Sunday, February 14, 2016

Week 7 - Air

When the Week 7 challenge popped up as air, I was completely confused about what to make. What could I make that would "incorporate air" in the recipe? I didn't want to make a soufflé or whip up a cream or a mousse, and I didn't have any special equipment to "incorporate air." Eventually I started to think about what foods felt "airy" to me and the one that came to mind was gougères, these French cheese puffs that we love. First of all, they're puffs. Second, after reading through recipes for making a soufflé, if those methods were considered as incorporating air, then gougères should qualify too.

I stayed pretty close to the recipe for gougères I found on Bon Appetit, figuring that precise measurements might be needed to make sure they puffed up correctly. The ingredients were:

- 6 tbsp unsalted butter ($1.20)
- a few pinches of kosher salt ($0.05)
- a pinch of nutmeg ($0.05)
- 1 cup water ($0)
- 1.5 cups of flour ($0.16)
- 4 large eggs ($0.68)
- 1.5 cups of grated gruyere-cheddar blend ($2.25)
- a few grinds of black pepper ($0.05)
- 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tsp water ($0.17)

The total cost of the gougères was approximately $4.61. Combine that with the estimated costs of the other parts of dinner (brussels sprouts, $2.79, mustard sauce for brussels sprouts, $1, salmon, $4.50, marinade and seasonings for salmon, $1), and the total was approximately $14. Since it was ridiculously cold outside (wind chills in the negative single digits) on A's birthday, we made this as a special dinner for his birthday. As a result, cost didn't matter so much, but it was still not too bad for a meal including fish.

We also stuck relatively closely to the steps for making the gougères from the Bon Appetit recipe, and did it together, as in some parts it seemed like it would be helpful to have 4 hands instead of 2. The steps were:

1. Preheat oven to 400. (Easy!)

2. Put butter, salt, nutmeg, and the cup of water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir until butter is melted and remove from heat. (I kept shifting the pot back and forth from burner to burner to remove from heat. It was helpful that we weren't cooking anything else.)

3. Add the flour and stir to combine. Cook the flour mixture over medium heat and stir "vigorously" until the mixture "pulls away from sides of pan and forms a ball." (The recipe said 2 minutes, but this happened very, very quickly for us. However, it didn't really turn into a single ball at any point like I was envisioning. It did look like dough though!)

4. Continue to cook, "stirring vigorously" until there is a dry film on the pan and the dough isn't sticky. (This was supposed to be another 2 minutes. I did stir it but the more vigorously I stirred it, the more it seemed to break up, so I don't think I stirred it that vigorously.)

5. Remove from heat and let dough cool for about 2 minutes.

6. Add whole eggs one at a time and incorporate fully. (This was where it was helpful to have 2 people, so A broke and added the eggs and I stirred it. It did not mix very well, so by the last egg, I gave up and kneaded it with my hands instead, which worked better but it really stuck to my fingers.)

7. Add cheese and pepper and mix in.

8. Add dough to a piping bag with a 1/2 inch round tip, and pipe rounds about 1 inch in size onto parchment lined baking sheets. (A did this part, because he's more into piping than I am. We ended up doing 2 baking sessions as they were definitely not all going to fit on 2 baking sheets.)

9. Whisk an egg yolk with a tsp of water, and then brush the puffs with egg wash.

10. Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, and they're done when they look golden and sound hollow when you tap them. (They really did!)

After we pulled the gougères out of the oven, it was time for the moment of truth. Would they be light and airy? Would they be good? Luckily, they were. The texture was pretty much exactly what we remembered from the gougères we've had at restaurants. That made us pretty happy - the experiment was a success! As far as flavor, they were pretty good, but not as much cheese flavor as the restaurant ones. Perhaps I needed to use a stronger cheese than the gruyere-cheddar melange (but that made such good toasties!) or maybe just more of it. They were still good, but they could have been cheesier. They definitely puffed up with big pockets of air inside like gougères should have, so air challenge complete!

Since we were going French for the gougères, I decided to make a French style baked salmon, marinating the fish in some olive oil and herbs de provence, and then baking it at 275 degrees in some more olive oil for 24 minutes (a bit too long). To balance out the meal with some vegetables, I just sauteed some shaved brussels sprouts with a mustard sauce based on the one from the potatoes we made a couple of years back (with whole grain mustard, olive oil, lemon juice, lemon pepper blend, oregano, garlic powder). We also had an unplanned "amuse" of some fried egg whites since we didn't want the egg whites from the egg wash yolk to go to waste.

We ate a lot of gougères as we waited for everything else to cook (it was kind of hard to get everything done at once when we needed to bake at 2 different temperatures and only have 1 oven), and they were pretty filling. They're pretty addictive, light and fluffy and airy. We were pretty happy with the results of this challenge.

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