My ‘Piña Colada’ Escargots

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Pineapple and coconut is one of my favourite combinations. Last year we went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, where I practically lived off piña coladas for four days! I’ve wanted to attempt a Vasseur-style escargot ever since I first set foot in Du Pain et Des Idées – I’m proud to say that this version is my very own creation. Since I’ve never actually made an escargot or pain au raisin before, these were a little experimental to say the least.

I decided on a croissant dough – Philippe Conticini’s croissant dough to be precise. Most pain au raisins contain a hidden crème patissière, so I searched for a simple coconut custard recipe. As for the pineapple…..a compote made with fresh pineapple, desiccated coconut and a splash of rum. Then finally, to give them a shiny finish, a Malibu sugar syrup. All the recipes are in fact Conticini’s…..sorry to be predictable, but it just so happened that he had an answer for everything I was looking for. I cooked the pineapple compote for a little longer than his recipe suggested because I wanted it very dry (I was worried that a wet compote would lead to soggy pastries). What I was left with was stickier and sweeter than Conticini himself probably intended, but it worked perfectly with the buttery dough. As soon as the escargots came out the oven, I brushed them with the Malibu syrup to give them a lasting shine. The Malibu’s optional of course – you could just make a plain syrup with sugar and water.

If you fancy attempting these, then I’d suggest starting the day before you want to serve them. On the first day make the croissant dough, pineapple compote and coconut custard, then all you have to do on the following morning is assemble the escargots before leaving them to rise…..and remember, you’re using croissant dough so they’ll need at least 2.5 hours to rise. The following recipes work together almost perfectly, i.e. one quantity of each recipe below will make approximately 16-20 large escargots, with no leftovers (although I will confess to eating a few spoonfuls of pineapple compote whilst working)…..

Step 1 – the croissant dough:

340g plain flour
10g fresh yeast
335g unsalted butter (at room temperature)
8g fine salt
55g caster sugar
40ml water
40ml semi-skimmed milk

For the ‘poolisch’:
90g plain flour
20g fresh yeast
80ml semi-skimmed milk

Prepare the ‘poolisch’…..
– in a small bowl, mix the flour with the yeast
– add the milk then stir vigorously with a whisk to form a smooth paste
– cover the bowl with cling film and leave to rise for 1-1.5 hours (it will start to bubble)

Prepare the dough…..
– add the yeast to the bowl of an electric mixer, followed by the water and milk (at blood temperature). Cover with the flour, salt, sugar and 85g of the butter (softened slightly), then add the finished poolisch
– mix at low speed until the dough comes together, then at medium speed for a following 5 minutes (to start working the gluten). Transfer the dough to a clean bowl, cover tightly with cling film and leave to rise at room temperature for 1.5 hours (or until it has doubled in size)
– knock back slightly before forming into a neat ball. Wrap the ball of dough in film and chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours
– place the remaining 250g butter between two sheets of baking paper. Use a rolling pin to work the butter into an exact square measuring 15cm x 15cm x 1cm-thick. Store in the fridge until ready to use
– roll the chilled dough into a rectangle 60cm x 20cm. Place the butter-block in the centre, then fold the two edges towards the centre of the butter, overlapping the edges of dough just slightly
– roll the package into a rectangle 60cm x 20cm. Letter-fold the rectangle, then rotate by 90°. Place the dough onto a paper-lined tray, wrap tightly and rest in the fridge for at least 1 hour
– REPEAT THE LETTER-FOLD STEP TWO MORE TIMES, leaving the dough to rest in the fridge for at least 1 hour between each roll and fold

…..once you’ve got to this point the hard part’s over, and you can safely leave your finished croissant dough (well wrapped up in film) in the fridge to rest while you tackle the compote and custard.

