I happen to be as patriotic as the next guy, but even I am forced to admit there are certain things the French do better than just about anybody else. Perfume, champagne and truffles come to mind... and so do French pastries. Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Schola Cooking School agrees. He has had a number of French guests come into his school lately, and he has learned a thing or two. Here are three recipes that will challenge you, but give you impressive results.
Click here for unique French pastry recipes from Chefs Amy von Lange & Jerry Pellegrino.
2 tablespoons (30 g) European-style butter (at least 82% fat), melted, slightly cooled, plus more for bowl
1 tablespoon (10 g) active dry yeast
3 cups (400 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for surface
3 tablespoons (40 g) sugar
1 teaspoon (5 g) kosher salt
12 ozs. (340 g) chilled unsalted European-style butter (at least 82% fat), cut into pieces
½ cup (100 g) sugar
1 teaspoon (5 g) kosher salt
¾ cup (150 g) sugar, divided
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
Brush a large bowl with butter. Whisk yeast and 1/4 cup very warm water (110°F–115°F) in another large bowl to dissolve. Let stand until yeast starts to foam, about 5 minutes. Add 3 cups flour, 3 tablespoons sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, 2 tablespoons butter, and 3/4 cup cold water. Mix until a shaggy dough forms. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, adding flour as needed, until dough is supple, soft, and slightly tacky, about 5 minutes.
Proof Dough Twice
Place dough in prepared bowl and turn to coat with butter. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, place in a warm, draft-free spot, and let dough rise until doubled in size, 1–1 1/2 hours. (This process of resting and rising is known as proofing.) Punch down dough and knead lightly a few times inside bowl. Cover again with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator until dough is again doubled in size, 45–60 minutes.
Shape & Chill Dough
Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and pat into a 6x6" square. Wrap in plastic and chill in freezer until dough is very firm but not frozen, 30–35 minutes. (Heads up: You'll want it to be about as firm as the chilled butter block in step 5.)
Mix & Form Butter Block
Beat 12 ounces butter, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt with an electric mixer on low speed just until homogeneous and waxy-looking, about 3 minutes. Scrape butter mixture onto a large sheet of parchment. Shape into a 12x6" rectangle 1/4" thick.
Wrap & Chill Butter Block
Neatly wrap up butter, pressing out air. Roll packet gently with a rolling pin to push butter into corners and create an evenly thick rectangle. Chill in refrigerator until firm but pliable, 25–30 minutes.
Roll Out Dough & Enclose Butter Block
Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface into a 19x7" rectangle (a bit wider and about 50 percent longer than the butter block). Place butter block on upper two-thirds of dough, leaving a thin border along top and sides. Fold dough like a letter: Bring lower third of dough up and over lower half of butter. Then fold exposed upper half of butter and dough over lower half (butter should bend, not break). Press edges of dough to seal, enclosing butter.
Make First Turn
Rotate dough package 90°F counterclockwise so flap opening is on your right. Roll out dough, dusting with flour as needed, to a 24x8" rectangle about 3/8" thick. Fold rectangle into thirds like a letter (as in step 6), bringing lower third up, then upper third down (this completes the first turn). Dust dough lightly with flour, wrap in plastic, and chill in freezer until firm but not frozen, about 30 minutes. Transfer to refrigerator; continue to chill until very firm, about 1 hour longer. (Freezing dough first cuts down on chilling time.)
Make Second & Third Turns
Place dough on surface so flap opening is on your right. Roll out dough, dusting with flour as needed, to a 24x8" rectangle, about 3/8" thick. Fold into thirds (same way as before), rotate 90°F counterclockwise so flap opening is on your right, and roll out again to a 24x8" rectangle. Sprinkle surface of dough with 2 tablespoons sugar; fold into thirds. Dust lightly with flour, wrap in plastic, and chill in freezer until firm but not frozen, about 30 minutes. Transfer to refrigerator; continue to chill until very firm, about 1 hour longer.
Roll Out & Cut Dough
Place dough on surface so flap opening is on your right. Roll out dough, dusting with flour as needed, to a rectangle slightly larger than 16x12". Trim to 16x12". Cut into 12 squares (you'll want a 4x3 grid). Brush excess flour from dough and surface.
Form & Proof Kouign-Amann
Lightly coat muffin cups with nonstick spray. Sprinkle squares with a total of 1/4 cup sugar, dividing evenly, and press gently to adhere. Turn over and repeat with another 1/4 cup sugar, pressing gently to adhere. Shake off excess. Lift corners of each square and press into the center. Place each in a muffin cup. Wrap pans with plastic and chill in refrigerator at least 8 hours and up to 12 hours (dough will be puffed with slightly separated layers).
Preheat oven to 375°F. Unwrap pans and sprinkle kouign-amann with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, dividing evenly. Bake until pastry is golden brown all over and sugar is deeply caramelized, 25–30 minutes (make sure to bake pastries while dough is still cold). Immediately remove from pan and transfer to a wire rack; let cool.
