[RECIPE] We Fancy Cheese Puffs | Playing the Temperature Game for Perfect Choux Pastry in Gougères

Wednesday’s Rancher Appreciation Supper (tickets and menu here) at Harry’s Pizzeria® is about more than meats the eye.  The occasion is a celebration of delicious product from a source we trust and can stand behind, a commitment that Michael is making long term for our neighborhood American pizzeria as it grows.  Beef and pork raised right, tastes right.  But what happens behind the scenes to make it all happen for the dinner on the culinary end orchestrates resources and talent across our group, from menu development to execution.

This morning we visited our commissary kitchen where much of the heavy lifting for prep happens for our restaurants and special events to zero in on the process through the humble cheese puff or gougère.  A flurry of activity since 5:00 a.m. dances around not skipping a beat from one item, one hot minute, to the next, cooks methodically Sharpie-striking the day’s butcher paper prep list taped to glass racks. MJ keeps her cool “off to get [her] ass kicked” on the next thing.  Jean checks on Michael’s Genuine’s pastrami in the cabinet smoker wafting a peppery sweetness over the range where MJ begins her pâte à choux.  The key throughout the process is use of temperature and its control.

“What I love about the choux dough is it is so rustic. You have to really get in there with your hands to make something beautiful and simple,” she explains, bringing the water, milk, salt and sugar to a boil in a saucepan before adding the butter and then the flour, paddling, turning and whipping with a wooden spoon aggressively. “Instead of a raising agent like yeast or baking soda, we use a mechanical leavener — moisture from fat and the steam that escapes when heated.”

You’re looking for the “V” to form and then it’s ready to pipe.

MJ prefers her base with a little more flavor so she cuts the water with equal parts milk, adjusting the butter accordingly.  Keeping an eye on moisture content and knowing what to look for at the various stages of cooking will yield the right result.  She likes to finish cooking it by drying it as much as she can on the range.  Looking for a film to form on the bottom of the sauce pan, MJ then takes it just a tad longer over the heat.

“I’m looking for it to become dry enough to sustain the structure of the dough when I add the eggs later,” she adds.  They’ll be tempered with the help of the whiz of a gigantic paddle in the smaller (30 quart) of her two Hobart mixers and a paint job she learned back in culinary school — spreading the dough on the sides of the mixing bowl to let just the right amount of steam escape before adding the eggs so they incorporate perfectly.

“When you are trained originally in pastry you start with traditional French patisserie to learn the basics,” MJ reflects.  “I always rely on the foundation of the technique, but it’s the instinct for cues in the behavior of the technique that develop over time and serve to make a recipe really work.”

Gougères

Yields about 3 dozen

1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup whole milk
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1 scant cup all-purpose flour
5 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cups gruyère, shredded
1/4 cup grated parmigiano reggiano

Pre-heat oven to 375° F.

In a saucepan over medium-high heat bring salt, sugar, milk, 1/2 cup of water and butter to a boil, mixing to combine with a wooden spoon.  When a froth begins to form, turn the heat to medium-low and add the flour.  Mix with wooden spoon continuously for 3-4 minutes or until a light film forms on the bottom. Keep stirring vigorously for another minute or two to dry the dough so it easily pulls away from the pan.  It should have a smooth, paste-like texture. Remove from the heat.  Using the wooden spoon, scoop the dough and spread on the sides of bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.  This will allow just enough heat to escape before adding the eggs to ease their tempering.  Add the eggs one by one and beat until the dough is thick and shiny, making sure that each egg is completely incorporated before adding the next.  Don’t worry if the dough looks like spaeztle as the eggs are beaten in, this is normal; the dough will come together again.  Let the dough sit for a minute, then beat in the grated cheese. You’re looking for the dough to form a stiff “V” on the paddle, then you are ready to pipe.  Using a rubber spatula, scoop dough into a pastry bag fitted with a medium round tip for better control when piping.

Line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper — if you are using parchment, you can pipe a small bit of dough on the corners and in the center of the sheet to use as glue for the paper.  Pipe about 1 tablespoon of dough for each gougère leaving about 2 inches between the mounds. Sprinkle each with a little parmigiano.

