- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 26, 2006

By now, you may have a freezer full of leftover turkey, ham, whatever, and no will to eat it — but there is an old-fashioned recycler that is perfect for just such a situation.

It’s called pate a choux — cream-puff dough — and the French have had a love affair with it for centuries. It’s a little tricky to make, but with the miracle of food science, I can help you through the steps.

Ordinarily, you don’t think of pate a choux as the perfect foil for savory leftovers, but it can be magical. The crispy crown can elevate even boring leftovers to something special.

If you make it into gougere by adding Gruyere cheese, it plays particularly well against many of the leftovers we have lurking in our freezers.

Similar to popovers, cream-puff dough gets a wonderful rise from steam that is contained by a strong-egg-and gluten dough. What do you need to produce steam? You need liquid and heat.

It’s also useful to start with warmed eggs and milk, which create a warm batter. When the batter is warm and the pan and oven are hot, the resulting popovers or cream puffs will be sky-high. Also helpful is starting with a high-protein bread flour so that you have a good, strong gluten network to contain the steam.

To make cream puffs using a standard recipe, you bring a cup of water with a stick of butter to a boil, dump in a cup of flour and stir like crazy. You need to add the flour all at once so that a good bit of it gets through the melted butter layer and down to the water to form gluten.

In addition to using high-protein Pillsbury bread flour, I use a little less butter (6 tablespoons instead of the 8 tablespoons called for in many recipes) to ensure good gluten formation. I also use two egg whites in place of one whole egg for a crisper, not gooey-in-the-center, puff. Egg whites are incredible drying and puffing agents.

It used to be that all ovens heated from the bottom. All we had to do was start the oven at a lower temperature and turn it up when the dish went in. Now, however, ovens heat up quickly, and the heat is distributed all over the place.

A baking or pizza stone placed in the lower third of the oven can smooth out some of these problems. The preheated stone provides a good, hot surface for heating the dough fast, and it does not fluctuate in temperature as the oven cycles, yielding a more even heat.

The stone also makes it possible to bake without burning the bottom of the dough in the lower third of the oven, away from the heated top, which can quickly set the dough and hold down the puff.

Preheat the stone at a higher oven temperature than that called for in the recipe. Then, when you are ready to bake, turn down the oven to the prescribed temperature, place the pan on the hot stone and leave the oven door open for 30 seconds to cool the oven a little.

The oven temperature drops when the door is open, while the stone stays hot. The result is a hot surface that prompts dough rising while the oven itself is not so hot that immediate crusting occurs.

Most of us do not have steam ovens like restaurants use, but Peter Nyberg, a top sourdough baker, taught me to make a good steamer by placing a few small (about 2-inch) clean rocks in a pan with sides. Place this pan on the oven floor near the door before the oven is preheated.

Place the baking dish or pan on the hot baking stone and then pour about 2 cups of boiling water over the hot rocks in the pan. This will create the steam that will prompt a better rise.

For a magnificent puffed cheese ring , try the recipe that follows. Or simply make cheesy gougere, which are great with just about anything.

Gougere ring with turkey or other leftovers

Water

Nonstick cooking spray

recipe dough from gougere recipe (which follows)

1 large egg, beaten

Have ready a spritzer filled with water. Place saucepan containing about 2 cups water on stove and bring to a low simmer.

Place a pizza or baking stone or a heavy baking sheet on shelf in lower third of oven and preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place a few clean 2-inch rocks in a pan with 2-inch sides and place pan on floor of oven near door.

(You are going to pour boiling water over the rocks just after you place dough in oven. This will create steam that helps keep the oven moist for a little while and allows the puffs to rise well before they crust.)

Place a 10-inch metal or heatproof au gratin casserole in preheating oven for several minutes to warm. Remove heated casserole and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Also spray a spoon and clean fingers with nonstick cooking spray and spoon balls of dough around edge of casserole dish, about 3/4-inch apart, to make puffs about 2 inches in diameter and 1 inches high. (Or pipe the puffs from a large pastry bag with a -inch fluted or plain pastry tip.)

Lightly glaze tops of puffs with beaten egg. With spritzer, spray puffs fairly heavily with water. Place casserole in preheated 450-degree oven on hot stone.

Leave oven door open for at least 30 seconds and mist sides of oven with water. Pour simmering water into pan with hot rocks. Close oven door and turn temperature down to 425 degrees. Do not open oven door during baking.

Bake until puffs have risen and are well browned, about 25 minutes for a regular oven, about 15 to 20 minutes for a convection oven. Turn oven temperature down to 325 degrees and bake for another 20 minutes (10 minutes in a convection) to dry out well. Set gougere ring aside until needed.

