Olives, Tears, and a Pastry From a Volcano

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“Where are we going today?”

The kids took a look at the atlas I had opened and placed on the table.

“Greece!”

“Yep. We’re still talking about early civilizations and how people developed their natural resources. Like the people of Mesopotamia and ancient China, the ancient Greeks took what grew around them and used it to their advantage.”

The kids took some guesses about what ingredient we’d be using in our lesson.

“Wheat?”

“A fruit?”

“The olive.”

An indigenous variety of olive was already growing in Greece before the first people settled there, but the fruit of the wild olive yields little oil. The tree was native to the Levant as well, and people in both places did what people do once they realize the potential of a resource — they domesticated it. 

Evidence suggests that by 4000 B.C.E., people along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean had already started cultivating the tree. Anyone want to take a guess which countries make up that area now?”

“Um…”

“Turkey?”

“Yes! But also, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Palestine. And then the Minoans, who settled on the island of Crete, also realized the value of the olive. Archaeologists have found olive presses and large jars for storing oil there.”

We talked about why olive oil was so prized: for eating and cooking, as fuel, taken as medicine, and used cosmetically. It also played a part in religious rituals.

“Which is why it was a major part of the economy and trade in the Mediterranean, and why the Greeks continued to breed more varieties of olives when they took over after the Minoan decline.”

I explained that olive trees need coastal semi-arid land. We consulted the map.

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“That’s a lot of coast.”

The ancient Greeks’ main trade items were oil and wine, and they spread out and colonized areas where the tree could grow — Italy and Sicily, the Iberian peninsula, and the coast of France. 

“Olives and olive oil are a huge part of Greek culture.”

Most of them remembered the myth of Athena and Poseidon, and some of them were very enthusiastic about telling it to those who didn’t.

I continued on with my list: “Olive oil still plays a part in the religious lives of the Greeks. The olive branch signifies peace and love. And yes, they consume a lot of olive oil.”

While the Greeks aren’t the largest producer of olive oil, they consume the most per capita.

“5 gallons?!”

We imagined people with very sleek hair.

“Most people think of olive oil as a savory ingredient, but Greeks use it in everything, even pastry.”

Melitinia are traditionally made the week of Easter — to be eaten once Lent is over — and come from the island of Santorini. 

The kids found the history of Santorini interesting, and we talked for a few minutes about how a caldera is formed.

They again took a look at the map, noticing that the archipelago that Santorini is part of forms a circle.

“Ohhh, I see it!”

“But the map says Thira.”

“You guys might remember from our history reading that the Minoans on Crete were impacted by a huge volcanic eruption, one that may have contributed to that civilization’s decline — that was Thira.”

On to the baking portion of the lesson.

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We had an extra little helper who wanted in on the action.

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“The melitinia is filled with sweetened cheese flavored with mastic.”

“What’s mastic?”

Mastiha (mastic) is the resinous sap that is exuded from the Pistacia lentiscus chia tree when it is wounded. Chian mastic growers make small cuts in the tree and collect the globules of sap, called tears. These “Tears of Chios” are used in food and drink, in the medical/pharmaceutical and chemical industry, and in cosmetics and perfume. They are a Protected Designation of Origin product.

The kids chewed away as we discussed the meaning of masticate.

“It tastes like forest.”

“I think I’ve got one stuck in my braces.”

Uh oh.

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Dental crisis averted, we returned to mixing the filling.

The kids took turns pulverizing the mastic tears with a bit of sugar.

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Then we began filling and pleating the pastry.

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The kids did a great job with their nimble little fingers, and the melitinia baked up into lovely little golden suns.

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While our pleating may not have been quite up to yia yia standards, the kids were proud of their Greek pastries, and even happier to eat them.

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Melitinia (adapted from several recipes)

Makes about 24

The pastry is traditionally made with olive oil, but can also be made with butter. The filling is supposed to be a Greek, usually homemade, unsalted goat cheese, or a soft, moist mizithra, neither of which are easy to find here. After consulting several recipes, I settled on a combination of homemade ricotta and a good Greek feta.

All the recipes I read included mastic, but if you don’t have mastic, the vanilla alone should do.

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 cup olive oil or melted butter (unsalted)

1/4 cup water

Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the oil while using your fingers to rub the mixture until crumbly. Add the water and mix until the dough can be gathered into a ball. Press the dough into a round and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap so that it doesn’t dry out. Set aside to rest for an hour or refrigerate overnight. Bring the dough back to room temperature before rolling out.

1/2 cup of the freshest ricotta you can find, (see above), or a good, soft goat cheese

2 ounces good quality feta cheese, crumbled

1 large egg, room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

a rounded 1/4 teaspoon powdered mastic (we ground the tears in a mortar with a bit of sugar)

3 Tablespoons of unbleached all-purpose flour

When you are ready to form the melitinia, prepare the filling: combine the cheeses, egg, sugar, baking powder, vanilla, and mastic in a bowl. Whisk together until well blended. Beat in the flour until combined.

Heat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Divide the dough in half. On a floured surface, roll one potion as thin as possible. Use a round cutter to cut out as many rounds as you can. (I used a 3 1/4″ cutter and was able to get about 10, then another two out of the re-rolled scraps). Repeat with the remaining portion of dough.

Working with one dough round at a time, spoon 1 T of filling onto the center. You can dampen the perimeter of the dough round with a bit of water to help with the pleating of the dough. Use your fingers, (we used our fingers and a toothpick), to pinch and flute the dough around the filling. Here’s a video demo. Ours were not that tight or neat, but you get the idea.

Place the melitinia on a parchment covered baking sheet and a bake until golden and crisp, about 30 – 35 minutes. Let cool for few minutes before sprinkling with powdered sugar.

 

 

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Rich Bread From Tiny Creatures


And when I say “tiny creatures,” I don’t mean the kids. I mean Saccharomyces cerevisiae, also known as baker’s yeast.

