Friday, November 14, 2008

Chaussons aux Pommes

I have to confess I discovered Chaussons aux Pommes not along the romantic boulevards of Paris, but in the steamy production kitchen of a French boulangerie-patisserie in northern California.

In the inner sanctum of a French bakery, there are the three departments of patisserie (pastry), viennoiserie (laminated doughs) and boulangerie (bread). I always marveled at the work of all three – the ballet of the master bread baker and his loyal crew flying through the air in clouds of flour; the pastry kitchen humming at 150 mph with the efficiency of a European bullet train - but the Viennoisier always seemed the most zen. Every human move in a bakery or fine dining restaurant is excruciatingly efficient. Everyone has their well orchestrated rhythms but there is also the daily dealing with the unexpected. Maybe the deliveries are late, maybe the oven is cranky, maybe there is an overnight special order from a prominent client. The Viennoisier worked fast but not furiously and the fruits of his labor were astonishing. He was the best. The products of the quiet universe of viennoiserie are croissants, pain au chocolat, pain aux raisins and the prayer that is brioche. These are always the most delicate and yet the most reliable of pastries in the distinctly French tradition.

I love the way pastries from all cultural traditions have such curious names. Chausson means "slipper." Chausson aux Pommes, or apple slipper, is a buttery flaky pastry enveloping an only slightly sweet and smoothly soft compote of apple. The contrast between crunchy rich goodness and the simple velvety pureness of fruit is part of what makes this pastry so sublime.

The version I fell in love with was filled with a thick apple puree full of robust flavor and only a whisper of sugar. It was supremely delicious and my memory of it is the stuff of dreams. The pastry is of course puff pastry, the specialty of the Viennoisier. Hard to argue with an occasional bite of buttery shards of flakiness that fill your mouth with an unending sensation of pleasure. But incredibly rich and laborious to produce, I rarely have fresh puff pastry on hand. Since I was in need of a quick but still luxurious substitute, I turned to Dorie Greenspan’s flaky Turnover dough. In a rare fit of irreverence, I decided to see if I could still produce even a mild memory to bring to the table. So these are actually Faux Chaussons Aux Pommes. Not exactly as buttery or flaky, but delicious in their own right on a California afternoon.

Bench notes:

- The apple compote can be made in varying textures. Here I kept some of it a bit chunky, although I think I still favor a smoother puree.
- Each of these components can be made and refrigerated overnight.
- I decided to try out Dorie Greenspan’s Turnover dough instead of my usual Sour Cream Pastry dough, which has an additional 2 oz butter, 2 egg yolks and half as much sugar. Dorie's dough is very delicious - light and crisp and slightly sweet. I’ll also have to try my version to see if it approximates puff in this application.
- When rolling out the dough, pick it up after each roll to be sure it is not getting stuck to the work surface. If it's sticking, rather than trying to pull it up, use a bench scraper to gently pry it loose. Rotate the dough 90 degrees after each roll to ensure that it is getting rolled out evenly.
- I admit that I am obsessive about chilling dough. Initially it is to give the gluten a chance to relax. As I begin to form the dough I chill it so it is easier to handle. Before baking I chill the pastries so they hold their form when baking. It's definitely an obsession (most likely rooted in the fact that I have warm hands) and you are most welcome to work at your own comfort level.
- To allow for varying oven efficiencies, check the pastries at 20 minutes.
- As with any flaky pastry, these are best eaten the same day.

Chaussons aux Pommes
Makes 8 turnovers

Flaky Dough (half recipe)
adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan
2 C flour
1/2 t salt
6 oz cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 C sour cream
1/4 C sugar

1 egg for egg wash

Combine the sour cream and sugar.
Whisk together flour and salt.
Add the butter pieces to the flour and salt with a pastry cutter or your fingertips and work it in until the mixture resembles coarse oatmeal.
Add the sour cream/sugar mixture and gently mix with a fork or your hands.
The dough should come together into a ball. Do not overmix or overwork the dough.
Divide the dough in half, flatten each half into a disk, wrap and refrigerate for about an hour.

After it has chilled, remove one package of the dough and let it sit for a couple of minutes at room temperature. Flour a piece of parchment and roll the dough out on the parchment into a rectangle shape about 1/4” thick. Brush off excess flour with a clean pastry brush. Fold the dough in thirds (like a letter), again brushing off excess flour. Wrap and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours. Repeat with the other package of dough.

