Thursday, March 13, 2008

Pear Strudel with Chestnut Cream and Pear Chips

Sorry for the delay in posting this entry. I meant to get it up (dirty!) a few days ago, but I got tied up (also, dirty!) with something else that I hope to be able to tell you about soon, and am just getting to uploading this post tonight. So sorry. Even my dog is disgusted with me:

After the glory, delight and absolute gastronomical pleasure the Pineapple Chop brought into my life, I was a little bummed that I'd have to follow it with this particular dessert. Why, you ask? It's not that pears suck or anything, it's just that I knew I had to make a pear chip. And we all know how freakin' AWESOME I am at chip-making. So, in addition to knowing I'm allergic to raw pears and that my hands would itch like a mofo prepping the fruit, I knew it wouldn't be worth it because the pear strudels were going to fall apart and the pear chips were going to be limp and stupid and make me feel completely and totally inadequate.

Or would they?

Oh, have I intrigued you?

Really? Well, fancy that.

Read on then, you sexy beasts. Read on.

The first thing I did was prep my Comice pears, which I had to drive all over creation to find. I knew there was a sign for Comice pears at Whole Foods (I'd seen it the day before), but when I went in to buy some that morning, they were all gone. I called all the other local grocers and no one had them. So, I called Balducci's (20 minutes away normally, but a good 45 minutes during rush hour, lucky me) and asked the manager if they had them. She assured me they did. I asked her, "Are you sure? Like, are you looking right at them or holding one in your hand and not just looking at a sign, because that's what happened at your competitor which rhymes with Schmole Schmoods, and I'm about to drive over there in some asinine rush-hour traffic and I don't want it to be for naught." Her reply? "I'm looking right at them."

So, I braved the DC Beltway to head on over to Balducci's, and after nearly an hour in traffic, I barreled past the wobbly, old women who, I swear, stand smack dab in the middle of the doorway staring off into space just to annoy me, and headed for the fruit section. Guess what. No Comice pears. None. I went to the customer service desk and recognized the woman I'd spoken to (her voice is distinct, and I'll leave it at that) and asked her where the Comice pears were. She pointed in the general direction of the produce department and said, "They're over there." I replied, "No, I want to know where the Comice pears are that you were looking at an hour ago when I called." She paled and picked up the phone, then left the desk without another word. She never came back, so I hit up my buddy Paolo who works in the produce department there and asked him about the pears. He told me they hadn't had them in weeks, but that they were expecting them later that day.

I know it sounds dramatic, but I wanted to cry. Or punch something. What's the point in lying about something like that, Stupid Mrs. Store Manager Lady, when you can so easily be caught? I just don't get it.

Lucky for me, Paolo called his supervisor over (who was so nice and apologized like crazy even though it WASN'T HIS FAULT) and they went out to the loading dock where the fruit guy had just pulled up (he was 8 hours early). They got the Comice pears off the truck and before they even logged it in the system, they brought the entire crate to the store floor for me to pick through so I could choose which ones I wanted. Of course, during this whole time, the Stupid Store Manager Lady never reappeared. Bint. No, I'm not bitter, why?

I thanked Paolo and his supervisor (and slipped them both a small tip because they always take care of me), and got my ass out of that store and back home to cook.

I took the Comice pears out of their bag, cut off the tops and bottoms, then used 2 different round cutters to cut them into cylinders that I could poach. Wanna see? It was really fun to do, even though my hands itched quite a bit doing it:

I'd already made some poaching liquid (you can see how to do that here), and I put the pears in it and poached them for an hour and a half over low heat, and even did the parchment lid (which I now totally love to make because I am a huge nerd):

Once the pears had poached, I set aside some of the poaching liquid to use in the next step in the process -- the Chestnut Cream.

I put about 6 oz. of steamed, vacuum-packed chestnuts into my little Le Creuset pot with some heavey cream and added some vanilla seeds and the pod. I let it simmer for about a half-hour or so, until the chestnuts were really soft:

I then poured this mixture into my food processor (after removing the vanilla pod) and whacked it for about 2-3 minutes. With the motor running (head out on the highway!), I added some of the pear poaching liquid. Then, when it had reached a creamy, full-bodied consistency, I plopped it atop a tamis, scraped it through, and stored it in some Gladware until I was ready to use it in the final plating.

So, the pears are poached and the chestnut cream is done. Up next? The killer of them all. Pear. Chips.

