Friday, May 30, 2014

Variations on xiao long bao (Soup Dumplings) / Vegetarian xiao long bao with carrot-ginger soup and samosa filling

It's been a while since my last post, I've been a bit busier and also took a while to think of a new project.  I decided to try making xiao long bao (XLB), or Chinese soup dumplings.  These tasty dumplings are usually filled with a ground pork/scallion filling as well as a rich broth.  What's interesting about the process of making XLB is that it uses gelatin to set the broth into a solid state, which can be easily handled and used to fill the dumpling.  This same technique has been used in a range of other recipes and in restaurants to make liquid-filled ravioli (like the Black Truffle Explosion at Alinea).  Given how versatile/adaptable the process for making XLB is, I was surprised that there haven't been many varieties of XLB produced.  To demonstrate the flexibility of this procedure, I decided to make a vegetarian xiao long bao with a samosa filling (curry potato and pea) with a complementary carrot-ginger soup.


Left: Carrots and onions for boiling in a pot. Center: Softened carrots pureed with immersion blender, cream and ginger powder added. Right: Carrot ginger soup gel after Vegan Jel added to 2X diluted soup, 

In order to create a soup gel, I used the "Vegan Jel" product by Natural Desserts, which is created from vegetable gum.  I chose this as opposed to other vegetarian gelling agents (which you can read about here) because it's substitution for gelatin in recipes was fairly straightforward (1.5 tsp substitutes for 1 tsp gelatin), and because it was claimed to have a similar melting point to gelatin.  In making the soup gel, I found that I had to first cook the soup down to my desired consistency, then dilute it with one equal part of water.  Without this step, the soup dries up during the dumpling steaming step, since a fair amount of moisture is lost.

Left: Mashed boiled potato. Center: Mashed potato with garam masala, coriander powder and cardamom powder. Right: Curried potato filling fried in a pan with onion and mixed with peas
Several recipes for making samosa filling involved cooking down onions with garam masala, then mixing in mashed/boiled potato.  I found that you get much more control over the flavor by splitting your mashed/boiled potato into two batches - to one which you add garam masala, corriander powder, cardamom powder and salt to to taste, the other unseasoned batch you reserve for correcting mistakes (can mix in if any one flavor seems too strong and then adjust seasoning again).  For more texture, it was better to leave some larger not-fully-cooked chunks of potato.

Left: Filling a handmade dumpling skin with gelled soup and samosa filling. Right: pleated and filled xiao long bao 
With a 2X diluted and gelled soup, I found that the ideal ratio of soup:filling was close to 2:1.  At around 1:1 or less, there wouldn't really be a noticeable amount of soup in the dumpling.

Left: Vegetarian samosa filling and carrot-ginger soup xiao long bao steamed for 10 minutes. Right: Opened XLB
I may add more analysis later on gelling agents and an actual recipe entry.  I would say that the finished product was tasty, although could use some improvement.  A meat-filled dumpling typically has more bite/texture, whereas between the samosa filling, dumpling skin, and soup, there isn't much variety in texture.  A future project may be a soup-filled samosa, which would have the needed deep-fried crunch.  Another possibility would be to have a mushroom-based filling for more bite, and a gelled mushroom or vegetable broth.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Greatest Cupcake II / Chocolate cupcake with white chocolate, cherry & moscato mousse, spun sugar


I've been thinking for a while now that my last cupcake article was not so visually impressive.  I feel like the blog has come a ways since then, so at the very least I could make a better looking (and hopefully better tasting!) cupcake than before.  Also, I thought it would be fun to decorate cupcakes with my girlfriend on Valentine's, so I focused on preparing components that would definitely have an impressive visual factor and incorporate some of her favorite things.

