Sunday, September 28, 2008

Mes petits choux

Inspired by the Daring Bakers who churned out dozens and dozens of Pierre Herme's eclairs earlier in the month, and faced with an open spot on my finger foods menu for the house warming I decided it was time to try making pate a choux again. Pate a choux is one of the few pastry doughs I haven't been instantaneously successful at.

My former friend M used to make a fabulous polish dessert named after the mountains of Poland. That dessert, which I haven't though of since I was in high school consists of layers of choux paste spread over a baking sheet and baked until crisp. Since the dough steams during the baking process the layer rises unevenly resulting in the "mountains". The layers are then sandwiched together with a vanilla pudding in the approximation of a pastry cream. So it's like an eclair... only more rustic. However, when I tried it I found the result entirely too eggy and the pudding filling was too sweet - which turned me off the idea entirely. My following attempt at gougeres was equally abysmal and I'd given up on the idea entirely.

Then the Daring Bakers put on their masterful display and I thought "If all of them, all over the world can master this dough, then maybe I should try it again." I'm glad I did. Doing so resulted in the wonderful discovery of a dessert that my friend P actually likes. P is one of those boys who is utterly satisfied with a big plate of protein, and maybe some carbs as a garnish. He dislikes vegetables, and is utterly averse to dessert. To have found one that he actually likes, and will consume, is nothing short of miraculous. It almost makes up for the fact that I had to beat this 10 egg dough by hand. Yes, entirely by hand since I discovered just after combining the flour and hot liquid that my electric beaters had shorted out. I almost cried. Then I sucked it up and decided to forge ahead.

They were delicious and vanished rather quickly. By far, the hit of the evening, which makes them almost worth it.

The recipe for the pate a choux is my reworking (by which I mean I was running between my laptop and the stove and so there was some improvisation) of the Pierre Herme version. Since I added a hit of cinnamon to the pastry I decided to follow that up with a ginger pastry cream because once I start improvising I don't see reason to stop.

For the original Daring Baker's version please see Meeta's Blog, What's for Lunch, Honey?

Cinnamon Ginger Cream Puffs


1 recipe of pate a choux (see below)
1 recipe of ginger pastry cream (see below)
1 recipe of chocolate ganache (see below)

1. Once the choux have cooled, slice them in half.
2. Fill with a teaspoon of cold pastry cream.
3. Freeze until firm.
4. Dip the tops in the ganache, or use a fork and drizzle the ganache over (depending on how heavy a coating of chocolate you're looking for).
5. Chill for another 10 minutes in the freezer.
6. Serve - or leave in the freezer for your guests to sneak out at intervals.

Pate a Choux

1.5 cups of water
1 cup of milk
8 oz of butter, cut into cubes
4 tbsp of sugar
1 tsp of salt
1/2 tsp of cinnamon
2 cups of flour
8 eggs

1. Combine the water, milk, butter, sugar, salt and cinnamon in a large pot. Bring to a boil over medium heat.
2. Once the butter has melted, and the mixture is at a rolling boil, dump in the flour all at once and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon. The mixture will combine and form a ball, peeling itself off the bottom of the pan, but leaving a thin film behind. This is good.
3. If you have electric beaters, break them out. If not, square your shoulders and prepare for a work out.
4. Break an egg, beat it to homogenize and then pour it over the hot choux dough. Beat the dough vigorously with your beaters or spoon. It will go all sick and shiny first, but as it absorbs the egg will return to it's lovely sticky state. Continue until you have used all of the eggs. If you are using a spoon feel free to take breaks in between. Your dough will not suffer too much.
5. It is important that you shape the dough while it is warm. If you are using a piping bag, fit it with your widest tip and fill it with the warm dough. You can pipe these into any shape you'd like. If you are not using a piping bag you can do what I did and try and make quenelles with two spoons, or do what I did later and dollop teaspoons of dough onto a foil lined greased baking sheet.
6. You can freeze these - or bake them immediately. The total baking time is 20 minutes. I bake them for 10 minutes and then propped the oven door open with a wooden spoon handle and baked them for another 10, flipping the trays at the 15 minute mark.
7. Once baked, remove the puffs from the oven and poke a hole in the side of each one. This will release the steam in the puff and they will stay crunchy as they cool.

Ginger Pastry Cream

2 cups of milk
0.5 inch of ginger chopped into shards
6 tbsp of sugar
3 whole eggs beaten
3 tbsp of corn starch

1. Combine the milk and ginger in a microwave safe container. Bring to a boil and let cool, allowing the flavour form the ginger to infuse into the milk. Let cool and once cold remove the ginger. Alternately you can mince the ginger finely and leave it in the milk.
2.In a saucepan, combine the corn starch and sugar. Whisk to homogenize. Pour in the milk and whisk to dissolve.
3. In a separate container, beat the eggs to homogenize.
4. Heat the milk mixture over medium heat, whisking frequently. Once the mixture starts to steam ladle a spoonful into the eggs, pouring it in a thin stream and whisking the eggs constantly in order to temper them. Repeat a couple of times.
5. Pour the eggs into the mixture. From here on it, whisk constantly. It may seem like it will never thicken, but it will go from fluid to thick and spitting quickly. If you stop whisking it will get a little lumpy. You can salvage it by straining it, but it's easier not to have to do so.
6. Once the mixture is thick and glossy chill it down until you are ready to work with it. If you aren't a fan of pudding skin feel free to press a layer of cling film on the surface of the cream.

Chocolate Ganache

150gm of dark chocolate
5 tbsp of milk
1 tbsp of butter

1. Combine the ingredients in a microwave safe container.
2. Nuke for 15 seconds and stir.
3. Repeat until the chocolate melted and smooth.
4. Use immediately or chill and drizzle.

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