Friday, February 11, 2011

Dr. Lemon Puff, or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Pâte à Choux

I'm not perfect.  I know you all must think I am, and I can't blame you ;-) But I swear, I'm not.  I think most people have that one (or ten) recipes that just scare the crap out of them.  You've attempted them in the past (multiple times) and failed.  Failure's a bitch.  That's where friends come in.  Friends who know stuff you don't know.  Friends that don't know stuff that you do know.  Friends you can share knowledge with.  Cook with.  Eat with.  Friends who can help you show failure who's boss.  I love those kinds of friends!

Recently, my friend Sydney and I spent a good part of the day cooking dishes that either of us felt less than confident about.  We started with brunch, where I coached Sydney on how to make perfect poached eggs and Hollandaise sauce.  We married them into a delicious Eggs Benedict with Dijon Hollandaise.  Sydney did a wonderful job at both.  I showed her how to check when the water is ready for the eggs, how to gently release the eggs into the simmering water, and how to check them to see if they are done.  Her eggs were perfect!  We were both so proud.  Her Hollandaise turned out excellent as well, although it became neglected at one point and the sauce broke!  But I showed her how to re-emulsify it by whisking in some water.  It did the trick, and we were then rewarded by dining on our fabulous homemade brunch :)

Later that day we continued with the artery-clogging, high cholesterol, egg-and-butter-laden creations by tackling another of Sydney's "challenge recipes." Lemon curd.  I think mastering the gentle seduction of making Hollandaise earlier that day definitely helped her confidence in following the same basic steps in making the lemon curd, an excellent accompaniment to so many things!  Now, we had come to the part where I would face my past failures, tackling the one thing that has seriously made me cower in shame at my inability to be a rock star all around the kitchen.  I'm talking about pâte à choux, my sworn enemy.  In culinary school, my group failed at successfully making it (even with a chef's supervision), and when attempting it again in my own kitchen, I created flat éclairs that were not remotely puffed up and hallow.  FAIL.

Sydney, on the other hand, is a pro.  She coaxed me into giving them another shot.  And I accepted the challenge.  On one condition.  Instead of cream, we fill them with the gooey, tart lemon curd.  Yes, it was an excellent plan!!  We selected Alton Brown's recipes for both components, because, well, he's the man (we made a single recipe of curd, but it was only enough to fill about half the puffs, so I've doubled the amounts in the recipe below).  Under the watchful eye of my patient friend, I made pâte à choux that actually puffed up and was hallow inside!! Just like in my wildest dreams (yes, I dream about these things... wildly, obviously).  We filled each glorious puff with Sydney's perfect lemon curd, and finished them off with a dusting of confectioners' sugar.  The tart, luscious curd was a perfect filling, and although I've never seen this combination done before, I think we need to start a new trend.  It's citrus season so I know people are making curds left and right (Meyer lemon, anyone? Lime would work great too!).  Whip up some puffs while you're at it, and prepare to have your mind blown.  These are the things wild dreams are made of...

Oozing lemon curd = Heaven

Lemon Puffs
Makes about 3 dozen bite-size puffs
(Lemon Curd and Pâte à Choux recipes adapted from Alton Brown)

Lemon Curd:
10 egg yolks
2 cups sugar
8 lemons, zested and juiced
2 sticks butter, cut into pats and chilled

Pâte à Choux:
1 cup water
3/4 stick butter (6 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
5 3/4 ounces flour
1 cup eggs, about 4 large eggs and 2 whites

Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

To make the lemon curd: Add enough water to a medium saucepan to come about 1-inch up the side. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, combine egg yolks and sugar in a medium size metal bowl and whisk until smooth, about 1 minute. Measure citrus juice and if needed, add enough cold water to reach 2/3 cup. Add juice and zest to egg mixture and whisk smooth. Once water reaches a simmer, reduce heat to low and place bowl on top of saucepan. (Bowl should be large enough to fit on top of saucepan without touching the water.) Whisk until thickened, approximately 8 to 10 minutes, or until mixture is light yellow and coats the back of a spoon. Remove promptly from heat and stir in butter a piece at a time, allowing each addition to melt before adding the next. Remove to a clean container and cover by laying a layer of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd. Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

To make the pâte à choux: Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Boil water, butter, sugar, and salt. Add flour and remove from heat. Work mixture together and return to heat. Continue working the mixture until all flour is incorporated and dough forms a ball. Transfer mixture into bowl of a standing mixer and let cool for 3 or 4 minutes. With mixer on stir or lowest speed add eggs, 1 at a time, making sure the first egg is completely incorporated before continuing. Once all eggs have been added and the mixture is smooth put dough into a piping bag fitted with a large round tip. Pipe immediately into golfball-size shapes, 2 inches apart onto parchment lined sheet pans (hold the pastry bag at a 90 degree angle to the pan and, while squeezing, slowly lift it straight up in a fluid motion). Dab the tops of each puff with a fingertip dipped in water to smooth the tops. Cook for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350 degrees F and bake for 10 more minutes or until golden brown (do not open the oven door while the puffs are baking!). Once they are removed from the oven pierce with a paring knife immediately to release steam.

To assemble: Fill a pastry bag fitted with a medium round pastry tip with lemon curd. Pipe the lemon curd into the holes created when piercing the puffs. Fill the hollow cavity completely with lemon curd. Repeat with the remaining puffs. Dust with confectioners' sugar before serving.

*Note*: Only fill as many puffs as you plan to serve right away, otherwise they will get soft and soggy over time.  Store remaining curd in the refrigerator and freeze remaining puffs until needed.  Thaw frozen puffs at room temperature, and, if desired, recrisp them for a few minutes in the oven to dry them back out before filling them.

This one is a pâte à choux monster!! Look at its face! Haha :) 


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