“It’s been a while since we’ve baked anything with yeast. The last thing was…”

“Pizza!”

“This time we’ll be making a yeasted French bread called brioche. It’s a rich dough, meaning it has a lot of fat in it. Doughs that become sourdough, or baguette, or even pizza crust are called lean doughs because they are made with little to no fat in them. This brioche has quite a bit of butter in it, as well as fat from lots of egg yolks.”

We took a look at a very traditional baking and pastry book. They could see that brioche can come in many different forms: loaves, braids, baked in large molds or as little knots.

“This version even has a little head.”

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We reviewed what yeast was and how it works.

“So these little guys, these simple organisms, they eat the sugars in the dough. They eat and eat and eat, and then they do what?”

“Fart!”

“Poop!”

I waited for the giggling to die down.

“Or burp. Yeah, they expel carbon dioxide, which gets trapped in the dough and causes it to rise. The thing is, fat slows down the action of the yeast. So, in order to give them a head start on their work, we’ll make a sponge with some of the ingredients, then add the rest once we can see that the yeast are really active. Finally, we’ll beat in the butter.”

We heated some milk to about 110 degrees, warmer than body temperature, but not too warm for dunking fingers into.

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They added the yeast, an egg, and some of the flour. We mixed this together to get a shaggy dough, then sprinkled more flour over the top. We covered the bowl with cling film and set it aside to ferment.

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We were using fresh yeast for the first time, so while our sponge was rising, we took the opportunity to compare different kinds of yeast.

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First up, the yeast we couldn’t see.

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Though the yeast that had made the bubbles appear in my starter wasn’t visible, there were other signs that fermentation had taken place.

“It smells like sourdough.”

We talked about how the yeast in the jar, wild yeast (Saccharomyces exiguus), is always out there in nature. The only time we see evidence of its presence might be the funkiness on a piece of fruit left too long on the counter or on the tree in the backyard — after the yeast has already started the fermentation process, feasting on the fruit’s sugars, then excreting carbon dioxide and alcohol.

Then we checked out the yeast we could see: fresh, active dry, and instant yeast.

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“These forms of yeast are produced in big factories. They grow it in vats on sugars like molasses.”

“So kind of like yeast farmers?”

“Right! They end up with something like yeast soup. Then they remove the liquid and either compress the results to make cake (fresh) yeast, or dehydrate it to make either active dry or instant yeast.”

We examined the three piles.

“Can we taste it?”

“Sure?” I mean, I wouldn’t want to eat straight yeast, but I figured a tiny bit couldn’t hurt. “If anything, it might make you gassy.”

Giggles.

They inspected and sniffed and poked. And tasted. A little.

“This one is bigger and kind of round.” (Active-dry)

“This one is tinier, and sort of longish.” (Instant)

Fresh yeast resembled a crumbly eraser.

“Fresh yeast will work the fastest because it doesn’t need to be rehydrated. But fresh yeast doesn’t store well for very long and is harder to find in the market. You can substitute one for the other as long as you use the correct converted amount.”

There was some discussion about the need for rehydrating dried yeast. Yes, it is alive in the package, but dormant, kind of like the tree in my yard during the winter. Yes, it is alive in the bread dough. And yes, we kill it when we bake it. Poor yeast.

The yeast in our sponge was definitely alive and moving fast.
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The kids agreed that it already smelled like bread.

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They added the rest of the eggs and dry ingredients to the rising sponge.

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“It doesn’t look very yummy.”

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This dough requires a long mix, about 15 minutes on medium-high speed.

“Can you believe they used to mix this by hand?”

While the dough was mixing, I pulled out a batch of brioche I had made the night before.

“Because brioche contains so much butter, it is really impossible to work with unless it’s cold. I have dough ready and chilled so that you can see how to portion and shape it.”

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We divided the dough into 3 ounce pieces.

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I showed them how to cup their hands around the dough to shape and round it.

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Ok, so it takes a bit of practice. We got mostly rounded dough pieces.

We set the pan of dough balls aside to rise again, and turned our attention back to our mixing brioche.

It was smooth and sticky and very well mixed. Time to beat in the butter.

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“Here you guys, feel this butter. It should be somewhat soft, but not melty or oily.”

They pressed their fingertips into the butter.

“Now we’ll add it to the dough, a few tablespoons at a time.”

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They were really eager to throw their pats of butter into the mixer, but they patiently waited until I gave each person the o.k.

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Once all the butter was incorporated, we dumped the brioche dough out onto the lightly floured table and gathered it into a ball. We placed it into a buttered bowl so that it could rise.

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Our brioche rounds were ready.

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They pressed the spongy rounds flat, leaving a little raised rim around the edge.

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We spooned some crème fraîche into the center.

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Then we topped the crème fraîche with macerated strawberries and brushed the edge of the dough with a bit of egg wash.

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A sprinkling of sugar topped the whole thing off.

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The brioches went into the oven and emerged golden and puffy and smelling like butter and hot strawberries. And yes, they tasted as good as that sounds.

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But what of the first batch of dough? The one the kids actually mixed?

It was still happily rising on the counter.

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I pressed that out into a sheet pan and dusted it with flour before placing it in the refrigerator to chill.

We had needed extra dough for demonstration purposes. This batch would become cinnamon rolls for breakfast the next morning. The lengths I go to for the kids’ benefit. That’s the story I’m sticking with anyway.

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Brioche from Pastries From The La Brea Bakery by Nancy Silverton

yield:  2 1/4 lbs of dough

Note: This recipes takes 2 days because it must be chilled for at least 6 hours, but my preference is overnight. Also, the dough requires a lengthy mixing time to properly develop — keep an eye on your mixer so that it doesn’t shimmy its way off the counter while it’s working, and don’t let it overheat.