In the previous cupcake article, I had tried to make a white chocolate cherry mousse, but have to admit it didn't really have the appearance, texture, or flavor I wanted.  With a bit more know-how, I wanted to give it another try.  I was also tempted to buy a whippet/whipped cream dispenser, but couldn't really justify the expense - while they make mousse-making extremely fast and easy, most interesting things that can be done with a whipped cream dispenser can be done without one with just more time and effort.  Maybe in another article.
White chocolate mousse

The construction:

Devil's food cake again for the base.
White chocolate mousse made like before, but I've learned now that to avoid lumps in the mousse, just lightly heat the chocolate/butter or chocolate/egg mixture after mixing
Black cherry moscato syrup made by taking ~3 cups fresh cherries and heating on high heat with 1/2 cup sugar, 1-1/4 cup moscato.  After the cherries had all softened (~20 minutes), the mixture was pressed through a strainer and reduced further, with 1 tbsp moscato mixed with 2 tsp cornstarch added at the end for more thickness and more flavor.  The finished syrup was kept separate from the mousse to preserve its color - mixing it in too thoroughly can result in an unappetizing very pale pink color.
Spun sugar made by heating 6/10 cup sugar with 1 tbsp water and 1 tsp moscato until an amber color was reached (probably corresponding to the "hard crack" stage or beyond, given that some caramelization has occured).  Once the syrup flowed off a fork/chopsticks in thin ribbons, it would be quickly crisscrossed over an egg brushed with oil - an egg for a nice ellipsoid shape, and oil to help remove the hardened sugar cage.  If you decide to try this out on your own, be careful of burns!

Left: an especially fine sugar cage. Center: crisscrossing syrup over an egg on parchment paper.  Right: a collection o spun cages, thicker ones transported a bit better


Friday, January 10, 2014

Foolproof, enhanced, scalable beef Wellington recipe / Deep fried beef Wellington!

Deep-fried beef Wellington
Beef Wellington is notorious for being one of the most difficult dishes for a home cook to attempt. It consists of a beef tenderloin (or filet mignon) wrapped in puff pastry, with optional fillings like mushroom duxelle (dried mushroom spread), pate, prosciutto, or crepes, pretty much a fancy man's hot pocket.  The considerable difficulty lies in:
  • making puff pastry (which can be avoided by using less-tasty pre-made frozen puff pastry), 
  • constructing the wellington to prevent soggy crust (despite recipe suggestions to add prosciutto or crepes, the underside seems to inevitably become soggy or crushed during the prolonged baking period)
  • timing the cooking such that the beef tenderloin and puff pastry are done at the same time.
To address the difficulty in cooking time and crust construction, I decided to take a new approach.

I've had this idea ever since my cronut article to look at more interesting applications of deep fried puff pastry.  Deep frying would be beneficial since
  • the entire Wellington is cooked homogeneously and rapidly, preventing any liquid buildup on a bottom crust
  • the beef tenderloin could be cooked separately and well in advance to its desired temperature before construction of the Wellington, due to the rapid cooking time
  • individual-size or mini beef Wellingtons could be made with a finished crust and beef anywhere from rare to well-done, another added benefit of rapid cooking time
Top left: MATLAB PDEtool simulation of a fried cronut, using the same parameters as found in the ABAQUS simulation in the cronut article, for validation.  The internal temperatures (in Kelvin) are similar.  Top right: model of a beef Wellington fried at 370 degrees Fahrenheit for 4 minutes.  Thermal parameters for puff pastry were identical to those used for croissant dough in cronut model.  Beef and oil thermal properties from Advances in Deep-Fat Frying of Foods, edited by S Sahin, SG Sumnu 2009 on Google e-books.  Bottom left & right: view along the x- and y-axes respectively of the top-right figure.  The puff pastry was modeled to be 1 cm in thickness, beyond that the meat's temperature does not rise above ~150 degrees Fahrenheit, while the puff pastry has all reached temperatures over 150, which corresponded to 'done' in the cronut experiment.
First, I wanted to model the cooking process to make sure I didn't waste a whole bunch of time and money.  Using MATLAB PDEtool, I was able to determine that 4 minutes of frying should be sufficient to cook the puff pastry crust without substantially changing the done-ness of the beef interior.

