Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Gluten-Free Ratio Rally: Almond Choux Florentines
Pate a choux. It's a fancy-sounding French term that refers to a light, moist pastry dough made of water, butter, flour and eggs. Instead of using baking soda or baking powder or yeast or whipped egg whites as a leavening agent, its high moisture content creates steam that puffs the pastry while it bakes. This simple formula of sorts makes pate a choux incredibly versatile. If you've ever had profiteroles, croquembouches, eclairs, crullers, cream puffs, gougeres, or churros, then you've had pate a choux.
As you've undoubtedly surmised, it is the theme for this month's Gluten-Free Ratio Rally. (As a reminder last month we tackled scones.) If you missed last month's iteration, here's the need-to-know about the Ratio Rally... Each month participating bloggers face a new baking challenge. We each make a variation on the common theme, baking (ideally) using ratios and baking by weight. And we have fun while we're at it. Simple as that.
This month's baking bonanza is being hosted by Erin over at The Sensitive Epicure. (After you've finished reading this post, be sure to head on over to check out her post, as well as links to all the other participating ratio bloggers this month!)
I'll admit, working with pate a choux wasn't entirely new to us. We've done it at least twice before - once when we made a Chocolate Eclair Cake in February 2010, and once when we made Cream Puffs about one month later.
But we haven't played with pate a choux since then. More than a year has passed, and this time around, we've approached the choux with new eyes...that of the ratio baker. Ratios we referenced varied from the elegant (2:1:1:2) to the decimal-happy (1.3:0.7:1.0:1.7) to the ordinary (5:2:3:3). As we tweaked our own pate a choux recipe to hopefully yield both a delicious pastry and a relatively clean ratio, we settled on the rather straightforward 3 parts water : 1 part butter : 1.5 parts flour : 2 parts eggs. Not too shabby.
The question of what to make with that dough was another matter. After all, as I mentioned above, pate a choux is a versatile little bugger. The possibilities were nearly endless. At first we were drawn to the idea of making pralines, a choux pastry filled with hazelnut pastry cream. Then we were drawn to the idea of making choux florentines, round pastries topped with whipped cream and caramelized sugar.
Then inspiration struck. Some almond paste burning a hole in our pocket (or, at least, calling out to us from the pantry) proved the focal point. We'd make a sort of hybrid between a choux florentine and a praline. Instead of topping the choux florentine with whipped cream and caramelized sugar, we'd top it with a nut-based pastry cream, as in the pralines. But instead of hazelnut, we'd make an almond pastry cream. Hence, almond choux florentines.
I'm going to have to start looking for new adjectives to describe our successful baking endeavors, but the result was - to use a word I've surely used before - divine. (And yes, we're biased, but our taste buds also don't lie...) The choux pastry was light, tender and airy, with a delightful moistness to the inside, pockets of air throughout, and an ever-so-subtle saltiness. The smooth, sweet almond pastry cream balanced the pastry wonderfully.
Personally speaking, my biggest problem with these almond choux florentines was one of self-control. I wanted to eat only one, but ended up having two immediately, and it took no small act of willpower to stop myself from devouring a third straight away. And while they taste great, you might argue that their biggest selling point is that although they sound fancifully French, they're actually rather easy to make.
Almond Choux Florentines
Makes 12 pastries
For the pate a choux:
300g water (about 1 1/4 cups)
100g salted butter (7 tbsp + 1 tsp OR 1 stick less 2 tsp)
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
150g Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend (about 1 1/4 cups)
200g eggs (4 large)
For the almond pastry cream:
1 cup milk
2 egg yolks
2 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp salted butter
1/2 tsp pure almond extract
* The preceding six ingredients should yield 300g pastry cream.
100g almond paste
12 whole shelled almonds
To make the pastries:
1. Preheat your oven to 375 deg F. Grease a cookie sheet.
2. Add the water, butter, sugar, and salt to a saucepan and bring to a boil.
3. Remove from the heat, add the flour all at once, and stir vigorously until it forms a dough ball and pulls away from the sides of the pot.
4. Transfer the dough to a stand mixer and beat with a paddle at low speed until the dough cools (it will still be warm to the touch).
5. With the mixer at medium speed, add the eggs slowly and beat until they're completely absorbed and the batter is smooth.
6. Transfer the dough to a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip. Pipe 2.5-inch diameter circles. Then pipe a second circle within each larger circle. Lastly, pipe a second layer of dough on top of the outer circle.
7. Bake at 375 deg F for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.
8. Let cool on the pan.
To make the almond pastry cream:
9. Mix the sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl.
10. Whisk in the egg yolks, beating until light in color.
11. Heat the milk in a saucepan over high heat to bring to a boil, then remove from the heat.
12. Temper the egg yolk mixture with the heated milk. (Slowly pour about half of the milk into the egg mixture while whisking vigorously, then pour back into the milk saucepan, again whisking vigorously.)
13. Bring the mixture to a boil, whisking constantly, for 1 minute.
14. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter and almond extract.
15. Stir in the almond paste, whisking to incorporate until smooth while the pastry cream is still warm.
16. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes, until cool.
To finish the recipe:
17. Transfer the almond pastry cream to a pastry bag fitted with a star tip.
18. Pipe rosettes in the center of each choux pastry.
19. Top each pastry with a whole almond.
This recipe is: gluten-free, peanut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free.
Note 1: To aid in making "perfect" 2.5-inch circles of pastry, you can dip the lip of a cup (drinking glass, coffee mug, brandy snifter, etc.) in flour and then "mark" the baking sheet.
Note 2: While the pastries turned out great, they can be even better. We ran into two minor (and easily correctible) snags while baking. First, we happened to bake on an unbelievably hot day in a non-air-conditioned kitchen that was 90 degrees. Blech! Secondly, when calculating the weight measurements for ingredients, I made a simple and silly mathematical error that resulted in us using about 30g (about 1/4 cup) less flour than we intended. That additional flour would improve the texture of the pastry and the dough's ability to hold its shape while baking.