3/4 ounce (1 T) packed fresh cake yeast or 2 1/2 t active dry

1/3 cup whole milk, warmed to 110 degrees

6 extra-large eggs

3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 t kosher salt

2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, soft but not melting or oily

Place the yeast in the bowl of a standing mixer and pour the milk over, letting active dry yeast proof for 10 minutes. Add 1 of the eggs and 1 cup of the flour and stir to combine. Sprinkle 1 more cup of flour over the mixture without stirring. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and set aside until the surface cracks, about 30 minutes.

Add the remaining eggs and dry ingredients to the sponge. Using the dough hook, mix on low for 1-2 minutes, until combined. Turn the mixer up to medium-high and continue to mix for about 15 minutes, until the dough wraps itself around the hook and is smooth, shiny, and slightly sticky. It may be necessary to add another tablespoon of flour to encourage the dough to leave the sides of the bowl.

Turn the mixer down to medium-low and add the butter, a few tablespoons at a time. After all of the butter has been added, turn the mixer up to medium-high and beat the dough for about 2-3 more minutes, until the dough wraps itself around the hook. If necessary, add a few pieces of flour to encourage the dough to leave the sides of the bowl. The dough will be smooth and shiny, but not oily.

Remove the dough from the bowl onto a lightly floured surface and gather into a ball. Place the dough into a buttered bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, about 2 – 2 1/2 hours.

Spread the dough out onto a floured parchment-lined baking sheet. Dust with flour, cover, and refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight.

For fruit-topped brioche:

Separate the chilled dough into twelve 3 ounce pieces. On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough into balls. Flatten into discs and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Set aside to proof until spongy to the touch, about an hour. Make a depression in the center of the discs and spoon way more crème fraîche than you feel is reasonable in the center, (trust me, we used about 1T per bun and it was not close to enough). Top with fruit, (we used strawberries macerated with sugar and orange zest), brush the edge with egg wash, and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 – 30 minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

Building Blocks, Pastry-Style

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“I remember making those!”

I had a tray of pâte à choux shells resting on top of the stove; the kids were immediately reminded of the lesson in which we made cream puffs.

“Do you guys also remember when I told you that pâte à choux is kind of like a Lego brick in the pastry kitchen? That it can be used to make lots of other things?”

We gathered around the iPad to take a look at examples of some of those things.

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“What’s a Lady’s Navel?!”

“Or a Moooor kop?”

They were intrigued by the funny sounding pastries, and even more excited about the one we would be making that day — the Religiuese.

I’ve heard a couple of different explanations of the pastry, whose name means “Nun.” The first theory is that it is supposed to represent the papal mitre; the other interpretation describes the similarity in the pastry’s appearance to a nun’s habit. I’ll let you be the judge.

I had baked the choux cases that morning so that we could have plenty of time to focus on making the filling, the chocolate glaze, and assembling the pastries.

Traditionally religiuese are filled with mocha pastry cream, but I thought it would be better if we went with vanilla. While us moms can always use the coffee, the kids definitely didn’t need any caffeine.

“Pastry cream is another building block in the kitchen. You can use it as a filling for cakes, tarts, and all kinds of different pastries. You can thin it and use it as a sauce. You can even turn it into a soufflé.”

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They measured the milk and salt into a heavy-bottomed pot, then placed the cornstarch and sugar into a bowl.

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Finally, they whisked the eggs into the dry ingredients to make a slurry.

Vocabulary word for the day — slurry.

I explained that pastry cream is a custard, which means it is a liquid that has been cooked and thickened or set by eggs. They considered other things that might be custards: pudding, cheesecake, pumpkin pie filling, and ice cream.

“What happens when you heat up eggs?” I asked.

“They get clumpy?”

“Right! They cook and become solid. But too high or too long a heat will overcook them. We don’t want clumpy, lumpy custard, so we have to treat them gently. Otherwise you get scrambled eggs.”

We checked our mise en place for making pastry cream: we had a mesh strainer suspended over a bowl that would hold the finished custard, a ladle, and a damp towel that we wrapped around the base of our mixing bowl to keep it in place.

“Like a little nest?”

“Right!” I agreed. A little nest to hold our bowl of egg-slurry.

We moved over to the stove and began heating the milk.

“Milk can scorch, or burn, really easily. And once you scorch it, the whole pot will taste burnt. So we’ll use a spatula to gently stir the milk as it’s heating.”

I also advised that they keep a close eye on any dairy heating on the stove, as it has a tendency to boil-over pretty quickly. I cranked up the heat for a minute to demonstrate and they watched the milk race towards the top of the pot.

“That went fast!”

We turned off the heat and let the milk settle.

“What do you think would happen if we poured the eggs directly into this really hot pot?”

“Would they scramble?”

They remembered!

“So,” I continued, “we use a method called tempering, where we introduce a little bit of the hot liquid into the eggs to heat them gradually. Once we’ve added about half of the milk to the bowl, we’ll pour everything back into the pot to finish cooking.”

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They took turns adding the milk to the eggs, using one hand to ladle, the other to whisk.

“It’s kind of like rubbing your head and patting your tummy at the same time.”

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The kids traded off whisking the mixture over medium heat.

I showed them how to work the whisk around the pot, making sure to scrape the entire bottom surface, including the edges.

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We watched for big bubbles, a sign that the custard had come to a boil.

“The starch and sugar will keep the eggs from overcooking, to a point, but if we let it go too long the custard can become grainy.”

When we were sure the cream had come to a boil, we immediately strained it into a clean bowl.

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They added vanilla and butter, one tablespoon at a time, to the pastry cream.

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“Can we taste it?!”

They all promised not to double-dip, so…

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“So good!”

I beat back the advancing spoons, placed a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the remaining pastry cream, and popped it into the fridge to cool.

Now for the chocolate.

“Ganache is another good thing to have in your baking ‘tool box’. You can use it to fill, frost, and glaze cakes or pastries, but you can also let it cool completely and make truffles.”

“What else is in it besides chocolate?” someone asked.