Step 2 – the pineapple compote:

370g fresh pineapple
270g coconut purée
40g desiccated coconut
100g caster sugar
15g lemon juice
25g rum

– peel the pineapple and remove the core, then cut into small dice (of about 0.5cm)
– in a saucepan, mix together the remaining ingredients with the diced pineapple. Cook over a medium-low heat for about 1.5 hours, stirring from time to time
– when the compote is just starting to catch the bottom of the saucepan (i.e. has become very dry), remove from the heat and leave to cool completely

Step 3 – the coconut custard:

100g semi-skimmed milk
100g coconut purée
1 level soup-spoon plain flour
1 level soup-spoon cornflour
30g demerara sugar
2 egg yolks
15g unsalted butter

– bring the milk to the boil with the coconut purée, then remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 30 minutes
– whisk together the egg yolks and brown sugar, then add the flour and maizena – mix well until smooth and homogenous
– bring the milk to the boil again, then add half to the egg yolks and sugar – whisk well before adding to the remaining milk in the saucepan
– bring the custard to the boil, then cook for 2-3 minutes over a high heat, whisking continuously – remove from the heat when thick, then beat in the butter (cut into small pieces)
– pour the hot custard out onto a tray and cover the surface with cling film to prevent a skin forming – leave to cool completely in the fridge, then transfer to a piping bag

Step 4 – assembling the escargots:

Important stuff you’ll need…..
– a rolling pin (obviously) and a little flour for dusting
– a palette knife (for spreading the compote)
– a blunt(ish) knife (for cutting the escargots from the roll)
– two large baking trays lined with parchment paper
– one lightly beaten egg for ‘glueing’ the edge of the escargot roll, and for glazing the risen pastries before baking

Before you start rolling, give the pineapple compote a quick soften in the microwave – this will make spreading it across the dough much easier. I’d also suggest cutting your rectangle of croissant dough in half – return one piece to the fridge whilst you work with the other.

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Dust the work surface very lightly with flour, and try to work as quickly as possible – remember that the warmer the dough gets, the more sticky (and therefore annoying) it will become. Roll the dough (the half batch) into a rectangle – 20cm x 25cm. Arrange the rectangle so that the shorter side (20cm) sits parallel to the edge of the work surface (you’re going to roll-up the escargot sausage starting at this side). Now to pile on the filling – start with two generous spoonfuls of compote and spread it around as evenly as possible, dragging it right to the edges so that every escargot gets a good portion. Follow suit with the coconut crème patissière, although go for a slightly lighter covering, otherwise it’ll ooze out all over the place later.

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Starting at the edge closest to you, roll the dough up into a pineapple/coconut sausage. If some of the filling oozes out at the end, just scrape it off and set aside for the next roll, then brush the final edge with a little beaten egg just to help seal the seam. When you’re happy that the sausage is as evenly shaped and as tight as possible, take a large knife and cut each escargot off at 2cm intervals (to keep the pastries neat and tidy, wipe your knife between each cut).

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Once you’ve successfully rolled, stuffed and cut both batches of dough, carefully transfer the finished escargots onto your prepared baking trays, leaving a good gap between each one. Very lightly cover them with cling film and leave them AT ROOM TEMPERATURE for at least 2.5 hours – the dough should rise by about 80% it’s original size. This part’s easy for me because there’s always something to do in a professional kitchen, but if you have an impatient nature, you may want to leave the house for a while. Do set a timer though, otherwise you might return to find pineapple compote on the ceiling.

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They start to look impressive once they’ve risen, as all the layers in the dough suddenly become visible. Once you’re confident they’re ready to go, gently remove the cling film and brush them with beaten egg (just to give the dough a golden colour in the oven). I cooked them at 200°C for about 8 minutes, but the oven I use at work is very powerful – if you’re using a domestic model they may need a little longer. I also put an empty tray into the oven whilst it was pre-heating, into which I tipped some cold water when the escargots went in. This trick creates some steam, which is useful during the first few minutes as it will help keep the dough soft, allowing the pastries to expand more freely.