I'm supposed to slice a Bosc pear on a mandoline, then cook them in a sugar-water solution, then put them on a Silpat-lined baking sheet and let them "dry" in a 275-degree oven for about a half hour. Now, knowing my previous chip experiences, I knew a 275-degree oven wouldn't be hot enough, so when I pre-heated the oven, I upped it to 300. And I figured those pear slices would have to be in there more like 45 minutes. Regardless of my mad math wizardy, I knew the pear chips would suck and not work, and because of that I was already writing this part of the post in my head as I was getting my new SuperBenriner (because a regular, non-super Benriner just wouldn't do) out to use -- I was coming up with all sorts of witticisms about how miserably I had failed this step.

I sliced the Bosc pear in slices that were as thin as the mandoline would allow without an accidental suicide:
(look at her pointing and laughing at me, almost as if to say, "Hey you crazy American lady who is going to screw up pear chips!!!" Way to be supportive. Bitch.)

Then, I lovingly cooked them in the requisite sugar-water combo:

Next, I laid them out on a Silpat-lined baking sheet for their time in the oven:

Then, after about 45 minutes, I took them out to check on them:

I lifted one off the Silpat to check it and nearly crapped myself:

THEY WORKED!!!!!! They were stiff (ha!) and hard (hee!) and crispy (um, heh?) and absolutely perfect!

Content with that small victory, but entirely convinced they'd get mushy and soft by the next day when I was serving the dish, I put them in an airtight container and stored them away from sun and humidity and anything else that could potentially harm my sweet, darling, lovely, angel-baby pear chips.

I toasted myself with a nice glass of bordeaux and some day-old Thai food and went to bed.

The next day, I finished the pear strudel portion of our program. I removed the pears from the fridge (where they'd sat in their poaching liquid overnight) and drained them on paper towels for about a half-hour:

I reduced the rest of the poaching liquid to a syrup, which I used in the final plating. You can't really see it, but you sure as heck could taste it.

I assembled the strudels by layering four sheets of phyllo with clarified butter and a little bit of sugar. I then placed the poached pear cylinders onto the phyllo, cut some columns, and rolled those suckers up and smunched the ends tight. I know, I'm such a great, descriptive writer with such a vast vocabulary that I have to resort to making up words like "smunched." Sue me. When you see the strudels, you'll understand. It's the only word that makes sense. Let's let the pictures do the talking on this step:

I brushed the outside with the remaining clarified butter and put these little packets of loveliness into the refrigerator while I made crème anglaise, the process of which, you can read about here:

At this point, all I needed to do was bake the pear strudels and then we were good to go. I put them in a 350-degree oven for about 45 minutes and got the pear chips out from their secret hiding place. I fully expected them to be a giant pile of mush. Mold. Mildew. Pear hideousness.

Ladies, Gentlemen, Fierce Trannies... they were perfect.

So, I plated. I will confess that I ignored the instructions to put the crème anglaise and pear syrup into squeeze bottles to decorate the plate. I was so happy with my pear chip victory that I chose to celebrate by saucing up those plates with as much pear syrup and crème anglaise as I freakin' wanted to. Wanna see?

How did it taste? Well, the pear strudel, crème anglaise, and pear chip were outstanding. The chestnut cream did not live up to my expectations. It was good, mind you, but not as good as I thought it was going to be. The dish didn't need it, and none of us finished it. I was just too heavy and dragged everything else down. That said, one of my most finicky tasters cleaned her plate -- which is only the second time in French Laundry at Home history that she's done that. The first time was with the Blueberry Soup. The second time was this. I'm thinking the pig's head will be the "third time's a charm"... but probably not.

I'm not sure I'd ever make this again. It was a little labor intensive for the end result. That said, it was absolutely delicious, and I'm really glad I finally got around to making it. And, I'm super-proud of myself for having gotten at least ONE freakin' chip element done correctly in my lifetime.

So here's me, clinking a glass of champagne to you, Stephen Durfee, creator of this particular dish. I conquered one of your desserts and did not end up on the floor, twitching, covered in flour, pots boiling over, drowning in my tears and self-loathing. I love you, Durf. You're the man. C'mere....

