It’s time for some balance.
I wish it were true that as soon as the spiral of finals ended, I was immediately back in the kitchen at home, trying out recipes and figuring out how to use this camera. Instead, after staying awake for forty-eight hours writing about George Eliot and Virginia Woolf and taking two comprehensive exams, I went wedding dress shopping with the fam, flew to Texas, started working with a certain shopkeeper, graded fourteen final portfolios, received a scholarship from the Freemasons(!), foraged for pecans, closed up shop, opened it again, and exchanged gifts with some of my favorite people. THEN! I accidentally took the nighttime allergy medicine and spent my day in and out of consciousness.
An unspecified amount of these helped us get through with hardly any sleep! Fiancés with a history in bartending really come in handy.
On the sunny side of things, we’re going to Maui! Today! I’m most excited about seeing the Banyan Tree. I used to think that when you read Robinson Crusoe, you were just supposed to imagine that his tree was somehow big enough to expand into a six room bungalow with a grain cellar. Now I get it.
I did try to do some therapeutic cooking when I got here, but since we are temporarily hiding out in an apartment, all of our things are in boxes. An hour into my profiterole adventure on the night of return, I had to throw in the towel because we couldn’t find the cornstarch. If I had utilized that handy tool, the internet, I might have subbed the cornstarch with flour. I’m getting ahead of myself, though.
The Roomz gave me this awesome gift–Ratio by Michael Ruhlman. Ruhlman is a pretty big deal–at least that’s my takeaway after reading his bio. This guy had a hand in Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry, for one thing. The whole philosophy behind his most recent book is that if you can get the hang of some simple proportions, you can create and augment recipes with ease. One of his ratios is the 3-2-1 pie crust, which I think I will be using soon–3 parts flour, 2 parts fat, 1 part water. Then, the idea is that as long as you keep these proportions right, you can interchange ingredients and add things at ease. It gets you out of the cookbook, I guess.
Knowing me, do you think I started my explorations of this book with a simple pie crust, or even the basic short cookie (1 part sugar, 2 parts fat, 3 parts flour). Please! I jumped in with pâte à choux (dough), crème pâtissière (custard), and chocolate ganache–a.k.a., les profiteroles, commonly known over here as cream puffs. The same stuff eclairs are made of, but in a ball shape (cough, flattish lumpy shape). And to top it off, I didn’t even make the basic recipe–I’m so cocky I tried to freestyle it on the first go! I’ve had a hankering for amaretto since…well, wait…since as long as I can remember, so, naturally, I put amaretto liqueur in the custard.
Well, hopefully you can learn from me. These profiteroles tasted great, but I think they could handle some fine tuning.
Ruhlman says to make profiteroles golf ball sized. Mine were golfball sized–before I cooked them. They may have turned out too big, and I don’t think I cooked enough water out of the dough before baking–alas, they were a bit lumpy (but still tasty!)
For the custard, as I said, I added amaretto liqueur, which is delicious, obvz, but I’m sure it affected the texture and consistency of the custard. Also, I wasn’t used to the heat levels of this stovetop (you all know the type of stove I mean–electric, tilted 30 degrees, has two settings–off and scald), and scrambled some of the eggs, then passed it through a sieve. None of these stages were in Ruhlman’s book. I don’t blame him. I blame myself and my zeal. Deep end first, I guess.
I also thickened the chocolate sauce by bringing the ratio from 1 to 1 (chocolate and cream) down to 2 to 1. I wanted it to thicken at room temperature.
Here’s one thing you need to know — these recipes require that you use a scale, but since most of this recipe is liquid, you could probably swing this one without it.
Adapted from Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio
Pâte à choux (dough)
8 oz. water
4 oz. butter (½ stick)
⅛ teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon sugar
4 oz. flour (what Ruhlman calls “a scant cup,” if you’re winging this without the scale)
8 oz. eggs (4 large eggs)
Crème pâtissière (custard)
8 oz. plus 3 oz. whole milk
8 oz. heavy cream
4 oz. sugar (½ cup-ish)
4 oz. egg yolks (from 8 large eggs)
6 Tablespoons cornstarch
½-¾ cup amaretto liqueur
4 oz. cream
8 oz. dark chocolate, in pieces
Oven at 450.
1. For the dough, mix water, butter, salt, and sugar in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer on medium-high/high heat. When butter is almost completely melted, reduce heat to medium/medium-low, add the flour, and stir rapidly. Let some of the water cook off in the pot by stirring over the heat for about 30 seconds to a minute, depending on how hot your burner is. Don’t worry about the rapid change when you add flour, it forms a dough almost immediately and pulls away from the sides.
2. Pour hot dough into a bowl for mixing. (I put mine in the stand mixer with the paddle attachment). Let sit for a minute, then mix on high and add eggs one at a time. If you don’t stir fast enough, the eggs will scramble and ruin your life.
I’m just going to give you Ruhlman’s description for this part, which is surprisingly accurate: “At first it will seem as though the dough won’t accept them. The paste will go from shiny to flat, slippery to furry, when the eggs are fully in.” My advice is not to dwell on the word “furry.”
Here you can pause and refrigerate till the next day, if you need.
3. Using a pastry bag or plastic bag with a hole cut in the corner (don’t cut the hole until the batter is in, folks, I’m speaking from experience), pipe ping pong ball sized profiteroles onto a parchment-paper lined sheet pan. Bake 10 minutes at 425 degrees, then for 10-20 minutes more (check frequently) at 350.
1. While all those puffs are baking, get started on the custard, the best part. Using a whisk, combine egg yolks and sugar. Froth this up a lot, to get what Julia Child calls “the ribbon”–when the spoon drips back onto the eggs in a ribbon that slowly dissolves back into itself.
2. Fill a bowl with ice water–you’ll need this when the custard begins to form to cool the pot down. So make sure your pot fits.
3. Make a slurry with the cornstarch and 3 oz. milk
4. Bring milk and cream to a simmer in a medium saucepan, then very slowly incorporate it into the egg yolks, whisking like mad the whole time. When combined, pour back into saucepan, add cornstarch slurry, and bring back to a simmer. STIR CONSTANTLY.
5. Here is where you don’t want it to go too quickly. Stir, stir, stir, and keep the heat moderate. Make sure you are hitting the bottom of the pan as you stir to keep the eggs from scrambling down there. If they do start to scramble, you can still pass it through a sieve, though that’s not ideal with a thick custard like this.
6. As soon as it boils and begins to thicken, plunge pot into ice bath and keep stirring like mad. Add amaretto to taste. Refrigerate!
You can pause here, too, if needed.
Bring cream to a simmer and pour over chocolate. Wait about 5 minutes, then stir together to form chocolate sauce.
Assembly: Cut profiteroles in half and spoon custard filling into the middle, like a sandwich. Alternately, slice a hole in the side and pipe filling into pastry. Dip in chocolate sauce or drizzle over the top. Finish with a dusting of powdered sugar.