Sunday, March 29, 2009

Pièce Montée

I love April!
It means the temperatures are getting warmer (although not so much here on the Cape!), crocuses are popping out everywhere, soccer season is beginning, with car travels all over the South Coast of Massachusetts...
But more important it is my birthday!!! Well... OK, I am getting less and less excited about it as the years are piling up!

Happy April Fools Day everyone!!

Speaking of birthdays, we just celebrated my friend Nicole's! This one was calling for an extreme dessert: a "Pièce Montée".

It took me a while as I was not aware of certain "tricks". But now that I know how to, I'll share with you!

Pièce Montée

1 recipe Pate a Choux

Crème Pâtissière:
1.5 l milk
2 vanilla beans
3 eggs
6 yolks
225 g sugar
250 g flour
100 g butter

500 g sugar cubes
1 l water
1 Tbsp lemon juice

Prepare the puffs:
In a heavy saucepan, heat the water with the butter, salt and sugar. Bring to a boil. When the butter is all melted, add the flour in the sauce pan, all at once. Mix well with a wooden spoon and "dry" the batter. Turn the heat off and let cool a bit. (if batter is too hot when you add the eggs, the eggs will cook). When batter has cooled, add the eggs one at a time, mixing with the wooden spoon. See notes.
As you add the eggs, the batter will separate. It will come back together when the egg is fully incorporated.

Heat the oven at 200ºc (390ºF).
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

With 2 teaspoons, make the puffs by dropping the batter onto the cookie sheet.
Bake for about 30 mn, decreasing the oven temperature toward the end. They have to be nice and dry.
Take out of the oven and let cool. Repeat until all the batter is gone.

Keep in air tight containers.

Prepare the cream:
Boil the milk with the vanilla bean (cut lengthwise and scraped).
In the bowl of an electric mixer, mix the eggs and the sugar until light and fluffy.
Add the flour and then the milk, a little at a time.
Transfer back to saucepan and cook until first bubble. turn the heat off.
Add the butter. When it has melted, set aside and refrigerate.

Fill in the puffs:
Cut a small hole at the bottom of each puff.
Fit a pastry bag with a small attachment and fill with cream.
Fill the puffs through the small hole and set aside.

Prepare the caramel:
Add half the sugar and half the water, and a bit of lemon juice in a heavy saucepan and cook on medium heat until caramel turns color and becomes a light brown. Do not mix during cooking.

Dip one side of each puff in the caramel and set aside. This is the glaze.

Using the remaining sugar, water and lemon juice, prepare another caramel. This one will be used as the "glue" that keeps the Pièce Montée together.

Dip each puff one at a time in the second caramel and place on serving dish , dipped side down, forming a circle (about 7 inches in diameter). This will be the base of the pyramid. Repeat, "gluing" puffs on top of each other, making the circle slightly smaller with each row, until pyramid is finished. You will probably have puffs left over.

Sprinkle leftover caramel around the pyramid, making strings.

The Pièce Montée is ready!!!

Make sure you let the flour mixture cool completely before adding the eggs. If the bottom of the pan is even just slightly warm to the touch, it needs to cool more. Otherwise the "pate a choux" might be too runny.

If you made the puffs a day ahead, reheat slightly and cool before filling. Chances are that the puffs will have softened during the night and will need to be dried before use.

For the caramel. the trick to avoid it to harden too fast is to take it off the heat as soon as it changes color. When too hard, reheat on top of a double broiler and it should melt and be usable again.

Note: Should you have too many puffs, you can freeze then and use them later!!!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Beef Chili

All right! We have finally made it to March and got a tease of Spring! On Friday we managed to get outside without a jacket. We celebrated Nicole's birthday and my contribution to the evening was dessert, a Piece Montee made of cream-filled puffs and caramel.

Meanwhile, in Paris, my friends are having a nice Saturday lunch out on the deck! Just wait!

Wait for...? Winter to be back! More snow and ice, one snow day, and temperatures below freezing. And so, to avoid complete depression, I reverted once more to comfort food: a Chili!

Beef Chili

3 lbs ground beef
2 large red bell peppers, chopped
2 medium onions, chopped
2 carrots, diced
2 celery sticks, diced
1/4 cup chili powder
4 Tbsp Paprika
2 tsp Cayenne pepper
2 Tbsp dried oregano
Salt and Pepper to taste
2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
2 small cans of beans, your choice
2 large cans of peeled tomatoes

Shredded cheese (cheddar, Monterey Jack...)
Creme fraiche
Fresh Cilantro

In a large skillet, saute the onions, the peppers, carrots and celery until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.

In the same skillet, saute the ground beef until cooked, crumbling the meat with a wooden spatula, about 8 minutes.

Add the spices and mix well. Add salt and pepper. Add cocoa powder. Mix well.

Return the vegetables to the skillet, add the beans and the caned tomatoes.

Cook on low heat for about 40 minutes so that the flavors have time to blend.
Serve in a soup bowl with a dollop of Creme Fraiche, some shredded cheese and a sprinkle for cilantro.