Recipe Review: Thomas Keller Bouchon Cream Puffs


Cream puffs are light and airy pastries that puff and rise in the absence of any agents such as baking powder or yeast.  They are made from a classic French pastry dough, pate a choux.  Water and butter are brought to a simmer, then flour is added to form a thick paste.  Eggs are then added to the dough, which can then be piped into various shapes, such as cream puffs or eclairs.  The dough’s water content forms steam which creates air pockets and rise in the pastry when baked.

Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel’s recipe for pate a choux has no sugar in it.  Instead, an ingenious “cookie” made of flour, brown sugar, butter, and almond meal is placed on top of the pate a choux, which bakes on top and forms a sweet, crunchy crust.  I had a little bit of trouble with the cookie crumbling when I tried to cut out rounds, but it didn’t matter too much.  The cookbook recommends piping the dough into silicone mold half-spheres to make perfectly uniform shapes, but I simply piped them onto a Silpat, per the suggestion of The Food Groupie Club blog site.

The cream puffs were delicious and airy with the sweet crunchy cookie crust.  They can be filled with ice cream or Thomas Keller’s pastry cream.  The puffs are best eaten soon after baking, because they soften by the next day.

One does need a pastry piping kit to pipe out the pate a choux and the pastry cream, such as this set made by Wilton.

Level of difficulty: difficult (easier than the Bouchon Pain au Chocolat and Pain aux Raisins)

Cost: about $10-15 for 24 puffs

Deliciousness: delicious (4 of 5 stars)

Healthy: no

Make again: yes

As I make more recipes from Bouchon Bakery cookbook, I have found that this book basically gives you perfect recipes for classic french pastries.  Link to Bouchon Bakery cookbook here.

Recipe Review: Thomas Keller Bouchon Pain au Chocolat, Pain aux Raisins

Pain au chocolat

Pain au chocolat

Pain aux raisins

Pain aux raisins

Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery cookbook has an amazing, meticulous recipe for croissant dough, which can be used for classic French pastries: traditional croissants, pain au chocolat (chocolate croissants), and pain aux raisins.  This is a weekend project, and I literally mean the whole weekend.  I complained about the meticulousness of some recipes in this book in a previous post, but I actually really appreciated the level of precision in the recipe for the croissant dough.  Everything worked out exactly as described, and it would have been frustrating to put in all that work and have something not turn out correctly.  Case in point: rolling out the croissant dough to 19 x 9 inches, so that one could trim the edges for a 17.5 x 8 rectangle that could then be divided into ten equal rectangles for the chocolate croissants.  Also, the trimmings made a nice bonus traditional croissant.

Thomas Keller recipes often have one or two ingredients that are quite specialized, which makes for quite the scavenger hunt.  For the croissant dough, a small amount of diastatic malt powder is added to the dough.  Malt powder comes from malted barley and contains the sugar maltose.  Diastatic refers to the presence of enzymes such as amylase, which are preserved if the malting process is performed below a certain temperature.  The presence of maltose and the enzymes works together with the yeast to make the dough more complex and also contributes to the color.  Diastatic malt powder is not available at Safeway, Whole Foods, Draeger’s, Berkeley Bowl, Bi-Rite Grocery, or Rainbow Grocery in the Bay Area.  Dry malt extract, found in home-brewing supply stores, I am pretty sure is not correct.  I found “malt powder” in a Korean grocery store in Santa Clara, but I have no idea whether it is diastatic or non-diastatic.  Regardless, the pastries turned out great using this malt powder.  I found Bird’s brand custard powder, used to make pastry cream, at The Milk Pail in Mountain View.  Finally, chocolate batons or chocolate pieces used for the chocolate croissants can be found at Spun Sugar in Berkeley.  I think everything could be found on-line, but what’s the fun in that?