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Whilst the escargots are baking, attack the Malibu syrup:

10g Malibu
20g water
30g caster sugar

…..simply tip all the ingredients into a small casserole and stir together over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat and boil for 2-3 minutes, then leave to cool slightly. Transfer the cooked escargots to a wire rack to cool, then paint them liberally with the syrup. If you can wait any longer, they’re better eaten when cold.

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Doughnut Day!

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So I finally got around to making doughnuts! I think it was my recent trip to London that inspired me…..mum treated me to lunch at St. John Bread and Wine in Spitalfields, where I spent too much time admiring the doughnut display. Last year whilst in NYC, Adam (my partner in crime) and I went on a doughnut hunt. Looking back I’m not really sure why…..we wanted to sample the best deep-fried dough the city had to offer, and we must have been hungry I guess. It was a well planned adventure…..we even installed the ‘Yelp’ app just to help us on our way. OK so we took it too far, but we did uncover some beauties. From sugar-coated jam and custard-filled fatties to traditional iced US ‘donuts’…..we even managed to find the holes on sale! My personal favourite…..the ‘crème brûlée’ – a rich yeasted doughnut stuffed with vanilla crème patissière and topped with brûléed sugar.

If you’re looking for a good doughnut in the UK, I’d recommend heading straight to Justin Gellatly’s doorstep at either St. John Bakery or St. John Bread and Wine (all addresses below). I took this doughnut recipe from Fergus Henderson’s “Nose to Tail Eating”, in which you can also find several basic recipes for custard fillings.

So for 25 large doughnuts you’ll need…..

500g strong white flour
65g caster sugar (plus extra for coating afterwards)
10g salt
15g fresh yeast
4 large eggs
Grated zest of 1 lemon
155ml water
125g softened unsalted butter
A large pot of sunflower/vegetable oil for deep-frying

1. Place all the ingredients except the butter and oil into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment – mix together on medium speed for 6 minutes, then scrape down the sides of the bowl
2. Start adding the butter (about 20g at a time) whilst mixing on medium speed again – once all the butter is incorporated, keep mixing for 6-8 minutes until the dough looks smooth, glossy and elastic (NOTE: the recipe states that at this point the dough should start to ‘come away from the sides of the bowl’…..mine did not, and was in fact very wet and sticky at this stage…..but have no fear and just plough on)
3. Transfer the dough to a large bowl and cover with a tea towel or cling film – leave to rise for 2-3 hours in a warm place until doubled in size, then knock back the dough (give it a few soft punches, then shape it back into a neat ball)
4. Re-film the bowl of dough and rest in the fridge for at least 4 hours or overnight
5. Once chilled, cut the dough into 25 pieces and roll them into smooth balls – place on floured baking sheets (or even better, trays lined with baking paper…..I’ll explain why later) leaving about 5cm between each one – cover very lightly with cling film and leave to prove at room temperature for 2-3 hours…..they should double in size
6. Heat the sunflower/vegetable oil to 190°C (too hot and the doughnuts will burn; too cool and they will absorb the oil, making them greasy)
7. Fry the doughnuts in batches of 3 or 4 at a time, until golden brown (about 2 minutes on each side) – drain the doughnuts one by one on kitchen paper before tossing in caster sugar (put a decent amount of caster sugar into a large mixing bowl then you can really roll them around in it)

NOTE: getting the doughnuts into the hot oil can be a tricky business, but I’ll let you in on a little secret – if you leave the doughnuts to prove on baking paper, you don’t even have to lift them off. Using scissors, cut around each doughnut and lift the baking paper (doughnut-attached) up and into the oil. As soon as the dough starts to cook the paper will slide away easily…..genius! I’ve included a photo of this step below just in case you’re confused.

