Monday, July 14, 2008

I promised you gougeres...

and Banana Cream Pie - and Ajoblanco! So, let's get started shall we?

The gougere recipe came from the New York Times magazine a couple of weeks ago, and I think it worked a bit better than the one I used the last time I made these. (Well of course it did, it's a Dorie recipe!) The trick with these is to let them dry in the oven for a few minutes after they're baked - so they are dry and crisp on the outside but tender inside. Choux paste is a wonderful thing - it can be baked into eclairs, cream puffs or gougeres, but it can also be fried as churros or beignets. It's not hard to make with a standing mixer - as long as you can use a piping bag.
french day piping

Actually, here - I can give you the secret on that right now. Put the tip in the bag and fold the bag down about half way, over your left hand (or right if you're a lefty.) Scoop about 2 cups of the paste into the bag, gather the top and and squeeze it down the tube like toothpaste - until it's near the tip. (Tuck a bit of the bag into the tip to keep anything runny or soft from going through.) Get all the air out, and twist the top of the bag tightly. Grasp the bag at the top, where the twist is, and squeeze the bulb gently - using your other hand for guidance. Keep twisting the top and squeezing from that same spot as you go. As long as you apply the pressure to the bulb and keep it twisted, you shouldn't have any problems. Cool, huh?

So, back to the choux paste. I've seen a few recipes that require you to rest or refrigerate it for a while before using (Suzanne's churro recipe in Sunday Suppers for ex.) but this isn't one of them - and I learned this the hard way when I made the dough an hour ahead of time and refrigerated it. When I took it out of the fridge to pipe the gougeres it was rock hard - so I had to let it sit for a while and thus the gougeres were served with the 1st course instead of passed with the cocktails. Once baked, they were airy, light and a bit crisp - with a nice sharp cheese flavor.

The recipe is below, and the rest of the permutations for choux paste from the article can be found here - and other posts where I've written about choux paste before here.
Ajoblanco (garlic and almond soup)

I'm having a bit of a technical problem here - because I can't actually find the copy of the Ajoblanco recipe I used - but I must say, I didn't follow it exactly, so I don't think that's a travesty. It's in the pamphlet of recipes they handed out at the Gourmet Institute, and came from the session on molecular gastronomy taught by Jose Andre's sous chef. In fact, the recipe calls for freezing it with liquid nitrogen - but they didn't even do that in the class, so we won't be doing it here! Below is a very close approximation of what I did. It's very flexible depending on your taste - the basic blend is bread, almonds, garlic and olive oil, with a touch of sherry vinegar.

And, at last, the pie...

I've posted about Banana Cream Pie before, but with a crumb crust and meringue. That was good, but the pastry crust and whipped cream top was unquestionably better. I baked the two crusts blind with pie weights until they were nice and golden brown (had to lower the temperature a a bit since I was using glass pie plates) and let them cool overnight. I also made the custard the day before, so on the day of, all I had to do was slice the bananas, whip the topping and assemble the pies. Easy as, well, ahem, pie.

Oddly, though I doubled the recipe, I didn't think I had quite enough custard for the filling - so if you're making more than one, or using a particularly deep dish - you may want to make double or at least 1.5 times the amount this calls for. The secret ingredient is a small amount of light (Neufchatel) cream cheese, which gives the pie more body while cutting the fat a bit. It came originally from a Cooking Light recipe, so the custard is lower in fat than you might think - but that's all made up for by the topping, which is pure unadulterated heavy cream whipped with creme fraiche. If you don't have creme fraiche though, don't sweat it - it's really not necessary.
5th of July 046

Banana Cream Pie

1 single crust pie shell, baked

2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup low-fat milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 Teaspoon vanilla paste (or half of a vanilla bean scraped, plus 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
2 Tablespoons of butter
2 ounces "Neufchatel" or block light cream cheese, softened

2 bananas, sliced

1 cup heavy cream
2 Tablespoons creme fraiche
1 heaping Tablespoon powdered sugar

caramel sauce

Combine the 2 tablespoons cornstarch, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, eggs, 1 cup milk, vanilla paste and 1 Tablespoon of butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly with a whisk. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and cook for 30 seconds or until thick. Remove from heat and stir in the second tablespoon of butter. Pass through a fine mesh sieve.

Using the whisk attachment to a hand blender or a standing mixer with the paddle (the whisk attachment will pick up too much of the cheese since it's such a small amount), beat cream cheese until light and smooth, about 30 seconds. Add 1/4 cup of the warm custard to the cream cheese, and beat just until blended. Stir in remaining custard. Cover the surface directly with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Custard can be made up to two days in advance.