The croissant dough starts with a poolish, a yeast, water, and flour mixture that ferments overnight and is used as a starter for the croissant dough.  The croissant dough contains flour, water, sugar, salt, butter, and the poolish.  A stand mixer with a dough hook attachment makes kneading the dough easy.  The dough rises for about an hour.  Then a 330 gm (11.6 oz) block of European-style butter is enrobed in the dough and then laminated several times (rolled out and folded over itself to create layers).  This takes a lot of time and work, because the dough has to be put in the freezer after each fold to keep the butter cold, and the cold dough is a bit difficult to roll.  One can then use the dough right away, but I kept mine in the refrigerator overnight.  I used half of the dough to make the pain aux raisins, and half to make the pain au chocolat.  To make the pain aux raisins, there are two sub-recipes, Rum-soaked Raisins and Pastry Cream.  Rum-soaked raisins are easy – raisins are soaked overnight in simple syrup and a splash of rum (actually, 30 gm to be more precise).  The pastry cream uses egg yolks, vanilla bean, whole milk, and custard powder and requires constant attention over low-heat for the thickening process.

The croissants had shatteringly crispy outer flaky layers, and were buttery, rich, and delicious.  Pretty much perfect versions of pain au chocolat and pain aux raisins, fresh out of the oven were incredible.  I might have liked a little more pastry cream in the pain aux raisins, but this is a minor complaint.

Cost: about $20 for 10 chocolate croissants and 10 pain aux raisins.  This includes ingredients that were used in limited amounts, like the diastatic malt powder (3 gm or about one teaspoon), custard powder, and chocolate batons.

Time: minimum time 22 hours.  Mine took about 34 hours from start to finish with active time of about 7-8 hours.

Level of difficulty: Thomas Keller.  I have a new scale for level of difficulty: easy, moderate, difficult, and “Thomas Keller”

Deliciousness: incredible (4.5 out of 5 stars)

Healthy: no

Make again: although the pastries were really good, this is probably a one-off due to the amount of time required.

Link to Bouchon Bakery cookbook here.

Cookbook Review: Bouchon Bakery Cookbook (and 100th post!)

Chocolate Bouchons

Chocolate Bouchons

Thomas Keller is chef-owner of a number of high-end restaurants including the French Laundry in Yountville, CA and Per Se in New York City.  He started the Bouchon Bakery to supply his restaurants as well as the public with delicious breads and pastries, and there are locations in Yountville, New York, Las Vegas, and Beverly Hills.  The Bouchon Bakery in Yountville is one of my favorite bakeries, so I had been eagerly anticipating this cookbook.  His previous cookbooks, like the French Laundry cookbook, are classics known for their high attention to detail.  The Bouchon Bakery cookbook is a massive 400 page tome written in that same tradition that provides his, along with pastry chef Sebastien Rouxel, approach to French pastries and bread-making.

The level of detail is incredible, and one can really learn how things are prepared at a high-end bakery.  I enjoyed learning about the many tips for how things are done at Bouchon Bakery.  For example, allowing muffin batter to rest in the refrigerator for 36 hours for the flour to absorb moisture.  The downside is that baking muffins takes two days, instead of, say one and a half hours.

However the level of precision can also be a source of frustration.  Eggs are given in volume or weight measurements; instead of a recipe calling for one egg, it might call for 75 gm or 1/4 cup + 3 Tbsp, preferably strained through a fine mesh strainer.  FYI, one extra large egg is approximately 50 – 54 gm.  When it gets really frustrating is when a recipe like the Oatmeal Raisin Cookie calls for 62 gm of egg, or just a little more than one egg.  Who would crack another egg just to get that extra 8 – 12 gm?  Well, me, but still – why did the authors not scale the recipe for just one egg?  I know baking is precise, but I wish the recipes were adjusted to be a little more practical.  And this was just the first, supposedly easiest recipe in the book.

The recipes also use vanilla paste, which is more of a syrup flecked with vanilla bean seeds and is not carried by typical grocery stores but can be found on-line or at Williams-Sonoma.  It is not really explained why vanilla paste is used rather than the more available vanilla extract.  It would have been helpful to provide a conversion.  As an aside, a lot of specialty items required in the book are sold at Williams-Sonoma including molds to make treats like madeleines and bouchons.  There is definitely some sort of corporate synergy strategy between Thomas Keller and Williams-Sonoma.