“Cream. That’s it. The only thing you need to worry about is having the proper chocolate to cream ratio for whatever you will be using the ganache for.”

Another vocabulary word — ratio.

“If we have 4 ounces of chocolate and need a ratio of 1 part chocolate to 1 part cream, how much cream would we need?”

“4 ounces?”

“Right! And if we needed a ratio of 1 part chocolate to 2 parts cream, we would need…”

“8!”

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I showed them how to use a serrated knife to cut small, uniform pieces of chocolate. It had been awhile since we worked on knife skills, but they quickly caught on.

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We brought our cream to a bare simmer, poured it over the chopped chocolate, waited a few minutes, then stirred it together. Easy peasy.

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It was time to assemble the religuese.

I pulled out a batch of pastry cream that I had made the night before, and we filled up a piping bag.

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“Remember, don’t squeeze it from the middle!”

They each filled two choux shells, one large and one small.

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We took turns dunking the tops in the glossy ganache.

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Finally, they piped circles of whipped cream on top of the larger puffs, then set the smaller puffs on top.

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“Can I pipe a little hat?”

“They look like snowmen!”

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I wasn’t sure about a papal mitre or a nun, but I did see a happy little clown. Sadly, we had to eat him.

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All of the components for the religuese, except the whipped cream, can be made in advance.

Pâté  à Choux recipe (Bake two sizes)

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Ganache recipe  (We used equal parts of 60% chocolate and heavy cream, see recipe link for alternate percentages)

Pastry Cream

Yield 2 1/2 cups

2 c (16 oz)     Whole milk

1/4 t               Salt

4 T                 Cornstarch

1/2 c (4 oz)    Sugar

2                    Large eggs

4 T (2 oz)       Unsalted butter, cut into 1 T pieces

1 t                  Vanilla extract

Have a bowl ready for the finished pastry cream, with a mesh sieve resting on top. Place the milk and salt in a heavy saucepan and heat to just under a boil, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, whisk the cornstarch and sugar together, then add the eggs and whisk until smooth. Wrap a damp kitchen towel around the base of the bowl to keep it from sliding around. When the milk is ready, begin ladling the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. When about half of the milk has been incorporated, pour the egg-milk mixture back into the pot and continue whisking over medium heat until it just comes to a boil, (you will see some slow bubbles that do not stop after whisking). Immediately remove from heat and pour through the strainer into the bowl. If at this point the cream looks slightly curdled, an immersion blender or countertop blender can be used to smooth the texture. Let cool for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Whisk the butter into the pastry cream one tablespoon at a time, always whisking until smooth before the next addition. Whisk in the vanilla. Cover the custard with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap directly onto the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Cool completely before using. Do not whisk the cream once it has set to avoid breaking down the starch and thinning the custard. Pastry cream will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

When life hands you pits…make ice cream! (and a tart)

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“You want me to do what?”

My son was looking at me funny.

I repeated my request.

“I need you to take this hammer and smash open these apricot pits. We’re making ice cream.”

Hammer. Ice cream. My son was totally onboard with this. My daughter was wearing her concerned face.

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(Safety note: I did have him cover the pits with another towel as he whacked away at them to avoid flying pit-shrapnel.)

While my son continued cracking I explained, over the din, that stone fruits like peaches, plums, cherries, and apricots contain a small kernel within their seeds that the French call noyaux. They look like almonds and have an intense, bitter-almond perfume and flavor. Imagine store-bought almond extract minus the artificial undertones.

We broke a kernel in half and took a whiff.

“Ooh, that smells good!”

“Right?” I agreed. “Now imagine that in ice cream.”

Now for the intriguing part.

“Noyaux contain a very small amount of an enzyme which, when digested, becomes prussic acid (or hydrogen cyanide).”

“Is that bad?” my daughter asked.

“Well cyanide is poisonous, but unless you were planning on eating a ton of apricot kernels it won’t hurt you.”

In fact, cyanide does naturally occur in several foods: apples (in the pips), spinach, tapioca, soy, bamboo shoots, and all stone fruit pits.

“And anyway, we aren’t going to eat them. We’ll just steep them like tea leaves in our hot cream.”

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We gently warmed our cream and milk until just beginning to boil and added the noyaux. I covered the pan and we played Quirkle while the kernels steeped.

We tasted the cream every so often to make sure the flavor wasn’t getting too strong. It was to our liking at about the 90 minute mark.

We strained the noyaux and set the flavorful cream aside.

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The kids separated the eggs.

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They never seem to get bored with this process.

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The yolks went into a mixing bowl and I placed the whites in a container to freeze for a future recipe.

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They measured the sugar.

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And whisked both the sugar and salt into the egg yolks.

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Meanwhile, we reheated the aromatic milk and cream.

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I placed a damp towel on our work surface to anchor the bowl.

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When the cream had come to a boil, my son used a ladle to introduce the mixture, a little at a time, to the yolks in the bowl. My daughter whisked the two together as he ladled.

“Why do you think we couldn’t just add all the egg yolks directly to the pot?”

I explained that we needed to bring the eggs up to temperature gradually so that we didn’t inadvertently scramble them — a process called tempering.

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Once we had about half of our hot cream added to the yolks, we poured the contents of the bowl back into the pot.

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Over medium-low heat, the kids took turns stirring the mixture with a heat-proof spatula, making sure they scraped the bottom and edges of the pot.

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We took the mixture off the heat when we could feel it thickening and it coated the back of a spoon, (about 170 degrees on an instant read thermometer).

We immediately strained it into a clean bowl. The kids could see coagulated bits of egg white caught in the strainer.

“Egg whites cook at a lower temperature than egg yolks, which is why we need to strain the mixture again. You can never get all the whites out when you separate eggs, and the cooked whites would make our ice cream lumpy.”

They expressed their disapproval.

We set up an ice bath to cool the mixture quickly.

