Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Devil is in the Details

Gougères, hot out of the oven and in front of my lens!

There are few things more annoying in the home kitchen than a baking recipe that has either left out a key ingredient or has botched quantities so profoundly as to make the project irretrievable. Yet as a writer, I accept that no matter how much you copy edit, typos will happen. Perhaps, then, the greater sin are intentional, idiotic, and unnecessary complexities often built into baking instructions that are calculated to made to make the author seem like un chef extraordinaire. Highfalutin' pastry chefs, are the most notorious offenders.

A favorite recipe for gougères taken from Wine Spectator put me in mind of this fact. You can't get the text of the recipe from the magazine's web site, but this location copies it verbatim, idiosyncrasies and idiocies intact.

First off, let me say that when the quantity of flour listed hits the prescribed amount of wet ingredients, a dough ball will form immediately. There is no need to "wait until the dough pulls from the sides" while stirring over medium heat. Did anyone even try to make this recipe? The quantities are right, and the gougères turn out wonderful, but please.

Of course, if you bake said gougères as instructed, you will have a batch of underdone soggy cheese pastry lumps. But at least you can be comforted by knowing that you performed the meaningless task of rotating the tray after 5 minutes of baking. That way you can just admit to everyone that your modest little abode's cheap consumer-grade oven must heat unevenly and you can let the vast majority of your 400 degree heat escape. OR you could just bake them for 16 minutes like you would for something pedestrian like, say, cookies, and they will turn out perfectly. I'm guessing that I've missed the true significance of the baking instructions, but we're hard-headed down here in fly-over country.

Amidst all of the fluff in this article and recipe, they manage to leave out something useful: pipe the batter onto the sheet in a swirl, not unlike a softserve ice cream cone - it will give the pastry a little more loft. Last time I checked, loft is what you want in a puff pastry. 

For those who are interested, a few modifications will make this recipe turn out wonderfully. And this is not a terribly difficult thing to make, so don't be at all hesitant to try it out. I can't wait to try filling these. I think some variant of our cheeseball with a little dab of tapenade would be fantastic. Maybe sardine paté? Who knows?

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