“Imagine, and it shall be. There are no limits.”
I love that line from The Crown’s Game, as I think it captures what Milo’s Bonbons offers, and what I enjoyed so much about catering the dessert table for the book’s launch party this week. This young adult historical fantasy is set in 19th century Russia and the colorful imagery in this book includes mouthwatering descriptions of Russian desserts. I was tasked with bringing some of these desserts to life. What a fun challenge and opportunity to get creative!
We decided on cream puffs and swans (something I never thought I’d get to make outside of pastry school), individual mini apple sharlotka cakes, bird’s milk cakes and Russian Cream (I’m not sure this one is actually Russian in origin, but the name fits).
Apple sharlotka is a light souffle-like cake, made mostly of diced apples, with just a little bit of batter holding it all together. I dusted these with cinnamon and powdered sugar, and then added a little brown butter icing.
Bird’s milk cake is also uniquely Russian, and is made of sponge cake layers with a light meringue-based filling flavored with condensed milk, and a chocolate ganache coating. I also made little nests with chocolate and shredded wheat, topped with peanuts to mimic eggs.
Finally, Russian Cream is a delicious take on a panna cotta, using heavy cream and sour cream — not exactly a light and healthy dessert, but does it really matter when the cup is tiny? I topped these with raspberry compote and chopped pistachios, as inspired by The Alison Show blog.
It was a privilege to get a peek inside a writer’s world — what a blast!
I’ve been meaning to make some version of these cream puffs after a culinary friend of mine talked about making bacon profiteroles and described the magic of grinding various foods with sugar to create custom-flavored dusting sugars.
This took me a few tries, as I first tried making cream puffs with bacon fat instead of butter (I prefer the butter flavor), and then first ground up the rendered bacon with granulated sugar (I highly recommend maple sugar instead for a much better flavor pairing . . . something is a little off about bacon with regular sugar). Apologies to my friends who were guinea pigs on earlier iterations of this.
The final result used regular cream puffs, with maple flavored custard (crème légère with maple syrup), dipped in brown butter icing, with maple bacon sugar sprinkled on top. So good.
Pâte à choux, a.k.a. cabbage dough. The layperson usually does not recognize this term, so I also describe it as cream puff dough.
I love this stuff. And not just because it demonstrates the magic of mechanical leavening. Okay, maybe precisely for that reason. The dough is made of water, butter, bread flour, a bit of sugar and salt, and eggs. What distinguishes this dough from others is the fact that it is cooked twice: all ingredients except the eggs are first cooked over the stovetop, and then the eggs are beaten in one at a time to reach the right consistency and moisture. Bread flour has a higher protein content, allowing for greater moisture absorption (thus usually more eggs and flavor), and an elasticity from the gluten formation. During baking, the water content transforms into steam (which is up to 1600x in volume under STP conditions! nerd alert!), which puffs up the dough and creates a hollow inside that can be filled with whipped cream, pastry cream, ice cream or other fillings. Round mounds of dough when baked (i.e. cream puffs) have tops that look vaguely like cabbages, hence the French name.
This dough is so versatile and can make cream puffs, profiteroles, eclairs, gougeres, popovers, and even gnocchi!
Yes, Parisian gnocchi (gnocchis à la parisienne), which are made by poaching the dough. I was inspired to try this after the evening culinary class prepared it for dinner one night. I overboiled some batches which made some pieces mushy, but on the whole it still turned out quite delicious with peas, cherry tomatoes, shaved parmesan cheese, and some simple olive oil, salt and pepper.
Some examples from Unit 2:
Unit Exam (Eclairs and Paris Brest):