Porridge, or Oatmeal

Originally published March 17, 2014.

Comparing steel-cut oats and rolled oatsThe single most important decision in making porridge is the style of oats you choose to cook.  For my breakfast, the only acceptable style is steel-cut, sometimes called Scottish or Irish oats.

Why Quick Oats and Minutes Oats are The Worst.  Quick oats and minute oats produce porridge with a nauseating texture.  The grains are rolled and cut fine so that they cook quickly, but the oatmeal has a gluey mouthfeel.  My theory is that the extensive processing produces a very fine oat-dust, and as soon as this oat-dust is hydrated, it becomes a thick paste.  Whatever the cause, porridge made from quick oats subtly sticks to the back of the mouth, triggering a mild gag with every swallow.  Perhaps I have a unique physiology…

Steel-cut oats are not rolled, just cut so that they still have the round cross section of the whole grain.  The photo above shows steel-cut oats in the foreground, rolled oats in the back.  Yes, they take longer to cook, but there is little oat-dust, so the final porridge has a creamy mouthfeel, punctuated by larger pieces of grain.  It really is like risotto if cooked properly.

In conclusion: the only thing quick oats and minute oats are good for is making meatloaf.

A simple, simple recipe for porridge is typed below.  Be sure to read the note on fried porridge at the bottom of this post.  It may change your breakfast routine forever.

 

Basic Porridge

Master Ratio – 1:3 steel-cut oats to milk, by volume

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup steel-cut oats
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk, or I guess water in a pinch
  • speaking of pinches: 1 pinch kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp dark brown sugar
  • optional: buttermilk to drizzle over cooked porridge (try it…)
  • toasted nuts, seeds, and dried fruit as required

Procedure

  1. Melt the butter in a heavy pot.  Add the oats and turn the heat to medium.  Toast the oats until you can smell that the butter is starting to brown.
  2. Add the whole milk and salt.  Bring liquid to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer.  Cook until the oats are tender and the liquid has thickened, about 30 minutes.  Stir periodically.
  3. Stir in the brown sugar.  Taste and adjust seasoning as required.

A bowl of porridge with walnuts, dried currants, and buttermilk

 

Fried Porridge
or, why it behooves you to make more porridge than you can eat in one sitting

My great aunt Dorie used to pour leftover porridge into a tray to congeal.  The next morning it was cut into blocks and fried in bacon fat.  Think: rural Canada’s answer to fried polenta.

Fried porridge with berries and maple syrup

Soda Bread

Originally published March 16, 2014.

Soda bread cooling on the deck.Soda bread is plain quick bread, bread made with a chemical leavener like baking soda instead of yeast.

You’ve no doubt heard of Irish soda bread.  The two defining characteristics of the national bread of Erin are 1) the inclusion of lesser parts of the wheat berry, such as the germ and husk, and 2) the use of buttermilk.

One way that my soda bread differs from true old-school Irish soda bread is the inclusion of such luxuries as butter, eggs, and honey.  This is emphatically not traditional, but it makes for a moist, delicious bread.  Picture a fine cornbread, only instead of corn meal there are coarse bits of wheat germ.  The wheat germ gives the bread a slightly yellow hue.

Just what the internet needs
Another Soda Bread Recipe

Ingredients

  • 165 g all-purpose flour
  • 105 g whole wheat flour
  • 30 g wheat germ
  • 12 g baking powder
  • 2 g baking soda
  • 8 g kosher salt
  • 50 g unsalted butter, melted
  • 140 g whole milk
  • 125 g buttermilk
  • 30 g egg
  • 15 g honey
  • 30 g sour cream

Procedure

  1. Combine the dry ingredients, the flours, wheat germ, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, in a medium mixing bowl.  Make a well in the centre.
  2. Combine the wet ingredients, the melted butter, whole milk, buttermilk, egg, honey, and sour cream, in a separate bowl.  Whisk thoroughly.
  3. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, then mix with a spatula until just combined.  Do not over-mix!
  4. Transfer batter to a buttered baking vessel and bake at 375°F until the centre of the bread is set, roughly 30 minutes, though exact times will depend on the dish you have selected.

