Profiteroles with Chantilly Cream and Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache

As far as I'm concerned, Pâte à Choux is magic. How else would you explain the miraculous transformation of an uninspired, sticky blob of dough into a hollow, golden and light-as-air pastry? All in the absence of chemical leavening like baking powder or baking soda?

Sure, chefs will tell you that it's the water in the dough that turns into steam in the oven, blowing a large bubble in the center of the pastry, not unlike blowing a bubble gum bubble. But I say it's magic, and I'm sticking to my story.

Profiteroles, croquembouche, eclairs, beignets, French crullers and gougères are all born of the same egg, butter, water, flour mixture called Pâte à Choux. The dough can be baked or fried and stuffed with various fillings.

These are filled with Chantilly whipped cream (sweetened vanilla cream in fancy-speak) and smothered in bittersweet chocolate ganache. While chocolate and vanilla seem like rather "standard" flavours, they are irresistible in this combination. I blame factory produced desserts for the association of vanilla with bland, one-note flavour. Whipped cream with good quality vanilla extract has an incredibly comforting and complex aroma that will make you want to stick your face in the bowl. Don't believe me? I dare you to make these. There is nothing quite like freshly baked choux pastry, richly scented vanilla cream and velvety smooth ganache.

Sweet or Savory Pâte à Choux
Yield: 4 dozen bite sized profiteroles


  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 stick butter (6 tablespoons)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar plus 1/8 teaspoon salt (for sweet)
  • 1 teaspoon salt (for savory)
  • 5 3/4 ounces flour
  • 1 cup eggs, about 4 large eggs and 2 whites
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream, whipped with 1/4 cup sugar and 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla


Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Boil water, butter, and salt or sugar. Add flour and remove from heat. Work mixture together and return to heat. Continue working the mixture until all flour is incorporated and dough forms a ball. Transfer mixture into bowl of a standing mixer and let cool for 3 or 4 minutes. With mixer on stir or lowest speed add eggs, 1 at a time, making sure the first egg is completely incorporated before continuing. Once all eggs have been added and the mixture is smooth put dough into piping bag fitted with a round tip. Pipe immediately into golfball-size shapes, 2 inches apart onto parchment lined sheet pans. Cook for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350 degrees F and bake for 10 more minutes or until golden brown. Once they are removed from the oven pierce with a paring knife immediately to release steam.

Use a piping bag to fill puffs with cream. Fill puffs soon before serving to prevent pastry from becoming soggy.

Chocolate Sauce (Ganache)
Makes about 1 cup

5 oz bittersweet chocolate (or chocolate chips)
1/2 cup heavy cream

Place chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Heat heavy cream in a saucepan until it steams and bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Pour cream over chocolate and let sit for 3 minutes. Gently stir until chocolate and cream are uniformly combined. Cool until thickened, pourable consistency.

To reheat, set the bowl over a pan of simmering water (in double boiler arrangement).

Recipe adapted from Alton Brown and Food Network
Image property of beetsandbites


EAT! Vancouver 2010

Every year in May, a little event called Eat!Vancouver unites foodies from all over the Lower Mainland. For three delicious days, attendees can shop for unique ingredients and tools, sample new products, and watch cooking demonstrations. Iron Chef winner Rob Feenie was in attendance, as was Seinfeld's "Soup Nazi," Larry Thomas. This year the expo was held in the new Vancouver Convention Center instead of its usual spot at BC place, which is under renovation; I think it was a combination of the new venue and drizzly weather (no surprise there) that brought food fanatics out in droves.
As a regular attendant, I found the variety of exhibitors to be smaller than in past years. If you happened to be in the market for oil and vinegar, you had a lot to pick from (herb infused? fruit infused? reduced? italian? local? aged?) There were a few products that stood out for me. One was a dandelion and burdock soda from Fentiman's "Botanically Brewed" Beverages. With its earthy liquorice and herbal quality, it probably will not be my primary beverage of choice this summer, but it was one of the most interesting sodas I have tasted. (Unforunately, I never got to try Jones' Turkey and Gravy Soda).
Cheesy flowers

Another popular stand showcased Tete de Moine cheese. The Swiss raw cow's milk cheese had a strong, nutty flavour, and was served using the traditional cheese curler or girolle. This produced beautiful curls that looked more like flowers than cheese (note: great entertaining idea).

Having left with a bag chock-full of goodies to try (acai tea, rice bran cooking oil and maple jelly!), I'd call this a successful afternoon spent.


Salmon Variation #1,000: Panko Crusted Salmon with Lemon and Parsley Cappellini

We eat a lot of salmon at home. A lot. And why not? The beautifully coral-hued fish is delicious and meaty in texture, not to mention packed with nutritional benefits. While it is considered an "oily" fish because of its high omega-3 fatty acid content (important to cardiovascular health!) it does not actually taste oily at all.

Salmon are not all created equal. Firstly, there are the different varieties, with sockeye, chinook, pink, chum, and coho being the common ones. The sockeye and chinook varities are fattier with higher omega-3 contents. Then there is the farmed vs. wild debate. In general, the wild varities are more nutritious and contain less toxins than the farmed counterparts. While farmed salmon tend to be much "fattier" than wild, they also tend to be exposed to more artificial substances (and may even be tinted to a specific pink). We usually buy wild sockeye salmon.

