23 April 2010
Or chocolate croissants. These are wonderful, easy to make, buttery, and full of chocolate. Really, what's not to love? It helps to have some puff pastry around, and homemade is best. If you are making a recipe like, um, venison pie (or chicken pot pie) then you will probably have some pastry dough left over that needs to be used up. That's what happened to me when I made my Easter dinner of venison pie. It could happen to you, too.
All I did was take my remaining half of puff pastry and roll it out into the shape of a rough rectangle.
I then took one of my crappy knives and trimmed the edges of the pastry dough so that it was nice and neat looking. I was starting to feel like a real French pastry chef at this point.
Then I got out my most important pastry tool of all: my Stanley Fat Max 25' measuring tape. I cut some small marks at even intervals on the pastry dough and then cut the big rectangle into smaller rectangles. Symmetry is important here. Now I was starting to feel like a former construction worker-turned-pastry chef in Austin, Texas.
Now it was time for the "Laying on of Chocolate". I had a mixture of Callebaut Bittersweet and 80% Dark chocolate. I put a little chocolate in the middle of each rectangle.
To make the croissant simply bring up the ends of a rectangle and then roll it up.
Place the croissants on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Brush them with an egg wash (1 egg mixed with 1 Tbsp. milk or cream) and place the whole sheet pan in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes. While the croissants are cooling preheat the oven to 400°.
When the croissants are thoroughly cool put the pan of them in the oven and bake them until they are puffed and golden, about 30 minutes. Remove the croissants to a rack and let them cool slightly before eating (good luck with that).
It's amazing what you can do with a couple of these.
Every Easter I want to do something different than lamb or ham. As a recovering preacher's kid I have had my share of lamb and ham on Easter. So one Easter about 3 or 4 years ago I decided to have a butterflied steel head trout stuffed with mushrooms, walnut bread, and Turkish spices. I like to get really outside the box sometimes. So began my quest for the not-so-Easter-dinner. I was off to a good start.
Since that day I have begun harvesting my own meat. If you have been following these posts then you probably know that I have LOTS of venison in my freezer right now (though I have been putting a dent in it). I also have (had) two recipes of puff pastry and a bag of peas. Around this past Easter I was reading a great book entitled "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo". In one scene a character makes a 'venison pie' for dinner. There was no description of the dish other than the name. So methinks, "I bet I could do that." And I did. And it was yummy.
First I par-boiled some Yukon Gold potatoes. The were peeled and cut into large pieces. When you par-boil something you are not cooking it all the way. This means that the potatoes were left a little bit hard because they would be baking with the assembled pie. If I cooked them all the way then they would have been mush in the finished product.
The next thing that I had to do was brown the meat. I used 2 lbs. of ground venison. I was in a bit of rush and put a little too much meat in the pan all at once. Do this step in batches so that you get good caramelization on the meat. I added some minced garlic at the end of the browning step.
The next step was to cook the veggies. I used carrots (quartered and chopped), pearl onions (frozen), Shiitake mushrooms (stemmed and sliced), and peas (frozen). I know, I know. Some of you may be shocked that Monsieur Punk Chef is using frozen ingredients. "You kill your own meat but don't blanch and peel your own pearl onions and harvest your own peas?" Nope. Sometimes I take the path of least resistance. Sometimes I also like to use what I have on hand, too. Anyway, back to the egg, or the pie. Sauté the vegetables so that the ones that will take longer to cook go into the pan first. I started with the carrots, adding a little EVOO to the pan.
Then I added the pearl onions. I let these two cook together for a while so that they became well caramelized. I'm also keeping the heat moderate so that I don't burn the wonderful fond developing on the bottom of the pan.
At this point it was time to add the mushrooms and aromatics. I chose bay leaf, sage, thyme, juniper berries (crushed), salt, and pepper. Sage and juniper berries are two of my favorite spices with venison. When the mushrooms are soft remove the vegetables to a bowl and set them aside.
Now add the cooked meat back to the pan and sprinkle about 3 Tbsp. of flour on it. Stir the meat well and let the flour cook until it starts to smell 'toasty'.
When the flour loses it's 'raw' smell add about a cup of strong red wine. I used a Minervois, from the Languedoc region of France (quite possibly my favorite wine producing region of the world). The mixture will become thick so stir it constantly to avoid burning. When the alcohol smell from the wine is gone you can add a little stock or water to make a thick sauce. I added about 2 cups of chicken stock because I had it around.
The veggies went back into the pan with the meat and I added the peas and potatoes (make sure that you are using a very large sauté pan for this recipe). I also threw in some parsley, again because it was lying around and I wanted to use it up. Everything was mixed together very well and tasted for seasoning.
I put the whole mess in a casserole dish that was big enough and deep enough to hold it. I have a large oval Le Creuset casserole dish that works well for recipes like this.
