When two bites are just enough

By Bill Colvard - bcolvard@MtAiryNews.com
Pâte à choux (left) sliced in half and filled with slices of roast beef and horseradish creme make tiny but tasty tidbits. Mushroom cheese puffs (right) are rich, but not too rich, as each one is only two bites. - Bill Colvard | The News

Two bites.

That’s the rule for party appetizers. You want food that can be picked up with one hand, comfortably and without utensils — remember, it’s a party, so there’s probably a drink in the other hand — and then be consumed in two bites. In a perfect world, the first bite wouldn’t cause the second bite to squish out all over your shirt.

So if you want to throw a holiday shindig that’s a party-party, not a seated dinner, remember the rule of two bites. No utensils and two bites will keep your guests grazing and socializing.

It’s not easy of course. Utensils were invented for a reason. What you need is a delivery system for food that is messy in nature. Toast points and crackers will only get you so far.

One option that is woefully underutilized in the American cook’s arsenal is pâte à choux, probably because all the strange accent marks make it look unpronounceable. It’s not — pat ah shoo is close enough, although unfortunately, in English, it sounds like a sneeze. Its other name, choux pastry, isn’t much better. Pronounced shoo pastry, it sounds like a tasty snack for your wingtips.

Translating it into English doesn’t help at all. The literal translation for pâte à choux is “cabbage dough.” Now there’s an appetizing visual. Supposedly, the little puffs of dough resemble cabbages, but still. The French fascination with cabbages remains elusive to native speakers of English.

But get past the name, and you’ve got a perfect conveyance for deliciousness. Preparation involves using heat in making the dough by cooking it on the stove, and then piping or scooping onto a tray and baking or deep-frying. Some magical cooking chemistry causes the balls of dough to puff up soft and hollow. Moisture in the dough turns to steam and explodes or some alchemy in the eggs causes the dough to puff, or perhaps it’s some combination of reasons, but whatever the chemistry behind it, the dough puffs. And the best part of the puffing is that it leaves the interior of the choux hollow, or nearly so, ready and waiting to be filled with deliciousness of some variety, the richer the better. it can’t be ‘too rich,” it’s only two bites.

Whenever you eat an éclair or a cream puff, you experience this magic. Pastry cream is pumped into the hollow shells of choux pastry of those two confections, creating a perfect delivery system to get the pastry cream to your mouth neatly and without utensils.

So now, the only thing to do is leave out the sugar when making choux, and fill them up with a savory filling rather than a sweet one, and there you have it, the perfect appetizer. Light, airy pastry seamlessly conveys the filling of your choice to the mouths of your grazing guests.

The filling can be anything you want. And it doesn’t have to be fancy or exotic. Pimiento cheese, yes. Chicken salad, yes. Any kind of dip you may have put in a bowl near some crackers, yes. Try shoving it into some choux instead.Everything may be better when it sits on a certain cracker that shall remain nameless, but it’s better still when you shove it in a choux.

You can fill choux by gouging a piping tube into the bottom and filling them up. That’s how cream puffs and eclairs are done. Or you can cut off the top of the choux and pipe in the goodies. Or cut a little more off and fill the middle like a tiny sandwich. Or don’t fill them at all. Deep-fry them instead of baking. Now they’re called gougères and they taste even better. A recipe follows for bacon gougères in which some crumbled bacon and Parmesan cheese is added to the dough and some of the butter is subbed out for bacon grease before deep-frying. Now there’s a tw0-bite French pastry that is indeed Southern-fried.

Get your choux on for your next holiday party. It’s easier than it looks.

Pâte à Choux

1 cup all purpose flour

1/8 tsp. ground black pepper

Dash of nutmeg

1 cup water

6 tbsp. butter

1 tsp. salt

4 eggs

1/2 grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat Oven to 425°F. Grease baking sheets and set aside. Combine flour, pepper, and nutmeg in a small bowl. Mix water, butter, and salt in heavy medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook until butter is fully melted. Reduce heat Add flour mixture to saucepan and stir vigorously until mixture is smooth and pulls away from sides of the pan. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes.

Using an electric mixer, beat in eggs one at a time. Mix until shiny and smooth. Stir in cheese. Fit pastry bag with 1/2 inch round tip (or snip the edge off a Ziploc bag) and fill with dough. Squeeze onto baking sheet in 1-inch mounds. Smooth out smooth points with a wet finger or spoon. Bake until puffed and golden, about 20 minutes. Turn off oven. Remove from oven and cut a slit in each puff. Return baking sheet back to oven and leave the door ajar to let puffs dry for ten minutes. Remove puffs and let cool.

Mushroom Cheese Puffs

8 oz. mushrooms, cleaned

6 tbsp. butter

1/4 cup minced shallot or green onion

1/8 tsp. grated nutmeg

8 oz. cream cheese

Chop mushrooms finely. You can also achieve this in a food processor. Melt butter in skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallots/green onions and mushrooms and cook until browned.Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Drain water from mushrooms. and let cool. Mix together cream cheese and mushrooms. Cut tops off puffs and pipe mushroom filling in. Bake 5 minutes and serve hot.