To assemble, cover the bottom of the pie shell with a thin layer of caramel, and dot the caramel with a layer of banana slices. Spread with custard to cover, add another layer of banana slices and fill the pie shell with the remaining custard.

With a standing mixer or whisk attachment to a hand blender, beat the cream and creme fraiche until foamy and thick. Sift in the powdered sugar and beat to soft peaks. Top the pie with the cream topping and garnish with some slivered nuts or banana chips. Refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving.

Serves 8 - 10

Basic Choux Paste and Gougeres
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking with Julia and published June 29, 2008 in the New York Times Magazine

¾ cup flour
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
3 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup whole milk
3 large eggs

1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
pinch of cayenne
5 ounces Gruyère, finely grated
1 egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon water.

1. Mix the flour, sugar and salt in a small bowl. In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter with the milk and ¼ cup of water over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Bring to a rolling boil, add the flour mixture and stir briskly for 1 minute. The dough should form into a ball, and a thin film should cover the bottom of the pan.

2. Immediately transfer the dough to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle. Mix on low to quickly release the steam. Just after the steam subsides, add an egg and increase the speed to medium. The dough will break into lumps at first. Once the dough comes back together, add the second egg and continue mixing.

3. In a small bowl, lightly beat the third egg. Stop the mixer. When the dough is lifted with a spoon, it should detach and form a slowly bending peak. If the dough is too thick and doesn’t bend, mix in half of the beaten egg. Check the dough again; add the remaining beaten egg as needed. The dough is now ready to be used for any recipe calling for choux paste. It must be used while still warm.

for gougeres:

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper.

2. Fold ¾ of the Gruyère into the warm dough.

3. Pipe or scoop the dough onto the prepared pans in tablespoon-size balls.

4. Using a pastry brush, glaze each ball with the egg wash, smoothing out peaks with gentle pressure on the brush. Top each ball with a pinch of the remaining grated cheese. Bake for 18 minutes, rotating the pans once. The puffs should be light golden brown.

5. Turn off the oven, crack open the oven door and let cool in the oven for at least 10 minutes before serving. Test one by taking it out and pulling it open - if they're hollow and mostly dry inside without strands of wet dough - you're good to go! Serve immediately. (Seriously, these things have about a thirty minute shelf life.)

Makes about 20 - 25 gougeres.

adapted from Jose Andres

1 cup raw slivered almonds
1 large or 2 small garlic cloves
enough water to cover

3 oz (about 1 thick slice) crustless white bread, torn into pieces
3 Tablespoons good olive oil
1 cup fresh cold water

1 Tablespoon sherry vinegar
salt and pepper
more cold water

In a saucepan, blanch the almonds and garlic with enough water to cover twice - this will help soften the almonds and mellow the garlic. Drain and tear up the bread and stir it into the almonds and garlic along with the olive oil. Add the cup of fresh cold water, and stir to soak the bread. Ladle into a food processor or blender. Add the sherry vinegar and some salt and pepper. Start the machine and blend, adding more water until you get the consistency you want. (I prefer it thin and drinkable.)

Taste for seasoning and add more olive oil, vinegar or salt and pepper if needed. (You'll also have to taste it again after it chills so don't worry too much about it). Chill for about an hour, until cold - taste and adjust seasonings and thin with a little more water or even some Pellegrino (which gives it a little lightness.) Serve with olive oil. Serves 4-6 depending on the size of the servings. (A little goes a long way!)


  1. That all looks yummy alice. I really should have gotten up early to make Fred gougeres for his breakfast this morning like I did a couple of years ago for his birthday/Bastille Day, but I didn't have enough time. so I left him oeufs mayonnaise for breakfast today instead. I also made ajo blanco last year from Haalo's recipe and I LOVE it. I always think I have to wait for grape season - but as you have so beautifully pointed out why wait for grapes when you can serve with olive oil which looks stunning?

  2. Everything looks so good, your guests were very lucky. The ajoblanco recipe you used is very similar to the soup I had this weekend at AR Valentien...but they used much more olive oil!

  3. the gougeres and the soup were my favorite dishes. they were both insanely good.

  4. so i love cream pies beyond control.... made go and do something in the oven!!1

  5. Yum! I have got to make those gougeres...

  6. The gougeres are beautiful but I have a soft spot for banana cream pie. I've never tried TJ's pastry pie crust so thanks for the tip!

  7. Everything looks so delicious. Banana cream pie...mmmmmm...


  8. Beautiful photos! I really like your site.

  9. I can't wait to try all of the recipes - the pictures looked sbsolutely delicious! Thanks- JH

  10. um, yum! I cannot wait to try this banana cream pie recipe. I've been without internet for a few days now and was hoping to find this upon returning to civilization!