I remember it like it was yesterday. I had been on hold for almost twenty minutes with a certain shipping company who will remain nameless. At the exact moment the agent came on the line, my two year old stood up and started the show that only occurs when I talk on the phone. He started shaking the maraca, jumping up and down singing Jingle Bells at the top of his lungs. I didn’t even know he had heard the song, let alone memorized it.
A couple days later, he informed me it was Christmas day. It was still November, and it occurred to me that if he was already anticipating the holidays at two years old, then he was certainly old enough to get in on a bit of holiday cooking action. So in the hustle and bustle, pull the kids into the kitchen. Give them an apron, a hand wash, and one more reason to love the holidays. Depending on the age of the kids in your life, some might need more help than others, so I’ll leave that up to you.
There are plenty of complex and difficult pastry recipes and techniques out there. Lucky for us, pâte à choux dough isn’t one of them. The first time I made this dough was in culinary school. I was a nervous cook back then (2003), having only cooked at home from the pages of magazines and from tv shows when I managed to scribble down the ingredients in a notebook.
At school, I expected the actual cooking to be the hard part. But I had to first get past the culinary vocabulary before I could get to the actual task at hand. My first instructor, a stern Swiss Chef would yell things like
“Class: You have one hour. Gather a rondeau, two third pans, one half hotel pan, one bain marie, glacés à brun a six pan of cippolinis, and I want 100 each perfectly tourned potatoes and carrots. I’m going to check your stations in ten minutes. Why are you staring at me…GO!”
HA HA HA. I can totally picture my face. I was probably frantically trying to remember what a rondeau was and didn’t even hear the rest. Don’t feel too bad for me. This is what I get for going to culinary school before working in an actual restaurant.
So when we learned to make pâte à choux it was a wonderful moment of relief. When making a batch, the dough naturally breaks and then comes back together with the addition of each egg. So in the span of a couple of minutes (or four eggs), something broken comes together four times. In the midst of so much newness, it was an incredibly satisfying recipe to learn. It would take years for me to learn the incredible range of this dough, but at the time it was perfect in its simplicity.
I mean, how often do you get to watch something break and then come together better than before, a glossy golden dough ready to be made into all sorts of delightful things like gougeres, eclairs, profiteroles (cream puffs), beignets, cakes, gnocchi, and honestly I have even made a killer sandwich from a split open eclair. Best of all, it is straightforward and easy to make.
Over Christmas I had an awesome afternoon with my nieces Anja, Calla, and Brynn making this dough. These girls are so fun and totally rocked it in the kitchen. They made an entire dinner for our family in Minnesota and most of the courses used pâte à choux! They made parmesan gougeres for an appetizer, gnocchi for the main course, and profiteroles and eclairs for dessert. I think we made eight batches of the dough in total and by the end they were each making their own batches and had the ingredients memorized. The day also happened to fall on my birthday (Dec. 28), so it was pretty much the best birthday ever.
I thought the best way to dig into this dough, is to start at the beginning of a meal with a beautiful canape (bite sized appetizer). These are particularly awesome right out of the oven and are equally at home being served at the beginning of a dinner party or in the middle of cozy afternoon.
1 c. water 1 stick of unsalted butter (4 oz) 1 c. AP flour 4 eggs pinch of salt and pepper pinch of nutmeg 1 c. shredded gruyere cheese
Preheat oven to 400 f.
line a sheet tray with a silpat or parchment paper (not wax paper! I recently learned the hard way when I grabbed a box quickly without looking)
In a medium saucepan bring water, butter, and salt to a boil over medium heat.
Add flour and stir with a wooden spoon until dough comes away from the sides of the pan, about 30 seconds.
Take the pan off of heat and add eggs one at a time, stirring until each egg is completely incorporated into the dough before adding the next one. This is when you will notice the dough will appear to “break”. Just keep stirring and before you know it, all will be well again and you will be ready to add the next egg.
Stir in a pinch of pepper, nutmeg, and cheese.
Use a spatula to transfer the dough to a piping bag. (you can even use a freezer bag with a corner snipped off). You are looking for about a ½” tip or opening.
Pipe tablespoon size rounds (think 1”x1”) onto the sheet tray about 2 inches apart. There is a little bit of technique to give the gougères their round shape. I have a few tips for this:
keep your pastry bag still when piping out the dough and keep the tip almost touching the sheet tray for each one.
to make a clean break between the pastry bag and your piped gougere, instead of pulling up, make a quick and confident swipe to the side. This will leave a little mountain looking peak.
After you’ve piped the entire tray, dip your finger in a little water and gently pat down the peak of each gougères.
Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until they are golden brown and nicely puffed up. Remove from the oven, and serve immediately.
