Monday, 24 January 2011

Béchamel, Attempt 2 (Successful); Meringue, Attempt 1 (Not so much)

It's a bit difficult to spend time plating and taking photos while having hungry guests, so this was all tastier than this photo leads you to believe...

This evening, I set out to master my béchamel/Mornay sauce and came across an astounding revelation. Okay, it wasn't exactly astounding, but I was certainly geeked about it: the proportional ratio for this sauce is 1:1, 1:1, 1:1. For the roux, for every tablespoon of butter you melt, incorporate a tablespoon of flour. And for every tablespoon, you need an equivalent cup. For every cup of milk you mix into the roux, add a cup of cheese off the heat. Also add a pinch of sea salt and a pinch of ground black pepper, to taste, off the heat as well. You can finish the sauce off with a touch of nutmeg or for the recipe below, paprika. So, all of that said, two of the guys in the res hall I live in joined me for tonight's culinary tasting lab, or rather "dinner." Tonight's menu included empanadas, mac 'n cheese (with béchamel and bacon, and a side of broccoli), and nectarine blueberry meringue pie. In addition to my overjoy when it came to this whole ratio deal, I should also note that the majority of this meal was Food Network chef guided and inspired.

I started off my prep by working on my doughs, one for the empanadas and one for the pie crust. I haven't had the best of luck with dough, but tonight's turned out surprisingly well. I spent quite some time searching for the best recipes and after reading through various culinary blogs, have come up with appropriate recipes. Two of the most important lessons I learned throughout this dough-making process is to keep things cold and to work quickly. And that I did.

For the pie crust, remember the "1" ratio (anytime I realise something like that, I feel like I climbed another mountain)... anyway. Take 1 c all purpose flour and "fluff" the flour with a fork (to reintroduce air back into the flour after it had been packed into the measuring cup) and add a pinch of sea salt and a pinch of sugar. Using a food processor (works best... so long as the container's big enough; for this recipe, I'd say at least a 2 c container would work), or the tips of your fingers, combine this dry mix with a cold stick of butter that had previously been cut into cubes. Cutting the butter into cubes makes it easier to incorporate the flour; freeze the butter if you're not going to work with it immediately. Apparently, butter has small amounts of water in it and once the flour has been agitated by this moisture, gluten begins to form, making the dough toughen up and much more difficult to work with. You think it's getting better because it's more pliable, but that's not quite the case! After the flour/butter turns "pea size,"add just enough ice cold water to the mix so that it starts to separate from the side of the bowl. Don't add more than 1/4 c for this recipe, and certainly don't add it all at one time. It's best to have the water in a bowl with ice in it; have your measuring cup ready. Form the dough into a ball (do not knead it!), wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least half an hour. This will make the dough easier to work with and give the gluten some time to relax.

In the meantime, work on the empanada dough. Using the same speed and care, combine 3 c all purpose flour and 2 sticks of cold, cubed butter. Have ready 2 eggs beaten, to which 1/3 c ice cold water and a pinch of salt were beaten along with it. Refrigerate this egg mix if necessary, depending on how long you think it will take to combine the flour and butter. Once your flour/butter mixture is ready to go, use the fork to incorporate the egg mix. You could use your hands, but remember the less heat added to the mix (from your hands) the better. Work quickly! Keep doing this until the dough separates from the bowl and begins to form into a ball. Divide this dough in half and wrap each section in plastic wrap; put this in the refrigerator for at least half an hour.

By now, your pie crust should be ready. Roll it out to about 1/4" and cut the dough in slices. Lay these slices onto a buttered crust dish and press the slices together until the dish is covered in dough. A tip from Jamie Oliver (and whose recipe for nectarine meringue pie I'll adapt later in this post): put this dough-covered dish in the freezer for at least an hour. This will allow you to bake the crust "blind" (i.e., without the filling) without shrinking the dough in the process and without the need for special weights you'd see some bakers use. The timing worked out perfectly for me as I headed over to Mass while I the doughs were setting up.