Oh, and to all the rest of you: just in case you're counting, this is the 80th French Laundry Cookbook dish I've made. There are 100 in the book, and I'm getting a wee melancholy knowing that at some point this particular project really will end. I've got some other projects up my sleeve to continue the fun, but still. While there are no words (yet) to describe the satisfaction of even getting this far, it's weird to think that all those dishes on pages 316 and 317 will have check marks next to them in just a few months. I honestly wasn't sure I'd get this far. Now, I can't imagine anything else I'd rather be doing than throwing myself into food I know nothing about and figuring it all out. It fucking rocks. Give it a whirl if you haven't already. C'mon... you know you want to.

Up Next: Gewürztraminer-Poached Moulard Duck Foie Gras with Gerwürztraminer Jelly (with 33% more umlauts!)

Bosc pear and vanilla bean from Whole Foods
Comice pears from Balducci's
Chestnuts from Rodman's
Bogle chardonnay
Organic Valley cream
The Fillo Factory phyllo dough

Music to Cook By: Mike Doughty; Haughty Melodic. The lovely Kim from Red Light Management sent me some CDs a few weeks ago and when I saw Mike Doughty's name on one of them, I had to scour my iTunes (okay, I didn't exactly "scour," I just scrolled to the Ms) to find his name because I knew I'd heard of him before. He did a song called "I Hear the Bells" that was on the Veronica Mars Soundtrack (shut UP) and I've always loved that song -- it's on the playlist I use for walking on the beach in the evenings before dinner in the summer when I'm on vacation (and yes, I have a playlist for that very activity, and it's one of my favorite playlists because it's one of my favorite things in the whole world to do). So, I was thrilled to be reminded of his music. "I Hear the Bells" and some of his other songs make me smile every time I hear them. Also? He's really cute, but I liked his music before I knew what he looked like. I'm not THAT shallow. Much. I guess I just have a thing for men named Mike.

Read my previous post: "Pineapple Chop"


Rory said...

Another great post, congrats on the chip. Are you really checking off the dishes in the book on pages 316 & 317? If so, could you please post a picture of those pages? It would be cool to see how far you've come and what you've got left to go. Glad you are already planning for the future, perhaps next you'll work your way through the El Bulli books?

Kitt said...

Bravo, Mistress of the Chip!

I sure don't want this particular project to end, but I'm sure interested to find out what else you have up your sleeve (not dirty!).

AlaskanGeekArchitect said...

I think you are holding back, how do you REALLY feel about Ms. Bint err... Grocery Store Manager?

My suggestion for the pear itchiness is wear unpowdered nitrile gloves (in case you have latex allergy.)

I always wear them when handling peppers otherwise no matter how well I was I always end up rubbing pepper juice in my eye... and that's just not fun.

BTW. Your blog has been so inspiring that I have bought (but not read) the French Laundry Cookbook. Why not read? Because it's my reward for good midterm grades. If I didn't do as well as I should have it's going to sit on the shelf the whole rest of the semester mocking me...

Anonymous said...

Well there is the Bistro cookbook, love the onion soup, and he and Ruhlman are supposed to be doing a sous vide book this year...

Anonymous said...

80 out of 100! Amazing. This one looks pretty good, but I fear that being surrounded by the sheer deliciousness of the pineapple dish and the foie will make it a bit lackluster--though many congratulations on the chips!

If people make fun of you for owning the Veronica Mars soundtrack, I will help you beat them up. Oh, Veronica, how I miss you.

Anonymous said...

Mike Doughty was the singer/guitarist for Soul Coughing, one of the best bands of the Nineties. Check out Ruby Vroom for some reaally great songs.

Matthew said...

Long-time reader, first-time commenter. I second the recommendation for nitrile gloves.

I can't believe you're so close to finishing the book! I think you're going to have to find another book to work your way through, or else your fan base may revolt. And some of us are revolting enough already. ;)

xtinehlee said...

mrmmm! this looks so wonderful--congrats on 80/100. :) what will you do next?!

btw, cute dachsie, too. I have two myself!

Reebs said...

Kudos - pears rock. And so do umlauts. Can't wait.

Anonymous said...

Carol, I'm so very proud of you. Not only did you overcome your Fear of Chip Failure, you managed to make a rather phallic looking dish at the same time!(yes, 12. You know me, and you should expect nothing less ;))

I can't believe you're almost done with FLAH. But I know that you have great things in store.....

Unknown said...

I know it was not fun for you, but reading about those shopping misadventures is too damn funny! Great post and congrats on almost finishing this masterpiece of a book.

Anonymous said...

i'd love to know where you found the pillow your dog is laying by, it's beautiful!

Anonymous said...