Left: Seared beef tenderloin. Center; Beef tenderloin roasted at 450 degrees to an internal temperature of 125.  Instead of an expected 10 degree increase in carryover, this cut only reached a maximum temperature of about 130, or on the rare side of medium-rare.  Right: wrapping beef tenderloin, coated in dijon mustard, with mushroom duxelle and prosciutto
I proceeded to sear then roast a cut of beef tenderloin to an internal temperature of ~130 degrees Fahrenheit, for medium rare, on the rare side.  The beef was then wrapped in a baby portobello mushroom duxelle and prosciutto.

Left: Wrapped beef tenderloin, normally this is done with plastic wrap, but I didn't have any so I used a cut up shopping bag.  Center: Wrapping a chilled and wrapped beef tenderloin with an eggwashed layer of puff pastry.  Right: Eggwashed beef Wellington.  The scoring is not advised if deep-frying. 
The wrapped tenderloin was then encased in an eggwashed layer of puff pastry.  This was deep fried at ~370 degrees Fahrenheit for 4 minutes, rotating halfway through. (CAUTION: use protective eyewear and gloves when deep frying something of this size, be very careful sliding the wellington into hot oil to avoid splashing).  The crust came out crisp and flaky, while the interior remained medium-rare.  Served with roasted Brussels sprouts and a parsnip puree.

Left: Beef Wellington deep fried at 370 degrees Fahrenheit for 4 minutes total, rotating halfway through.  Center: Finished deep fried beef Wellington, resting for 10 minutes is sufficient.  Right: Sliced beef Wellington with roasted Brussels sprouts and parsnip puree.  The interior of the Wellington is seen to be still medium-rare, on the rare side.
To confirm that mini wellingtons could be made, I cooked some tenderloin scraps to medium, wrapped them in puff pastry, and fried them as well.  The interior remained medium.

Left: A tenderloin scrap, cooked to medium.  Center: Tenderloin scrap wrapped in puff pastry and fried 4 minutes at 370 degrees.  Right: Sliced mini beef Wellington, still medium with done and flaky crust
By comparison, the baked beef wellington came out at approximately the same done-ness, but requires a good half hour or more resting to not lose a lot of its juices, and to cool down enough to eat.  Also, the bottom crust was tasty, but crushed and not flaky.

Left: Baked beef Wellington. Right: Sliced traditional beef Wellington after only 10 minutes resting, clearly lots of juices were lost, and it was very hot to handle.  The bottom crust is seen to be soggy and crushed, despite the use of prosciutto and a fairly dry mushroom duxelle.  

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Mushroom pot pie, a quick, easy, vegetarian friendly Thanksgiving dish / Masterchef audition

Mushroom and leek pot pie with roasted red pepper sauce, goat cheese, and fried thyme
Hey everyone, so each year for Thanksgiving I like to cook for a small group of friends & find a new dish to challenge myself.  This year, we were going to have some vegetarian guests, so I got real excited thinking about ways to make the greatest vegetarian Thanksgiving dishes.

For one of these dishes, I chose one that could incorporate some of what I believe to be the best and richest vegetarian dish components: puff pastry, mushrooms (all sorts, truffles included), goat cheese, and eggs.  Out of the many many iterations of puff pastry-based dishes (strudels, wellingtons, tarts...), I decided to go with pot pies, which seemed to fit the rusticity that goes with the spirit of Thanksgiving.

