*Cooking the Classics is my attempt to fill the gaps in my baking repertoire by learning classic cooking and baking techniques and mastering basic recipes. Here‘s what I’ve made so far.*
I have experience with making different kinds of pastry, but I always wanted to make choux pastry. It’s meant to be easier to make than other kinds of pastry and it can be used both for savoury or sweet dishes. To make it, I used the recipe found in Leiths Techniques Bible.
This is a funny little pastry to make, quite different from any other kind I’ve ever made. You start by melting the butter in the water in a pan over a low heat. You bring the mixture to the boil and then beat in the flour. This paste, which is called a panade must not be overly beaten or the choux pastry will have little cracks on its surface once it’s baked. And then the world as we know it will end.
The paste needs to rest on a plate for about 10 minutes. Smooth it into a thin layer and just leave it until it feels just warm to the touch. Then, return the paste to the pan and add the beaten eggs one tablespoon at a time. This will take some time and you must make sure to give it a good beating between each addition. I felt that this stage was a very good arm work-out. Once all the egg is added the mixture should have a slight sheen and hold its shape. My recipe also helpfully mentions that the mixture will reach “reluctant dropping consistency” which means that a small amount placed on the end of a wooden spoon will fall off when sharply jerked and still hold a mounded shape.
To bake the choux buns, preheat the oven to 200°C/400F and lightly grease a baking sheet. You can spoon walnut-sized lumps of the pastry on the sheet or you can use a piping bag. I used a piping bag because I think it’s always good to practise one’s piping skills. I suggest you pipe the buns smaller than you think because mine came out bigger than I expected. Just keep in mind that, if it all goes well, the buns will puff up to 3 times their original size.
The way this pastry works is that the water in the mixture quickly turns to steam in the hot oven. This steam is trapped by the egg-gluten combo and it makes a kind of pastry-coated bubble. Just in case you are a nerd like me and you like to know how things work in baking. Anyway, the buns need to be baked for 20-30 minutes until they’ve risen and are golden brown. It is essential you don’t open the oven door or remove the pastry prematurely from the oven or it might collapse. When they are ready, you must quickly take them out of the oven and burn your fingers in order to poke small holes on their bottom side with a little knife and then return to the oven for an extra 5 minutes. This released the steam and dries them out.
And that’s it! Once the choux buns are dry, they are done. Easy, right? Mine would certainly not win any beauty contests and they probably wouldn’t be runners up either but I was very happy with how they’d risen and puffed up.
I knew I wanted to make profiteroles with my buns. I always think these seem quite fancy and impressive when in fact they only require a handful of ingredients and no particular skill. Handily in Leiths, the example on how to use choux buns is a recipe for Chocolate Profiteroles.
All you have to do is whip some double cream until it just holds its shape. Now, don’t overlook the second half of that sentence. I did, and my whipped cream was too stiff to be piped. Then the shop only had single cream and did you know that you can’t whip single cream? Apparently it doesn’t have a high enough fat content. I was tempted to give up but I had approximately 20 choux buns hanging around in the kitchen, I had to do something with them. So I went to a different shop and tried again with double cream. My third attempt thankfully worked; once the cream reached a pipe-able consistency I folded in the icing sugar.
I had some trouble piping the cream into the buns, I think because I was using a too small nozzle. Once I switched to a bigger one, everything worked fine. Just make sure the buns are completely cold when you do this.In a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, you melt chocolate, butter and a tad of water. I’m sure you know this but, the bowl should not touch the water surface or you risk burning your chocolate. And then the world as we know it will truly end.
Now the fun part. Hold a choux bun by its base and dip the top in the melted chocolate. try to get as much of its surface covered by rotating it. My book says you should try to not coat your fingers with chocolate during this process but I don’t see how that would be a problem. Do this for all the buns, one by one, and place them on a serving platter.
It’s best to serve the profiteroles immediately. It’s true that if you refrigerate them they will lose their crispness and become a bit soggy but to be honest, I didn’t mind. They were delicious either way!
85 g butter
220 ml water
105 g plain flour
3 eggs, beaten
a pinch of salt
Place the butter and water in a saucepan and over a low heat allow the butter to melt. Meanwhile, sift the flour 3 times so that it’s nice and free of lumps. Once the butter is melted, turn the heat to high and bring the mixture to the boil. As soon as the liquid begins to climb the sides of the pan, turn off the heat and tip all of the flour in at once. Add the pinch of salt and quickly stir to form a firm, smooth paste. Don’t over-beat! When the paste comes away from the sides of the pan tip it onto a plate and smooth it into a thin layer.
After about 10 minutes, the paste will feel just warm to the touch. Return it to the pan and beat in the eggs, one tablespoon at a time. In between each addition, beat well so that the egg is fully incorporated. By the end you will have a pastry that holds its shape and has a sheen.
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400F and on a lightly greased baking sheet spoon or pipe the mixture. If you are making profiteroles, you want little walnut-sized mounts. Bake in the top third of the oven for 20-30 minutes. Resist the urge to open the oven door to check on them before it’s time. When the buns are firm and golden-brown remove them from the oven. Make small holes on their bottom side to let the steam escape and return them to the oven for 5 more minutes. They will dry out and become crisp.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely on a wire rack before using.