Monday, February 10, 2014

Cécile’s Pâte à Choux and Easy Mushroom Pâté

Better than any meat pâté you've ever had!

I have been told by quite a few people that I'm a very brave aspiring chef, because apparently I've been taking on recipes that they wouldn't have considered trying if you paid them to do it. I guess it's true that I've tried a lot of unusual things since starting this blog, especially considering before I got the idea for it, I barely felt comfortable cooking pasta unassisted, let alone tackling things like making my own bagels or soups.

But the thing is? I don't feel especially brave most of the time in the kitchen. Most of the time, I feel completely in over my head. It works out more often than it doesn't, but sometimes I realize that just because a recipe seemed straightforward enough when I read it doesn't mean it's actually going to be all that straightforward to do.

This post is a little bit of both. One of the elements was basically totally stress free, while the other was pretty frustrating and had I not already been cooking almost all day long, I would, I might have tried to start it over. Which one is which? You'll just have to read on to find out.

I stumbled upon this recipe for Pâte à Choux on tumblr and thought it sounded pretty tasty on its own. When I saw that it t also included a link to a recipe for easy mushroom pâté, I knew we had to give this a shot, especially because both recipes promised to be pretty easy even for an inexperienced or unenthusiastic cook.

French cuisine is widely considered to be the best in the world, and I like to think of Cécile as my inspiration for venturing into that territory. I can't say I'm actually much of a fan of classic French food, and I have to admit, a lot of the dishes do intimidate me a little, if only because a lot of French dishes are famous (or infamous) for being complicated, difficult to get right and extremely classy when they are done well, and for someone who tends to like things like baked potatoes and chili, it's kind of out of even my comfort zone. I remember watching an episode of the Madeline TV series when I was younger where the girls all took cooking classes, and everyone was devastated when their souffles didn't rise and generally didn't get anything right. And that folks is generally what I associate cooking French cuisine with.

Anyway, despite all that, I figured the Pâte à Choux (or floofy cheese puffs) wouldn't be that complicated. It certainly didn't sound fussier than some of the other breads and baked goods I've done! So I headed in with confidence - boosted by the dozens of positive reviews of the recipe - and got right to the dirty work.

I'm going to say right off the bat that I'm pretty sure this is where things went awry, and yes, at this point I'll admit that this was the recipe that went a little wrong, as I'm sure anyone who clicked the link to the cheese puffs realized when they saw mine looked more like crackers than beautiful cream puffs.

I'm not entirely sure where things went wrong. Some people recommended chilling the dough before piping it, but I wonder if I just didn't cook off enough of the liquid while it was on the stove. I tried adding some flour to get it firmer, and it helped a little, but as you'll see, my dough kind of just turned into a shapeless puddle on the baking sheets.

Cooking these was a bit of a pain, and it was a good thing that we weren't using the oven for anything else at this point. They need to cook for ten minutes at one cook time and then get transferred to another oven. Fortunately, mine did puff up quite a bit during their time in the first oven, but 

While we fed batch after batch of the puffs into the ovens, we got to work on the pâté.

This was a much easier recipe, and I was really pleased with the resulting dish. I'm pretty sure everyone else did, too! Anything that requires tossing in a pan, stirring occasionally and then it's basically ready to serve is a great thing in my book, and this did not disappoint, even if the onions and mushrooms took longer to brown than the recipe said it would.

Stick an immersion blender in there (much more reliable than our food processor right now...), and you've got a delicious pâté to enjoy in about twenty minutes!

The cheese poofs were still a little disappointing, especially because it took some trial and error to figure out how long to leave them in the oven since they weren't really the right size or shape for the original cooking time. The first batch came out pretty crispy, while the other two were a lot lighter and fluffier, even if in general they felt more like crackers than light, airy cheese poofs.

Still, there was kind of a popover quality to them which was nice, and I think next time, I'd put more cheese in them. It was more of a faint hint than a strong flavor, and once you put the pâté on the poof, you basically couldn't taste the cheese at all.

Not that this was necessarily a bad thing, because the big hit here was obviously the pâté. I say obviously not only because it was by far the less painless of the two recipes to make, but also because my brother was literally licking the dish we put it in. It was incredibly tasty with a really pleasant acidity to it, and I've already got a lot of requests to make it again, and soon!  Considering it was so painless to make, I am more than happy to follow through on that. It's a great option if you're ever looking for a vegetarian or vegan spread to serve at a party, although the resulting amount is definitely a little modest if you're looking for something to feed a large crowd.

The reaction to the pâte à choux was a lot more modest, and I do think that has a lot to do with the fact that they weren't really authentic pâte à choux, more like sad attempts at getting the pastry right. I've been encouraged to just make the pâté again because the poofs were such a pain to make, but I liked them enough that I'd really like to figure out where exactly things went wrong. Maybe I should have chilled the dough a bit? Maybe I over mixed it in the stand mixer? Maybe I didn't let enough of the water cook off on the stove?

I don't know, and I'm definitely looking to figure out what it is. I might not be as fearless as some of my taste testers and fans seem to think I am, but I definitely want to try and learn from my mistakes when I can, and the deflated puffs were still tasty enough to make me think they deserve a second chance.

After all, if at first you don't succeed...

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