Monday, August 27, 2012

Did you know swans mate for life? How about pastry swans...

Blog-checking lines: Kat of The Bobwhites was our August 2012 Daring Baker hostess who inspired us to have fun in creating pate a choux shapes, filled with crème patisserie or Chantilly cream. We were encouraged to create swans or any shape we wanted and to go crazy with filling flavors allowing our creativity to go wild!

Pate a choux is actually one of my very favorite pastry dough to work with. I have used it a few times before and enjoy it. I remember too when I was a kid my mother would make these pastry puffs that were filled with a pineapple cream of some kind; she made them for special sorority meetings and I frankly cannot remember if she made them for anything else. Why did I not ask for those for a birthday one year! Fortunately for me, she made us all wonderful family cook books several years ago, and in there is that recipe, which frankly I should have used for the filling in this month's challenge but for the fact that the husband does not like pineapple. 

This months challenge was pate a choux, specifically a choux shape, with an encouragement to try our hands a swans. I wanted to give the swans a try as for me I have always admired the window of pastry shops in Paris with their assortment of beautiful pastry both shaped and molded. So I gave it a shot. I was very nervous at first as many people in the Daring Bakers Group had reported struggles with their pate a choux. The other issue that I am very aware of is my need for perfection when in the kitchen; I was terribly afraid that I would not make swans that were pretty. After much hemming and hawing over which recipe to use, what filling to make I settled on using the Daring Baker's suggested recipe which I later learned is very similar to the recipe that Jacques Pepin uses for his Paris-Brest. The issue that I had with the Daring Baker's recipe was that there were no times, so I had to "wing" it. My heads baked for about 12 minutes, and my bodies baked for about 45 at the suggested 375. I should share with you as well that I have plans in the near future for my mother's pastries as well as the Paris-Brest from Jacques Pepin; I had a mini Paris-Brest the last time were were in Paris. Regardless here is my attempt at pastry swans. 

These are the bodies and the heads before filling. I did use a pastry bag and two different sized tips for piping. 

These photos were my for the photo shoot shots. They are filled with a chocolate pastry cream. More to come on that. 
This last photo is how I served them that night for dessert with friends after a wonderful dinner out. 

So the question remains, "Do pastry swans mate for life?" Only if you plan on eating two at one sitting, and well shamefully we did. I stuffed mine with a chocolate pastry cream because that is Ashley's favorite. I used the recipe from the book Encyclopedia of Classic French pastries by Susan Whatley. I have used this book many times, there is an earlier post about my croissants on my blog, and I love this book. I was not so happy with the pastry cream, but then I believe that may be my fault. The cream was too runny, which I attribute to my not cooking it long enough. I tried to remedy that by folding in some whipped cream when our guests were here for dessert. I specifically asked for statements from my guests about their impressions on the swans and there were many mmm, and yumms, and delicious; next time I must remember to write down direct quotes. I also took one to a friend at work who celebrated his birthday this past week and he enjoyed it, though I was surprised that the re-crisping made them too crisp, I won't do that again. 

What can you do with pate a choux that I did not do. It can be used for desserts as well as for savory dishes. One of the women in the group filled hers with a tuna mousse I believe, and made it into a crab, it is beyond cute, go to the link on crab to see her post! I think though my absolute favorite is shared by my sister, who may kill me for putting this final photo up. While in Paris we had a little bakery across the street from our hotel, and they had all kinds of pastry, regularly at night we would pick up a few eclair and enjoy them as we were winding down. She had two several times at night. 

She loved them, and ate both in that sitting. They were amazing. You can see the glee in her eyes as she devours them. Now if I could only figure out how to reproduce the pastry cream that was used in those eclair!!! I hope you try your hand at the pate a choux if you have never done so. Hope you enjoy your kitchen a bit more, I know I am enjoying mine

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Cornmeal not just for cornbread!

Blog-checking lines: Rachael of pizzarossa was our August 2012 Daring Cook hostess and she challenged us to broaden our knowledge of cornmeal! Rachael provided us with some amazing recipes and encouraged us to hunt down other cornmeal recipes that we’d never tried before – opening our eyes to literally 100s of cuisines and 1000s of new-to-us recipes!

Well here it is my first Daring Cooks Blog!!! I though long and hard about joining daring cooks, wondering would I actually be able to participate in the challenges that the hosts were presenting. With encouragement from my husband and my mom I realized that of course I could do it, I may have successes and I may have disasters, but it would be fun and challenging none the less. So here it is. My very first blog. The challenge this month was cornmeal. For me cornmeal has been ever present in our home, from cornbread to hush puppies and then coating for fish; however that was really the extent of my experience with it so I was interested to try a few things I had not done yet.

