Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Puff, the magic pastry

Finally! The conclusion of the puff paste day. Cindy said that it's best to let puff paste set up overnight, and that was about a week ago, so we're ready to use the puff we've made and see what happens.

We did two things with the puff paste today, we made fruit tarte tatins and napoleons, both use puff pastries, but because they're applied in such different ways, we got to see bake off the puff dough to two totally different ways and learn a bit about how puff works.

We started by making the pastry cream for the napoleons because it would need to cool before we could spread it onto the puff paste. Last time we'd made pastry cream in class, only half of us got to because they were making fruit puffs and eclairs (which they eventually turned into diplomat cream), so I was happy to get a chance to learn. And of all the things we made today, this was probably the most stressful because of the technique involved and the anxiety I had about overheating the cream and cooking (and curdling) the eggs, particularly since I have a terrible history with sauces.

After we heated the milk and sugar, tempering the eggs made me nervous. Cindy said there wasn't really a need to temper the eggs if we just did it slowly and whisked fast, so I did and nothing happened. I knew the consistency I was looking for and didn't know why the addition of the cornstarch and egg yolks didn't instantly thicken the cream. Ashish told me to keep going and just wait, it'd come together really suddenly in a few moments.

It totally did. It happened randomly after two minutes of worry, it just thickened. I kept going for a little longer to make sure it was thick enough, removed it from the heat and finished it off with the vanilla and butter. It turned out well, although I think it might have been a little thinner than we wanted, when it came to napoleon construction time, but I was pretty happy with it my first time out. Set aside, let cool.

Prepping for my apple tarte tatin was easy, particularly since I've had so much experience with apples and pears this semester. I've gotten pretty good at peeling, coring and cutting apples. Cindy showed us a demo of how to arrange the apples in the little pan with butter and sugar underneath, which was a little different from the way I'd seen it on a cooking show the previous week. They had quartered the apples but chose the stand them up rather than lay them in a circle around the pan, the way Cindy showed us. I asked her if there was a difference, but she said it was really a matter of preference. The more I think about it though, the more practical Cindy's method is because we don't need an especially tall rimmed pan for her method and it allows more of the overall apple wedge to be cooked and covered by the caramel.

Off I went! A good helping of butter, a very generous covering of sugar and then the artful arrangement of apples in the pan. I let it just bubble away for a long time, as Cindy's tarte tatin turned out perfectly and hers almost looked burnt in the pan. Just before it became totally black, I grabbed the puff paste (already sized to the pan) out of the fridge, dropped it on the apples and threw the whole thing in the oven. Easiest and most delicious dessert, ever.

Potter decided to try bananas instead of apples and his tarte tatin came out beautifully. The pairing of caramel and bananas was perfect with the flaky dough. It actually reminded a lot of us of a twist on bananas foster. Potter should have poured some booze on it and set it on fire... I wonder if Michael Leviton would consider flambe a garnish.

It was actually at this point Cindy said something that was an 'ah ha!' moment for me when baking off puff paste. She said to look at the whitest part of the dough when checking for doneness, not the brownest, because we want to make sure all the dough is baked. A seemingly obvious instruction, but it's really going to be helpful to me in the future as I make puff pastry.

I was really happy with the way my tarte came out. It didn't flip out totally perfectly, a few apples stuck to the pan, but it still looked appetizing enough to me. Besides, I have an excuse now to keep practicing!

Baking the puff pastry sheets was a little more labor intensive, but still not what I would call complicated. We had to let the puff paste bake off in an oven for a few minutes on a baking sheet until it rose up with lots of air bubbles. Once it got to that point, we had to put a piece of parchment down on top and put another sheet pan on the puff to deflate it a bit while it finished baking.

I thought it would completely destroy the light, flaky layers, but amazingly, the puff paste was strong enough to lift the top sheet pan up a little creating an almost flat puff paste with visible layers inside.

After letting this cool for a long time (if it was hot, I think putting the pastry cream on it would have trapped in some of the steam and made it soggy), we smothered on a very thick layer of pastry cream. I thought it was too much until Cindy came by and said that it needed way more on it. I couldn't believe how much she wanted us to put on it! I put more on it between the middle and top layer of puff but it seemed a little funny to me.

Even after all the additional pastry cream we added in, I felt the napoleons were a little lacking. The contrast between the puff and cream wasn't enough to keep my interest level, I think if I make this again, I'd do something more along the lines of the fruit puffs we made our first day working with Cindy. I'd be much more interested in that, I think the flavors of the fruit really make it a more complete dessert.

In the end though, I was really pleased with the way our puff paste turned out. When we cut it into sections you could see all the layers folded into the dough. It was so satisfying to watch it bake up, knowing that our puff paste had all those great buttery layers in it. I fully intend on having a big batch of puff paste in my freezer at all times from now on.


Will said...

Great Blog Lilly!! We should definitely hang out next time you're in the city!