1. Yum.

2. I second what chopper said up there.

Anonymous said...

HOW cute is your dog??...sorry, the pear technique was nice and all but come on! more daschie please

Aubrey said...

Where did you find the sale on the umlauts??? I've been looking for them everywhere... LOL

A Lurker Very Much Enjoying Your Style

Joel said...


Mike Doughty rox my sox off. And he's going to rox them in person in 10 days. Rox.

I believe you could see same in your vicinity on 4/05.

Anonymous said...

I did this one too, though in keeping with family style I actually cut the pear rings into two thinner O's, did less smunching and served as a fully reconstructed (but sliced) strudel. Looked great.

We all really liked the dish but also felt the chestnut creme was out of place. Too stiff and heavy. I thought I had done something wrong. Anyway, next time I'd make it *much* creamier.

Robert said...

I'm VERY impressed at your persistence in acquiring the Comice pears. Fresh off the truck!

Renee said...

Congratulations on your chip success! This dessert looks and sounds amazing, although I'm positive there are no Comice pears within 50 miles of here :( Mmmmm chestnut cream.

Anonymous said...

Are you sure you weren't hustling us? This is three Pasty/Durfee related dishes in a row that you have rocked.

I don't think I've ever been so concerned about the outcome of a chip. Congrats on La Victoire de la Poire.

Anonymous said...

It'll be interesting to see how the pig's head you mention goes over. Ate at The French Laundry yesterday and none in my party were willing to try it. Thanks for sharing your experience with the book. One of our table conversations was about having "psuedo-French Laundry" dinner parties. All the best with the remaining 20!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, Princess (Butter)chip! Bow to her, the Queen of Pear-escence!!

And poo to any who mock Veronica. She's second only to Buffy on my list of Girls Who Kick Ass.

emmaAmethyst said...

I did this same recipe for a major dinner party just last weekend. (We may have been poaching in parallel on opposite sides of the country!)

I took a brief look around the obvious markets here for the comice pears, then bailed & used bartlett. (Cut way down on the driving in traffic aspect of the dish.) I also started doing the full height pear cylinders, then decided those would make too big a dessert. So I went for the half-height cylinders.

I was just as shocked as you were when the pear chips worked! That was sooo cool!! And they're so cute!

Since I was only using half-height pears, I went for a different rolling strategy, I used about a 3" strip of filo stack for each. Rolled the pear near one edge of the pastry, set it on it's bottom, then scrunched the excess pastry at the top into a gather. They kinda looked like little hockey pucks in beggars purses. Turned out the smaller size was just right after all the food we'd had earlier in the meal.

I did do the anglais in the squeeze bottle, & it wasn't worth it. As soon as I got them served, everybody (me included) loaded them up with the passed extra anglais. Might just as well have served it that way from the get-go.

I also wasn't as excited about the chestnut cream as I'd hoped. Next time, I think I'm going to get more sweetness into it.

Yea, Pear Chips!

Anna Banana said...

Hmm, I might have weighed in on my hopes for your next cookbook (please continue, begging). Sorry if I'm repeating myself with my first suggestion: Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, both volumes. This set of books is inscrutable to me. I've only mastered a few dishes. Another suggestion: The Chez Panisse Menu cookbook. Another one I keep picking up and putting down without actually making something. It's very short compared with Mastering... You probably haven't considered The China Moon cookbook. It's full of concoctions and infusions and complicated broths you have to make way in advance. But it's Chinese food every night. Fine by me, but possibly boring for some. Thanks for all your hard work, hoping to read your blog (whatever you change it to) for a long time.

Anonymous said...

Carol, sweetie, do we have a book deal yet?? There are only 20 recipes to go before massive withdrawal sets in. It's going to be ALL YOUR FAULT!!!!

BTW, love the woof. We need more pix.

Oh, and the dessert - it rocked - as usual - go chips!

Carol Blymire said...

SophieKat: I got the pillow at TJ Maxx 5 years ago and the tag is long gone, so I have no idea who made it. Sorry. :)

Everyone else: Thanks for the suggestions on the gloves, as well as what project to take on next. I'll keep you posted, I promise.

Alice Q. Foodie said...

Only 20 more recipes? Noooo it can't be true! BTW - your dog is adorable.

Leslie-Anne said...

The parchment lid is my nemesis at school. Die, parchment lid, die! Why are you always just a bit too big? Especially when the chef is watching?

Another amazing post, beautiful pear chips!