To serve later, prick a hole in them with the tip of a sharp knife to allow the steam to escape. This will keep them crispy.
Component in Action
perfect just as is for a delicious canape
slice in half and make mini ham,swiss and dijon sandwiches
pipe into the side some softened fresh herb cream cheese
This is our second holiday season in San Diego and while the weather is vacation worthy year round, I still miss the beautiful snowfalls of the Midwest. Lately I’ve been trying to make these December evenings as cozy as possible. As soon as the sun sets, or as my two year old likes to say, “look mama the night time is coming!”, I turn on some holiday music (my favorite is The Carpenters Christmas album), light the pinon scented incense and candles, and plug in the twinkle lights. I must say it’s working. By the time Saturday rolls around, we are so happy it’s the weekend. Hans is a loyal fan of Swedish pancakes (as any Swedish boy from Minnesota should be), but I couldn’t resist bringing a bit of gingerbread fluffyness to our weekend.
This recipe is from a little book called Cinnamon Mornings that I picked up one summer at the Printers Row Bookfair in Chicago. The book is a collection of breakfast & brunch recipes from B&B’s and Inns from around the country. This recipe is courtesy of the Hersey House in Ashland, Oregon. It also must be said, that Hans and I met just a mountain drive away from Ashland, Oregon, so for many reasons, this is now a breakfast keeper in our house.
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
5 t. baking powder
1 1/2 t. kosher salt
1 t. baking soda
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. ginger
1/4 c. molasses
2 c. milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
6 T. butter, melted
Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, and spices.
Combine molasses, milk and eggs in a bowl.
Stir in melted butter to the egg mixture.
Add molasses mixture to dry ingredients.
Stir only until everything is combined.
Cook on a hot griddle, using 1/4 c. batter for each pancake.
Component in Action
pecans, walnut, almonds
real maple syrup
warm maple syrup with orange zest and/or vanilla bean
From the outside, this Italian condiment looks super simple, and it is a snap to make. But make no mistake, this little recipe packs a big punch.. Garlic, lemon, and parsley are the three pillars of this classic component meant for rich braised dishes like osso bucco.
What makes gremolata so spectacular is the herby freshness of the parsley, the spicy zip of the garlic, and the bright and bitter pop of the lemon zest. This trifecta of flavor compliments a variety of dishes.
Usually, the garlic, lemon and parsley are finely chopped together. Here, I add a bit of olive oil to turn this from sprinkle to drizzle. Feel free to find the texture you like best. You could also swap out the parsley for other greens like basil or tarragon.
(also known as beurre noisette or hazelnut butter)
There are few flavors as decadent and comforting as brown butter. As long as you have some butter, heat, and a pan, this beauty is always just a few minutes within reach.
Here’s the thing. I recommend reading this recipe (and all recipes) in its entirety before starting. From brown butter to burned butter is a fine line. My first times making brown butter, I erred on the light side in fear of burning it, but after a few times I got familiar with the color stages and learned I could go a little longer before pulling the pan off the heat. It’s one of the magical moments in cooking, like watching a time lapsed flower bloom. But it’s in your kitchen! Happening right before your eyes and in only a few minutes your house is going to smell insanely delicious.
There are time in life where a specific taste launches you back in time, flooding your heart and mind with memories. Watermelon blow pops remind me of road trips, Constant Comment tea reminds me of my mom, sister, and cold Ohio winters, and Meat Pie reminds me of Grandma Mary.
This is her recipe. She would make one for me on my birthday. Years later with a single bite, I can remember every detail like it was yesterday; the flaky crust holding layers of sliced salami, ham and cheese, her beautifully wrinkled hands holding the white box tied with red and white butcher string, and her aquamarine ring sparkling in sunlight as she presented me this treasured gift.
Now, each year on River’s Birthday, I make a Meat Pie. I feel so many memories and so much love in the simple act of making it. I feel so happy that this family tradition hasn’t been lost. I wonder if someday he will want to learn how to make the pie with me, someday passing this on to his children, making memories and traditions of their own.
This is a perfect example of how food transforms into so much more than just a piece of pie on a plate. You probably have your own Meat Pie’s in your mind, those dishes that remind you of people, places, and moments in time.
You will notice this recipe calls for store bought pie dough. In this instance, I allow memory to trump technique and don’t waste a single minute feeling bad about it. Here it is, Meat Pie exactly like Grandma used to make it.
I should also mention that this pie is decadent and delicious served warm, but Grandma would serve it cold and at this temperature it tastes amazing and slices beautifully. We like to eat it cold for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It is also super convenient on the go in a packed lunch, maybe with a little Dijon mustard on the side.