Friday, February 3, 2012

Pate a Choux

The other night, I was thinking about my foodie goal of spending more time in the world of French cooking. Aside from watching Julie and Julia and enjoying my Mastering the Art of French Cooking (mostly for the mother sauces), I really haven't spend much time experimenting with French cooking. As I pondered, I got up from the couch (that seemed to require a great deal of effort yesterday after the lengthy dog walking trek that we had in the mid afternoon) and grabbed that tome of Julia's expertise, returned to the couch and started flipping through.

After going back and forth, I decided on something that I had been intimidated by previously and was so completely French that there was no doubt that it was one more step towards my foodie goal. 

Pate a Choux!

From Mastering the Art of French Cooking
1 cup water
3/4 stick of butter (a stick is 1/2 cup, so you can go from there...)
Pinch of salt
Pinch of pepper
Pinch of nutmeg (I got excited during the grating, as I always seem to, and probably was closer to a few pinches)
1 teaspoon sugar (for dessert puffs, as I was making)
3/4 cup flour
4 eggs

In her very French introduction, Julia (hilarious how I have put myself on a first name basis with Julia Child... how very JuliE of me!) throws out words like panade to describe the very very thick white sauce into which you will beat the eggs. I, on the other hand, described it to Doug as "whoa... this looks like mashed potatoes." hahah. I am what I am. 

Anyway, back to the choux, put a decent heavy bottomed saucepan on the stove to melt the butter in the water with the seasonings (salt, pepper, nutmeg, sugar).

Once that butter has melted, in one go, dump in your flour and stir furiously for about a minute or two while your pot is still on the heat. You are supposed to stir until this dough forms a mass and comes away from the sides of the pot.

Now, you take the (I guess...) panade off of the heat and get ready to add your eggs. One at a time, crack your egg into a well in the middle of your dough. Mix until it is combined and absorbed. Then crack the next egg and stir. And again. And one more time. 

And now you have choux!

Heat your oven to 425 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

I used a pastry bag to portion my puffs. No tip, just a bag. You could use a pastry bag or a large plastic bag. Once the pastry dough has been transferred into the bag, cut the nib off of the end and get ready to pipe. 

Squeeze the dough onto the baking sheet trying to make little circular blobs (my piping definitely improved after the first few). My blobs ended up being about 1 inch high by 1-1.5 inches in diameter. Lightly beat an egg and brush the tops of your puffs with it. Julia's directions say to avoid dripping egg down the puff and onto the baking sheet, as it will stop the puff from rising properly. I didn't fuss too much, gave each puff a quick swipe with egg and called it a day.

Put your readied trays of puffs in the oven for 20 minutes. They should double in size and be a beautiful golden brown. Remove the tray from the oven and pierce each puff with a sharp knife. I burned a finger or two during this process but move quickly and you'll do just fine. 

Turn off the oven and put the tray back in with the door ajar for 10 minutes (maybe a bit longer depending on your humidity/oven heat/etc). The goal of this step is to help dry the INSIDE of the puff so that it retains its shape and height as it cools. If it is still damp inside, it will inevitably fall. 

After the 10 minutes, check that your puffs have dried well. If not, they may need a bit more time in the oven. I couldn't quite tell at first if they were baked/dried sufficiently, so I opted to taste test. Too wet = tastes like a mini Yorkshire pudding (not a disappointing state on its own!). Dry enough = crisp and firm. If they are dry enough, take the tray from the oven and leave it to cool. Fill your puffs with whatever you have on hand or feel like enjoying in a bite sized gem.

I filled my first-ever puffs with my newly made meyer lemon curd and whipped cream, topped with a grating of meyer lemon zest and nutmeg. I'm so proud of these little treats and cannot wait to make choux pastry again (and you can bet it will be filled with cheese)!

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