Bacon gougères

4 strips of thick-sliced bacon

1/2 cup whole milk

4 tbsp. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

1 tsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. onion powder

1/2 tsp. sugar

1/8 tsp. cayenne

1 1/4 cups bread flour, sifted

3 large eggs

1 1/4 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Heat the oven to 425˚F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium-low heat until crisp but not too dark. Transfer the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels, and reserve 1/4 cup of the rendered fat. When the bacon is cool, chop to make 1/2 cup. Bring the milk, 1/2 cup water, the butter, and the reserved bacon fat to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the salt, onion powder, sugar, and cayenne. Add the flour and, using a wooden spoon, stir very quickly in one direction. The flour will quickly absorb the liquid and form a dough. Continue stirring to cook the flour (and remove its “raw” taste) and simmer off more of the moisture until the dough pulls away from the sides of the saucepan, an additional minute or two. Transfer the dough to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing on medium speed until each is incorporated into the dough, which will change from shiny to sticky as the eggs are worked in. On low speed, stir in 1 cup of the Parmesan and the bacon until just combined. Using a small ice cream scoop (about 2 inches in diameter), scoop the dough onto the prepared baking sheets. Top the gougères with an equal amount of the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan. Bake until puffed and golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve warm.

Herbed Profiteroles

Profiteroles are usually cream puffs filled with ice cream, but the term can be co-opted for a savory version. This version has fresh herbs in the dough.

1 stick unsalted butter

1 cup milk

1/2 tsp. salt

2 turns freshly ground black pepper

1 cup all-purpose flour

5 large eggs

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 -1/2 tbsp. assorted chopped fresh herbs (basil, parsley, thyme, tarragon)

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper. In a saucepan over high heat, combine the butter and milk, and whisk until the butter has melted and the mixture has come to a boil. Stir in the salt and pepper. Add the flour all at once and stir vigorously until the mixture comes away from the sides of the pan and forms a ball of dough. Remove from the heat and turn the mixture into the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat the eggs, one at a time, until each is well incorporated. Add the baking powder and herbs and beat until the herbs are thoroughly distributed.

Using a pastry bag with a star tip (you can also use no tip at all), squeeze 16 generous golf ball-size blobs of the dough onto the baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, smooth on the bottom, and dry inside, for about 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow the profiteroles to cool on a rack before filling.

Scallop Seviche in Herbed Profiteroles

1/2 recipe Herbed Profiteroles

12 ounces sea scallops (about 10 large scallops), small dice

3 tbsp. finely chopped red onions

2 tbsp. finely chopped green bell peppers

3 tbsp. finely chopped red bell peppers

1 tsp. minced garlic

2 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro

2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

1/2 tsp. salt

3 turns freshly ground black pepper

3 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice

2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tbsp. tequila

Olive oil for drizzling

Prepare the profiteroles. In a small bowl combine all of the ingredients except the profiteroles and olive oil. Toss well and allow the seviche to marinate for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring intermittently. Slice about 1/4 inch off the top of each profiterole, fill with seviche, and replace the lid lightly on top.

Smoked Duck Mousse Profiteroles With Chile Pepper Glaze

1/2 recipe Herbed Profiteroles

1/2 pound boneless smoked duck breast, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 1 1/2 cups)

1 tbsp. minced shallots

2 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut up

1/4 cup heavy cream

1 1/2 tsp. Creole Seasoning

1/2 tsp. salt

2 turns freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup Chile Pepper Glaze

Prepare the profiteroles and set aside. Place the duck breast, shallots, butter, cream, Creole Seasoning, salt, and pepper in a food processor and purèe, stopping once to scrape the sides, until the mixture is smooth. Makes 1 1/2 cups.

To serve, slice 1/4 inch off the top of each profiterole. Using the tines of a fork, drizzle the inside of each pastry cup with about 1 teaspoon of the Chile Pepper Glaze. Mound 3 tablespoons mousse into each profiterole, and replace the lids. Dip the tines of the fork into the glaze again, and let the glaze drizzle through onto the lid of each profiterole, using about 1/2 teaspoon for each.

Chile Pepper Glaze

1 tbsp. olive oil

1 tbsp. minced seeded jalapeño pepper (1 small pepper)

1 tbsp. minced shallots

1 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 tsp. salt

2 turns freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup water

1 tbsp. light corn syrup

1 tbsp. honey

2 tsp. sugar

1 1/2 tsp. chili powder

Heat the oil in a small saucepan over high heat. Add the jalapeño and shallots and sauté for 30 seconds. Add the crushed red pepper, salt, black pepper, and water and cook for 30 seconds. Reduce the heat to medium. Stir in the syrup and honey, bring to a boil, and cook for about 2 minutes. Stir in the sugar and chili powder and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat. Serve immediately or store, refrigerated, in an airtight container for up to 2 days. Reheat in a small saucepan over low heat

Pâte à choux (left) sliced in half and filled with slices of roast beef and horseradish creme make tiny but tasty tidbits. Mushroom cheese puffs (right) are rich, but not too rich, as each one is only two bites.
https://www.mtairynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/web1_choux.jpgPâte à choux (left) sliced in half and filled with slices of roast beef and horseradish creme make tiny but tasty tidbits. Mushroom cheese puffs (right) are rich, but not too rich, as each one is only two bites. Bill Colvard | The News

By Bill Colvard


Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.