Now for the puff pastry topping. If you can make your own (note to self: blog on puff pastry), that would be best. If you have to buy a commercial brand look for one that is all butter. In a pinch, Pepperidge Farm brand will work but because it is in squares you may have to patch the topping together. No worries, though. It will be fine.
My puff pastry was frozen (but homemade) so I had to let it thaw in the refrigerator overnight. The next day (Easter) I let it sit on the counter until it was fully thawed. Then I put it back in the fridge so that it would stay cold. It is important for the pastry to be cold when you work with it so that the butter won't get soft and cause the pastry dough to stick and tear.
When I was ready to top the pie I cut the loaf of pastry dough in half and rolled out one half into the shape of a large oval; slightly larger than the casserole dish. Be sure that you have a floured surface on which to roll your dough.
Gently fold up the dough so that you can transfer it to the pie. Unfold the dough on top of the pie, tuck the edges in, and brush it with an egg wash (1 egg mixed with 1 Tbsp. milk or cream). Cut some decorative slits in the top. Not only do the slits look pretty but they allow some steam to escape during cooking.
Bake the pie in a preheated 375° oven for about 45 minutes or until the crust is puffed, golden, and you can see some bubbles in the pie filling.
Let the pie rest for about 10 minutes and then serve it with garden salad (yes, this time all the greens came from my garden).
I had a bunch of this left over so I took some in to work and fed my staff and volunteer crew on a class that I taught the day after Easter. Everybody loved it and my colleague Louis took one bite and said, "Dude, this is SCREAMING for a Burgundy." I had to agree, though I would have been just as happy with a Languedoc wine. Even though the recipe was improvised it did have a very French accent. Si bon!
Now, what to do with the other half of that puff pastry. I can't refreeze it. I KNOW! I'll make some quick chocolate croissants.
08 April 2010
A bit more on bread today. I have just completed a series of classes on bread baking. The classes were hands-on so each student got to actually make their own loaf of bread to take home. This hands-on approach was very helpful to them as it let them know what to look for in terms of feel, look, smell, etc.
While I can't convey on this blog the feel and smell of what bread should be during the making of loaves I can show step by step instructions. In my past posts on bread I have just provided the recipes and a little text. Today I'll give you some pictures. Hopefully that will help you further your journey down this wonderful road we call baking.
Today's loaf will be an oatmeal bread. Because we are using a whole grain we need to prepare it for the loaf by softening it a bit. To do this we will make a "mash" of the grains, brown sugar, salt, and fat (oil or butter). Simply mix these together in your mixing bowl and pour 4 cups of very hot water over (I just bring a kettle to a boil and use that) the mixture. Stir it all together so that the sugar and salt will dissolve.
When the mixture has cooled to about 100° (this should take about an hour) you can stir the yeast into it and let the mash sit for about 5 minutes so that the yeast can activate. When the yeast has become active you will start to see small bubble on the surface of the mash. Also, when you stir the mash you will notice that it looks sticky from the yeast doing its work.
At this point you can start adding your flour, 1 cup at at time, until you have a smooth ball of dough.
A note of caution. The dough will become very heavy and stiff. It will be difficult to stir by hand. You may want to do all of this in a standing mixer so you can avoid this:
Ah, there, that's much better:
Keep adding the flour, making sure that it gets fairly well incorporated. Eventually you will get a ball of dough that has pulled together and is slightly sticky. At this point you can turn the dough out onto a well floured surface and begin kneading. Notice that when I say "well floured" that I don't mean a big-ass pile of flour on your board. Just put down enough flour to keep the dough from sticking. If you need to add more then do so. If you add too much you will have not only a big-ass pile of flour but you will also have a big-ass mess to clean up. So add the flour only as you need it.
Now for a few pointers on kneading dough. This is an important step because it helps the development of gluten. What the hell is gluten? This is the protein that gives bread its structure. Gluten molecules are constructed in strands. As we knead the bread the strands become longer and longer. The longer the strands of gluten are then the finer the crumb will be in the finished bread.
For a sandwich loaf like this we want a fairly fine crumb so we will need to knead the dough for at least 10 minutes. I like to knead the dough the following way: gently but firmly press the dough into the shape of a rough oval/rectangle, lengthwise away from you.
Now pull the top down toward you.
Rotate the dough 90°.
Lather, rinse, and repeat for 10 minutes.
Keep in mind that you want to push from the center of the mass of dough to the edges. Also, it helps if you can have a kneading surface that allows you to get your shoulders above the dough. This way you can get some of your upper body weight into the motion and save a little fatigue in your arms.
Now we are ready for the first rise. Shape the dough into a ball and pull a seam together on the bottom of the ball.
Turn the ball of dough over and let it rest for a minute while you prepare the bowl for rising.
Wash the mixing bowl and dry it thoroughly. Pour just a littleoil into the bowl. Seriously, about 2 teaspoons. Rub the oil all around the bowl with a paper towel.
Blot the top of the ball of dough with the oiled towel.