Before this turns into a salmon encyclopedia entry, let's move onto the important part: cooking and eating. I keep feeling like I'm running out of fresh ways to prepare salmon. This time, I decided to use panko breadcrumbs as a crust. Panko is a Japanese breadcrumb that is coarser and lighter than regular breadcrumbs. It gives the food it coats a light, flaky crunchiness and is often used as a coating for Japanese tempura.
I flavoured the panko crust with gremolata-inspired ingredients. Gremolata is an Italian condiment made from parsely, lemon, and garlic that is traditionally served with ossobuco (braised veal shanks). The combination is incredibly fragrant and gives any dish a citrus freshness and warm depth from the garlic. I also added the mixture to some cooked cappellini to tie the side dish with the salmon. Freshly grated parmigiano reggiano and toasted pine nuts finish this quick and light pasta dish.


Parisian Perfection: Macarons

At first encounter, the macaron seems quite simple. It is a meringue-based cookie made from 3 main ingredients: egg whites, ground almonds, and sugar. Various fillings such as ganache or buttercream are sandwiched in the middle (kind of like an Oreo, but infinitely more sophisticated).

But look a little closer, and the macaron reveals a much more complicated character. The texture of the macaron is an enigma: buttery-smooth center, moist, chewy and airy interior covered by a perfectly smooth, crisp top that is as thin as an eggshell.

It is also clear that the macaron is not your typical "milk and cookies" kind of confection. Culturally speaking, it seems that macarons have exploded in popularity in recent years, surpassing the cupcake as the darling of the foodosphere. It is a generally accepted fact that Paris is home to the finest specimens in the world (macarons are French, after all). Pierre Desfontaines of Ladurée is credited for creating the macaron as we know it (the sandwich cookie variety). Today, Ladurée still bakes up thousands of them daily in an impressive array of flavours and colours from liquorice and orange blossom to rose and bergamot. Of course, Ladurée is not the only purveyor of these petite sweets; Lenôtre, Gérard Mulot, Dalloyau, and Pierre Hermé are just a few other fine French patisseries that offer excellent macarons. Luckily. the recent popularity of macarons means that you do not have to live in France to be seduced by these beautiful and elegant treats. It's likely that you could find them at a local bakery. You can even try your hand at making them at home!

This is my second attempt at these. My first was about 3 years ago and I was not aware of the little details that are required to make these work. Needless to say, the resulting pans of sad looking little egg white blobs weren't exactly a hit. This time around, I was armed with new tricks and things worked out much better. I kept things simple by making the shell one colour, and using two flavours of fillings (chocolate and raspberry buttercreams). I accidentally toasted the ground almonds while trying to dry them out, which led to a nuttier flavoured cookie, and a darker, cream colour rather than snowy white (or whatever colour you'd choose to tint them). While the ingredient list is deceptively simple, there is a degree of technique involved in making these! I have included many tips below, and with practice, there is nothing to stress over. Make sure you can set aside 5-6 hours to make these (don't worry, there's a lot of "resting" time).

The method is rather unusual, yet clever. By letting the piped batter sit for two hours before baking, the confectioner's sugar dries to form the characteristic thin shell. When the batter is baked, the shell rises and the liquid center pools out underneath to form the ruffled "feet." (I danced around the kitchen when I saw the "feet" through the oven door. Is that weird? No?) Clearly, the sky's the limit when it comes to variations, and I cannot wait to try different flavours in the future! Curious to give it a try? Well, without further ado, here's the recipe!


'Tis the Season: Cappellini with Roasted Tomatoes and Spot Prawns

One of the best things about British Columbia in the summertime is spot prawn season, which runs for about 80 days each year starting in late May. Not only do dishes showcasing spot prawns spring up on restaurant menus all over the city, there are even spot prawn festivals at both Fisherman's Wharf and Granville Island. Visit the moored fishing boats for the freshest selection of seafood.
When I purchased mine, they were extremely fresh (read: alive and kicking), which made prep a little challenging, though I'll spare you the gory details. But it was entirely worth the mildly traumatic experience because the fresh flavour was amazing; they were sweet and delicately "ocean-y". The meat is firm, and a little like lobster meat. Spot prawns are also rated "Best Choice" according to SeaChoice, which is a Canadian sustainable seafood program. So there you have it: sustainability and deliciousness. What's not to love?

One not so great thing about British Columbia is the lack of fantastic tomatoes. You know, the ones that actually taste like tomatoes? Sure, there may be some gorgeous heirloom varities in specialty markets, but I'm referring to the common pale-skinned, blah-flavoured supermarket tomato. Luckily, I've learned that roasting will amplify the flavour significantly. By lightly caramelizing them and removing much of their excess liquid, the tomato-iness is concentrated and makes a great pasta sauce. This way you can pretend you were cooking with fresh-from-the-fields, still-warm-from-the-sun produce. Nice.

The fantastic prawns and made over tomatoes came together in a dish inspired by a delicious pasta I had at Provence restaurant in Vancouver last year during spot prawn season:

Cappellini with Roasted Tomatoes and Garlic Spot Prawns

3 large roma tomatoes, quartered
1/2 onion, cut in 4 wedges
3 cloves garlic, whole
5 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

9 fresh spot prawns, cleaned
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons butter

1/2 lb dried cappellini (angel hair) pasta

Arrange tomatoes (cut side up), onions, garlic, and thyme on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with oregano, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and black pepper to taste. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Bake at 300F for 2 hours or until tomatoes are slightly dried and wrinkled, and onions are soft and caramelized.

Cool roasted vegetables for 20 minutes. Puree in a blender or food processor until smooth. Strain the puree through a sieve. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

Boil cappellini until al dente (about 3 minutes!) and toss in roasted tomato sauce.

Saute prawns in butter and garlic (2 minutes per side). Serve over pasta with shaved parmesan cheese, if desired.

Serves 3

Images property of beetsandbites and bcprawns.com