Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Mille Feuile and profiteroles

A little sun and many good friends provided the excuse for a weekend of spring baking.

Raspberry Mille Feuile

Creme patissiere

4 egg yolks
2 cups of milk
1/2 cup of caster sugar
vanilla pod
1/4 cup of cornflour

puff pastry
fresh raspberries
1 cup of double cream

To make the creme patissiere beat the egg yolks with the cornflour and sugar, while bringing the milk to the boil. Take the milk off the heat and pour in a steady stream onto the yolks, gently beating to stop lumps. Pour the mixture back into the pan and heat, stirring continuously, until it reaches the boil. Taste to make sure the cornflour is cooked, and that it is sweet enough. Then leave to cool, allowing a little knob of butter to melt over the surface to stop a skin forming.

Heat the oven to 200 oc. Roll the puff pastry very thinly and cut into equal sized pieces. Each mille feuile will need at least two pieces. Place on a baking sheet and bake until the pastry just begins to puff, then place another baking sheet on top of the pastry to stop it rising and return to the oven for another 5-10 minutes until lightly golden. At this point the pastry may have sugar sprinkled on it and be returned briefly to the oven to caramelise, or may be left plain to be iced or dusted with icing sugar when cold.

Lightly whip the cream until peaks form and combine with the (cold) creme patissiere. Once the pastry is cold pipe the creme patissiere onto one piece, top with raspberries and lay on another piece. For those with architectural abilities another layer may be added, but my balancing abilities only run to one layer.

Passion Fruit Profiteroles

Since making about 500 profiteroles for a friends wedding many years ago I've perfected my profiterole making and baking. There are several tricks to perfect profiteroles. The first is to avoid baking the profiteroles in a damp room, or on a wet day, as they will absorb the moisture in the room making them soggy and lacking bite. The second is to prick a small hole in the bottom or side of the profiterole to allow the steam to escape, and return them to a very low oven (50-100 oc) for 5 -10 minutes to dry out. If you decide to make big choux puffs a small spoon must be used to remove the slightly undercooked middle instead of mrerely pricking them. The final thing is to only ever bake them on the day of eating them and to fill them as close to eating as possible. This may all seem fiddly and precious, but it makes them perfect, and the baking itself is easy for anyone to do.

Choux Pastry

1 cup flour
125g butter
1 cup of water
4 eggs

Put the water and butter in a pan and bring to the boil. Add the flour and mix vigourously to remove lumps until the mixture comes away from the sides of the pan. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for a moment. Then make a well in the centre of the mixture and break in the eggs, mixing to combine.

Heat the oven to 180 oc
Pipe onto a well greased baking tray, taking care to leave space for the profiteroles to rise. If there are peaks from the piping pat them down with the back of a spoon dipped in water. Bake until risen and golden, then prick a hole in them and return to a low oven for five minutes. Cool them somewhere dry and leave to use until the last possible minute.

I filled these with the creme patissiere and cream mixture I have used in the mille feuile, adding the strained juice of 4 passion fruit. They were lovely, all delicate, creamy and fragrant.

Sunday, 18 March 2007

Easter Chocolates

I made my first mucky foray into the world of tempering chocolate today. Thus far my approach to chocolate making has been that they never last long enough to develop a bloom. However, my cute impluse buy bunny and chicken moulds arrived courtesy of Jane Asher today, and for chocolates this big it seems to make sense to spend the time to get a nice glossy finish.

Deciding on doing the minimum possible I went with the seeding method of heating half the chocolate until it is fully melted, and then adding the rest of the chocolate finely chopped, stirring until it melts. The result was a dismal failure, white bloom everywhere, and still a kitchen covered in chocolate.

So I've bitten the bullet and bought a chocolate thermometer. The nice thing about the process of tempering chocolate is that if you follow the instructions aboslutly to the letter you will have hard, glossy chocolate, that keeps and breaks with a snap. Its not making meriangues or custard, where it can all go to hell for no discernable reason. On the other hand there is pretty much no room for error.

You have to heat the chocolate to above 41 oc (but not above 50 oc) and then you have to cool it to between 31-2 oc for dark chocolate or 30-1 oc for milk chocolate and then add the seed chocolate and hold the temperature steady until you use it. So attention is required. The point is that you want certain crystals to form in the chocolate, these are smaller, and less easly melted, meaning firm glossy chocolate. The right crystals are the ones that form at these particular temperature ranges. So you heat all the chocolate to 41 oc, at which temperature all crystal strcutures in the chocolate melt, and then you bring the temperature down to the ideal range, and hold it there while crystals form. To aid this you add the seed chocolate, which is already tempered chocolate (which most bought chocolate is) in unmelted lumps. The crystals in this already tempered chocolate encourage the formation of more of the same kind of crystal, thus seeding it. This method works for any quantity of chocolate. I used about 2/3rds of the chocolate for melting, and the other 1/3rd for seeding.

The other difficult bit about this whole process of chocolate making which is vastly underestimated is molding itself. The chocolate needs to be thick enough to come out of the mold, and the mold itseld needs to be joined exactly so there are no unweildy overlapping edges. This was something that took me a few trial runs to get right. In essence, you need more chocolate than you think, and you need a steady hand when placing the sides of the mould together. Practise, in this case, makes perfect, but for someone as ill-coordinated as me a lot of practise is required.

The upside is a wonderful feeling of accomplishment when your first rabbit emerges intact and glossy from its mold. Strange pleasures for strange people.

In the end I made some plain chocolate rabbits and hens, and a whole load of chocolate eggs flavoured with different insides. The winners were the marbled white and dark chocolate eggs enrobed in pistachio nuts which I'd finely chopped. For the novie I'd recommend starting with solid chocolate eggs, and working up to chocolates filled with ganache and hollow chocolates.

Thursday, 15 March 2007

Chocolate and Funding

Its that time of year when funding applications are due for those of us trying to make thinking a paying job. For me that means the need for huge quantities of baking to relieve the inevitable stress and despair. I've stocked the house with a worrying quantity of green and blacks chocolate, ordered a whole load of bunny moulds from Jane Asher, and am ready to meet my doom. I have five days to finalise the application, and five days in which to bake and temper my way out of oblivion. I find fiddly little jobs like tempering chocolate are a much needed distraction when life hangs in the balence. In a very martha stewart moment I've even emptied the insides out of several eggs via a cunningly placed hole, ready for filling with yet more chocolate.

Its a very OCD kind of job, requiring pins and wooden skewers, and a lot more patience than I can usually muster. A is happy with it though, as it means I'm making scrambled eggs in the morning in a bid to use up the egg insides. Morning cooking is rare in our house, we're just not up to that level of domestic bliss.

I love these eggs. They are one of the best things in tescos (not that that is saying much). I've been in the habit of going into raptures about them to each new person I meet, extolling the virtues of the pale beiges and blues of the shells, the marigold orange of the yolk, the wonderful taste. Those few friends who didn't think me certifiable before certainly do when I get started on the merits of these eggs. I know no limits.