A slice of soda bread, with butter

Butcher’s Cake

A slice of butcher's cake with a dollop of crème fraîche and a salad.I’ll mention right off the hop that this concept is from the brain of Emmanuel (Manu) Thériault.  He might have made this when he was at Woodwork, but I’m not sure.  He calls it “Butcher’s Cake”.  He told me about it and I think it’s one of the most brilliant food ideas I’ve heard in a very long time.

Part of the reason I am so enamored with butcher’s cake is because I work in a sandwich shop. When you work in a sandwich shop, you have at least three significant sources of possible waste.  The first is bread.  Bread is a problem ingredient because it has such short shelf life.  It can be difficult to maintain fresh inventory, and some bread invariably gets stale before it can be used.

The other potential sources of waste are meat and cheese ends.  When using a commercial meat slicer, the last inch of a roast or block of cheese is difficult to get through the slicer without putting your fingers at risk.  For some items you might not even want to slice and serve the outermost part.  For a roast or a ham, the very end is often harder, smokier, and generally less succulent that the rest of the meat.

Ham endsThis butcher’s cake is an ingenious and delicious preparation that uses all these waste products.  It is basically a savoury bread pudding studded with little chunks of cured meat and cheese.  I use trim pieces from ham, salami, mortadella, roast beef, even prosciutto and speck.  Of course, if you don’t work in a sandwich shop you can use plain old ham and cheese; there’s no reason it needs to be the trim or waste.

When Emmanuel told me his idea I knew immediately how I could go about making it: by adding chopped meat and cheese to Serviettenknödel, the Austrian bread dumplings discussed here.  I’ve found that a bit of black pepper and chopped herbs like parsley and rosemary are a nice addition.

Butcher’s cake makes a fantastic lunch, especially when served with with a refreshing salad.  I have a sneaking suspicion it would also be good for breakfast (bread, egg, milk, ham, cheese…. sounds like a breakfast pastry to me.)

Thanks, Manu!

 

 

Butcher’s Cake
Concept by Emmanuel Thériault
Recipe by Allan Suddaby

Ingredients

  • 8 whole eggs
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 8 oz unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 lbs stale bread
  • 1 lb cured meat ends, coarsely chopped
  • 10 oz cheese ends, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped rosemary
  • 1 tsp coarse ground black pepper

Procedure

  1. Combine the whole eggs, yolks, melted butter, milk, and salt in a large measuring cup.  Whisk thoroughly until eggs are completely incorporated.
  2. Put the bread, meat, cheese, herbs, and pepper in a large mixing bowl.  Pour the milk mixture over the bread.  Mix gently but thoroughly with your hands until all the milk has been absorbed by the bread.
  3. Move the mixture to the fridge for one hour.  This will give the liquid ingredients time to fully soak into the bread.
  4. Butter a large casserole dish.  Lightly press the soaked bread mixture to the casserole.  If you like you can top the bread with more grated cheese and herbs at this time.
  5. Bake in a 350°F oven until the interior is cooked and the exterior is golden brown and crispy, maybe 50-60 minutes.
  6. Let cool slightly before cutting and serving.

Yield: Butcher’s Cake for about 12 people

A casserole of butcher's cake, fresh out of the oven.

 

Squash and Barley ‘Risotto’

Squash and barley risotto with roasted autumn vegetables.Risotto is a traditional northern Italian dish of short-grain rice cooked in broth and finished with butter and grated hard cheese, usually parmigianno.  The “ris” in the name refers to the rice, so “barley risotto” is sort of an oxymoron.  There happens to be an Italian word for barley cooked in the same style as risotto: orzotto.[1]

Anyways, this morning I prepared a squash and barley risotto on Global Edmonton and promised to post the recipe here.  This is a dish we do at Elm Catering throughout the autumn, a re-imagining of the traditional risotto using some local fall ingredients.  It would be a great addition to a Thanksgiving dinner, perhaps in lieu of mash potatoes.