Canneles de Bordeaux
17.6 ounces whole milk
1 vanilla bean with the seeds scraped
1.8 ounces butter, melted and cooled
2 egg yolks
10.6 ounces confectioner's sugar, sifted
4.4 ounces all purpose flour, sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 ounce dark rum
2 ounces pure beeswax
2 ounces butter
3 days before baking: In a medium-sized saucepan set over medium heat, whisk together the milk and the vanilla bean pod and seeds. Bring the milk just barely to a boil; turn the heat off when the edges begin to bubble. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature, then transfer it to an airtight container and place in the fridge (pod, and all) to steep overnight.
2 days before baking: Place the eggs and yolks in a bowl and break the yolks with a fork, do not whisk them. Add the melted butter, stir gently with a fork just to incorporate, and set aside. In a large bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. Place a strainer over the bowl, and pour the steeped milk through the strainer; discard the pod from the vanilla bean. Press the egg mixture through the strainer with a rubber spatula, then add the rum to the bowl. Gently mix the batter with a spatula; avoid incorporating air. Wash and dry the strainer, then push the batter through the strainer with a rubber spatula. Cover the batter and allow it to rest in the refrigerator for 48 hours.
3 hours before baking: Set the oven to 350°F and place the metal (either copper or aluminum) Canelé molds inside for 10 minutes. While the molds are heating, place the beeswax in a plastic, microwave-safe container and microwave in 30-second increments, swirling each time, until the beeswax is fully liquefied. Add the butter and microwave until it has fully melted, then stir until you have a solution of butter and beeswax. (This may also be done on the stovetop in a saucepan, but cleaning beeswax from pots is an unsavory activity, using the microwave is highly recommended.) Remove the molds from the oven and allow them to cool for one minute. Set up a cooling rack with plastic wrap underneath. Grasp the molds one at a time with the tongs, coat the insides of the molds with the wax mixture using a pastry brush (silicone is recommended, you will need to boil the pastry brush to get the wax off later) then invert the molds on top of the cooling rack and allow the excess wax to drip off. Once the wax has cooled back to opaque, place the molds in the freezer for two hours.
Once it's time to bake: Set a baking stone on the bottom rack of the oven and place a sheet tray on top. Preheat the oven to 500°F. When the oven is ready, remove the molds from the freezer and fill them almost to the top, leaving a centimeter of space at the top of the molds. Remove the preheated sheet tray from the oven, line with parchment, and then place the filled molds on the heated tray, spacing them evenly and far apart. Place the tray of molds onto the stone in the oven, and watch it carefully for the first 30 minutes of baking. The canelé will start to bubble, then rise up out of the molds. When they rise more than one centimeter above the rim of the mold, use tongs to remove the mold and allow the canelé to sink all the way back down into the mold, then return it to the oven. You will need to do this for the first 30-45 minutes of baking, until you notice that the canelé have developed an outer skin and a space has formed between the mold and the canelé on all sides.
Once this has happened, drop the temperature of the oven to 400°F and allow the canelé to finish baking, approximately 45 more minutes (there is no exact time, since the temperature has fluctuated so much with the oven being opened and closed and the canelé spending time, as needed, out of the oven). Watch for the tops to completely turn a deep golden brown and bubble (this is the butter in the batter) around the edges and middle. When the desired color is achieved on the tops, remove one from the oven using the tongs to test. Allow it to cool for several minutes, then invert the mold onto the cooling rack. If you are pleased with the color of the canelé, then remove the rest from the oven and allow them to cool for several minutes before unmolding. If you are not, return the canelé to its mold and bake the batch longer. The canelé should cool on the rack for 30 minutes before eating, and are best if consumed no more than 5 hours after baking.
2 cups whole milk
3 large eggs
½ cup sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, cooled
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 cup small or medium-size pitted prunes (about 6 ounces)
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup raisins
1/4 cup Armagnac or other brandy
Combine milk, eggs, 1/2 cup sugar, butter, vanilla, and salt in blender jar. Blend 1 minute. Add flour and pulse just until blended, scraping down sides of jar. Cover and chill in jar at least 3 hours and up to 1 day. Combine prunes, 1/2 cup water, and raisins in heavy small saucepan. Cook over medium heat until fruit is softened and water is almost evaporated, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Turn off heat. Pour brandy over fruit. Using long match, ignite brandy. Let flames burn off, shaking pan occasionally. Transfer fruit to small bowl. Cool completely. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and let stand at room temperature.)
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F. Butter 8-inch-diameter cake pan with 2-inch-high sides. Line bottom with parchment or waxed paper. Butter paper. Dust pan with flour, shaking out excess; place on baking sheet.
Re-blend batter until smooth, about 5 seconds. Pour into prepared cake pan. Drop prunes and raisins into batter, distributing evenly. Bake cake on baking sheet until sides are puffed and brown and knife inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool cake completely in pan on rack.
Place piece of parchment or waxed paper on flat plate. Sift powdered sugar onto paper. Run knife around cake in pan to loosen. Invert pan onto paper, releasing cake. Remove pan; peel off paper. Place serving plate over cake and invert. Dust top of cake with additional powdered sugar.