Let me start by saying … I’m never eating again.
Ok, that’s out of the way. Wow, we made a lot of super-rich, delicious, creamy custards today! And then we ate them all. Hence the never eating again.
This week I decided that our R&D day would be all about egg yolks because I have a TON of them. I sell a lot of gluten free bagels, and they take a lot of egg whites so I end up with so, so many yolks. Also, I really love custards – though surprisingly most custards don’t take that many yolks, and often only use whole eggs. Also, if you Google “use up egg yolks” or similar, you have to check for cheating recipes that use the yolks and whites separately. For example, Chiffon Cake may use 7 egg yolks, but then it also uses the 7 whites, so in my book that is not a “use up egg yolks” recipe!
So, I picked out three recipes that DO use quite a few egg yolks … also, here’s a tip about custards: you can use more yolks than the recipe calls for and it won’t mess up a thing.
A quick perusal of (just as an example) flan recipes will prove this point to you, as they use anywhere from 3 to 6 whole eggs, sometimes adding 2-4 egg yolks to the mix. Thus you can see that, since they all produce basically the same thing, you’ve got a little leeway in the egg department. Just remember that whole eggs give firmness and yolks give tenderness and richness.
On to the recipes, here’s what we used, join in and follow along! First, a Perfect Flan that actually was, then a recipe I’ve been looking at for ages, David Leite’s Portuguese custard tars, Pasteis de Nata, then a recipe from the BBC (sorry, you’ll need a scale for this one), Nadiya Hussein’s Almond and Sour Cherry Iced Buns. This last recipe we changed the most, but I have to say the buns were absolutely delicious (see “I’m never eating again” at the top of the post!)
Let’s start with the simplest recipe, the Flan:
I didn’t change a thing in this recipe, except to add some extra egg yolks (maybe two) because I had so many. If you haven’t made either caramel or baked custard though, there are some things you should know. First, don’t be afraid of caramel, especially this one. It’s pretty hard to screw it up (don’t walk away) and your window of “good” is very big.
Caramel is made by heating sugar until it melts, or as in the case of this recipe, more easily by boiling sugar with a little water added until it turns – yes, really – caramel colored. This one you can just eyeball. Is it caramel colored? Great, it’s done! Here’s your basic color progression:
Fun, huh? I could even have let it go a little darker than I did, but I too get cold feet and worry about burning the sugar. I say not to walk away because caramel can be one of those things like nuts where it’s not done … it’s not done … it’s not done … CRUD! It’s burned!
The other thing to know about caramel is that it’s really, really, hot. And really sticky. Here’s a not-fun factoid: did you know that one of the ingredients of Napalm is sugar? Because it sticks to you. Yes, humans can be evil. So, while I adjure you not to be afraid, I also strongly warn you to be respectful. Melted sugar is HOT and STICKY and not in a fun Barry White kind of way.
As soon as your caramel is caramel-colored, immediately divide it up between your 6 ramekins which you have ready. HAVE THEM READY! Caramel DOES NOT WAIT. As soon as you’ve divvied up the caramel, carefully twirl it in the ramekins to coat the sides a little. I didn’t rush to do this like I should have (because I was trying to take photos for the blog) and the caramel mostly set in the bottom, but it’s not a big deal, it’s still going to look and taste great.
This is a recipe with good directions (yay, Epicurious.com!) so just do what they say about the custard. If you don’t have a vanilla bean because they now cost you approximately the same amount as the national debt, you can use vanilla extract instead. But if you can swing it I really recommend using the vanilla bean – it does make a difference. Split the bean in half lengthwise and use the back of the knife to scrape out the seeds from each half (kind of like curling that weird curling ribbon), then put the pod and the seeds into the milk/cream mixture.
Two things to know about custard. Which actually are two things to know about eggs: One, eggs don’t like sudden and drastic temperature changes. If you dump boiling cream onto beaten eggs or yolks, you will have scrambled eggs! So if your cream/milk mixture is very hot still, whisk is SLOWLY into the egg mixture. Two, eggs have lots of fun proteins that coagulate in the presence of heat, even if you are super careful, so always strain custards and puddings. You’ll be surprised how many little eggie boogers you’ll be keeping out of your custard. They won’t hurt anything, but the Platonic Ideal custard is perfectly smooth – so strain! And strain into a large measuring cup. The recipe says to strain the custard into the ramekins, which is a dumb thing to do. Strain it into something with a spout and then fill the ramekins using that.
The other, possibly new, idea for you non-custard makers is the Bain Marie or water bath. Again, don’t be afraid, it’s really easy and makes your custard SO much better because it acts as an insulator, keeping the custard temperature even and lower than the oven temp (because of the boiling temperature of water, the custards will never get hotter than 212 degrees Fahrenheit, and probably not that hot. Put the ramekins in any baking dish that will hold them with a little wiggle room and fill the baking dish half way up the ramekins with either very hot tap water or boil a saucepan of water on the stove when you make the custard.
Moving on to the Pasteis de Nata! While I didn’t change this recipe too much, I did use my pie dough instead of the pastry dough they give you in the recipe. You can find a video on how to make mine at the Aubergine Chef vlog and also my recipe for Gluten Free Pie Dough. Use the recipe as is, for two 9″ pie crusts, for the quantity of dough David Leite’s recipe. Also, be aware that they want you to bake these puppies at 550 degrees Fahrenheit – make sure your oven will do it! I’m sure you can still bake them successfully at a lower temp, but the caramelization and scorching of the custard are part of the authentic deal.