The great thing about pot pies, besides the flavors of the filling, rich gravy, and buttery pastry, is that they can be prepared well in advance of the intended meal.  In these pictures, I had actually pre-cooked my mushrooms, leeks (green onions), and gravy about 2 days before I actually made the pot pie.  For my non-vegetarian friendly version, I mixed in some leftover rabbit that I had braised in beer, soy sauce, and sugar (leftover meats of really any kind go great into pot pies) to make an equally great rabbit, mushroom and leek pot pie.  After preparing all your components in advance, all that's left to do is make a simple puff pastry (modified slightly from Alton Brown) and whatever accompaniments you'd like (see my recipe pages to the right for more detail).
Left: Preparing puff pastry. Middle left: Making a vegetarian gravy with roux and vegetable broth, testing the consistency to see if it's "nape".  Middle right: Making a roast pepper sauce.  Right: Fried mushroom and green onions
As you hopefully noticed, the presentation of the dish is a bit better than usual.  This is due in part to my recent experience at this year's Masterchef auditions.  I went to the open casting call in NY, and brought materials to assemble the steamed bun trio and the beer pastry cream cronut AKA "bronut".  After hours of waiting in line, doing some filming in Times Square for a TV promo, and some more waiting in lines, I finally reached a room with some 20-30 other hopefuls presenting dishes to one or two judges.  My presentation was markedly worse than all the competitors in the room, but I was lucky enough to be selected to move on past the first round.  However, past that point the judges were only interested in personality, and I got beat out by some girl who had 20 pet chickens.  Ah well, I have a whole year to learn how to be bizarro enough for TV.  Below is a T-shirt I made specifically for the audition, but some of my friends liked the design and wanted ones too, so I set up a cafepress storefront.  Check it out if you want your own (alternatively, wait for a sale & just search "haters etc etc" on the cafepress main site)!

T shirt I made for my Masterchef audition.  Check out my cafepress store if you want one too! OR wait for a sale & search "haters etc etc" on the cafepress main site



Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The formula for a longer-lasting soufflé / taro, Thai tea, and green tea soufflés

Lemon soufflé with candied lemon peel
Hey all, I know it's been a while since my last post.  This recent project took a few unexpected turns.  Anyways, I decided this time to focus on soufflés, which are known to be one of the more intimidating baked goods to make.  This reputation was earned in part due to the idea that soufflés will readily collapse, surely ruining whatever dinner party you had planned.  I'm writing this article to hopefully encourage you to give soufflés a chance, as they are a highly versatile and delicious dessert with surprisingly simple execution.
Left: pastry cream, center-left: pastry cream combined with melted chocolate and cocoa powder, with 1/3 of the meringue to be mixed in. Center-right: folding in remaining meringue into pastry cream mixture, right: baked chocolate soufflé
Soufflés have essentially three components, 1) pastry cream, combined with 2) a flavoring element, with 3) a meringue folded in.  This makes the finished product basically a baked pudding, but with the added meringue component allows the soufflé to expand with heat.   My key goals with this dessert were to 1) find a generalizable formula for soufflés that could be customized for whatever flavor desired, and 2) find a way to keep soufflés standing.

A summary of findings and procedure:

  1. create a batch of pastry cream 
  2. choose flavorings low in water content, like powdered drink mixes or alcohol based flavorings, and mix into pastry cream
  3. follow the per-ramekin formula provided below for proportions of pastry cream, flavorings, and meringue
  4. stir 1/3 of meringue into pastry cream mixture, then fold in of the rest
  5. fill ramekins coated with butter and sugar with soufflé batter to the top, scrape a knife over the top to flatten the batter, tap the ramekin against the counter to release any large air bubbles, and run a fingernail along the ramekin edge to create a lip between the edge of the batter and ramekin
  6. bake at ~390 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes

  • in the absence of a working oven, soufflés can be cooked in a rice cooker by loading ramekins in, filling water up halfway, and cooking for ~25 minutes, with slightly inferior texture
  • to a point, higher temperatures and longer cooking times improve soufflé stability
  • lemon juice is known to stabilize meringues, and likewise seems to have an effect stabilizing soufflés, a small amount can be used per ramekin, 0.5-1 tbsp, but will alter the soufflé flavor.  cream of tartar may achieve a similar effect
A generalizable soufflé formula
Creating  raspberry and blueberry fruit flavorings by simmering with sugar and straining to create purees.  Left: boiling lemon peels in first water 2-3 times before boiling in a simple syrup.
I noticed that if I took Gordon Ramsay's chocolate souffle recipe and switched out the flavoring components by volume for fruit puree, the result was delicious, but messy and undercooked.  The obvious cause of this is water content: the flavoring components of a chocolate souffle (chocolate and cocoa powder) each have fairly low water content, while fruit purees have a larger amount of water by volume.  Water as a high specific heat, and must be heated up and vaporized for the protein matrix of the soufflé to set, however, in the meantime all that water is basically boiling the soufflé batter and spilling it all over the place (see above figure).  The key to a generalizable soufflé recipe is then choosing flavoring components with minimal water content.  
Left: combined pastry cream and fruit purees.  Center: soufflé batters added to ramekins coated with butter and sugar.  Right: messy, finished soufflés.  The water content and amount of the fruit flavorings were too high, this can be remedied most easily by using fruit-flavored alcohols or powders for flavor, or  using very small quantities of fruit purees.
I chose to demonstrate this using some of my favorite bubble tea flavors: taro, green tea, and Thai tea, which are each available in flavored powder forms (for green tea, don't make the mistake I did and use real 100% green tea powder, which will end up too bitter and hygroscopic - use the green tea powder mix).  This same strategy can be seen in various other soufflé recipes that call for the use of alcohol for flavoring, since alcohol evaporates much more readily than water.

Left: combining pastry cream with taro puree and taro powder, thai tea powder, and green tea powder mix. Center: ramekins filled with batter prior to baking. Right: Finished taro, thai tea, and green tea souffles.  Note: incorporating 1 tbsp of taro puree per ramekin adds considerable richness and texture to the soufflé.  I highly recommend this flavor.  For green tea, do not use 100% green tea as I did, use green tea powder mix

Formula for a single-ramekin soufflé
1/2 cup pastry cream + 2 tbsp low-water content flavoring + 1-1 1/3 large egg whites (with 1 tbsp sugar) worth of meringue.

A longer-standing soufflé
Experimenting with different possible ways of stabilizing soufflés. Left: combining pastry cream with taro puree and taro powder.  Center: combining pastry cream and meringue elements.  Right: finished soufflé batters in ramekins.  The top ramekin contains a small amount of lemon juice, the center contains a higher meringue-to-pastry cream ratio, and the bottom one contains more pastry cream and less meringue
Many recipes online will claim to have a 'foolproof' soufflé, but few bother to explain why this or that formulation actually helps keep a soufflé stable. My initial thoughts were that the key to maintaining a soufflé's height after removal from the oven was to add more structural support, in the form of gelatin or methylcellulose.  These attempts were all met with failure.  Instead, I noticed that if I incorporated large amounts of meringue into my soufflé formulations, I saw more shrinkage of the soufflé as it cooled.  The behavior of the soufflé then is not unlike a cloud of gas, which can be defined by the ideal gas law,


Pressure * Volume = moles of gas * ideal gas constant * Temperature
(or PV = nRT)

Holding pressure, moles of gas, and the constant R constant, the volume of gases/air pockets within the soufflé are dependent on their temperature.  A drop in a soufflé internal temperature from 160 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit would result in a 10% shrinkage of air pockets (a somewhat larger drop in volume is observed since the soufflé air pockets are not gas impermeable - the moles of gas, n, within each pocket is not actually constant and may also drop with time).  While the cooling of the soufflé and shrinking of air pockets is unavoidable, the effects can be minimized by decreasing the meringue composition of the soufflé.  This was factored into the generalizable soufflé formula provided above.

Left: Soufflés immediately after 20 minutes at ~390 degrees Fahrenheit.  Center: Soufflés 5 mintues removed from oven.  Right: Soufflés 10 minutes removed from oven.  The leftmost ramekin contains lemon juice, the center contains more meringue-to-pastry cream, while the right most contains more pastry cream-to-meringue by volume.  The key comparison is between the rightmost ramekins, where the soufflé with more pastry cream had a smaller deflation
I hope this guide helped clear up some questions about how to go about making soufflés, and will encourage you to go out and try to make soufflés of new and interesting flavors! In the future I may post more articles on some more out-there flavors I made, as well as more advanced things you can do with soufflés.  