FILLING:

1 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoons canola oil

teaspoon dried thyme or 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

1 bay leaf

1 medium onion chopped (about 1 cup)

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 kiwi, peeled and chopped

1 ripe Golden Delicious apple, peeled, cored and chopped in 1/4-inch dice

1 teaspoon dried chicken bouillon

2 tablespoons flour

1 cup chicken stock, divided

1 teaspoon B-V the Beefer-Upper or Maggi seasoning sauce (see note)

2 to 3 cups coarsely chopped cooked leftover turkey, ham or whatever

1/4 cup chopped parsley

4 scallions, chopped

In a large skillet, melt butter with oil, thyme and bay leaf. Add onion and saute briefly. Turn heat down to low and simmer for another 8 minutes, or until very soft. Turn heat up to lightly brown onion, then stir in Worcestershire, kiwi and apple.

Turn heat to medium and allow it to simmer several minutes, stirring regularly, until apple softens. Stir in dried bouillon, then sprinkle flour over and stir to combine.

Add about 1/3 cup chicken stock and stir well. Add B-V or Maggi seasoning and then remaining stock. Keep at a low simmer, stirring constantly, until sauce thickens to a gravy consistency. Remove and discard bay leaf.

When the gougere ring is baked and you are ready to serve, reheat sauce, stir in turkey, ham or whatever, and bring back to a simmer. Pour into gougere ring, garnish with parsley and scallion and serve hot. Serves 4 to 6.

Note: B-V the Beefer-Upper and Maggi seasoning sauce are both available by mail order on the Web.

Gougere

Water

5 eggs (you will use 2 whites and 3 whole eggs)

11/4 cups bread flour

1/4 teaspoon sugar

teaspoon dry mustard

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 cup whole milk or half-and-half

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

teaspoon sea salt

1/4 cups Gruyere cheese, grated

cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Nonstick cooking spray

1 large egg, beaten for glaze, optional

A spritzer filled with water.

Place saucepan containing about 2 cups water on stove and bring to a low simmer.

Place a pizza or baking stone or a heavy baking sheet on shelf in lower third of oven and preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place a few clean (2-inch) rocks in a pan with 2-inch sides and place pan on floor of oven near door.

(You are going to pour boiling water over the rocks just after you place dough in oven. This will create steam that helps keep oven moist for a little while and allows puffs to rise well before they crust.)

Place eggs in shells in a bowl and cover with hot faucet water to warm. As you get other things ready, pour off the water, which will have cooled, and cover eggs again with hot tap water.

Place baking sheet to be used for gougere in oven. Separate 2 eggs. Reserve egg whites. In a medium bowl, stir together flour, sugar, mustard, cayenne and nutmeg. In medium heavy saucepan over high heat, bring 3/4 cup water, milk or half-and-half, butter and salt to a boil.

Dump in flour mixture all at once and immediately stir vigorously. This will make a dough ball that pulls away from the pan. Keep dough over heat and turn down to medium. (The dough ball needs to dry out as much as possible without burning.)

Lift ball and then smear it onto bottom of pan. Do this pulling of the dough together, then smearing dough onto the bottom for about 2 minutes.

Dump dough into food processor with steel blade. Run processor 3 or 4 seconds. With the processor running, add 1 whole egg. Wait 1 or 2 seconds until it has been absorbed, then add the next egg and process and then the third egg and process.

Add one of the 2 egg whites. Stop processor and spoon up a scoop of dough. Dough should be firm enough to hold its shape when spooned up. If it looks like it needs a little more liquid, add some or all of remaining egg white. Add cheeses and process just to blend.

Spray hot baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Spray your clean fingers and a spoon with nonstick cooking spray, then spoon rounds of dough about 1 inches wide and about 1 inch high on the sheet. Or, you can put the dough into a large pastry bag fitted with a -inch round or fluted pastry tip. Fill the bag only half full and twist the top to squeeze and pipe the puffs.

If desired, touch a brush just to the tops of each puff with a beaten egg glaze. With the spritzer, spray the puffs fairly heavily with water.

Place pan in oven on the hot stone. Leave oven door open for at least 30 seconds and mist sides of oven. Pour simmering water into pan containing hot rocks. Close oven door and turn oven temperature down to 425 degrees.

Bake until puffs are risen and well browned, about 25 minutes for a regular oven, about 15 to 20 minutes for a convection oven. Do not open oven door during baking. Turn oven down to 325 degrees and bake for another 20 minutes (10 minutes convection) to dry out well.

Gougere can be served right away or cooled completely. Store sealed in plastic bags or boxes and freeze for up to 2 months. Reheat and crisp for about 10 minutes in a 325-degree oven before serving. Makes about 30 puffs.

Shirley O. Corriher is author of “CookWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking” (William Morrow).

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