When the dough has been chilled, roll out each piece of dough on a piece of lightly floured parchment to an 1/8” thickness. Brush off excess flour. Cut out 8 equal pieces of dough in the desired shape of your pastries and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment, layering them with parchment as needed. Chill for about an hour.

Apple Compote

zest of 1/2 lemon
juice of one lemon
5 - 6 apples
2 T butter
1/2 vanilla bean
4 T sugar, to taste

Place the lemon juice and lemon zest in a bowl big enough to hold the apples.
Peel, core and slice the apples and toss them in the lemon juice and zest.

Melt the butter is a large skillet and add the apples. Scrape the half vanilla bean into the apples, cover and cook over medium low heat for about 20 minutes until the apples are tender, stirring occasionally. Remove the cover and add the sugar. Cook, stirring continuously until the liquid has evaporated and the mixture is thickened. Remove from heat and mash or puree as desired. Set aside to cool completely.

When ready to assemble, make an egg wash by whisking 1 egg with about a tablespoon of water to thin it out. Line a cookie sheet with parchment.

Place a heaping tablespoon of apple compote on half of a piece of pastry. Brush the edges with the egg wash, fold the dough over the compote and seal. Place each completed pastry on the parchment-lined cookie sheet. When all 8 pastries have been formed, refrigerate for about an hour.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place an oven rack in the top third of the oven and a rack in the lower third of the oven.

Remove pastries and brush each surface with egg wash. Take a very sharp knife and create a few slashes to form vents.

Bake the turnovers on the top rack for 10 minutes, then rotate the cookie sheet from front to back and move to the bottom rack. Continue baking for another 10 – 15 minutes until they are nicely browned and crisp.


Cannelle Et Vanille said...

beautifully said! many times i have described working in a professional kitchen as dancing. everything is choreographed and practiced over and over again a million times. the same routine everyday. get there, check work list, get mise en place, get a speed rack before they are all gone and start the dance. every move within those parameters. i miss it.

and i agree, viennoiserie needs the precision of the pastry chef and the "special dough" hands of the baker.

absolutely dreamy gayle!

pastry studio said...

Yes! It's like a meditative ballet. Mise en place is one of my favorite passages. And the race for speed racks! So true.

When it all comes together, when it works, it's such an unbelievably magnificent experience. Surrounded by glorious ingredients, nothing can beat the hum of a professional pastry kitchen. How lucky we are to have ventured into some of the finest. And luckily for us, our lessons continue.

Victoria said...

Beautiful photography, beautiful pastry, beautiful - and even beautiful comments! Sigh.

Victoria said...

Sorry - I meant to say beautiful writing before beautiful comments. The sigh is the same.

Anonymous said...

These look delicious. Did you read Molly (Orangette)'s article in October's Bon Appetit about Chaussons aux Pommes? She's with you on the saucier filling. Me? I think your chunky one looks just right. Great pics too!

pastry studio said...

Katherine, someone just sent me a note about Orangette's lovely article and I just found it on the web.

I'm a big texture freak and normally like crunchy/chewy things but for some reason this pastry seems best with the soft luscious apples in a smooth puree. Just incredibly comforting.

Katie said...

Yum! How perfect for the season.

Patsyk said...

They look "almost" too pretty to eat! Amazing photos!

Brilynn said...

Those turnovers are gorgeous! I love the translations of pastry names, very fun.

Cakespy said...

I love the chunks of apple in the filling--I think I'd go the same way. I like the texture it gives! Yum, these look so beautiful!

Shari said...

Thanks for educating me about the three different names for pastry. Your turnovers are lovely!

Anonymous said...

Your turnovers look so delicious. I am a texture freak as well but the soft smooth filling sounds perfect. Lovely.

Y said...

Oooo I love these! They look like apple pastry purses. Never tried them before... better buy apples next time I'm at the shops!

Helene said...

Couldn't agree or love this post more! A ballet indeed. I work(ed) (still do of and on) on my own in the pastry shop upstairs but I still felt like I was dancing in between all the pastried being done at different stages. Well, sometimes it was juggling :)
Chaussons aux pommes! Now, that's a trip back to childhood for me! The quintessiential afternoon bakery pick-me-up!! Well done!

Alida said...

I saw this recipe and i had to make it!
The only problem was that I am in Italy and i could not find sour cream so i substituted mascarpone and the dough still turned out beautifully! These are delicious because of their simplicity, thank you for posting these!