Last year, I let my (then) boyfriend pick out any dessert he wanted for Valentine’s Day. When I said to him “what’s your favourite dessert?” I expected him to say strawberry shortcake, or apple pie. Or how about my famous apple streudel cheesecake? I thought maybe he’d settle for a nice Safeway store-bought Black Forest Cake.
No such luck.
After searching on the internet for a bit, he found a link to a fancy cake – Gateau St Honore – apparently something from his French Canadian childhood. (Why is it, then, that I can only find a recipe for it on an Australian website?)
The recipe he picked looks impossibly difficult, especially with the British/Australian measurements and descriptions. So I set about recreating the recipe using my own cookbooks, pulling in bits and pieces from sources that I trusted.
As this recipe was clearly complicated, and the future of my relationship relied on its success (it was our first Valentine’s Day together, after all, and I was still in super-impress mode), I decided to break the recipe into stages, and to make stage one (the puff pastry) in January. I needed a test run of the pastry to make sure I could figure it out. Puff pastry scared me. The other parts seemed easy enough — make a cake, make a custard, whip some cream. But I wasn’t sure I could make puff pastry. Or is it choux pastry? Are they even the same thing?
Really, it wasn’t long after the beginning of January when I sat at the dining room table with five different cookbooks spread around me. I start reading about puff pastry. The recipes looked virtually identical. Apparently, if you did it right, the little bundles of raw dough bake up nice and light and HOLLOW, which makes them perfect for filling up with good stuff.
For my trial run of phase one puff pastry making, I decided to go with the Julia Child cookbook, the only one of the five recipes that was slightly different in terms of its ingredients. It contains ¼ cup less flour, thus giving it a higher flour-to-egg ratio than the others. I thought, “I’m sure Julia’s the one, I’m sure she’s got it figured out.”
I made Julia’s recipe, and really she has such a lovely writing style, I couldn’t help but believe that I would create an absolutely beautiful work of art. Here’s what she says:
You cannot fail with puff shells – as mounds of pâte à choux puff and brown automatically in a hot oven – if you take the proper final measures to insure the shells remain crisp. A perfect puff is firm to the touch, tender and dry to the taste. Hot puffs will seem perfectly cooked when taken from the oven, but … there is always an uncooked center portion… large puffs are split, and often their uncooked centers are removed. This is actually the only secret to puff making. (pp. 177-178)
Did you catch that? Part of it will be uncooked…
Stay tuned, tomorrow I’ll share Part 2 with you, where I am reduced to calling my mother to ask for advice.
As always, I’d love to hear your feedback.
You can always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks and bon appetit!
Shelley MacDonald Beaulieu, Owner & Head Chef
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