Slide the baking sheets into the oven and immediately turn the oven temperature down to 325 degrees F.  The initial blast of heat will activate the steam and make them rise, then lowering will dry them out without burning them.  Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the gougères are golden and puffed.  You an also pull one from the oven to test for moisture inside and continue to bake accordingly.  Serve warm, or transfer the pans to racks to cool.

In the Lychee Loop: Miami’s Summer Season Grows into the Genuine Menu

MJ shows off .005% of our 600 pound haul, as culinary assistant Dillon Wolff (left) learns the ropes with chef Max Makowski (right) on inventory, forecasting and other important matters in the growth and support of The Genuine Hospitality Group and Michael Schwartz Events.

We’ve been waiting on these for a while now, so we are really excited to get them in today,” MJ Garcia explains.  MGFD’s Pastry Chef and I are having a handoff of sorts at the Genuine Commissary, our company’s prep kitchen facility off Miami’s bridge-stitched intracoastal waterway at 79th Street. The afternoon boasts clear blue skies and the occasional white puff, with evidence of the morning’s monsoon in glints and mirrors in the pavement.  Seemingly sprung from nowhere in a hurry, complete with umbrella-flailing sideways rain, last Monday, June 19 exhibited typical wet season behavior, weather that grower Roland Samimy picked and plodded through on his family’s Homestead groves before making it rain 600 pounds of lychee at the commissary. We can take a hint, anticipate the cue. Summer has arrived in South Florida in its moody torrent of active skies and colorful ingredients.  

I’m here collecting “seconds” Roland left to indulge my affinity for the alien fruit’s annual arrival, and MJ is humoring the ensuing curiosity, offering a peek into the process of how we systematically shed fuschia reptilian skins to reveal sweet-tart flesh at the table in recognizable, but not necessarily transformative, ways. So you can see and therefore know what you’re eating and discover where it comes from.  The objective of the exchange? To better understand the magic that happens when buying power and supply collide to drive creativity and create demand. Maybe change minds. Even behaviors. Because Roland knows all too well that there’s something to parse here, in the why of “seconds,” panicles with maybe a couple perfect specimens amidst a cluster of immature fruit.

“It was a very very dry, warm winter. The flower came out strong and then dried up or blew off before pollination,” he explained over the phone earlier on his way up Florida’s Turnpike.  “Lychee are special, and they’re fickle. They like tropical, and in a sub-tropical climate with more and more variability each year, crops can’t adapt on a dime. It’s become difficult for local farmers. Projections from year to year are hard.  It’s too hard for them to make the numbers, especially with competition from Mexico and Thailand undercutting prices. Put it all together and you have more trouble growing this fruit and making a living.”

Perry Samimy in the family grove at peak of harvest on June 11, 2011.

So a dry spell and wind at the wrong time can kill a season, even a crop for good.  Take the Samimy operation — a labor of love, really, not the family’s livelihood.  They now have one of largest groves in South Florida at 20 acres, and Michael’s been buying from them since before MGFD existed.  We experienced one of our best seasons in 2015, a dramatic bumper crop that yielded 100,000 pounds from the grove’s 1,100 trees.  The Samimy’s 2017 season will produce 1,000 pounds if they’re lucky, with 1/3 of trees actually fruiting, and only the heartier Brewster variety not the usual first-of-the-season plumper, smoother Mauritius.  That’s a decrease of 99% — erratic to say the least. We call it like we see it: lychee is the canary in the coal mine for climate change.

Dr. Jonathan Crane at University of Florida’s Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead explains that lychee was introduced into Florida before 1880 and by the ’50s there was a lot of interest and promotion of planting. With support from the USDA, Florida Department of Agriculture and interest groups like the 130-year old Florida State Horticultural Society comprised of fruit, vegetable and ornamental farmers, groves sprung up across the state, from Winter Haven in Polk County in the north to all the way down to Miami-Dade. The Florida Lychee Growers Association formed in 1952 even touted “You can plant lychee wherever you can plant citrus!” The thinking back then was the crop had a lot of “cold tolerance” but after four freeze events back to back in December ’57 and January ’58 killed most everything north, the crop dwindled to small plantings here and there in center of state mostly adjacent to lakes and about 100 acres or so in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade Counties. Our neck of the woods is currently home to about 1,000 acres.

