Baking the French way - recipes
Washington - Bakers across the world rejoice when Dorie Greenspan comes out with a new cookbook.
Her newest, Baking Chez Moi (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), is the 10th one she has devoted to the magic synergy of oven, flour, sugar and butter.
With the publications, her Baking with Dorie app and the devoted web followers who bake their way through her books on the Tuesdays With Dorie site, you could argue that Greenspan has claimed the country's carb-loving heart as her own.
Greenspan lives in Paris, New York and Connecticut, and Baking Chez Moi is the work of her Paris persona. Despite what you probably think of French pastry, Greenspan maintains that French home baking is the opposite of fussy, demanding little time and a minimum of ingredients.
Even so, readers might at first find these recipes daunting. Greenspan's style is to test exhaustively: terribly hard on herself, but a boon to others. She offers meticulous instructions on what to watch, listen and smell for so you don't stray from the flour-strewn path of virtue.
The recipes are long, but they hold your hand and go by quickly; if you pay attention, the rewards can be great.
Moka Dupont is merely an icebox cake of petit beurre cookies, dipped in espresso, stacked up and mortared together with the world's easiest buttercream (no mixer!). Even if your frosting technique is slapdash, everything's hidden under an elegant scattering of chocolate curls.
Equally easy are pailles made with store-bought puff pastry, slivered and arranged crosswise. If you're comfortable with Legos, it's no trouble at all. In the end, you have little cross-grained pallets, which you sandwich together with jam. Eating pure puff pastry might be a little one-dimensional, but that's never stopped me.
A mini-muffin, Greenspan observes, happens to look like a very, very small pie. With a tiny mince of apples, apricots and raisins within, and tiny vents in the top, her Apple Pielettes are doll-size and charming, gone in two bites. The dough - a simple galette dough smoothed with the smashing hand motion known as “fraisage” - threatens to misbehave, but it all comes together in the end, in a mini-muffin pan.
The heady perfume of pears blends with the benzaldehyde sweetness of almonds in a tart; the egg white-almond topping bakes in a manner suggestive of nougat: sweet, crunchy yet also barely chewy, and almost obscene over the ripe, collapsing pears. Don't be surprised if your pears don't caramelise, or if after the prescribed five minutes in the pan they're bathing in their own juice. (This might have something to do with how your fruit is; better to choose pears that are firm, just shy of ripe.) Just keep reducing till the pan's nearly dry, and all will be well.
A lime tart has only six ingredients (if you don't count the sweet, yolky tart dough). Although the filling is just a simple lime curd, Greenspan's instructions are painstaking, and I second-guessed myself. I pulled out my thermometer, looking out for signs: 180 degrees (82degC) and the telltale bubbling of the curd. But the bubbling began at 160 degrees (70degC); what to do? I held my ground, stirring, till 170 (76degC), at which point I lost my nerve and pulled it. Good thing, too, as the custard showed traces of cooked egg when I strained it. Once set, the filling was unctuous and barely solid, silky and magnificent on the tongue, but I'm still wondering about those last degrees.
I can't resist a financier (the confectionary kind, not the human kind) and fell headlong for the “Chez Moi” pistachio and raspberry version, baked in mini-muffin moulds instead of the traditional and hard-to-find ingot molds. Apart from a mysterious optional ingredient (framboise) suddenly popping up in the middle of the instructions, the recipe behaved beautifully, yielding up a shiny batter thick enough to scoop when chilled and swooningly buttery when baked.
Bubble eclairs are nothing but cream puff or choux dough, piped into little mounds of three. Despite a queasy moment when my piping went off course, the misshapen blobs took airy form, round and golden, just as they should have. I couldn't tell whether they were hollow enough to fill in one smooth piping, so I hastily filled each segment with its own burst of cream. Moments later, they were demolished, anyway.
Greenspan calls the dough for croquets - little more than egg whites and nuts - a “misbehaver,” but mine was, strangely, not. Did I over-chop the macadamias, so that their fine particles coated the dough and made it less of a sticky proposition? Regardless, the biscotti-like fragments made for a fine sweet nothing to nibble on with tea and coffee.
By the end of a week, our house was stuffed with sweets. For a moment, I thought about packing some up for the Reserves - seasoned friends who have helped me clear out many an overdose of testing. Then I thought of the week ahead, and my kids loading up on Halloween candy while I watched.
I kept the leftovers. In the end, Baking Chez Moi could be deemed a success. But Eating Chez Moi was even better.
Makes 16 eclairs
Unglazed eclairs are easy to make at home. This simple version calls for nothing more than a dusting of confectioners' sugar and a filling of sweetened whipped cream, and you can pull the whole thing together in under an hour.
MAKE AHEAD: Once piped on to baking sheets, the eclairs can be frozen for up to 2 days and then can go straight into the oven; add a few minutes to the baking time. Or you can freeze the unfilled baked pastries for up to 2 months; defrost them in the refrigerator, warm in a 350-degree (170 degC) oven for 10 minutes, cool and then fill.
