Monday, October 19, 2009

Serious sweetness

I can't believe I'm about to post what I'm about to post. Last two weeks, I have spent 10 days perfecting my pastry skills. Okay, not bad. I mean, I do have a sweet tooth, but it makes me feel quite ill.

So, right in the middle of pastry fell my birthday. Quite fitting! Tarts, custards and crepes in lieu of a birthday cake? No complaints. On top of that, I had the opportunity to attend a fabulous chef demo the day after my birthday - with Master Chef, and FCI Dean of Pastry Jacques Torres!

I've been a fan of Chef Jacques for awhile, and was incredibly excited when he opened his Upper West Side shop a couple of years ago near by apartment. And an unfortunate presence that would be open those cold mornings walking to the subway when I'd be craving a cocoa.

The topic of Chef Jacques' demo was tarts and choux - fitting for us culinary students having just worked on tarts, and about to start choux. He made two tasty treats with us - eclairs filled with pastry cream and topped with chocolate, and a delightful strawberry tart. I love eclairs, but more outstanding was the strawberry tart. A thin, crisp tart shell that wasn't too overwhelming, with a bit of cream, and of course, big, fat ripe strawberries. Yum!

Pate a Choux
1 kg water
500g butter
Good pinch salt
Good pinch sugar
700g flour

Bring water, butter, salt and sugar to a boil in a large saucepan. Add flour and stir well over the heat, cooking the raw flavor out and evaporating the moisture. It should come together as a ball, but leave the bottom of the pot clean. Immediately remove from the heat and transfer to a stand mixer. Add eggs, 1 at a time, until the mixture is ribbony and forms a hook when lifted from a spoon (you may need about 12, but it depends on the moisture level of the dough and environment).

Transfer dough to a piping bag and pipe eclairs and cream puff shapes onto a silpat or parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake at 400 until golden, then turn down to 350 for 5-10 minutes, then finally turn down t0 300 until the choux are light, crisp on the outside and hollow on the inside. You can leave the door open a bit to allow the steam to escape.

When finished, you can pipe in pastry cream or whipped cream, or even chocolate cream inside the choux, and top with chocolate or fondant.

Strawberry Tart
300g butter - COLD
560g cake flour
60g almond flour
180g powdered sugar
10-12g salt
2 eggs

Mix flours and butter on low in stand mixer until sandy. Add in powdered sugar and salt until just blended. Add eggs, one at a time, until the mixture comes together. Remove from a bowl and form into a disc. Let rest 30 min, chilled in fridge.

When ready, remove dough from fridge. Generously flour a counter (I like marble and granite -- or a pastry cloth!) and a wood rolling pin. Make sure the dough is warm enough to roll without cracking. Gently roll out into a circle, lifting and rotating the dough every two turns, making sure it is well floured and not sticking. Transfer to a buttered and chilled tart shell, forming a edge by pinching. Dock the dough (stab it with forks!) so that steam can escape, and blind bake the shell at 400 til slightly golden. Set aside.

While the shell cools, prepare your pastry cream and sliced strawberries. You can also seal the shell with melted chocolate, an egg wash (but this has to be added before the shell is blind baked), cocoa butter, or melted jam.

Spread a thin layer of melted chocolate on the cooled shell. Then spread on a layer of pastry cream, and top with strawberries -- you can lay them on their sides, or, as I prefer, remove just their tops and stand them on end. Brush with apricot glaze (3 parts jam to one part water, heated til melted). Enjoy!

Ps. I apologize that I have not shared a recipe for pastry cream yet. The ones we have been using at school have cornstarch in them, which leaves me with a crippling stomach ache. I need to test a couple of other recipes that work with flour in lieu of cornstarch.

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