The Chocolate Bouchons are tiny chocolate cakes in the shape of a cork and are Thomas Keller’s take on brownies.  These are excellent and pretty easy.  I have made this recipe twice, first using Trader Joe’s Cocoa Powder and the second time using the recommended Cacao Rouge by Guittard (available at Spun Sugar in Berkeley for readers in the Bay Area), and I preferred the Guittard version.  To get the right shape one needs the special silicon mold, but a 2-3 ounce ramekin would probably work as well.

The Madeleines are light and airy cakes made in special molds that reminded me of ones served at bakeries in Paris.

The Chocolate Cherry Scones were a big hit and relatively easy to make.  The recipe is pretty straightforward scone recipe that incorporates chocolate chips and dried tart cherries, which can be found at Trader Joe’s.  The dried cherries are macerated for several hours in a simple sugar syrup with vanilla bean.  Then the macerating syrup is used to make an icing.  Nice technique, and easy to do.

For the very patient and resourceful baker, the Bouchon Bakery cookbook is very comprehensive, a great reference, and produces delicious baked goods.  I look forward to attempting (and tasting) some of the more challenging recipes in the book.  Definitely recommended.

Link to Bouchon Bakery cookbook here.

This is my 100th post.  Thanks to all readers and subscribers for stopping by!

Coming soon…

Bouchon Bakery in Yountville, CA (with branches in New York and Las Vegas) owned by Thomas Keller, is one of my favorite bakeries (along with Tartine and Sand Box in San Francisco; Bakesale Betty in Oakland; Flour, Clear Flour Bread, and Mike’s Pastries in Boston; and of course Momofuku Milk Bar in New York).  Bouchon Bakery makes perfect versions of classic French pastries and refined versions of American classics like ho-hos.  I have been there twice, and both times I told the person at the counter, I am going to need a bigger box…

October 23, 2012…just in time for Christmas or a belated birthday gift (hint, hint)…I will definitely be making recipes from this book when it arrives!

Link to Michael Ruhlman’s website about the making of the book here.

Restaurant Review: ad hoc/addendum

ad hoc is chef Thomas Keller’s “casual” restaurant in Yountville, Napa Valley, CA.  Easier to get into and less expensive than Chef Keller’s other restaurants like The French Laundry or Bouchon, nevertheless the food at ad hoc is still prepared at a very high level.  Each night there is a single set menu that is served family style, often featuring vegetables from the French Laundry gardens.  The dinner starts with some delicious freshly baked bread and butter.  The menu on the night that I went started with a Salad of Baby Mixed Greens with red radishes, sweet onions, fatted calf salami, castelvetrano olives, sliced almonds, buttermilk dressing.  The main course was an Herb Crusted Lamb Sirloin, served with smashed fingerling potatoes, ramp leaf puree, pickled bulbs, sautéed asparagus with mix mushroom ragu.  The lamb was perfectly done and the crispy potatoes were great.  The highlight of the menu was the supplemental course of Crisp Pork Belly, haricots verts, yellow wax beans tomato marmalade.  Crisp.  Pork.  Belly.  This was followed by a cheese course of Pantaleo, a goat milk cheese from Sardinia, Italy, an interesting fennel & celery agradolce, and herbed walnuts.  Dessert was Ginger Pain Perdu, toasted coconut ice cream, caramelized bananas.  The brioche was toasted beautifully with a hint of ginger, complemented by a salty caramel sauce with the bananas and ice cream.  $52 for dinner, plus $14 for the supplemental course, and $34 for wine pairing.

addendum is a beautifully landscaped picnic area behind ad hoc where they serve box lunches on Thursday-Sunday, with a choice of either buttermilk fried chicken or barbecue.  The fried chicken was delicious – three pieces of brined chicken with a perfect crunchy crust.  This was served with a buttery rich, delicious piece of cornbread, swiss chard with bacon lardons and potato salad.  Dessert was purposefully underdone chocolate chip cookies.  addendum is a really nice place to have a weekend lunch in Napa Valley.  $16.50 for box lunch, $5 for dessert.

Link to the beautiful ad hoc cookbook here.

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