You can use either pot or pearl barley.  Both of these have had most of the bran removed from the grain, so they have smooth, creamy textures.  The barley is cooked just like a traditional risotto, only using a light squash purée instead of plain chicken broth.  Any type of winter squash can be used, from butternut to hubbard to pumpkin.  We use kubocha squash for its deep orange colour.

Though it isn’t on the marquis, the real star of this dish is the cheese.  We use the hard, aged Grizzly gouda made by Sylvan Star.  If you’d like more info about Sylvan Star I have a post about them here.

The full recipe follows.

 

Squash and Barley ‘Risotto’

Ingredients

  • 4 L light chicken stock
  • 1300 g peeled, seeded, cubed winter squash
  • 150 g unsalted butter, cubed (first quantity)
  • 500 g pearl barley
  • 150 g finely minced yellow onion
  • 20 g finely minced garlic
  • 300 mL dry hard cider or dry white wine
  • 100 g finely grated Grizzly gouda, plus more for garnish
  • 150 g unsalted butter, cubed (second quantity)

Procedure

  1. Combine light chicken stock and squash in a pot.  Cook over medium high heat until squash is very tender.  Puré with an immersion blender.
  2. In a separate, heavy, medium pot, melt the first quantity of butter.  Add barley and cook over medium heat until aromatic and starting to turn golden brown.
  3. Add the minced onions and garlic and cook until the onions are soft and translucent.
  4. Add hard cider or wine.  Cook briefly.
  5. Add the squash purée to the barley a ladle at a time, stirring periodically.  Maintain a simmer until the barley is tender, about 20-30 minutes.  You may not use all of the squash purée produced by this recipe, but it’s better to have a bit too much than too little.
  6. Once the barley is tender, remove from heat and let stand for 5-10 minutes.  Stir in Grizzly gouda and the second quantity of butter.  Stir until the butter is melted and both the butter and cheese are incorporated thoroughly.  The risotto should have the consistency of a loose porridge.
  7. Garnish with black pepper and more finely grated Grizzly gouda.

Yield: about 4 L squash and barley risotto, enough for at least 12 people!

 

True risotto often accompanies braised meats like ossobuco, garnished with a mixture of garlic, parsley, and lemon zest called gremolata.  At Elm we sometimes do a play on this and make a “gremolata” out of dried cranberry, walnut, and celery leaves.

 

 

  1. “Orzo” is the Italian word for barley.  The pasta orzo is so-called because it resembles grains of barley.  Isn’t that fascinating?

Cooking Canadian Quinoa

The first several times I cooked Canadian quinoa I was a bit disappointed.  Sure, it had a remarkable flavour, but it was much stickier than the South American stuff I had had before: sticky to the point of stodginess.

Eventually I remembered a lesson I learned from a guy in my culinary class.  He was from Mumbai.  Our instructor was talking about the importance of rinsing basmati rice before cooking it to remove excess starch from the surface of the grains.  Once removing this powdery starch you can combine the rice with 1.5 times its volume, then cover and steam in the usual manner.  The preliminary rinsing makes for lighter, fluffier pilafs.  The Bombayite scoffed, and when prodded he said that he cooks his rice the way we cook our dry pasta, in a huge excess of boiling water.  This way the rice is rinsed throughout the cooking process, leaving virtually no starch left on the surface to make the final dish sticky and stodgy.  But then again, he continued, he’s from India: what could he possibly know about rice?

He wasn’t actually that self-righteous about it; I just got carried away recounting the story.

Anyways, the “pasta method” is definitely the best way to cook Canadian-grown quinoa.  You still get the great, rich, nutty flavour of the quinoa, but with a lighter texture.  I boil about 6 L of well-seasoned water to cook 1 L of quinoa.

The “pilaf method” can yield acceptable results if the quinoa will be served as a hot starch.  If however you intend to serve the quinoa cold, as a salad, the pasta method is essential.