Making lychee history, a dip into the archives (courtesy Dr. Crane)

“To be politically incorrect, lychee is a great example of global warming,” says Dr. Crane.  “In order to flower reliably, dormant trees have to be exposed to temperatures below 60°F for anywhere from 300 to 600 hours, depending on how cold it gets.  What has been happening in the past 7-8 years is we are getting less and less cool temperatures in Miami-Dade. They aren’t getting sufficient what we call ‘chilling hours’ to induce them to bloom. There is a macro trend at play here.”

What can we do?  What we do best. Feature and get excited about lychee.  And let you know when something’s up with our sources.

“We save the prettiest ones to serve from pastry, simply over ice,” MJ continues.  “What we try to do and can do now thanks to the commissary and specifically our new big walk-in freezer is extend the season by buying in bulk and time releasing the reserves.  Lychee is such a short season, especially this year, and the best way to store them is shell-on frozen.”

Pastry is already highlighting the fresh product turning out the smooth-as-can-be lychee-coconut-vodka sorbet popular from last year. It debuted at brunch last Sunday in a refreshing sundae with its delicate melt meeting hibiscus syrup and a double whammy of fresh lychee on top. MJ describes it as the perfect canvas for lychee, “subtle, fragrant and fresh.”  They loaded ella with a batch of popsicles yesterday.

Chef de Cuisine Tim Piazza has plenty cooking beginning this week. On Friday we tasted Yellowfin Tuna Crudo with lychee, serrano, pink peppercorn, basil, and lime from the MGFD raw bar and then followed along as he put together Crispy Pork Belly & Lychee with coconut milk, herbs, chile, and cashews.  Both super delicious and such different yet compelling expressions of the same ingredient!  A lightly cured shrimp and lychee dish was a hit last year at dinner, so we’re hoping it will be back or perhaps a variation.

Phoenix: Bacardi Superior, St. Germain, lychee, grenadine, lemon, cranberry

The MGFD bar always does a great job of maximizing yield, capturing luscious juice for cocktails like Phoenix with Bacardi Superior, St. Germain, grenadine, lemon and cranberry.  TGHG Beverage Manager Amanda Fraga loves lychee for its unique flavor. There’s always a Lychee Martini available, special because it’s made with fresh lychee juice, not the typical canned variety you might be used to, and the guest’s choice of vodka. The sky’s the limit from there since it plays so well with other fruit flavors, as well as a wide range of spirits.

Stay in the lychee loop on our restaurant menus throughout the summer with the hashtag #genuinelychee.  Keep your eyes peeled for other tree fruits, like nectarines, mangos and cherries cropping up everywhere.  It’s going to be a fruitful summer no matter what!

The Genuine Kitchen’s backstory on the Samimy family groves, the local lychee crop, and its embrace in our restaurants can be found here.  I also interviewed Chef for the first time for a piece on the Miami New Times food blog here, as the first lychee harvest of 2009 rolled in.

The Peak of Seasoned: Commissary Goals

There’re a lot to be said for writing things down. Releasing your desired reality out into the universe, having them in type — or in my case script — there to remind you.  To look at every so often, sometimes more than others.  And to be astonished one day that it’s time to make new ones because what you’ve set out to accomplish is now, seemingly suddenly, real.  Growth is a thing you commit to and when you do, something magical happens where what was so unknown becomes the most familiar thing in the world.

img_8973We set goals here at The Genuine Hospitality Group.  Our people do and so does our company.  It’s hard to imagine that the idea seemed foreign just a year and a half ago.  Now at the start of the year, it’s not just goals for our business, I set personal ones, too.  Even hashtag them.

“It’s unfolding like an onion,” says Michael.  He’s speaking about our new commissary kitchen, but I know it’s a metaphor for what’s happening now writ large.  What unfurls when something is set into motion.  “So many exciting opportunities will come from this project.”

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Strawberries in the fields at Knaus Berry Farms. We want them all.

We got into the large space a month ago, and executive chef Bradley Herron will tell you we’ve already grown out of it.  It’s not hard to imagine, I found visiting last Wednesday with MJ Garcia who is exploring “the savory side of life”, captaining the project at ground zero.  But for Bradley, our MGFD pastry chef was just the right person for the job.

“Brad stitched me for the part,” MJ explains.  “I’m learning how to administer and organize my time, figuring out how the proteins work, how to utilize the space properly.”