Now the hardest part — waiting. While the ice cream base was cool now, it would make much smoother ice cream if it was really and truly cold. The longer the ice cream takes to freeze, the larger the ice crystals will be in the final mix. If you start with a really cold base, your mix will take less time to freeze. Easy. Unless you are 7.

Noyaux ice cream is very tasty on its own, but what could make it better? I’m happy you asked…

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What could be better than pairing noyaux ice cream with the fruit it came from? And in the form of a warm and buttery pastry of course!

While we waited for the ice cream base to chill, we made pastry dough and rolled it out into a large circle.

The noyaux we had used earlier came from a container I keep in the freezer where we hoard our stone fruit pits. Now we could replenish those with new kernels from these babies:

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The apricots were on the riper side, so they would need something between them and the pastry dough to soak up all the juices they would release in the oven.

We ground together some blanched almonds, a bit of sugar, a touch of flour and a pinch of salt, and sprinkled that all over the dough circle.

The kids placed the apricots cut-side up in concentric circles on top of the almond mixture, leaving a border all around.

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They took turns pleating the dough. We weren’t concerned about spacing; they just folded the crust up and over the fruit where it seemed like a natural spot. Galettes are supposed to look rustic.

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They brushed the pastry dough with a little milk.

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Then sprinkled sugar all over the top of the galette.

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We popped the galette into a hot oven for about 50 minutes. The smell of hot apricots and butter does not suck.

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Later we topped slices of the rewarmed galette with scoops of noyaux ice cream. It was not even close to the pits.

Noyaux Ice Cream   makes about a quart

35 – 40 apricot pits

2 cups whole milk

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar

1/8 tsp salt

7 egg yolks

Cover the apricot pits with a towel and crack them open with a hammer. It doesn’t matter if you mash or break the kernels inside. Place the kernels in a pot with the cream and milk and heat to just boiling, taking care not to scorch the mixture. Remove from heat and cover to let the kernels steep. Check the mixture every 30 minutes or so until the flavor is strong enough. Strain the cream and set aside while you separate the eggs. Place the yolks in a bowl and whisk in the sugar and salt. Anchor the bowl to the work surface with a damp towel. Bring the infused cream back to a boil. Use a ladle to add some of the hot cream to the yolk mixture with one hand while whisking it together with the other. When you have incorporated about half of the hot milk, pour the mixture back into the pot and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until just beginning to thicken. It will coat the back of a spoon, (about 170 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.) Strain the mixture again. Chill completely and freeze according to your ice cream manufacturer’s instructions.

Apricot Galette   serves 8

pie pastry, (a little more than half of this recipe)

2 T blanched almonds

1 T flour

1 T sugar

pinch of salt

1 1/2 lbs of apricots

1/4 cup of sugar

Roll the pastry dough out to form a circle about 14″ in diameter and 1/8″ thick. Transfer the dough to a baking sheet and place in the refrigerator while you prepare the rest of the components. Grind the almonds, flour, sugar, and salt together, (I use an old coffee grinder for this. You can also just use almond meal in place of the almonds). Cut the apricots in quarters, removing the pits (save them!) Sprinkle the almond mixture over the dough, leaving about a 1 1/2″ border. Place the apricots, skin-side down, in concentric circles on top of the dough, fitting them snugly and leaving the border bare. Fold the dough up and over the galette, pleating it as you go. Brush the crust with a little milk and sprinkle the 1/4 cup of sugar over the fruit and crust. Bake in a 400 degree oven on the lowest rack, (use a pizza stone if you have one), for about 50 minutes. The crust should be nicely browned and slightly caramelized. Use a large spatula to transfer the galette to a wire rack to keep the crust from getting soggy. Cool for about 20 minutes before serving, or cool completely and rewarm before serving.

Multifunctional

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I couldn’t find more than four of my small tart rings.  They are probably buried in the backyard somewhere.  Or being used as some sort of contraption for Batman.  Or hidden somewhere with my brain.

Not looking forward to running out to the cooking supply store with two kids in tow, I was trying to think of any alternative when I remembered something I’d seen on Pinterest…canning jar lids as tart pans. Hooray for Pinterest!

This lesson was a departure from our previous projects as it was the first time we made two different pastry components which we then brought together to form frangipane and apple tartlets.

First up, the tart dough, also known as pate sucree.

We talked about the differences between pie dough and tart dough.  Typically, the first is flakey, and not overly sweet.  The latter is sturdier, (to stand unsupported by the pan), sweet, and crunchy or sugar cookie-like.

Now the ingredients are not wildly different in the two doughs; the primary distinction is how the butter is incorporated into the flour and to what degree.

Me: “Does anyone remember how we mixed our butter into our pie dough?”

“We cut it up into little squares?”

“Was it supposed to be cold?”

They recalled cutting the cold butter into the flour, and I reminded them that we did that to avoid completely mixing it into the dry ingredients.  Those chunky bits of butter gave us the flakiest dough.

I explained that tart dough is more like a cookie dough, so that is how we would mix it.  Just like our gingerbread cookie dough, we would start with room temperature butter which we would then cream together with the sugar.

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Me: “If we are using room temperature butter should we try to mix in a cold egg?”

“No!”

Flour was measured and added and, that was that.

Tart dough.  Easy peasy.

Again, just like our cookie dough, we would need to let this dough rest in the refrigerator for a couple of hours to let the flour absorb the liquid from the egg and allow the butter to firm up enough to roll out.

I had some dough already made and ready to go.  And roll they did.

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We worked on keeping our hands closer together to even out the pressure of the pin on the dough.

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And what to do if the dough started getting too long or misshapen in one spot: “Turn it!”

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As well as how to use small bits of dough to press into and patch the spots they weren’t happy with.

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We tried to roll “around the clock” to keep things somewhat circular.

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Once the dough was bigger than the tart ring, we gently picked it up and placed it over the top of the tin.  I showed them how to lift the outer edge of the dough and use their thumbs or fingers to ease it into the bottom contour of the lid.