Below is just such a salad: prairie quinoa and chickpeas with red cabbage, bell peppers, carrots, and fresh cheese.

A salad made with Canadian quinoa and chickpeas

Red Fife Wheat: Heir to the Prairies

I consider this post a sort of addendum to The Story of the Buffalo.  I suggest having a gander at that post before reading this one.

 

Red Fife wheat has received a lot of attention in our part of the world.  It is a heritage or heirloom wheat, touted as the first cultivar to be grown successfully on the Canadian prairies. It is not genetically modified, and since it is not industrially grown, it is often organic.  There are many compelling reasons to grow, purchase, mill, and cook with Red Fife wheat.  It is, however, romanticized to a hilarious degree.

We all know that the buffalo was the basis of prairie life before European arrival.  It remained an important staple in forts and trading posts along the various routes taken by voyageurs and coureurs de bois well into the 1800s.[1]

By the end of the 1870s the buffalo had been hunted to near-extinction, and treaties had been signed with the natives.  The next period of prairie history was European settlement and conversion of the native grass- and pakland to farmland, most notably for grain-growing.

Grain is central to the identity of the prairie provinces.  If you think that’s an overstatement, I direct you to the provincial flags of Alberta and Saskatchewan, both of which brandish golden stalks of wheat.  It’s incredible to think, but at one time there were serious doubts that the prairies could ever be farmed successfully.  The first significant attempt, made by the Red River Colony, was full of failures and disappointments.[2]  They had difficulty clearing the land, had to contend with flooding and locusts on a biblical scale, and then of course there were the bitterly, impossibly cold winters and the brief growing seasons.  Most European varieties of winter wheat were killed by the frigid cold, and most varieties of spring wheat could not ripen before the first frosts of autumn.[3]

Despite set-backs, the Red River Colony eventually found a robust strain of wheat, and they were more or less self-sufficient grain-wise from 1820 onward.[4]

In 1857 the British and the colonial Canadian governments both sent expeditions west of the Red River Colony, all the way to the Rockies and beyond, in part to asses the land’s agricultural potential. The former was led by a man named Palliser, the latter by a man named Hind. Though the Palliser report contained descriptors like “semi-arid” and “almost-desert”, the general consensus was that agriculture would be possible throughout much of the region.

Meanwhile Red Fife wheat was making its way west from Ontario.  David Fife was a Scotsman living in Peterborough, and his serendipitous “discovery” of what became known as Red Fife wheat is now a Canadian food legend.  In 1842 a friend of David’s working at the port in Glasgow sent him some grains of a hardy wheat variety.  Most sources say that the wheat had come to Glasgow from the Ukraine.  The story goes that the friend dipped his hat into the grain, lodging some of the seeds in the interior headband, and then sent this hat to Fife in Canada.  Fife planted the seeds, but only one stalk grew.  That one stalk was decimated by the family cow, but thankfully someone managed to save one head from bovine destruction.[5]

These rescued seeds produced hardy wheat that was resistant to rusts and other diseases. It became famous locally, then spread south into the US, and west across Canada.  By 1870 Red Fife wheat was common on the prairies.[6]  While it was not the first wheat to be grown here, it is considered the first distinct Canadian wheat variety.  Where Old World wheat varieties had offered mere subsistence, Red Fife and its scion Marquis offered prosperity.  Reliably productive wheat crops helped entice millions of immigrants from Europe and the United States into the Canadian west, a region that would later export massive quantities of grain and become the “breadbasket of the world”.

The success or failure of a people has always depended on the success or failure of their associated flora and fauna.  It’s hard for us, a supermarket people, to comprehend, but our mode of existence is largely predicated on tiny genetic mutations in the plants and animals that we eat.  The only reason that we grow wheat in the first place is that thousands of years ago a single Mesopotamian wheat mutant held onto its seeds instead of releasing them and letting them fall to the ground.  Normally this would have been a fatal defect: how could the plant reproduce if its seeds didn’t fall to the ground and get pushed into the soil?  Thankfully someone took notice of the unusual plant, and grabbed the easily-harvested seeds.  They probably ate some, and one way or another planted the rest.[7]  Likewise a mutation in Fife’s wheat from Glasgow made the plant so robust and well-adapted to Canada that it became a keystone for European settlement of the Canadian west.

