To celebrate my graduation, KP and I are taking a week together to drive around Colorado, create space to enjoy the sense of achievement before it tumbles down the mountainside to collect along the roadsides like any other run of the mill boulder. What better than a larger than life Scrabble game at Zephyr Mountain? I couldn’t have gotten better letters:
Feeling on top of my game, I decided to try, for the first time, making choux paste. Says Julia Child, “Like soufflés, popovers, and pita breads, choux paste is one of the miracles of the kitchen. You spoon an ordinary-looking batter onto a baking sheet and minutes later you’ve got a puffed pastry that appears to be threatening flight. This is the stuff of cream puffs, éclairs, profiteroles and dreams.”
Choux paste (choux sounds like “shoe” and means “cabbage” in French) has been around since the sixteenth century—something I have lately delved into with the graduation present (to myself) of a book on the history of cookbooks, a bibliography of all the early classic works, dating back to the Middle Ages!
Choux paste is unusual in that it is twice-cooked: The mixture is mixed and heated on the stove top and then baked. The ideal choux pastry has a light, very tender crust and an almost completely hollow interior, made for filling with anything—I choose ice cream!
Adapted from Baking with Julia
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup brewed coffee
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 7 pieces
2 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon finely ground espresso
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
5 to 6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 large egg beaten with 1 teaspoon cold water, for egg wash
Put the milk, water, butter, sugar, and salt into a 2-quart saucepan and bring to a full boil over medium heat, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon. At this point, the butter should be fully melted. Still stirring, add the flour all at once, and stir energetically and without stop until the flour is thoroughly incorporated. Then continue to cook and stir for another 30 to 45 seconds, or until the dough forms a ball and a light crust is visible on the bottom of the pan.
Remove the pan from the heat and scrape the paste into a medium bowl. Immediately, while the dough is still hot, beat in the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon or spatula to incorporate each egg before adding the next. The first couple of eggs are the hardest to mix in, but as the mixture loosens, it softens, smoothes, and becomes easier to blend. (If you want, you can beat the eggs in with a mixer – hand-held, or standing with the paddle attachment – just keep the speed low and take care not to beat too much air into the dough.) After you’ve incorporated 5 eggs, take a good look at the mixture – it might not need the last egg. You’ll know the dough is perfect when, as you lift the wooden spoon, the spoon pulls up some of the dough that then detaches and forms a slowly bending peak. If the dough’s too thick and doesn’t peak, add the last egg. The dough is now ready to be used in any recipe calling for choux paste. In fact, it must be used now, while it is still warm.
To bake the profiterole, preheat the oven to 400 degrees prior to making the choux paste. Pipe the choux paste onto parchment. Spoon the choux paste into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip (I just snipped the corner off of a plastic sandwich bag and it worked quite well) and pipe quarter-sized puffs onto parchment-lined baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between puffs. Finish piping each puff with a quick twist, as if you were writing the letter C, so that a tail or point isn’t formed. (Don’t worry if your puffs wind up with tails – you can poke them down and adjust small imperfections with a moistened fingertip.) Brush each of the pastries with a little egg wash.
Baking the Puffs: Bake for 20 minutes, lower the temperature to 350 degrees F. and bake 5 to 7 minutes longer, or until the pastries are golden brown and feel hollow. Halfway through the baking period, rotate the baking sheets top to bottom and front to back. Transfer the sheets to cooling racks and allow the puffs to cool to room temperature before cutting and filling.
Assembling the Profiteroles: To serve, cut each puff in half crosswise and fill with Pastry Cream [or the filling of your choice] Coffee or Vanilla ice cream taste divine with this espresso profiterole recipe. Serve a generous three to a person, arranging the profiteroles on dessert plates and drizzling some warm chocolate sauce over each puff.
While these were tasty, what a learning curve! The first batch, which I didn’t photograph for shame, had too little flour (I think), and the oven wasn’t quite hot enough to pop them up to shape. If there were such a thing as alien cows, my first batch of profiteroles resembled what I imagine alien cow turds to look like. They tasted good, but looked pathetic. Sad little artsy pancakes. These were much fuller but were not as hollow. So there must be some happy medium with the flour. Or maybe the altitude was to blame. Either way, made into ice cream sandwiches, no harm, no foul.