My first thought was to give polenta a try and OMG was I glad I did. The polenta recipe I found was from Epicurious, their recipe is skillet polenta with tomatoes and Gorgonzola, I modified it a bit and doctored my recipe a lot. I did follow the base recipe for the polenta however I did not add the fresh basil as I did not purchase it at the store, and instead of Gorgonzola I used a blue cheese that I picked up and actually stirred it in the polenta with some Parmesan and two tablespoons of butter at the end. It was fantastic, the best thing I though initially to come out of this experience. To go with the polenta I prepared some chicken sausage with tomatoes and onions which we spooned over the polenta. It was all so yummy, it was all we could do to not eat the pan of polenta that night!

Creamy blue cheese polenta with sausage tomatoes and onion.

The photo just does not do it justice, and I realize I did not take pictures of the process which is disappointing I must try to do better next time. I did have to ask Ashley to assist some while cooking as I put the sausage and tomatoes on at the same time as the polenta because I wanted both done together. I will certainly be doing this again in the very near future.

My second attempt at the cornmeal challenge was a dessert; which I can report I failed at. I attempted to make one of the desserts that was suggested in the challenge; Poudine MaisI tried and that is the most important part of this whole challenge. I was so excited, I was trying something new again, and after the polenta success I thought there really is no way I can mess this up. Boy was I wrong! So the things I realized after the fact was that I did not cook the cornmeal long enough. I was not able to find the sultans that the recipe called for so I added yellow raisins. I also felt like the dessert was not sweet enough. Ashley and I talked about this and as this is a dessert not made for American tastes we figured that it may be a less sweet dessert; which was confirmed once I posted my failure to The Daring Kitchen's forums. Regardless I tried it, and here is an actual photo of my failure.

Photos of the process.
Finished product, you can't really see it well in the photo but liquid gathered on the edge of the pudding which makes me think I should have cooked it longer; also I did not top with extra coconut because Ashley does not care for it.

I have to admit I was a bit disappointed in the final outcome of the pudding, but I was determined to not end my first challenge on a sour note! My final attempt at the challenge was to try something not only that I had never made, but in all of my years in South Texas and trips to Mexico that I had never eaten! I wanted to make Gorditas, and am I glad that I gave them an attempt. The recipe I used and modified came from a little book I picked up while we were in Florida and at Epcot in the World Showcase Mexico attraction; Recetas De Viejo Mexico (Recipes of Old Mexico). I ended up modifying it a bit as after following the directions I realized I needed more liquid and some lard or butter, so here is the full recipe I used with my modifications in parentheses.


2cups of masa harina
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt
1 cup (plus two tablespoons) water
(2 tablespoons of unsalted butter)

Mix the ingredients to form a stiff dough (added the extra water and butter when I felt the dough was not coming together well.) Pinch off small portions of dough and form 2-inch balls. Flatten to form a patty about 3 inches wide and 1/2 inch thick (mine were a bit bigger, I went with 3 inch balls and about 4.5 inch wide patties.) Fry in hot oil until golden brown, turn to cook on both sides (I tried to use as little oil as possible in this situation). Drain on paper towels. Make a slit through the middle, open slightly and stuff with filling of choice.

We filled ours with a shredded chicken mix I can pick up at the local grocery store so I cheated a bit here, but I figured I was making Gorditas at home after working all night the night before, this was the best I could do. Regardless of using premade chicken, they were DELICIOUS!!!! We topped them off with lettuce, tomato, and cheese and had them with some refried beans and sliced avocado. We did realize it is important to have a bit of sauce as the gordita shells can be a bit dry, but that was easily remedied and they were so good. Here are some photos of the process.

The prep, cooking, and before stuffed photos.

These were so yummy, and they reheated very well a few days later!

In all I would say that my first Daring Cooks Challenge was a success. I loved the experience of trying to make new things, and eating new things. Ashley enjoyed the experiment as well. I might even continue in my attempts at the cornmeal pudding as it was an interesting concept. I have done some research, and looks like there are many cultures that have a cornmeal pudding of sorts. Anyway, I look forward to the next challenge and hope to have as many delicious results as I did this time around! Enjoy your kitchen a bit more, I know I am enjoying mine! Thanks for reading.