In this context we can return to the buffalo.  Bison and wheat are two sides of the same coin: bison, the wild animal that sustained the largely nomadic indigenous people of the prairies, nearly eradicated by the voracious buffalo hunt; wheat the sort of heir to the prairies, and Red Fife the unique cultivar that appeared to fill the agricultural gap and make European life here possible.

As with the buffalo post, I want to sort of wash my hands and say that my goal in writing this brief history is not to arrive at any kind of moral decision. The mandate of the local-food movement is to know more about where our food comes from. While we often talk about specific grains grown on specific farms, this post was an attempt to consider a plant from a broader perspective.

 

 

References and Other Notes

1.  In 1814 the Red River Colony, closely associated with the Hudson’s Bay Company, attempted to take control of the regional pemmican trade.  The violent response from the North West Company is now called the Pemmican War.

2.  Described in detail in this article on the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada website: From a Single Seed: Tracing the Marquis wheat success story in Canada to its roots in the Ukraine.

3.  From the entry on “Wheat” in The Canadian Encyclopedia, Second Edition, published by Hurtig Publishers in Edmonton, 1988.  Winter wheat is planted in the fall.  It germinates, then goes dormant over the winter, and resumes growing in the spring.  Spring wheat is planted in the spring and harvested in the fall.

4.  Also from From a Single Seed on Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

5.  The online Canadian Encyclopedia entry on Red Fife wheat.

6.  Also from From a Single Seed on Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

7.  From Jared Diamond’s brain-blowing book Guns, Germs, and Steel, one of the greatest food books of all time, even though you won’t find it in the food section of the bookstore.  The domestication of wheat is described in Chapter 7, “How to Make an Almond.”

Fritters: A Short Endorsement

Pan-frying corn frittersA simple definition.  Fritters are made from a simple batter that is garnished with meat or vegetables or fruit and then fried, either in a pan or deep-fryer.  They can be sweet or savoury.

Why you should care about fritters.  Fritters are an important preparation to master for the following reasons: you almost always have the ingredients needed to make them; they fry up quickly; and they are a fantastic way to use leftovers, whether it’s meat like ground beef or ham, or sautéed vegetables, or cheese.

The fritter continuum.  The degree to which the batter or the interior garnishes dominate varies widely.  Let’s explore the two ends of the Fritter Continuum using corn fritters.

You can make a corn fritter by taking the kernels from one ear of corn and stirring in an egg, a tablespoon each of flour and cornmeal, and a pinch of salt.  This will make a fritter that is mostly comprised of fresh corn, barely held together by egg and starch.  This fritter is relatively dense, and gives the eater the satisfaction of popping several kernels of corn in one bite.  This style of fritter is typically pan-fried or griddled.  It is pictured above.

Corn fritters and saladOn the other hand, you could make a batter by stirring together a cup of flour, two tablespoons of baking powder, a cup of milk, a couple eggs, then fold some corn kernels into the batter.  This would make a light, doughy fritter studded with yellow kernels of corn.  This style of fritter is usually deep-fried.  At right.

The next time you are craving bar food, if you have eggs in your fridge and flour in your pantry, consider fritters.

My Quinoa is from Saskatchewan

Quinoa grown in Saskatchewan, Canada

I’m strongly considering printing and laminating the above photo so I can carry it in my wallet and periodically offer it as evidence.

I’ll start at the beginning.  In some ways I hate quinoa.  Not quinoa the food, but quinoa the fad.  Like açaí berries, quinoa is a “super food” promoted by nutritionists as if everything that your body needs to be healthy could not possibly be grown in the province in which you live, but needs to come from the canopy of the Amazon rainforest, or an Andean plateau.