I have to admit, I wondered if it was going to be worth the trouble as I did all the business with buttering and folding the dough. It was a bit of a mess, and goopy with butter, but worked fairly well. He wants you to roll the dough into an 18″ square and then an 18×21″ rectangle, so be aware that you’re going to need some serious flat acreage. The dough board I use is, it turns out, 18″ x 21″ so I just made it.
Things to know: BE PATIENT, DON’T HURRY, ROLL GENTLY. Always start rolling with your dough in the shape you want to end up with, so mold your pastry dough into a flat square tile before you start rolling. And chill your dough first for this because it’s going to need the structural stability of cold butter to help it out here.
I have to say, after tasting the finished tarts, I think maybe it was worth the trouble. It didn’t come out like puff pastry, but it was extremely flaky. However, if you don’t want to fool with all that, just roll the dough out, cut it with a 4″ round cutter and press the dough into the muffin tin like a regular tart shell, it will be delicious too!
I didn’t change the custard recipe at all except to substitute gluten free flour for the regular flour called for – try to find a gf flour blend that does NOT have xanthan gum in it. I really prefer my flour to not have gums in it since I use different amounts for different recipes, and I try to leave it out entirely wherever possible anyway. You can use my flour blend which is 2 cups rice flour, 2/3 cup arrowroot starch, 1/3 cup tapioca starch. Try to find the finest grind of rice flour you can.
I did make the Pasteis dough, which has to chill for a while, and the custard, ahead of time, so my custard was cold when I poured it into the shells. I did find that some of the tarts didn’t set up – it’s a pretty quick bake, even though it’s at 550F – so I would recommend either making the custard just before you need it or warming it up a little if you’ve refrigerated it.
This recipe made two dozen tarts – I would ignore his directions about the roll of pastry dough – just cut each of the halves into 12 pieces. The gluten free dough isn’t as stretchy as regular dough and you need all of that to fill the muffin cup. Also, I greased the first muffin tin, then thought there was so much butter in the dough that it was probably unnecessary. But I did have a couple of shells stick in the second pan, so buttering the muffin tins isn’t a bad idea.
FINALLY! The Iced Buns. Ellie and I changed this recipe a good bit because it calls for a yeast dough that you then fill with the fabulous creams and compotes. Gluten free yeast dough sucks. I’m sorry, it really does. All those people on the interwebs who say “I finally found a gluten free bread that tastes like the real thing!!” are lying. Or at best, only telling a partial truth. For some reason, gf yeast dough stales REALLY fast, like sometimes even the same day. So why use a dough that’s going to suck tomorrow? We made popovers instead!! This is the dough you make eclairs and cream puffs out of. So now you know how to do those too! Here’s the recipe:
Triple Oak Bakery Pâte à choux
Mix together in a small bowl:
1 cup TOB gluten free flour or other gf flour with no xanthan or guar gum included
1/2 tsp salt
Mix together in a heavy saucepan:
1 c water
1/2 c (1 stick) butter
Bring the water and butter to a hard boil, then dump in the flour mixture all at once and start stirring with a wooden spoon. Also, turn the burner down to low, but keep the pan on the stove
Keep vigorously stirring the dough until it forms one mass and feels almost like a super ball – very elastic and almost rubbery.
Transfer the dough to a stand mixer and start beating in whole eggs one at a time. Scrape the beater and bowl very thoroughly after each egg and beat each egg in on medium-low speed until the dough looks pretty homogenous.
After beating in the last egg, either pipe the dough out in blobs (cream puffs) or lines (eclairs) or divide it into 12 buttered muffin cups.
We decided to use the muffin cup method, but in retrospect, the buns would have been much easier to assemble and eat if we had piped them into eclairs. You can find directions for doing that all over the web, like here.
These iced buns are two different flavors – a cardamom bun with almond cream filling, and a nutmeg bun with (in the case of the recipe) sour cherry filling. I don’t have sour cherries. But I do have peaches and apricot jam, so we cooked down chopped, peeled peaches in apricot jam for the fruit compote filling instead of the cherries. Yum:
To make the two doughs, we just divided the pâte à choux and added the recommend amount of cardamom to one batch and nutmeg to the other. But you don’t have to do that, or you can use different spices or whatever. I liked the dough with the spices in it though, it was a nice, if subtle, touch.
If you’re intimidated by baking, I would just pick one of the fillings, because there were a lot of parts to this thing. The almond filling was an almond custard lightened with whipped cream and the fruit filling had two elements: a compote/jam and a chantilly cream (sweet whipped cream). Both flavors got royal icing on top and the almond buns also got sliced almonds stuck to the royal icing. Other than the change of apricot/peach for sour cherry, we followed the filling and topping recipes as written. None of them are difficult and all of them will keep at least a day (chantilly) or four (custard and royal icing – put plastic wrap directly on the surface of both of these ingredients!) or indefinitely (jam). If you want to make the pâte à choux shells ahead, they freeze beautifully – just heat them in a 350F oven for 4-5 minutes to crisp them up before filling.
PHEW! This was a big post, I apologize, but I do love custards and I did have an awful lot of egg yolks to use up. I was poking around in my cookbooks while waiting for the caramel to brown and did come across a recipe for French Buttercream in my copy of Lenôtre’s pastry book. It uses 12 egg yolks for four cups of frosting. I could have just made that! But hey, it was really fun – I hope you enjoy it too, and don’t hesitate to contact me if you have questions or need help!