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Lays, FTFY: Making Improved Sriracha Chips and Chicken & Waffle Chips

Hey everyone, so some of my friends know that I was pretty devastated by the loss of Sriracha and Chicken & Waffles in the recent "Lay's Do Us a Flavor" contest, where predictably, some cheese-based flavor ended up winning.  The only one I got to try was sriracha, which my friends and I decided tasted more like American hot sauces, and didn't have the distinct sriracha flavor that comes with fermentation of the chili peppers.  In general, I've heard that the chicken & waffle flavor was lacking in chicken flavor and was maybe too sweet.

First, in order to design better sriracha and chicken & waffle (c&w) chips, it's important to understand where the originals went wrong.  The sriracha chips ingredients list indicates that their chips were flavored by creating a "creamy sriracha seasoning", which included "natural flavors" (probably some chili powder blend) and sour cream/cream/cheddar cheese, which were likely responsible for diluting the sriracha flavor.  Also, these high-fat components were used so that they could make a powder using maltodextrin, a starch that stabilizes fat, allowing them to be turned into powders.  The chicken and waffle chips ingredients notably contain no chicken based ingredients and no maple syrup components (using instead brown sugar).

For the sriracha chips, I decided it would be easiest to just find a way to make a powder out of store-bought sriracha sauce.  After dehydrating in an oven for several hours, the solid sriracha formed a nice powder when ground up in a coffee grinder

Left: 1/3 cup sriracha sauce spread out onto parchment paper.  Middle: sriracha sauce spread thin.  Right: After ~4 hours at 250 degrees F, sriracha sheets were peeled off parchment paper
In order to slightly prolong the shelf-life of the powder (only from about 1 day to more like a week or two before the powder really gunks up), and also to make it easier to pour/sprinkle, I weighed out 2% by weight silicon dioxide .  Silicon Dioxide (SiO2) is basically sand, and you'll find it as an additive in many spices in stores, listed as an "anti-caking agent".  SiO2 is a dessicant, meaning it will seriously absorb water, and is what makes up the insides of those silica packets you find inside of various food items, like beef jerky.  WARNING: silicon dioxide inhaled into your lungs can't really be gotten rid of (prolonged exposure can lead to silicosis, which is serious business), so if you do decide to work with this stuff, please use reasonable precautions (I would recommend some form of mask, working in a well ventilated area, taking care not to aerosolize the SiO2)

Left: Dried sriracha put into a coffee grinder.  Center: Dried sriracha ground with 2% by weight silicon dioxide, forming a fine dry powder.  Right: Put it in a saltshaker for easy distribution
Making C&W powder was a bit more difficult, just because there are many more components that need balancing.  For chicken flavor, I decided the best source was chicken broth powder, which is available in most stores.  I chose Lee Kum Kee brand chicken bouillon powder , since in the ingredients list it had the fewest extra flavorings included (lots of other brands like to include tumeric or cumin or other spices that would distract from the c&w flavor).  Maple powder and butter powder are available from American Spice Co, although if you're really interested, you could probably make maple powder using the same procedure as with sriracha.  However, there was one major component missing. In C&W, the most dominant flavor is always the flavor of 'fried'.  Both the exterior of the waffle and the chicken are essentially fried flour, and the chicken, maple, and butter flavors are basically secondary flavors.  It was critical to find a way to make a powder that captured this 'fried' flavor.

Left: melting 1 tbsp butter. Center: Still melting.  Right: Pouring brown butter into a few tablespoons of maltodextrin.

One option would be to actually make a waffle and grind it up into a powder, but that seemed wasteful and time consuming.  Instead, I had the thought of trying to make a powder out of either roux or brown butter, both have very nutty flavors/aromas that remind me of fried goods.  To do this, I just heated a small amount of butter until bubbling ceased and nutty flavor was strong.  I mixed this with maltodextrin to get it into a solid form.