On the other hand, from a strictly gastronomical point of view I really like quinoa.  It’s tasty: it has a nutty flavour, sometimes verging on peanut butter, often with a piquant bitterness.  It’s extremely simple to cook.  So yes: I purchase and consume quinoa.

And every so often when I admit this someone informs me that my consumption of quinoa is disenfranchising farmers in South America.  That my gluttonous consumption of the pseudo-cereal is driving up the price so that Bolivians can’t afford it and are increasingly relying on cheaper junk food.  That the money I spend on quinoa has pressured farmers in Peru to convert what were once diverse agricultural lands to fields of just quinoa.

Then I say that I can’t have disenfranchised South American farmers, because Lisa’s mom bought us fifty pounds of quinoa from a company in Saskatchewan called NorQuin.

Then they reply that quinoa can’t grow in Canada, and that a Canadian grain farmer told them so.

Then we stare at each other incredulously and uncomfortably.

The picture at the top of this post shows the quinoa in my cupboard.  As the labelling suggests and the website testifies, it was grown in Canada.  If anyone is interested, I’m going to get some t-shirts printed that have that image on the front.  On the back it will say, “Save Peru, buy Canadian Quinoa.”

Cornbread Stuffing and Cornbread Pudding

A casserole of cornbread stuffingIn the extremely unlikely case that you have leftover cornbread that is a couple days old and a bit too dry to be enjoyed, you have two choices.

Look deep into the tepid pond of your soul and ask, sweet or savoury?

If the response comes back sweet, you make cornbread pudding.  If the answer is savoury, you make cornbread stuffing.

Leftover cornbread and the dishes made therefrom are quite different than stale bread and its children.  As cornbread is a quick bread, the baker went out of his or her way to avoid gluten development, and no doubt added sugar and fat in the form of butter or buttermilk or sour cream.  This kept the fresh cornbread tender, but it now makes the dried cornbread extremely crumbly.

In my post about traditional stuffing I discuss a textural continuum.  On one end is the loosely-bound style in which the individual bread pieces tumble over each other, and on the other is the highly-bound style in which the bread is moistened and mixed into a cohesive paste.  Cornbread stuffing is always highly bound, because as soon as you drop the bread into the pot, it disintegrates into a very fine meal.  In fact to make cornbread stuffing is almost like reverting the cornbread back to its elemental cornmeal, and then remaking it.  Think of it as a phoenician rebirth.[1]

Moisture in the from of milk or stock, in conjunction with eggs, helps reform the crumbs into a cohesive, sliceable dressing.

The stuffing is very close to the original bread, only a bit more moist, and a bit eggier, but with the same characteristic granular texture.

Cornbread Stuffing

Ingredients

  • 2 oz unsalted butter
  • 7 oz sliced onions
  • 5 oz sliced red bell peppers
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp dried summer savoury
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 20 oz stale cornbread (preferably this cornbread)
  • 4 oz smoked pork stock (or any type of stock, really…)
  • 3 large eggs

Procedure

  1. Melt the butter in a medium, heavy-bottomed stainless steel pot.  Add the onion, peppers, salt, herbs and spices.  Sweat over medium heat until the onions and peppers have become limp.
  2. Crumble the stale cornbread into the pot.  Add the stock and mix until the cornbread starts to come together.
  3. Remove the mixture from the heat and let cool briefly.  Beat in the eggs.
  4. Transfer the mixture to a buttered casserole and bake at 375°F until the interior has set.  If the top is not quite crusty enough, give the casserole a pass under the broiler.

 

For cornbread pudding, forgo the onions, peppers, herbs, and spices; replace the stock with cream or milk; add a handful of sugar.