Back from Mass, I multi-tasked like mad. In a flat pan, I cooked three slices of bacon. In a large pot, I boiled some water to cook a little more than half a (16 oz.) box of elbow macoroni (5 min; remember, you don't need to cook the pasta all the way, as you'll continue cooking it when you put it in the oven). In a smaller pot, I heated up some olive oil, toasted 4 cloves of minced garlic, and sweated 1/2 a small onion (brunoised). [Oh, and a tip I once heard on Rachel Ray's "30 Minute Meals," put your onion in the freezer about half an hour before you're actually going to use it. Depending on how quickly you work with it, this will help prevent the tears.] This formed the base of my empanada filling, which was adapted from Sunny Anderson's recipe. To this pot, I cooked 1/2 lb ground beef; once cooked, I added 1 tsp each of cumin, thyme, sea salt, and ground black pepper, as well as a pinch each of all spice and crushed red pepper flakes. To finish this up, off the heat, I stirred in 1/2 c Mexican cheese mix and 1/2 c frozen mixed vegetables.

With this now finished, I set off to work on the béchamel for my baked mac 'n cheese, adapted from Giada de Laurentiis's recipe. For this recipe, I used "3's" as my guide. After making a roux from 3 tablespoons each of clarified butter and all purpose flour, whisk in 3 cups of milk (1 cup at a time, if cold). Bring this to a boil and then reduce back to med-lo for about 10 minutes. Off the heat, whisk in 1 c cubed/grated fontina cheese, 1 c shredded sharp cheddar cheese, and a 1 loose c parmesan cheese. Once smooth (though it may look a bit grainy), add 3 generous pinches each of sea salt and ground black pepper, as well as paprika. The Mornay sauce now complete, add the macaroni. Mix well and transfer to a baking dish. At this point, you may be thinking where in the world the bacon's going... in a small bowl, combine 1/2 c each of sharp cheddar cheese and parmesan cheese, with crumbled/ripped bacon (depending on how crispy it is). Sprinkle this cheesy-bacon-goodness over the macaroni, and bake this in a 350°F pre-heated oven for about 20 min. As I read in one blog, mac 'n cheese is best served with a green vegetable. So, steam some broccoli in seasoned water.

While that's going, prepare the empanadas. Roll the dough to about 1/4" (absolutely no more than that) and cut out circles using a glass, etc. Add enough of the filling as well fit in empanada without spilling out. Seal the edges with the tines of a fork. If the dough's particularly dry, use some water or egg to help create a better seal. Poke two slits on the top of the empanada to allow for moisture to vent out and bake in a 350°F pre-heated oven for about 30 min. You could add a light egg wash to help brown the top layer, but I didn't find it to be absolutely necessary. The empanadas should hold their shape quite nicely and have a rather flaky crust: the more chunks of butter that made it into that final circle of dough the flakier it'll be.

Finally, onto dessert. Note my instructions and remain cognisant that I did not follow them; thus the resulting photo above. While the dessert still tasted good, it should not look like that! Take the pie crust from the freezer and bake it blind on the middle baking rack of a 375°F pre-heated oven for a total of 30 min. For this filling, you'll need about 2.5 lbs nectarines, sliced. To this, add 1/2 c granulated sugar, 1 level tbsp cornstarch, and 1 tbsp butter. Mix this all up, cover it in tin foil and place this on the bottom baking rack. Bake this for at least 15 min (i.e., it shouldn't take you too long to slice up the nectarines!). Take both of these out and check on your pie crust. Make sure it's fairly dry to touch (be careful so you don't burn yourself, of course), as the filling you're about to put on it won't help make a crispy crust. Before you transfer the filling onto that crust, whisk (or use an electric hand mixer) 5 large egg whites until you get to the point where you can hold the bowl upside down over your head as pictured below.

Once you get to that point (about 10 minutes by hand mixer), quickly and carefully fold in 1/2 c granulated sugar. Act fast and transfer the filling with a slotted spoon, followed by the addition of 1/2 c blueberries; then, dollop the egg white mix atop the filling. Use a fork to create peaks. Acting too slowly as I did in the resulting pie will relax the egg whites to the point of it becoming a lackluster and runny bit of a mess. Assuming you did it correctly, though, bake the pie for an additional 10 minutes, or until the eggs whites have browned on top.

And voilà ! That was tonight's meal, which was capped by my absolute favourite way of ending any meal: chocolat chaud. Unfortunately, I didn't have any Nesquik, but Godiva cocoa worked just as well. :) You can find more photos to tonight's meal here.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! what a detailed and complex menu! I'm sure the students liked it and were impressed! I really like empanadas so maybe I'll try them one day--I need to get over my apprehension about making my own dough...!