Wednesday 3 June 2015

Sweet French Gnocchi - drafts 1 and 2

See. Light, crisp and fluffy.

Boil for two minutes
I really, really wish these weren't called gnocchi (pronounced neeeee-ocky in Italy or gu'nocky in North London - you choose) Sometimes described as French, occasionally as gnocchi à la Parisienne, it seems no matter how many times I explain on the phone while menu planning 'these are nothing like their Italian counterparts', everyone assumes they are. Guests expect little bouncy bullets made palatable only by the addition of much sauce. These aren't. Italian gnocchi is made from potatoes and flour, French are made from choux pastry, boiled then grilled or fried. I serve the savoury, herby version as a very well received starter but I've long wondered what a sweet take would be like. Devoid of both sleep and life meaning last night, I sought an answer at 3am.

Allow to cool on a non stick surface, such as baking paper
This is still a dish very much in development. I'm not sure to go the rugged (frankly autumnal) route of chocolate, nuts and cream or custard or take the summery path, lined with fruits, lemon curd and sorbets. My mate Ming just suggested a nod to the Greek/Turkish influences in Palmers Green and go with rosewater syrup and pistachio something. I'm having fun deciding.

This recipe is my (decimalised thankfully) version of Thomas Kellner's savoury. I've basically replaced the mustard, cheese and herbs with sugar and vanilla. I couldn't actually find a recipe on the internet which almost had me excited, until I remembered that NO ONE has a really new idea. As soon as the hubris sets in, someone will dust off a web site and Taaah Dah! Busted. I remember as a pre-internet naif in my 20s I thought it'd be cool to do something savoury with choux - only to have my head cruelly thrust between the pages of Gougère World moments later. It was rough, man. But... back to today and I haven't; I looked for hours too. Lots of sweet potato gnocchi but that's a very different dish.

Sweet French Gnocchi

Serves... oh, who knows yet; my family certainly. Maybe six people.

Add 85g of butter and 65g caster sugar to 175g water and bring gently to the boil, ensuring that all the sugar has dissolved. Add 175g of plain flour with a pinch of salt. Remove from the heat and beat until smooth with a wooden spoon. Place back on a gentle heat, only for a minute or two, stirring constantly to cook off the floury taste. Now beat in a teaspoon of vanilla paste or the seeds of one fat, sticky vanilla pod.

At this stage it's advisable to move the mix to a stand mixer, but if you aren't so equipped, prepare for battle. Now beat in three large eggs, one at a time. You're looking for a slick mix, somewhere between a batter and a dough. The technical term is 'dropping consistency' where it slowly falls off the spoon. Don't feel too proud to add a little milk to get there. No more than a tablespoon though. If the mix seems very stiff, best to add another egg.

Place the mix in a piping bag and allow to cool.

Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Pipe the mix into the water, using a knife (not a scissors) to cut the extrusion into chunks, about 2cm long. They can be longer. It's not a sin. You'll need to do this in batches of perhaps 20 pieces. They will sink, then float to the top. When all the pieces are floating, lower the heat and cook for two minutes. No more. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a non stick (the words shit and blanket come to mind here) surface. Repeat until all the mix is used up. Allow to cool for at least ten minutes, or store in the fridge for a few days. You can eat the gnocchi now, as is, but they're a little sticky. Good if you like glue balls.

When ready to eat. Melt some butter in a frying pan and heat until it foams. It really does have to be butter. Dredge the nascent gnocchi in icing sugar and fry until golden, glossy and crisp. The icing sugar makes a toffee coating that crisps on cooling. They should be light. I'd use the phrase 'melt-in-the-mouth' but nothing really does, apart from ice and chocolate.

they could easily be mistaken for a plate of wine corks. A better man than me might be tempted to try something structural with them.

I'm making no apologies for the inelegant plating. This was 3am.

Now you're as clued up as me. What to add? My first go was simple stuff: grated dark chocolate, baked hazelnuts for texture and some mascarpone. This works well. Draft two was more mascarpone, let down with a little cream, and the toasted nuts but this time with orange zest and strawberries in a strawberry reduction. It's very early in the season so the berries are not at their best yet.

Blueberries would work well, perhaps with maple syrup. Maybe sliced plums? You could add zest to the gnocchi mix before you extrude them, or cinnamon or ground cloves. I might experiment with chocolate chips and cocoa powder. I''m open to suggestions still.

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