Experiments En Croute

"En croute" is the most beautiful two-word phrase in the French language ("service compris" being a close second). I came to this realization while recently perusing the online menu of Le Refuge, which I hoped to visit during a trip to Old Town Alexandria. Among the restaurant's many old-school, albeit tantalizing, options is saumon en croute, a massive filet of salmon encased in egg-brushed dough and covered in champagne cream sauce.

You would think the decadent champagne cream sauce would have caught my eye but I was more transfixed with the pastry oh-so-lovingly enveloping the fish in a thick doughy hug. I wanted to be part of that embrace.

I wasn't going to Le Refuge until the following week, so, I thought, why not make something en croute chez moi? A roll of Pillsbury crescent dough was in the fridge. Granted, I didn't have any salmon, but the en croute technique can also easily be applied to other meats (chicken, beef tenderloin) and soft cheeses (brie, Camembert).

But at my husband's apartment (which is not my apartment, as we're one of those modern couples that don't live together), there was no meat or cheese. Because my husband had recently gone vegan, at least on weekdays. Bastard.

With no car and the temperature in the blustery teens, I didn't feel like going shopping. Rifling through the cupboard, I found something that was just begging to be baked in pastry dough: a big-ass peanut butter cup.

For those of you not familiar with the this monstrosity, the big-ass peanut butter cup is an eight-ounce confection proffered by Reese's during the holidays. I bought a two-pack from CVS for a family joke gift and consumed the first cup over a week of intense dissertating in January. The second had remained wrapped in the cupboard.

I retrieved the big-ass cup, which seemed fresh and certainly still smelled peanut butter-tastic. After smoothing out the dough into one solid square, I positioned the candy in the middle and then attempted to wrap it in sophisticated artisanal fashion. That sort of worked. Fortunately, I had some extra dough with which to, um, adorn the less perfect spots of the croute covering.

Having made many a brie en croute for various grad school gatherings, I was familiar with the proper cooking times for a wheel of double cream cheese. But what about the big-ass cup? It was approximately the same size (though denser) with a (chocolate) exterior that I guessed would deliquesce more quickly than the brie rind. I decided to try 12 minutes on a baking sheet lined with parchment at 375 degrees (preheated). I didn't conceal this baking project from my significant other, but I didn't exactly advertise that the thing sizzling in our oven was not brie, cranberries, and walnut in pastry casing but rather a giant peanut butter cup.

Perhaps because I recognized it was pretty vulgar, even for me.

But what was done was done. Fourteen minutes turned out to be the ideal baking time, with the dough lightly browned, the chocolate melted, and the peanut butter creamy.

And, of course, it tasted good; how could it not? Sort of like a state fair version of pain au chocolat: bigger, nuttier, and definitely unsophisticated. The perfect dessert contrast for watching an extended episode of Downton Abbey.

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Joanna O'Leary