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We didn’t worry about getting a perfect round, but aimed more for an even thickness.  At one point we even got something that resembled the continent of Africa, though there was some discussion about whether it looked more like Louisiana.

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Once the dough was settled nicely in the pan,

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we rolled the pin over the top to make a nice edge.

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Further refinements could be made once the extra dough was removed.

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The tartlet cases were then placed in the refrigerator to chill while we made our almond filling.

Frangipane, or almond cream as it is also known, is very versatile and besides being used for filling tarts, it can be swirled into a quick bread or pound cake, spread onto pastry or yeasted dough and rolled up cinnamon bun style, or even spooned over fruit in a dish and baked as is.  Another cheer for multifunctional items!

But back to the task at hand…

The first step required a food processor.  The kids were excited to see an actual piece of cooking equipment as up until then we’d mixed every other recipe by hand.

To avoid making almond butter, we ground the sliced almonds with a little bit of sugar, pulsing the blade until the nuts were a fine meal and beginning to climb the side of the bowl.

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We creamed room temperature butter with sugar and salt, then added our reserved almond mixture.

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Finally, the egg and vanilla were beat in with a tiny bit of milk.  We finished the filling about the time that the tartlet shells were sufficiently cold.

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The kids took turns scooping the frangipane into their shells, (yes I did label the bottoms so there wouldn’t be a question of which belonged to who!), not quite to the top of the pastry.

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They used a spoon to spread the frangipane over the tartlet cases while I sliced some apples.  We kept the slices together and just pushed them slightly forward to get a nice fan.  These were placed directly on top of the almond filling.

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We had extra frangipane, which they had ideas for…

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About 25 minutes later the small tarts emerged from the oven, slightly puffy and nicely browned.

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I warmed up a bit of apricot jam to glaze them with and removed them from the tins.

I think we even won over the “non-almond” person in the group.  There were only crumbs left on the plates.

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Sweet Tart Dough    yield: two 9″ tart shells or six 4″ tartlet shells

1/2 c + 1T unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 c granulated sugar

1/4 t salt

1 large egg, at room temperature

1 3/4 c all purpose-flour

Either by hand or using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar, and salt until smooth.  Mix in the egg.  Scrape the sides of the bowl, then add the flour all at once.  Mix until just incorporated.  Divide the dough as necessary and shape into a disk about 1/2″ thick.  Wrap well and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Let dough sit out of the refrigerator for a few minutes to take the chill off and become just malleable enough to roll.  Roll to 1/8″ thick and line tart pans. Patch as necessary.  Chill until firm, about 15 minutes.

Frangipane      yield: about 1 1/2 cups

1 c sliced almonds **

1/2 c granulated sugar

7 T unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/8 t salt

1 egg, at room temperature

1 T whole milk

1 t vanilla

In a food processor, grind 2 T of the sugar with the almonds until fine.  Set aside.

Either by hand or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with the remaining 6 T sugar and salt.  Add the almond mixture and beat until combined.  Add the egg, milk and vanilla and mix until light and fluffy.

** Alternately you can use purchased almond meal.  I chose to grind the almonds because commercial nut meals are more likely to have been processed on equipment also used for processing peanuts.  Just FYI for those with allergy considerations.  Also, grinding your own is a bit cheaper.

To assemble and bake the tarts:  heat oven to 350 degrees.  Spread frangipane over chilled tart shells.  Add fruit.  Bake 25 – 30 minutes or until nicely browned.

Small Pies for Small Fries

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Hand pies to be exact. And apple because Thanksgiving is coming up!

People love pie. However, the idea of baking a pie from start to finish makes many people anxious. One need only peruse the aisles of the grocery store for the evidence: multiple buying options for ready made crusts.

The kids found this funny, the notion that anyone would be hesitant to make pie dough. Five ingredients that they’d already manipulated in three other projects; this would be a piece of cake. Or pie, rather.

“The most important thing about making an all butter pie crust is to always keep the dough cold, but how can we keep it cold while we’re working with it?”

Kids reading recipe…

“Start with cold ingredients?”

Bingo.

I showed the kids how to cut the butter into cubes. First in thirds, lengthwise.

“Does everyone know what I mean by thirds?”

“In three pieces!”

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Then we rolled the whole cube of butter onto its side and repeated the process. This gave us nine skinny rods. Next, we cut the cube in half, crosswise.

“Anyone want to guess what I’ll get if I cut each half in thirds?”

“Six?”

“Yes, sixths!”

Now we had perfect little cubes to put in the freezer to chill while we measured out the other ingredients.

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A pitcher of cold water went into the refrigerator to chill down even further.

The kids measured the flour, salt, and sugar into a heavy, shallow bowl.

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I placed the pastry cutter on the table and somebody said, “oh we’re going to make it like we did the pumpkin cake.”

I explained that yes, we would be cutting the butter into our flour mixture, though not as thoroughly as in the last recipe. Our goal was to blend some of the butter in with the flour, keep some of the butter separate, in bigger pieces, and leave a bit of the dry ingredients uncoated by the fat.

The best way to achieve this is to keep the butter, you guessed it, cold.

I pointed out that if we took a long time to cut our butter in, there was a good chance it would start warming up. Not that I wanted them to move so fast that we had flour flying everywhere, but…

“Should we each take a quick turn then?”

They were all very agreeable to this and after I started the ball rolling, the kids each took a few passes with the pastry cutter before pushing the bowl towards their waiting neighbor.

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Luckily, most of the ingredients stayed in the bowl.

The whole process took just a few minutes and the butter stayed quite firm. I explained that if we could squish a piece of butter between our fingers without it leaving a melty residue, then we could keep going. If the butter had gotten soft at any point we would have needed to refrigerate the mixture for 10-15 minutes before moving on.

We took a look inside our bowl. There were three different things going on in there: coarse sand, slightly larger bits like lentils, and finally, bigger chunks, about the size of large peas.

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Time to mix in the water.

