Uh-oh, Kempy, there’s a problem with the pastry,” warned food editor Maggie Ruggiero. She was retesting a mushroom soup recipe I’d developed for Gourmet’s April 1996 issue—we wanted to rerun it in October 2008 to illustrate chef Paul Bocuse’s culinary influence in the late 20th century. Inspired by Bocuse’s iconic black truffle soup hiding under a dome of golden, flaky pastry, I’d created a version for home cooks: morels in a sherry-laced mushroom broth topped with rounds of store-bought puff pastry. The fact that Maggie had a problem with the pastry was gut-wrenching news. I pride myself on my recipes in general, and I’d been particularly proud of this one. I remembered working hard until I was confident I’d nailed it.
As soon as I got off the phone with Maggie, I ran down to the test kitchen to see what happened. The pastry lid had puffed to a beautiful golden dome, just the way I remembered, but underneath that crisp outer crust was a most unwelcome slab of wet dough. Yuck. Something was the matter.
Food editors gathered and picked apart the recipe. We knew deep, narrow bowls were essential. Bocuse’s recipe called for lion’s head bowls, footed extravaganzas graced with lions’ heads for handles. We’d used those for the photo shoot in April 1996, but prop stylists deemed them too old-fashioned for 2008 and chose different, more modern vessels. That meant adjusting the quantity of soup to fill the new bowls, which was easy—it was the pastry that worried me. I knew there had to be a generous amount of space between the soup and the pastry on the top of the bowl. Otherwise, the pastry would sag into the liquid before the liquid got hot enough to steam and lift the pastry above the rim. Other than that, we weren’t sure what to do. We checked Bocuse’s cookbook for advice, but didn’t find any helpful hints there.
I sent frantic emails to chefs Jonathan Waxman and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, both of whom apprenticed under Bocuse, thinking they could offer some help. Advice flew back. They knew the soup well, and they both said more or less the same thing: “Make sure the pastry is thin. Use a hot oven. Put cold pastry on top of cold soup.” We rolled the pastry thinner, and chilled the cut-out rounds well. We upped the oven temperature to 425°F. But the cold soup made me pause; it seemed counterintuitive. I’d originally specified room-temperature soup, reasoning that it would take much less time to get hot in the oven. Knowing well the talent, skill, and experience of Bocuse’s protégés, we gave cold soup a try. Ah, success! The pastry “hats” ballooned over the heated soup, and more importantly, they were golden brown, flaky, and crisp all the way through. Thank you, chefs Waxman and Vongerichten, for helping us recreate your mentor’s brilliant dish. Collaboration is a sweet thing.