anjum Anand)

4 C whole milk
7/8-1 C fresh yogurt or 2 TB lemon juice

Bring the milk to a boil in a heavy-based saucepan. once the milk starts to biol and rise up, stir in 7/8 C of the yogurt or all the lemon juice. Keeping the milk on heat, stir gently to help the milk curdle--this should take only a minute or so. If it does not separate, add the rest of the yogurt (if using) and keep stirring. The curds will coagulate and separate from the watery whey. Remove from the heat.

Line a large strainer with muslin or cheesecloth, and palce it over a large bowl or saucepan. Pour the cheese into the lined strainer and run some cold water through it. Wrap the cheese in the cloth, and hang it from the faucet over the sink to allow the excess water to drain for 10 minutes. Then, keeping it fairly tightly wrapped, place on your work surface with a heavy weight on top (I refill the same saucepan with the whey or water and palce it on top) for 30-40 minutes or until it is flattened into a firm block. Then cut into cubes or crumble, depending on how you want to use it.

Store any unused pieces of paneer in the refrigerator in water in a covered container. You can alos freeze it in an airtight container. Defrost thoroughly before use.

paneer with spinach
7 C baby spinach leaves, washed
3 TB veg. oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
2" fresh ginger, sliced into long julienne strips
1.5 TB chopped garlic
1-2 green chilies, left whole
2 tsp ground coriander
salt, to taste
4 C milk, made into around 9 oz paneer with fresh yogurt
1/2-1 tsp garam masala, depending on quality
3/8 C whole milk or 4 TB heavy cream
1-2 tsp lemon juice, or to taste

Blanch the spinach leaves in hot water for 3 minutes or until well wilted. Drain into a colander and run under cold water until they cool. Blend to a smooth paste and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large nonstick pan. Add the cumin seeds and fry for about 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the onion and fry over a mild heat for about 5 minutes or until soft. add the ginger, garlic, and chilies, and cook for 1 minute. Add the ground coriander and salt to taste. Cook for another 30 seconds, then add the spinach and a splash of water, if necessary. The mixture should be loose but not watery. Bring to a boil and simmer for 3 minutes.

Add the paneer cubes, garam masala, and milk or cream. Stir and cook for a few minutes or until the spinach is creamy. Before serving, stir in the lemon juice to taste.

simple pilaff
2 TB vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 small onion, peeled and thinly sliced (I chopped mine instead)
1 tsp garam masala
salt, to taste
1 C Basmati or long-grain white rice, washed and soaked for 30 min.
3/4 C frozen peas
1.5 C water
1-2 TB lemon juice, or to taste

Heat the oil in a large nonstick saucepan. Add the cumin seeds and cook for about 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the onion and saute for about 6 minutes until lightly caramelized. Add the garam masala and salt, and cook, stirring, for another 20 seconds.

Stir in the drained rice and frozen peas, then add the water. Taste for seasoning. Bring to a boil, then cook, covered, on the lowest heat for 10 minutes. Check that the grains are tender; if not, leave to steam for another 2 minutes. Then remove the lid and allow any moisture to evaporate, Drizzle the lemon juice over and gently mix with a fork, fluffing up the grains.