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…..the proving stage

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…..the frying stage (notice the baking paper floating in the hot oil)

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So finally to the really messy stage…..the filling. If you’re making doughnuts in a rush and need something quick and easy, then I’d suggest buying a good quality jam and using that…..could be any flavour…..the traditionalist in you might lean towards strawberry, but why not blueberry or black currant?? However, if you’re not a fan of getting your hands sticky, and/or opening a jar of jam just doesn’t suit your ambitious side, then attempt one of the recipes I’ve included below. Once again these have been taken from “Nose to Tail Eating”…..a book I’d highly recommend if you’re into old fashioned English puddings. Both recipes make enough to fill 25 doughnuts.

Chocolate Custard:

1 litre full-fat milk
12 large egg yolks
130g caster sugar
65g plain flour
200g dark chocolate, finely chopped
250ml lightly whipped cream

1. Bring the milk to the boil and whisk together the egg yolks and sugar
2. Sift the flour into the egg yolks and whisk well to combine
3. Pour the boiling milk over the egg mixture, whisking constantly
4. Tip the mixture into a saucepan and slowly bring to the boil, whisking occasionally – once boiling, whisk continuously for about 5 minutes, until very thick and smooth
5. Strain the custard through a fine sieve into a heatproof bowl – add the chocolate and whisk it into the hot custard until fully incorporated
6. Cover the surface with cling film to prevent a skin forming, leave to cool then chill
7. Once completely cold, gently fold in the whipped cream

Apple and Cinnamon:

8 large Bramley apples, peeled, cored and cut into small pieces
200g soft light brown sugar
50ml water
1 cinnamon stick
Juice and finely grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)

1. Place the apples, sugar, water and cinnamon stick in a saucepan and set it over a low heat
2. Cook for 5 minutes, then add the lemon juice and zest
3. Cook for another 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the apples have collapsed into a purée
4. If you’re using the mixture to fill doughnuts, add the ground cinnamon to the sugar for dusting the doughnuts after frying them

Once your filling’s finished, transfer it to a piping bag and make the holes in your doughnuts. Do this by inserting a small knife through the crust, then give it a slight wiggle until the hole is large enough to accommodate the tip of the piping bag. There’s no rule against overfilling…..the more you can get in there the better really, so load them up! You might find some of the custard oozes out a little…..just have a mouth on standby. And don’t forget, eat the doughnuts hole-first…..or perhaps wear a bib.

Our top NYC picks:

Dunkin’ Donuts (all over Manhattan)
You can’t pretend to know anything about the American donut if you’ve never sampled a ‘Dunkin’. Sticky, incredibly sweet yet satisfyingly soft, they’re almost impossible to resist. And the toppings, oh boy there are toppings…..glazed, frosted, powdered sugar, cinnamon, blueberry cake, jelly…..the list just keeps going! The really fun part is choosing the filling. How about ‘apple n spice’ or ‘cocoa coconut’ or even (my personal favourite) ‘dulce de leche’! The ‘reverse Boston kreme donut’ sounds really interesting…..I’ll be having that one next time. You can even wash all this American goodness down with a flavoured coffee, another of the chain’s specialties.

The Donut Pub, 203 West 14th street
Apparently there are several different ways of making a donut. Some bakers choose to roll the dough into a sheet, then simply stamp out rings ‘cookie-cutter-style’, whereas others prefer to roll the dough into balls and then make the holes by gently poking a finger through. I’m not sure which method is considered more traditional…..but I like the idea of putting the scraps to good use, especially if they taste just as good. They do exactly this at ‘The Donut Pub’ – not only were the donuts we sampled fantastic, the holes (available by the dozen) made a perfect, if slightly addictive afternoon snack. I guess they’re the closest American alternative to the French chouquette…..a little heavier maybe, but just as satisfying, especially when eaten straight from the greasy paper bag. They were even available in different flavours…..we tried cinnamon, plain sugared and ‘apple cake’.