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Using a rubber spatula, I gently folded and pressed the ingredients together while each of the kids took turns dribbling in tablespoons of water.

We stopped adding water when large clumps of dough began to form, after about 6 tablespoons in all. They could see that there was almost no dry flour left in the bowl.

A few pushes of the hand was all it took to gather it into a ball.

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We could still see chunks of butter in the dough, exactly what we were going for. This went back into the fridge so we could ready the table for rolling out our crusts.

Why wouldn’t we want the butter to be fully mixed in?

We talked about the texture of pie dough.

“Is it crumbly and sandy like a shortbread cookie? Or is it flakey?”

Careful consideration…”flakey!”

We discussed gluten, and how it makes baked goods like bread chewy. We reviewed the ways to avoid activating the gluten in flour: by using a gentle hand in mixing, and by coating the flour with fat so that it doesn’t absorb water, which we did, partially. This keeps the crust tender. The little bit of flour that was left uncoated does mix with water to kind of glue the whole mess together. When the resulting dough is rolled out, the pea-sized chunks of butter get flattened out and sandwiched between the thin sheets of slightly glutenized dough. When the pie crust is placed in a hot oven, the water in the butter converts to steam and causes the dough to puff up. Flakes!

We divided our ball of dough in two and flattened each half into a disc. (These would normally be the top and bottom crusts). Then each disc was divided into four even pieces for a total of eight.

My five year old son: “Hey, this is math!”

We would need to take turns with the pin, so the portions we weren’t working with went back into the fridge. I know, I know, but we have to keep the dough cold so the butter never melts into the flour.

Onto rolling.

“Give yourself plenty of elbow room!”

I grabbed a handful of flour and flung it across the table, not just a little sprinkle of flour, but more like a spray, like rolling a pair of dice.

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The rounded portion of dough went on top of the flour and the top got dusted as well.

I showed them how to roll from the middle of the circle out, but not back and forth, and “around the clock”: 12, 2, 4, and so on. I slid my hand under the dough to make sure it wasn’t sticking and gave the dough a quarter turn.

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I explained that the flour acts like little ball bearings under the dough, so they should flour the table as needed. The bench scraper would come in handy in the event the dough did stick.

I reminded them to use the dry hand towel to wipe off any bits stuck to the rolling pin as they would encourage the dough to stick to it even more.

When my dough was about 1/8″ thick overall, I stopped rolling and encouraged the kids to try.

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We didn’t worry so much about getting a perfect circle, we just worked towards an even thickness.

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Any excess flour got brushed off with a dry pastry brush.

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We piled sliced, cinnamon-sugared apples onto the dough circles shapes, leaving enough space to fold it over onto itself.

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The kids squeezed and sealed the edges together, some even getting a bit fancy with the pleating.

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Once all the hand pies were placed on a sheet pan, we used a pastry brush dipped in milk to brush over the tops. A sprinkle of turbinado sugar would make the crust extra crackly.

A sharp knife was used to cut a few steam vents, and the whole tray went into a 400 degree oven.

About 25 minutes later we spoiled our dinners with warm apple pies.

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It was the quietest moment of the entire day.

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All Butter Pie Dough

2 cups all purpose flour
2 T sugar
¾ t sea salt
8 oz, (2 sticks) sweet butter
water
ice cubes

About ten minutes before mixing the dough, cube butter and place in freezer. Fill a measuring pitcher with 1 cup water (you won’t need it all, but it’s better to have more than enough ready), and place a few ice cubes in the pitcher, refrigerate while you measure the remaining ingredients. Place the flour, sugar and salt in a heavy, shallow bowl. Whisk to combine. Cut butter into flour with pastry cutter until largest chunks are no bigger than pea size. You are looking for a mixture of sand, small bits of flour and butter combined, and larger chunks of butter coated in flour. Check to make sure that the butter is still fairly firm. You should be able to squeeze a piece between your fingers and feel some resistance. If the butter is soft, place the bowl in the refrigerator for 10 – 15 minutes. Sprinkle ¼ c water over the flour mixture and toss together with a spatula. Add more water as needed, 1 T at a time. Stop adding when you see clumps of dough form, with little to no dry flour at the bottom of the bowl. The dough should just hold together in large clumps. Remove dough to a lightly floured board. Press dough together and divide in half. Form into rounds. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate if not using immediately, for up to 3 days.

Photo credits: 4, 7, 10, 12, 14-16 by Helena Ottoson

Cabbages and Cream Puffs

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Lesson 2: Pate a choux (paht ah shoo)

Literally translated it means cabbage paste. Sounds delicious doesn’t it?

Also known as choux, it is the crispy and slightly eggy pastry that plays a supporting role in all kinds of deliciousness.

I tell the kids the reason I want to teach them how to make it is because it is very versatile.  Like the brick in their lego sets, you can create lots of different things with it…cream filled puffs and eclairs, sugar topped or stuffed with ice cream and bathed in chocolate sauce; but it can also be piped and fried to make French crullers or beignets; made savory by adding cheese to make gougeres, or even boiled like dumplings to make Gnocchi Parisienne.

Fancy fancy, right?  I think mostly they hear “blah blah sugar, blah blah chocolate, blah blah ice cream.”

They will thank me later when they are in college and all they have in the apartment is a bit of flour, some eggs, and a lonely stick of butter.

So to the recipe we turn.  We quickly gather our mis en place and get down to business.

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We discuss why it’s important to measure liquid ingredients in a liquid measuring cup rather than a dry measuring cup…”because it will spill!”, and why you should always get down to eye level to measure the liquids accurately…”it looks like there’s too much!” from above.

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Then, a reminder of what the different measuring spoons mean…”1/4 means that four of these go into one of these.”

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And butter…”1/2 cup is always one stick, so if your recipe calls for 1 cup of butter you need what?”, “2!”

The water, milk, sugar, salt and butter all get dumped in the pot.

Then we get a bit messy with the flour.