For the pastry
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup water
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 equal pieces
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup flour
4 large eggs, at room temperature
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting
For the filling
1 1/2 cups whipping cream, chilled
1 1/2 to 6 tablespoons confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, or as needed
For the pastry: Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat to 425 degrees (220degC). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.
Combine the milk, water, butter, granulated sugar and salt in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over high heat. Bring to a rapid boil; add the flour all at once, reduce the heat to medium-low and quickly stir energetically with a wooden spoon or sturdy heatproof spatula. The dough will come together; a light crust will form on the bottom of the pan. Keep stirring vigorously for another minute or two to dry out the dough. The dough should be very smooth.
Turn the dough out into the bowl of a stand mixer or into a large bowl in which you can use a hand mixer or a wooden spoon. Let the dough sit for 3 minutes, then beat in the eggs one at a time, making sure each egg is incorporated before adding the next and beating until the dough is thick and shiny, 1 to 2 minutes. The dough should be used immediately.
Use a small cookie scoop, a pastry bag with a plain or open star tip, or a plastic zip-top bag with a hole cut in one corner to portion the dough. For each eclair, scoop or pipe a row of 3 balls of dough, each about 1 scant tablespoon, as close to one another as you can get them, snuggling each ball of dough up to the next. When you have 3 balls in a row, move on to the next eclair. Leave at least 2 inches of puff-and-grow space between the clusters.
Slide the baking sheets into the oven; immediately reduce the temperature to 375 degrees (190degC). Bake for 20 minutes without opening the oven door, then rotate the baking sheets top to bottom and front to back; bake for about 10 minutes or until the eclairs are golden on the top and bottom and are firm to the touch. Transfer the eclairs to wire racks to cool.
For the filling: Combine the cream and 1 1/2 tablespoons of the confectioners' sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a balloon whisk, or use a hand-held electric mixer. Beat on low speed, then on medium-high just until the cream starts to thicken. Taste, and add confectioners' sugar as needed, then beat on medium-high speed to the desired consistency. Blend in the vanilla extract (to taste).
There are two ways to fill the eclairs. Transfer the filling to a pastry bag fitted with a medium plain pastry tip and poke a hole in the eclair, either in the bottom or in one side; nuzzle the tip into the hole and squeeze in enough filling to come to the edges of the hole. Or slice the eclairs horizontally, either in half or by cutting off the top third. (You can scoop out the eggy innards if you wish.) Pipe, spoon or scoop the filling into the bottom of the eclairs and cap with the tops. Dust the tops with a little confectioners' sugar, if desired.
Serve the eclairs right away.
Nutrition Per eclair: 190 calories, 3 g protein, 9 g carbohydrates, 16 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 95 mg cholesterol, 95 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar
Makes 36 cookies
The dough for these croquets is patted out into two logs, like biscotti. And, as with biscotti, after the dough is baked you wait a few minutes and then cut the logs. But unlike biscotti, croquets are not twice-baked, and they're not as well behaved. They're bound to crack some when you cut them, and their imperfection is part of their charm.
In testing, we found that the dough was more workable than the original recipe's warnings indicated.
MAKE AHEAD: You can make croquets up to 2 weeks before serving if they are stored at room temperature in a dry place. Only humidity will spoil them.
2 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
Pinch fine sea salt
4 ounces whole almonds (about 115g), preferably unblanched, very coarsely chopped (may substitute macadamia nuts, cashews or hazelnuts)
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees (170degC). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone liner.
Combine the egg whites, sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer; beat on medium speed for about 2 minutes. The mixture will turn pure white and will look like a thick, heavy meringue frosting. (If you're using a hand mixer, you might want to switch to a sturdy wooden spoon for the next step.) Reduce the speed to low and mix in the nuts. Still on low speed, add the flour, mixing until it is fully incorporated. The dough will be heavy and sticky and might ball up around the paddle; it will be more like nougat candy than cookie dough.
Use a flexible spatula (or your wooden spoon) to transfer half of the dough to one long side of the lined baking sheet, spreading it into a log that's 12 inches long (30cm). Repeat with the other half, placing it on the other side of the baking sheet. Use your fingertips to flatten the logs to a thickness of about 1/2 inch (1.3cm); they will be about 3 inches (7.5cm) wide. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until light brown, puffed and cracked. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire cooling rack; let the logs cool for 10 minutes.
If it looks as though the logs are stuck, slide a thin spatula under them to loosen them, then carefully transfer them to a cutting board. Use a long serrated knife to saw each log into cookies 1/2- to 2/3-inch thick (1.3 to 1.9cm). Some of the slices might break, and you're bound to have lots of crumbs and shards. Allow the cookies to cool fully and crisp for about 1 hour before serving.
Nutrition Per serving: 60 calories, 1 g protein, 10 g carbohydrates, 2 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 10 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 7 g sugar
Both recipes adapted from Baking Chez Moi, by Dorie Greenspan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014).
* Chang regularly writes about food and reviews cookbooks for the Boston Globe, NPR and the cookbook-indexing website Eat Your Books. She lives in New England and is the author of A Spoonful Of Promises: Stories And Recipes From A Well-Tempered Table (Lyons Press, 2011). She blogs at Cookbooks for Dinner.