Dated: Wed June 10, 2009 @ 3am
Hello Readers and welcome to this late night edition of Confessions. Swift winds have blown the last few rain clouds out of the Bay, and it looks like clear skies tonight with temperatures in the mid 60s inland and a slight western wind at 3 mph. Expect partly cloudy skies early in the morning, followed by sunshine that will last us until the weekend. Back to you AnhD.
Today can best be described as long. I started my day early and tackled one of my favorite French pastries – pâte à choux, or more commonly known in the States as a cream puff, eclair or profiterole. Pâte à choux refers to that eggy puffy dough that these 3 desserts share. There are a variety of fillings, but the most common are pastry cream, whipped cream, ice cream. Often times, these pastries are adorned with chocolate ganache, powdered sugar, etc. Side note: Being a product of colonialism, the Vietnamese were introduced to pâte à choux and we have since evolved how the world experiences pâte à choux by creating durian or pandan flavored pastry cream fillings topped off by colored buttercream flowers on the exterior shell. A truly unique pâte à choux experience.
As it is a bit tricky and I needed to keep busy, pâte à choux was the perfect way outlet. Pâte à choux is unique in that it requires 2 cooking periods – first in a saucepan, followed by baking time. Baking is then further divided into 2 temperature periods. The first higher temperature to give the pastry POOF, and the second baking temperature to dry out the pastry to prevent collapsing of that POOF. The ideal shell is golden brown, light, airy, firm and crispy. Before we start, it really helps if you have seen Alton Brown’s episode on pâte à choux (“Choux Shine“) that is currently available on Youtube. He gives plenty of good tips, a few of which are listed below:
– In the first cooking process, you must cook the flour-liquid mixture until a thin film forms in the pot. This is to ensure that as much liquid as possible has been absorbed into the flour and that the final pastry will be dry and flaky.
– Puff pastries are all protein (from the egg) and will stick to your aluminum baking sheet. You MUST use parchment. OR since I ran out of parchment, I heavily buttered and oiled my baking sheets.
– If you want a puff pastry shell, when piping your pastry dough, aim for tall, piled peaks rather than thin concentric circles. The tall peaks allow for taller finished shells.
– Piping is infinitely better than spooning the pastry dough.
– Do not bake more than 1 tray at a time.
Pâte à Choux
1 cup water
3/4 stick butter (6 tbs)
1 tbs sugar
1/8 tsp salt
5 3/4 oz flour [about a sifted cup]
1 cup eggs [about 4 large eggs and 2 whites*]
* Extra egg whites help stabilize your final puffed product
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
In a large pot, bring water, butter, and sugar to a boil. Immediately add flour and remove from heat. Using a wooden spoon, work mixture together and return to heat, continuously incorporating flour and liquids until a dough ball forms. This step is finished ONLY when a thin film appears at the bottom of your pot. Transfer mixture into a mixing bowl and allow to cool for 5 minutes. With an electric mixer on the lowest speed, add eggs, one at a time, making sure each egg is completely incorporated before adding the next. It will look like the dough is breaking up, but don’t worry. The beating will help smooth it all out.
Once mixture is smooth, place dough into a piping bag fitted with a large round tip and quickly pipe tall honeycomb structures on your parchment baking sheets. Aim for HEIGHT not width.
Leave about 1.5″ around each, as they do puff and enlarge quite a bit. Bake at 450*F for 15 minutes (for that PUFF), then turn down the oven to 350*F for the remaining 7 minutes, or until golden brown. Once they are removed from the oven pierce with a paring knife immediately to release steam.
So, now you have your shells, what to do?
I actually experimented with a few different types of creams. I used Joy of Baking’s Pastry Cream (intended for a tart, but it works), as well as Sprinkle’s Sourcream Chocolate Frosting, and even a bit of Dreyer’s Cookie Dough icecream. Either way, pastry cream, chocolate frosting and icecream MUST be enjoyed cold. So once your shells are cool enough, proceed to pipe in your filling or simply slice your shells in half and spoon your desired filling into the cavity, replacing the top once you’re done. CHILL before eating. Pastry cream does NOT taste good at room temperature. And nor does ice cream… but the frosting IS good, but does taste MUCH BETTER after some ice time.
I had to go through 4 batches to figure this all out. And I finally got it down. Granted, I have something like 5 dozen unpuffable puff pastry shells that will probably be tossed. Sigh. Oh well. It’s all part of the learning process I guess.