This recipe calls for 1 cup, sifted, (which means measured first, then sifted). I wanted to show them that the best way to measure flour is not by scooping it with the measuring cup, (as most people do), but by placing the empty measuring cup down, then using another utensil to lightly fluff and lift out the flour, and add it to the waiting cup.  Finally, without tamping it down, just level it off with the straight edge of a knife, spoon, etc.

The theory is that no two people scoop with the same force and therefore, by measuring the first way, more often than not you will end up with more than the recipe requires.

In theory.

So I whip out my digital scale and ask one of the children to measure a cup of flour by the usual method.  Then I measure mine by this way more accurate method.  We weigh them, and…lo and behold they are exactly the same!

Um.

Ok!  So everybody is scooping and weighing and the kids are digging the scale and we have flour everywhere and nobody else comes up with exactly the same amount.

Aha! I. am. vindicated.

Back to it then.

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We sift to remove lumps. Don’t skip this step!

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Then the kids take turns cracking the eggs into a pitcher.

Only after all our ingredients are measured do we turn to the stove.  The contents of the pot are brought to a full boil and then, off the heat, we add the flour all at once, and stir rapidly with a wooden spoon.

“It looks like mashed potatoes!”

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It’s just like making play dough.

Everything goes back on the heat and cooked for another few minutes.  The pate a choux should be stirred until it comes away from the sides of the pot and forms a smooth, shiny mass, leaving a bit of film on the bottom of the pot.

What’s happening in there anyway?

I remind the kids that in our last lesson we kneaded our dough to activate and strengthen the gluten that provides the elastic structure needed to capture the carbon dioxide expelled by the yeast.  Think of it as an expanding balloon. Without that strong but stretchy exterior, the gas would just break through the dough and leave you with flat and heavy bread.

We are basically doing the same thing here, minus the yeast.  But, if we aren’t using yeast as leavening, what are we using to fill our “balloon”?

“What do you get when you heat water on the stove?”, I ask.  “Steam!”

This is where the eggs come in.  We dry the choux paste out on the stove so we can incorporate as many eggs as possible.  Not only will the protein from the eggs provide additional strength to the pastry, but when placed in a hot oven, the moisture from the eggs will create a burst of steam, resulting in a nice lofty puff.

Once the choux paste is sufficiently cooked on the stove, it should be transferred immediately to a bowl to cool for a few minutes.  The butter will seep out if left to sit in the hot pot.

Now comes the bicep workout.  This step could be done in a mixer with a paddle attachment, but I wanted the kids to be able to see the transformation of the pate a choux.  Also, I’m always looking for ways to wear them out.

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They take turns adding the eggs, one at a time, mixing each in completely before introducing the next.

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It sloshes around a bit, looks a bit, um, slimey, and gets a little more difficult with each addition, but eventually turns into a thick and supple mixture that forms a little peak when pulled up by the spoon.

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Now we are ready to form the puffs.

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The pate a choux gets scooped into a pastry bag and piped onto a parchment lined sheet pan.  (You could also use a heavy duty freezer bag with the corner cut off, or even dropped by the spoonful.  They won’t look as pretty but they’ll taste just as good.)

In order to help the kids pipe the choux puffs as close to the same size as possible, (they would finish baking at uneven times otherwise), I traced 1 1/2″ circles onto the backside of the parchment.  To keep the paper from sliding around, we “glue” it down with a little dab of choux paste between the parchment and pan in each corner.

It’s important to pipe as straight up as possible as the choux will want to expand in the direction it’s piped.

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I show them how to twist the bag at the level of the pate a choux, place that twist in the crook of their hand and apply pressure to the bag from there, not in the middle of the bag or risk choux paste coming out the top and bottom.

Then it’s just a continuous squeeze until the circle is nearly full and when it’s time to stop piping, a little swoosh of the tip in a “c” shape to break the tip away from the puff.  It also helps if you make a little “whoop” sound.

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Any “tails” or extra pointy parts are smoothed over with a slightly damp fingertip.

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A little time in a hot oven, and voila!

We rip one apart and see that there is a big space where the steam caused the choux to puff up and then baked off.

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The puffs need to cool for about 10 minutes before we fill them and dig in!

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So does it look like a little cabbage?

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Pate a choux

1/2 c water

1/2 c milk

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

1/2 c unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1 c flour, sifted

5 large eggs

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a heavy saucepan, combine the milk, water, salt, sugar and butter and place over medium heat until the butter melts and the mixture comes to a full boil. Add the flour all at once, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon. Keep stirring over medium heat until the mixture has formed a smooth mass and pulls away from the sides of the pan, about 3 – 5 minutes. A light film should form on the bottom of the pan, do not scrape it up.

Transfer to a heatproof mixing bowl or the bowl of a standing mixer and let sit for 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time and mix completely before adding the next. (Use the paddle attachment for a standing mixer). When all the eggs have been added, the mixture will be thick, smooth and shiny.

Transfer the choux paste to a pastry bag fitted with a ½ inch tip, adding only as much to the bag as is comfortable to work with. Pipe out rounds of pate a choux, spacing about 2 inches apart. Smooth over any “tails” with a damp fingertip.

Bake until puffed and starting to show some color, about 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees and continue to bake until the shells feel light for their size, about 12 minutes longer. They should be nicely browned and a skewer should come out clean. Remove from the oven and use the tip of a knife to poke a small hole in each to allow steam to escape. Cool completely before filling.

Makes about 30 medium size puffs

A note on filling:

You can split the puffs in half for easy filling or poke a hole in them and fill with the help of a piping bag, like so…

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You can fill the puffs with whatever strikes your fancy, classically it’s a combination of whipped cream and pastry cream.  If you decide to go that route you’ll need about 4 cups total in order to fill all the choux puffs.

I figure I can incorporate a lesson on pastry cream into the next baking series, in custards, or even an “amazing egg” sort of unit.  That could be fun.