Lift the ball of dough from the kneading board and place it top side down into the oiled bowl. This will ensure that the top of the dough is completely coated with oil. If the dough is sticking to the board then get your bench scraper (or a knife) and use the edge to lift the dough from the board.
Turn the ball of dough over so that the bottom side can be in contact with the oiled surface of the bowl. All of this oiling helps to keep the surface of the dough from forming a tough skin during the rise. It also helps to keep the dough from sticking to the bowl.
Cover the bowl with a damp kitchen towel and put it in a warm place to rise. I like to put mine on top of the stove. The pilot lights provide just enough warmth to let the dough rise at a nice, easy pace.
Now pour some beer into your coffee mug, kick back on the front porch, and watch the kids play. After about one and a half or two hours your dough should look like this:
At this point you are ready to deflate the dough and make loaves. Gently run your hands around the mass of dough and work it back down into a ball. Turn it out onto a well floured surface, shape it into an even log, and divide it into three equal pieces. Shape each piece into a small ball.
Let the small balls of dough rest on the board while you prepare the loaf pans. This simply entails taking about a teaspoon of butter and rubbing it all over the inside of the loaf pan. Be sure and grease the shit out of the pan. Get butter in every little corner, all over the bottom, and all up the edges. I like to use Pyrex glass loaf pans because they are cheap, the cook evenly, and glass cooks a little bit faster than the metal loaf pans on the market. Don't waste money on really expensive loaf pans. Just get Pyrex and be happy that you have more beer money.
Because most of my bread recipes make only two loaves I own only two loaf pans. This recipe makes three loaves. So one of my loaves is always baked free-form. I'll talk about that in just a bit. Let's shape the loaves.
My preferred way to shape loaves is to gently pat one of the balls of dough into a rough oval/rectangle along the length of the board.
Roll the top of the dough toward your body.
Pinch the seam together and turn the loaf 90°.
Bring the ends of the loaf up and pinch these seams together, too. If you have ever rolled a joint then you will probably be pretty good at this.
For a free form loaf simply pull the edges of the dough to the bottom of the loaf and pinch the seams together as best as you can.
Place the loaves in the prepared pans, seam side down. If you are making free form loaves then place them on sheet pans lined with parchment paper (I have a small earthenware sheet pan that I use for my one loaf, so no parchment is required for it).
Now it is time for the second rise. The rising time will be about half of what the first rising time was. You can expect the loaves to be ready to go into the oven in about 45 minutes to an hour. During the second rise preheat your oven to 375°. Cover the loaves with a damp kitchen towel and let them rise in a warm spot. After such time your loaves should look like this:
Place the loaf pans in the oven. If you have a free form loaf then you will need to score the top with a sharp knife. Gently place the blade of a knife on top of the loaf. Without pressing down (you don't want to deflate the loaf) quickly and firmly pull the blade across the top of the loaf.
When all the loaves are in the oven close the door. Do not open the door for at least 20 minutes, if at all. The first 20 minutes of baking time are critical. This is when the "oven spring" occurs. Oven spring is when the yeast gets affected by the extreme heat of the oven causing it to "spring" before it is killed by the heat. This gives the loaves their highest rise. Don't blow it by letting all the heat out of the oven. The Baking Gods will frown upon you and bring misery into your life, possibly casting you into hell. It's not worth it. If you need to rotate your loaves for even baking just wait about 20 minutes to do so. After 35 minutes you can pull a loaf out and check the internal temperature. It the loaf registers an internal temperature of at least 180° then you are done. Remove the loaves from the oven, turn them out of the pans and let them cool on a rack. Wait at least 30 minutes before cutting into one. The bread should look like this:
Good luck and happy baking. As always, comments and questions are welcome and appreciated.
4 cups Hot Water
2 ½ cups Old-Fashioned Oats (not instant oats)
½ cup Oat Bran
½ cup Brown Sugar
¼ cup Oil (grape seed, olive, nut, etc.)
1 Tbsp. Sea Salt
1 Tbsp. Active Dry Yeast
6 - 7 cups Bread Flour
In a large mixing bowl combine the oats, oat bran, brown sugar, oil, and salt. Add the hot water, stir well, and allow the mixture to sit until the temperature is about 100°.
Gently stir in the yeast. Allow the sponge to sit so that the yeast begins to bubble and become active.
Gradually stir in 2 cups of flour. Continue stirring in one cup at a time until a soft dough forms. Transfer the dough to a well floured surface and knead it for 10 minutes.
Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a damp towel, and let it rise for about 1 ½ hours, or until it is doubled in bulk.
Gently stir down the dough. Shape it into loaves and place the loaves in well buttered loaf pans. Allow the loaves to rise for about 45 minutes to an hour, or until they are coming over the tops of the pans. While the loaves are rising, preheat your oven to 375°.
Bake the loaves for 35 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 180°. Let the loaves cool for at least 20 minutes before slicing.
Makes 3 large loaves.
Posted by Punkchef at 8:17 AM