If Sébastien Rouxel hadn’t been a chef, he could have been a storyteller. Many tales from the Executive Pastry Chef for the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group begin as classic stories do: “When I was a boy …”
As I leafed through the new cookbook, Bouchon Bakery (Artisan, 2012) by Rouxel and Thomas Keller, I was reminded of one of my favorite stories Rouxel shared with me a few years ago over a glass of sparkling water, amid the morning bustle of Bouchon Bakery in New York City.
Growing up in the Loire Valley in France, Rouxel didn’t have school on Wednesdays. His grandmother, an early riser, would walk to the bakery and buy a bag of fresh pastries, which she left on the windowsill of Rouxel’s house. When the boy woke, he knew that warm pastries would be waiting. “Every Wednesday,” he recalls, “was Christmas.”
Food and love. They make the holidays. This year, I’ll be dipping into family recipes, making gifts for people. I’ll also be turning to the Bouchon Bakery cookbook for new classics and giving this hardcover gift to other food-loving people in my life.
Rouxel and Keller put thought and heart into this, and Deborah Jones’ photographs make the treats nearly taste-able, with pictures that steam with buttery comfort. The olive oil cake, madeleines (in plain and subtle pistachio), caramel nut tart and chocolate financiers are gorgeous. Keller also shares a recipe for Oh-Ohs, a take on one of his own favorite boyhood treats: the possibly extinct Hostess Ho Hos.
Rouxel pays tribute to his grandmother in the book. He told me, “The recipes that remind me of my grandmother are: the croissant, pain au chocolat and the pain aux raisins.”
In honor of Rouxel’s grandmother and the warm vicarious memories she gave me, I’ll be taking them on, but I want to give you something easier. Small, moist, and richly chocolate, bouchons are the bakery’s signature pieces. They’re perfect gifts or after-dinner bites. As many Upper Westsiders can tell you, they’re also habit-forming. It’s thoughtful to include the cookbook along with a box of warm bouchons.
This year, Christmas falls on a Tuesday. As I pull pastries from the oven, though, it will be Wednesday. For just a moment, I’ll be in France, watching a small boy run to the window. He knows what’s waiting, and he’s certain that the morning holds a gift.
To make these, you’ll need a pastry bag with a ½-inch plain tip (optional) and a bouchon mold, available at Williams-Sonoma. The book notes that a convection oven is faster and keeps the interiors of the bouchons moister, but a conventional oven is fine.
5 ounces unsalted butter, cut into chunks
¼ cup + 1½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ cup + 2 tablespoons unsweetened alkalized cocoa powder (for this recipe, use Valrhona cocoa powder)
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup + 2 teaspoons eggs
¾ cup + 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla paste
½ cup chocolate chips
1. Place half the butter in a medium bowl. Melt the remaining butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Stir the melted butter into the bowl; all the batter will come to room temperature and become creamy looking, with small bits of unmelted butter. Set aside.
2. Place the flour in a bowl and sift in the cocoa powder. Add the salt and whisk together.
3. Combine the eggs, sugar, and vanilla paste in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and mix on medium-low speed. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. With the mixer running, alternating between the two, add the butter and flour mixture in 3 additions each. Then mix to combine well, scraping the bowl as necessary.
4. Remove the bowl from the mixer stand and fold in the chocolate chips. Set aside in a cool spot (not the refrigerator) for 2 hours. The batter can be refrigerated fro up to 2 days, but should be returned to room temperature before filling the molds.
5. Preheat the oven to 350° F (convection or standard).
6. Transfer the batter to the pastry bag, or use a spoon. Pipe or spoon the batter evenly into the molds, stopping just below the top rim.
7. Bake for 12 minutes in a convection oven, 16 minutes in a standard oven. Test a bouchon with a cake tester, making certain not to hit a chocolate chip; the tester should come out clean (if it comes out with chocolate on it, try again). Remove the mold from the oven and let the bouchons rest for 10 minutes (so that they will hold their shape), then unmold the bouchons onto a cooling rack, turn right side up, and cool completely.
8. The bouchons can be kept in a covered container for up to 3 days. Just before serving, dust the tops with powdered sugar.
NUTRITION SCORE (per serving)
Fat 13 g (8 g saturated)
Carbs 16 g
Protein 2 g
Fiber 1.4 g
Calcium 12 mg
Iron 0.9 mg
Sodium 22 mg
What food re-creates your most cherished holiday memory?
Credit: Excerpted from Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2012. Photograph by Deborah Jones.