Left: Brown butter mixed with maltodextrin, forming large chunks.  Center: Brown butter powder mixed with maple powder, butter powder, and chicken broth powder.  Right: after grinding in a coffee grinder, filled another saltshaker with chicken & waffle powder
The final step was to coat some potato chips and eat.  I actually tried making some chips from scratch, and determined it was a total waste of time.  For the time and money (mainly in using up so much oil to deep-fry), you could just buy several bags of plain potato chips.  The finished powders were sprinkled on a regular bag of chips, although it helped to some degree to pre-heat the chips for about 2 minutes at 400, to release some oil onto the chip surface.  Here it was very important to coat very liberally, without a substantial amount of powder, the salty potato flavor can easily dominate.  

Left: regular uncoated potato chips.  Center: Sriracha potato chips.  Right: Chicken & waffle potato chips
So that's it, you all can rest easy knowing that good sriracha and chicken & waffle chips aren't gone for good, give it a shot and let me know if it beats the Lay's versions or not!

Detailed recipe coming soon!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Building a better cronut - the BRONUT / beer pastry cream filled cronut with chocolate shavings

For those of y’all less inclined to read, I will write up an explicit recipe for how to make bronuts/cronuts/broissants, if there is sufficient interest.  Instead...

Summary/quick tips:
  • Use a regular croissant dough recipe from a reputable source, but adjust the ingredients for lower water content, higher carb content, higher protein content
  • After cutting out your donuts, it is CRITICAL to let them "proof" or rise at room temperature for 1.5-2 hours.  Helpful tool: donut cutter
  • Deep fry at 360 deg F for 90 seconds for a soft exterior, 120 seconds for a crispier exterior.  Helpful tool: deep fry thermometer 
  • Use a grating tool to grate a dark chocolate bar over the cronut for chocolate shaving topping.  Helpful tool:microplane 
  • Use a piping bag with thin tip or a squeeze bottle to pipe beer pastry cream (or other heavy flavor to balance the light cronut) into four points of the cronut.  Useful tools: piping bag or squeeze bottle 

As some of you may know, the big new food craze to hit NY is Dominique Ansel’s “cronut” – a donut shaped pastry with a flaky, layered croissant interior.  A good half the hype is how rare these seem to be, as only 200 or so are made each day, and are typically sold out within an hour or two (meaning people typically need to line up between 5 and 7 AM).  One Sunday some of my friends and I had nothing better to do so we decided to see what all the fuss was about.

Left: The line at 7AM on a Sunday for cronuts.  Right two: We did it! Only 8 people from the cutoff
It was alright, but many of us agreed it was not what we were expecting.  I agreed with some people’s criticisms I had read online – the lemon pastry cream filling was a bit sweet and didn’t mesh well with the donut, but my main beef with the donut was with its texture.  I was expecting something with good contrast – crispier on the outside, soft and buttery on the inside.  This may be more my own personal preference, since I think most donuts do have this same soft outside, soft inside, uniform texture.  In any case, I sympathized with some of the people who  barely missed the cutoff, or don’t want to pay $5 for a pastry, or think that the whole cronut business is snooty and exclusive.  For many of these reasons, I decided to go about building a better cronut.

To create this improved cronut, some background understanding on three key pastries is necessary: croissants, donuts, and beignets (bits of fried dough with a pillowy soft inside and a crisp/crunchy outside).  My ideal cronut would have a beignet’s texture contrast, but be made out of croissant dough and be shaped like a donut. 

Heat transfer simulation in ABAQUS of a donut-shaped and similar-dimension circular disk of dough fried in 360o F oil, using dough thermal parameters from the Food Properties Handbook, 2nd ed by Rahman.  The disk has regions on the interior ~309 K or 96.5 F, vs 321 K or 118 F on the interior of the donut).\
The donut shape: The toroidal shape of donuts is actually an important element here.  The frying of dough happens very quickly, on the order of a minute or two.  Other people trying to copycat the cronut recipe have noted that just deep frying a croissant results in a raw interior.  As I’ve discussed earlier, the key here is the surface area-to-volume ratio.  In the figure above, you can see that after 2 minutes frying at the same temperature, if the donut hole is not removed, then the interior of the dough is significantly less cooked (~20 degree difference, dark blue seen in disk, no dark blue in donut).


