Tuesday, August 5, 2008

One really good thing...

Last weekend we had dinner with friends at Room at the new Twelve Hotel Downtown Atlanta. While the company was excellent, the food was just average. At a place billing itself as a steakhouse, the meats were stingy and under-seasoned. The one exception to this mediocrity was an appetizer - warm gougeres, bacon, swiss cheese, pickled onions & arugula. The dish was well composed with acid, salt, sweetness, rich, tender, and crunch. It was the perfect start to a meal.

Room at Twelve Centennial Park on Urbanspoon

We had friends over for drinks before heading out for dinner and the wife and I decided to try these at home. The starting point is a small puff shell; these versatile little wonders make frequent appearances around our home, but always as the basis for some easy make-ahead dessert. My go to recipe is a classic from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, here’s my modern format for this versatile recipe:

Makes 36 to 40 Small Puffs

Preheat oven to 425 degrees with two racks evenly spaced.

Ingredients for pâte à choux (versatile dough):
1 Cup water
6 Tbsp Salted Butter
1 Tsp sea-salt
1/8 Tsp white pepper
Pinch nutmeg (optional)
¾ Cup all-purpose flour
4 Large eggs

Ingredients for Pickled Onions:
One large white onion
1 Cup red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

Ingredients for filling (may change to your taste):
¼ pound fine swiss cheese cut into thin slices approximately 1 inch square
½ pound very thickly cut bacon fried to your liking, though not too crisp
1 small package micro-green salad mix

Instructions for the Pickled Onion

1) Slice peeled onion in quarters

2) Slice quarters into ¼ wide strips

3) Place in an airtight container and cover with both vinegars

4) Place in refrigerator 2-8 hours before you intend to serve

Instructions for the Gougeres (Profiteroles filled with cheese)

1) Bring water to boil with the butter and seasonings and boil slowly until the butter has melted.

2) Remove pan from heat and immediately pour in all the flour at once. Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon for several seconds to blend thoroughly. Move pan back onto high heat for 1-2 minutes until mixture leaves the sides of the pan and the spoon forming a ball in the middle of the pan.

3) Remove the pan from heat and make a well in the center of the paste with the spoon. Immediately break an egg into the center of the well. Beat it into the paste for several seconds until it has been absorbed. Each time an egg is added the dough will break apart into pieces, but will pull back together with continued stirring. Continue with the rest of the eggs, beating them in one at a time. The third and fourth eggs will be absorbed more slowly. Beat for a moment more to be sure all is well blended and smooth.

4) While it’s still warm fill the bag with the dough. If using a plastic bag cut the corner at an angle approximately ¼ inch from the corner to create a ½ inch diameter hole.

5) Squeeze the paste onto the lined baking sheets, making circular mounds about 1 inch in diameter and ½ inch high. Space the mounds 2 inches apart.

6) With a wet finger flatten the tip of the dough formed by the pastry bag.

7) Set the baking sheets in the preheated, 425-degree oven, and bake for about 20 minutes.

8) The puffs are done when they’ve doubled in size turned a nice golden color. Remove from the oven and immediately pierce the puffs with the tip of a sharp knife to create a ½ inch slit in the side.

9) Put the puffs back in the turned-off oven with the door ajar for 10 more minutes. When they come out place them on wire racks to cool. They can stay out of the over for several hours this way. You can bake these off the day before you intend to use them and store them in a large container with plenty of room for air circulation. They will get a bit soft, but they will crisp up nicely with the second heating.

About thirty minutes before you intend to serve pre-heat your oven to 350-degrees.

1) Slice your gougeres in half leaving the top and bottom halves connected on one side

2) Insert from bottom to top: one piece of bacon, one piece of onion (may hang out slightly from the puff adding color), another piece of bacon, and a slice of cheese.

3) Leave the gougeres sitting “open” and place in the oven until the cheese has melted, approximately 10 minutes if puffs and bacon are at room temperature, less time if ingredients are warm, or slightly longer if ingredients are coming out of the fridge.

4) Once the gougeres come out of the oven add a few microgreens to each, close them up, and place them on a warm platter. Tip: Make in batches for an open house to ensure that everyone gets at least one warm gougere.

Serve these at your next cocktail party or open house and they’re sure to be a hit. To please a variety of tastes make more gougeres and fill with other fillings: mushrooms with a thick cream sauce, chicken salad (a must in the South), even pulled pork if you’re feeling like fusion cuisine.

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