Cornbread Pudding

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 oz granulated sugar
  • 20 oz stale cornbread
  • 4 oz heavy cream or whole milk
  • 3 large eggs

Procedure

  1. Heat a pot of water on the stove.
  2. Whisk the eggs together.
  3. Crumble the stale cornbread into a large bowl.  Add the cream and whisked eggs and mix until the cornbread starts to form a cohesive paste.
  4. Transfer the mixture to a buttered casserole or terrine.  Set the dish into a large roasting tray.  Pour the hot water from the stove into the roaster to make a hot bath for the casserole.  Bake in a 350°F oven until the interior of the pudding has just set.
  5. Once cool, the pudding is best served by slicing and pan-frying.  Consume with poached apples, whisky caramel sauce, vanilla ice cream.  And maybe reserve the peels from your apples and gently fry them until they’re crisp and crumble them on top.  As below.

Cornbread pudding with poached apples, vanilla ice cream, and whisky caramel sauce

 

1. I started to write “phoenix-like,” but then “phoenician” came to mind.  Perhaps “phoenician,” with no capitalization, can be used to mean “of or pertaining to a phoenix,” as in the mythical creature?  Or can it only mean “of or pertaining to the ancient nation of Phoenicia”?

Choux Pastry

Choux pastries ready to be stuffed with whipped creamBefore the exciting conclusion of Custard Week, I want to take you on a quick detour to show you some applications for the custards we’ve been making.  Let’s talk about choux pastry.

Choux pastry is a bit weird.  First of all it’s weird because it’s not clear whether it’s a dough or a batter.  Next it’s weird because it’s cooked twice, once on the stove, and once in the oven.  Then it’s weird because when you cook it the second time it puffs itself up so that it’s entirely hollow.  And finally it’s weird because its name is French for “cabbage pastry”.  To my knowledge it is never eaten with cabbage, so I’m thinking that the name refers to the bubbly sphere a dollop of choux pastry forms when baked for the second time.  I guess to French eyes this sphere looks like a cabbage.  To me it looks like a baseball.  That’s what’s funny about Europe: the little differences.

While the process for making choux pastry is bizarre, it is really easy.  First you heat water and butter on the stove until the butter has melted.  Then you whisk in some flour to make a paste.  Stir this mixture over medium heat for a few minutes to cook out the starch.

Beating the eggs into choux pastryThen you remove the paste from the heat and let it cool down a bit.  You do this because you’re about to add eggs, and you don’t want to cook the eggs quite yet: you just want to mix them into the batter, or dough, or whatever.  Once the batter has cooled enough that you can comfortably stick your finger in it for more than a few seconds, you add the eggs, one at a time, while beating the hell out of the paste.  At first it will seem that the batter won’t accept your eggs, but it will – just keep beating.

Once all your eggs are incorporated, the batter is done.  You can pipe it immediately, or store it in the fridge.

There are several classic preparations made from choux pastry.  As you can imagine, it lends itself well to being filled, as with profiteroles and éclairs.

In other applications it is left hollow: gougères, for instance, which are small, cheese-flavoured pastries, or gnocchis à la parisienne, which is deep-fried choux pastry.

For most applications choux pastry is baked in the oven.  This is usually done in two stages: a high-temp baking around 425°F that rapidly vaporizes the water content so that the pastry can puff up before the starch sets, and a 350°F stage that sets the starch.  Once the pastries are pulled from the oven and cooled, you can bore a hole in them and get stuffing.

For profiteroles (cream puffs…) simply load up a piping bag with whipped cream or pastry cream and squeeze a small amount into the pastry.

Cream puffs, some dipped in chocolate

 

Choux Pastry

Ingredients

  • 8 oz water
  • 4 oz unsalted butter
  • 4 oz all-purpose flour
  • 8 oz whole egg (4 whole eggs…)
  • pinch of kosher salt

Procedure

  1. Combine the water, butter, and salt in a heavy pot.  Heat until the butter has melted.
  2. Add the flour.  Stir until a paste forms, then cook over medium heat for a few minutes, stirring periodically.
  3. Remove the pot from the heat and let stand to cool slightly, at least five minutes.  You should be able to touch the paste without burning yourself…
  4. Beat in the eggs one at a time.  Don’t add the next egg until the previous one is completely incorporated.
  5. At this point the batter can be piped and baked immediately, or refrigerated for later use.