This month’s Daring Cooks’ challenge was definitely one of my favourites ever. It was tons of fun, and so inspiring. There’s something about edible containers that brings out the kid in me – and judging from the funky dishes I’ve seen on the Daring Kitchen forums, I’m not the only one!
But since I have a tendency to overthink everything (staying in school forever will do that to you), it wasn’t long before I started wondering: “What exactly qualifies as a container?” I mean, if a container is considered to be anything that holds your food together, then doesn’t the rice paper in spring rolls qualify as an edible container? What about the crust in a tartlet? But those didn’t seem like particularly creative options, and creativity is what this challenge was all about.
Anyways, after a few days of pondering, I decided to forget about solving the problem, and just have fun. A few things I’ve already posted on this blog featured edible containers, such as my baked eggs in a bread ramekin, and Laurent’s parmesan salad bowls. But I wanted to make something new.
The first thing I tried was a recipe from the beautiful blog La Tartine Gourmande: smoked salmon potato nests. They were very easy to make, and tasted so delicious, with such lovely contrasts of textures and temperatures. And don’t they just look adorable?
I then tried one of the challenge recipes: a noodle salad bowl. Noodle bowls in Chinese restaurants are usually fried, but this one was baked. It was a little tricky weaving the noodles together, and I was afraid they wouldn’t crisp up properly, but they did. Served with a cool salad of baby greens, grated carrot and cucumbers, with a sesame oil dressing, this bowl was a wonderful nibble.
Finally, I experimented with choux pastry. It’s definitely not the ideal dough for this kind of challenge, as it rises a lot in the oven. I wanted to make choux pastry cups, so I lined ramekins with dough, and had to keep pushing the dough down during the baking process. The cups took a long time to bake, too. But the result was worth it: they were crisp, and their rich taste made them the perfect container for a creamy filling. I would recommend these as a substitute for puff pastry shells in vols-aux-vent (which we’ve already made for the Daring Bakers).
The filling was also an experiment, but a less successful one. I made a béchamel with shallots and lemon, and poached pieces of white fish and Nordic shrimp in it, adding a spoonful of chopped tarragon at the end. But somehow, the whole thing was rather bland, and the wonderful flavour of the Nordic shrimp had disappeared. It needs work.
Below are the recipes for the potato nests and the choux pastry bowls. I want to thank Renata for this amazing challenge! I encourage you to take a look at the other Daring Cooks’ edible containers, because people have really outdone themselves this month. And if you get inspired and want to give it a try, the challenge recipes are here. Also, we’re having a contest this month, so please vote for your favourite dishes over at the Daring Kitchen!
Smoked Salmon Potato Nests
Adapted from a recipe from La Tartine Gourmande
Yields 12 units
3 medium russet potatoes, peeled
1 tbsp flour
Salt and pepper
3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
60 ml (1/4 cup) crème fraîche
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp pink peppercorns, crushed
4-6 slices of smoked salmon
Dill sprigs, for garnish
Fleur de sel, for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 180ºC (350ºF). Rinse the potatoes to remove part of the starch. Grate them in a food processor. Lightly beat the egg and mix it into the potatoes. Season the flour with salt and pepper and incorporate it into the potatoes. Brush a mini muffin tin with melted butter. Divide the potato mixture among the muffin tins, shaping them into little nests. Brush the inside of the nests with butter. Bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until crisp and golden brown. Let cool until just warm.
Combine the crème fraîche with the lemon juice. Divide the salmon among the potato nests, and add a dollop of crème fraîche into each. Garnish with pink peppercorns and dill, sprinkle with fleur de sel, and serve.
Choux Pastry Cups
Yields 5 cups
4 whole eggs 100g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, diced
Pinch of salt
125g (7/8 cup) flour
240ml (1 cup) water
Preheat oven to 180ºC (350ºF). Heat the water with the butter and the salt in a saucepan over medium heat, until the butter is melted. Remove from heat and add the flour, all at once. Return to heat and cook, stirring constantly and making sure to hydrate all of the flour, until you obtain a smooth, shiny dough that does not stick to the pan. Remove from heat and stir in the eggs, one by one.
Butter five small ramekins. Divide the choux pastry among them, pressing to line the ramekins with the dough. Bake for at least 40 minutes. During the baking process, check on your cups regularly, pressing down on the dough whenever it rises in the bottom, so as to preserve the shape of the cups. The finished cups should be crisp and dry. Let cool in the turned off oven, to finish drying completely. Serve with the savoury filling of your choice.