Fat, water, protein, and carb composition of croissant (n=6), beignet, and yum-yum recipes.  The fried recipes appear to have higher fat content and lower water content than the croissant, as well as possibly higher protein content.  This chart should put your mind at ease as to how much room for error there is for croissant doughs
The croissant dough:  Some people may be surprised to learn that fried croissant dough is actually not that innovative – this pastry, called a “Yum-Yum” has been around in the UK for decades (maybe centuries? sorry, I’m not really a food historian).  But before I learned about this, I knew that in order to fry croissant dough, some modifications would be necessary.  Alton Brown mentioned in his waffle episode (The Waffle Truth) that fried doughs typically need higher fat and sugar content to stand up to frying.  To confirm this, I did what I call a meta-analysis of multiple recipes.  This appeared to be the case, as an example beignet recipe (from cottonseedoiltour.com, based on ones from Café du Monde) and yum-yum recipe (from James morton) both had higher carb content, lower water content, and possibly higher protein and fat content by mass than average croissant doughs (taken from 6 reputable sources).  I chose the one recipe with highest carb, highest protein, and lowest water content and adjusted these up a bit more for my first trial.

Left: Croissant dough initial proof/rising.  Center: Making a flat sheet of butter, I like to use an old shopping bag and a wine bottle as a rolling pin.  Right: After folding and sealing the dough around the sheet of butter, the dough-butter package was folded into thirds.  This three-fold process is done three times total, with 30-minute refrigeration breaks in between before chilling overnight.
Note: while many baking recipes insist on weighing out ingredients, which is more precise than using volumes (cups, tablespoons, etc), from the graph you should get an idea for the margins of error acceptable within a croissant dough recipe, so really the precision of a scale is not necessary.

Left: After an overnight chill, I rolled the dough thin, to ~1/4 inch thickness, and cut out about 3-inch diameter circles (I used a ramekin as a template and just used a knife, if you want to be precise you can buy a donut/biscuit cutter ).  I also cut out a 1-inch diameter circle from the center.  Center: Two cronuts deep frying.  Right: Two finished cronuts, with flaky cross-section.
Frying technique: Nothing too special about the frying technique, I made the laminated dough, proofed it for an hour and a half, and then tried frying it within a range of temperatures from 375-350 F (typical temperatures used in donut and beignet recipes), and stuck to frying single donuts at 365 F for 90 seconds for a softer outside, 120 seconds for a crispier texture, which was what I was looking for.  After removing from the oil, I dusted on some regular sugar while the exterior is still hot.

Left: I don’t have a piping bag with a thin enough opening, so I used one of those ketchup-looking squeeze bottles to fill the cronuts with beer pastry cream.  Left-Center: A finished bronut filled with beer pastry cream, topped with chocolate shavings and more beer pastry cream.  Right-Center: Bronut cross-section.  Right: Don’t forget about those cronut holes!
Fillings: Since the original cronut had a lemon pastry cream that seemed maybe a bit too light, I decided to make two types of fillings: a lemon pastry cream like the original, except less sweet, and a beer pastry cream.  The cronut is already very light and airy, so I thought that a heavier pastry cream would actually be a better complement.  This, and the fact that my friend Yanran over at skinny bacon had coined the name “bronuts” made using beer the obvious choice.  To make the beer pastry cream, I just used a standard pastry cream recipe I found online but substituted half the milk with a pale ale and 2 tbsp butter.  For lemon pastry cream, just grate a lemon’s worth of zest into the simmering milk. 
After injecting the beer pastry cream into the cronut, I topped it with some chocolate shavings, followed by another ring of pastry cream aaaand boom – bronut complete.

Oh, and remember to save the cronut holes. They're good eats too!