Sullivan Street Bakery, 533 West 47th street
So this is probably the trendiest of all three, not to mention the only proper bakery, i.e. they make good bread here too. Ever heard of bombolini? Well we were told this was the place to go for a good bombolone! Bombolini are Italian filled doughnuts, and the Sullivan Street’s signature dessert – they make them with vanilla and fresh lemon zest, then stuff them with either fresh jam or vanilla bean custard. They’re much like a traditional British doughnut, although they tend to be filled from the top rather than injected from the side. They were very light and fluffy in the middle, and the fillings were pretty good too. If you decide to visit, try out one of the ciabattas or flatbreads while you’re at it.

A British Easter in Paris

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So would you believe it, I finally won the Frenchies over! Even my Chef, who admits to having no sweet tooth, managed to put two of these away before Saturday night service. The recipe below is actually a combination of two, both Paul Hollywood – one directly from his book ‘100 Great Breads’, the other taken from the Radio Times (thanks for saving it mum). I think the only reason the latter caught her eye is because it suggests using fresh and tinned fruit as opposed to just dried. I still used candied orange and sultanas, but the addition of some fresh apple gave the buns a little extra life and softness. I have to admit I began to doubt the recipe a little when I started folding the fruit through the dough, as it seemed like far too much…..but I suppose that’s how they should be…..heaving with fruit! They certainly had a satisfactory bulge about them when I tucked them away to rise.

Tip: don’t leave too much of a gap between the buns on the baking tray – once the dough has risen they should have spread and joined together. Ideal for tearing and sharing!

500g strong white flour, plus extra for dusting
10g salt
75g caster sugar
50g fresh yeast
40g unsalted butter, softened
2 medium eggs, beaten
120ml warm full-fat milk
120ml cool water
150g sultanas
80g chopped mixed peel
Finely grated zest of 2 oranges
1 dessert apple, cored and diced
2 tsp ground cinnamon
60g apricot jam, warmed

For the crosses:
200ml water
200g flour
2 medium eggs

Put the flour into a large mixing bowl. Add the salt and sugar to one side of the bowl and the yeast to the other. Add the butter, eggs, milk and half the water and turn the mixture round with your fingers. Continue to add the water a little at a time, until you’ve picked up all the flour from the sides of the bowl. You may not need to add all the water, or you may need to add a little more – you want dough that is soft, but not soggy. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and begin to knead. Keep kneading for 5-10 minutes. Work through the initial wet stage until the dough starts to form a soft, smooth skin. When the dough feels smooth and silky, put it into a lightly oiled large bowl. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise until doubled in size – at least 1 hour.

Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and scatter the sultanas, mixed peel, orange zest, apple and cinnamon on top. Knead in until evenly incorporated. Cover and leave to rise for a further hour.

Fold the dough inwards repeatedly until all the air is knocked out. Divide into 12 pieces and roll into balls – try to get them as tight and as smooth and possible. Place fairly close together on baking trays lined with parchment. Lightly cover each tray with cling film and leave to rest for 1 hour or until the dough has at least doubled in size and springs back quickly if you prod it lightly with your finger. Meanwhile heat your oven to 200°C.

For the crosses, mix the flour, water and eggs to a paste. Using a piping bag fitted with a fine nozzle pipe crosses on the buns. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Warm the apricot jam with a splash of water, sieve and brush over the tops of the warm buns to glaze. Cool on a wire rack.

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Even though they line the supermarket shelves at Easter, it’s definitely worth making your own I’d say, and as this particular recipe impressed even my French colleagues, I feel pretty confident in recommending it. I will warn you, this recipe (if you follow his instructions and divide the dough into 12) makes some BIG buns. You could probably stretch it to 20 smaller, more manageable buns if you prefer ‘petit’…..but I wouldn’t worry too much about having leftovers anyway….. Another note, piping the crosses was a little tricky (even for me, and I’m pretty proud of my piping skills) – the mixture was just too runny. I would suggest either reducing the quantity of water, or forgetting the egg whites and instead adding the yolks only. Happy Easter!