Wednesday, August 10, 2011

It's in the Details

I am a firm believer that it's the small things that count. All the tiny details, compiled, make something great. Sure one amazing ingredient can really make a difference, but more often than not, it is the combination of delicious flavors and simple ingredients that really make an entire meal or even just one dish really come together. Fresh herbs, bacon grease, butter, salt, freshly ground pepper, and freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice add amazing dimensions to foods that otherwise would be just so-so without them.
You always hear or read tips from chefs that tell you to keep fresh herbs on hand, and it truly does liven up a ho-hum dish. Rubbing olive oil or bacon grease on the outside of a baked potato and sprinkling it with coarse salt sends it sky rocketing above the ordinary dry potato. Grinding fresh salt and pepper over your naked salad greens before topping with dressing gives every bite flavor. Take any ordinary steamed veggie (broccoli, carrots, asparagus, green beans, etc), add browned butter and freshly grated pecorino romano; or melted butter, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and some freshly chopped tarragon or thyme; or a sprinkling of chopped bacon or prosciutto and some balsamic salad dressing; or, one my grandma showed me, melted butter, minced garlic, salt and pepper.
All of those take a few fresh ingredients, usually things I happen to have on hand, and turn your side dish into something worth talking about. Those are the tips and tricks I like to incorporate.
I also like these principles applied to desserts. I don't indulge every meal, but if I am going to, I want it to be totally worth it. There is nothing more disappointing than spending the money (and calories) on a dessert that just doesn't do it for you. I would rather eat three bites of an amazing, decadent, rich dessert, than ten bites of something ordinary. When I read about croquembouche, that french wedding dessert that consists of a tower of cream puffs with spun sugar, I thought to myself, "I will make that." Not, "I want to make that", but, "I will make that." An event came up and I needed some height on a table. Perfect. I used a cream puff recipe from my amazing Art and Soul of Baking cookbook. Instead of spun sugar, I wanted to drizzle it with my caramel sauce, and I filled the puffs with lightly sweetened whipped cream. If I had more time I would have filled them with vanilla custard, one of my favorites. My only regret was that I should have made the puffs smaller, so I could fit the whole thing in my mouth.
(or something like it)
Make the caramel sauce ahead and store in the fridge until just before using
Profiteroles (sounds like prof fitter rolls) i.e. Cream Puffs
First, you will make the pate a choux, which is a dough that can be used for eclairs, cream puffs, or gougeres (savory profiteroles made with cheese, mustard, and black pepper...sounds delicious, right?)

Pate a Choux
Line two baking sheets with parchment and trace 1" circles on the parchment
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F

1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
4 large eggs

Cook the butter, water, and salt in a medium saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally until the butter melts evenly. Increase the heat and bring to a boil. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and add the flour all at once. Beat vigorously with the wooden spoon until the dough comes together in a mass around the spoon. Place the pan back over the medium heat and continue to cook, beating, for another minute or so to dry out the dough-the pan will have a thin film of dough on the bottom.
Transfer the dough to the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on medium speed for 1 minute to slightly cool the dough and develop the gluten. In the medium bowl, beat the eggs together until you can't distinguish the yellow from the white. With the mixer on medium, add the eggs a couple of tablespoons at a time, allowing each addition to blend completely into the dough before continuing. When all the eggs are incorporated, the mixture should be shiny and elastic and stick to the side of the bowl. It should also pass the "string test": Place a bit of dough between your thumb and forefinger and pull them apart. The dough should form a stretchy string about 1 1/2 inches to 2 inches long. If the dough has not reached this stage, beat another egg and continue adding it, a little at a time, until the dough is finished.
Pipe the dough onto the prepared baking sheets and bake for 20 minutes.  Reduce the oven temperature to 350 F, switch the sheets between the racks, rotating the pans from front to back, and bake for 20 minutes longer. Reduce the oven temperature again, to 300 F, and bake 10 to 15 minutes longer. The profiteroles should be a deep golden brown.

When cool, fill with lightly sweetened whipped cream, stack into a tower, and drizzle with caramel sauce.

1 comment:

  1. I so agree with you: just clean, simple and delicious ingredients combined with that simple dash of flavor found in an herb or spice or even olive oil or butter makes for the best food. And how I love choux! Although I love them filled with pastry cream my husband loves them best just filled, as you did, with whipped cream. Perfect. And yes, they are best when you can pop one whole in your mouth :-)


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