The journey began around summer’s end, and the understanding that there was opportunity to build out Michael Schwartz Events and our catering capability quickly became the realization that we could centralize production for our restaurants, capitalize on product at the peak of season and get as much of it and out of it as possible.  For Brad and Michael this has opened up the potential to rethink how we do things, the possibilities for ingredients and sourcing, the development of people at this facility and at the restaurants that comes with increased efficiency.  Imagine the doors this opens for creativity.

“Michael connected with Margie from Bee Heaven Farm and hashed a plan with the chefs,” MJ explains.  “We bring in whatever she has leftover from the weekend market and in abundance.  We take as much as we can and get to work preserving, dehydrating, processing things fresh, incorporating it into sauces, veal stock.”

After a space was identified and lease signed, Brad along with culinary assistant Megan Hess just started showing MJ the savory ropes. Recipes were dialed in, and once the space was delivered and equipment online thanks to heavy lifting from TGHG VP of Development Patrick Brown, programmed into a combioven which MJ swears could basically take care of her child.

“I put the eggs for the mayo in there, right in the crate. There is no movement, no breakage.  And the time it saves!  Brad built this operation for efficiency. Everything is big enough to climb into.”

Coffee is the first item on the check list in any kitchen Brad and Michael are running.

Good coffee is the first item on the check list in any kitchen Brad and Michael are running.

“You don’t have service so you have time to pay attention to details and make sure product comes out the same way every time,” MJ continues.  “We have a unique opportunity to basically work without the million variables at odds in a busy restaurant. The time pressure now is different. It’s scheduling and planning, forecasting the needs of the restaurants.”

She’ll say she’s slowly taking on more production, that she was terrified the first week getting into the space.  But as an outsider to this process observing it for the first time, the progress they’ve made since the fear of January 2 is nothing short of astounding.  In one month MJ has gone from fish out of water to conservatively comfortable, owning the first (and longest) cooking stages of the prep for proteins and so much more that she’s already hiring more staff to handle it all.

Combimagic: 3 cases of octopus -- a week's worth of octopus in one day that MGFD will then take an wood oven roast or add to its daily pasta set up. We control temperature, humidity and pressure -- basically every element of the cooking process.

Combioven magic, no joke.  This rig has been programmed to cook 3 cases of octopus in one day — that’s a week’s worth for MGFD which it will wood oven roast or add to the daily pasta set up. We can control temperature, humidity and pressure — basically every element of the cooking process.

“When they order I have to be ready,” MJ says of the constant communication with the restaurants as the process synchronizes. “Most of this is lead time stuff so by nature it requires forecasting. 8-10 hours of cooking overnight for most of the proteins like the pork belly, pastrami, short rib, pig ears… The bacon is just rubbed but I’m smoking it here so again, that’s a process that takes time.  I’m still building up a base pantry and learning our pars but then again they’re going to change as we continue to develop new catering offerings.  We are creating a pattern of what we need, don’t need, one thing at a time as I get my feet on the ground and understand the rhythm of things.  We want to train and do things in the right way.”

Brad is guiding MJ through planning based on restaurant sales and previous orders, as well as weekly forecasts of covers.  Then there’s the innovation that happens when the tail can wag the dog, maybe anticipate what the restaurants might not even know they need.  Sometimes she’ll work special projects for Cypress Tavern if Max requests, like duck confit. She’s caramelizing the onions and slicing the chips for MGFD’s dip, cutting and crisping potatoes for fries and cabbage for the pastrami, building ella’s grilled cheese sandwiches for the griddle.  The list goes on and will continue to grow when she takes on something familiar next month — pastry production with assistant Alex Sarria.

“I go every morning to check on the girls,” MJ says. “And then I surprise drop in and taste twice a week with the night crew.”

 

For Michael it’s not just about capitalizing on bumper crops for pricing and quality, it’s about investing in our people.  That’s the thing about goals.  By design they need to be measurable and achievable and to make them so, you time stamp and list who’s on the journey with you.  Because you can’t do it alone, ever.  We like to say we know more what we don’t want than what we do.  And that’s perfectly fine too.   Many thanks to TGHG Managing Partner and Harry’s Holdings CEO Sunil Bhatt for teaching us about goals.  Onward and upward.