French patisserie has a touch of magic about it. Bring together butter, flour, baker’s hands, a little patience, a touch of bravery, and beautiful, marvellous things happen. Like croissants, brioche, pastries, and today, profiteroles.
This is my second time making profiteroles. The first time was early last year. There were two really good bakers in our team at the time, boys wonders who competed to out-do each other by bringing gorgeous desserts to team meetings: New York cheesecake, pear and hazelnut tortes, Mexican flans. I was still learning the basics of baking, but decided to challenge the boys by making profiteroles.
(Can you tell we are a bunch of overachievers?)
So one night after dinner, I found myself cooking water, butter and flour together; stirring the mixture until the lumps turned into a shiny, stiff ball. Adding eggs, seeing the ball become wet, blobby, hopeless; stirring on blind faith, seeing it come back together again, shinier and looser than before. Piping, into the oven, anxiously watching, sitting on a stool in front of the oven.
And watching as the choux pastry balls grew bigger and puff up. As if by magic.*
* Choux pastry is “double cooked”, a process that imbues it with some very special properties (Joe Pastry). It is made of a cooked roux, with eggs added. It has a high water content. During baking (the second ‘cooking’), the water turns into steam and forces the pastry shell to expand and puff up, before stabilising and holding its shape.
Some of the first batch deflated once out of the oven (took them out too soon, rookie’s mistake). Others looked a little lopsided. Then, the second batch puffed up, slightly crisp, and held their shape. I still remembering cutting into a choux pastry puff for the first time, and seeing the hollow in the centre. It seemed a miraculous thing.
This week was the second time, for the Tuesdays with Dorie group. The cooking, mixing and re-mixing felt less scary, less fraught with trepidation. But, watching the choux pastry puff up in the oven was still like magic, and I still sat on a stool watching the oven.
First time, the profiteroles were filled with a cream cheese mixture and fig-cabernet paste. This time, I piped pandan flavoured pastry cream through a hole at the bottom of the profiteroles, drizzled a star anise infused chocolate glaze, and served with pureed roasted strawberries.
Other TWD bakers
To see what other TWD bakers have done, visit the Tuesdays with Dorie links page. The original recipe, for espresso profiteroles, can be found in the book Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan.
– To make a choux pastry, water, butter and salt (to prevent eventual cracking) are heated on the stovetop to a rolling boil, so the fat is dispersed throughout the liquid.
– Add the flour to the melted butter mixture all at once and beat well with a wooden spoon. When ready, the roux mixture should leave the side of the pan. And once the roux comes together, it should be stirred constantly and continuously flattened against the sides of the pan, drying the paste as much as possible.
– Cool the roux slightly before beating in the egg, or the heat may cook the egg.
– After adding eggs, just keep beating until it comes together. When ready, the dough should be shiny, drooping from the spoon, and fall off in clumps if tapped lightly against the side of the pan. Or, ‘the dough is ready when, as you lift your spoon, it pulls up some of the dough and then detaches and forms a slowly bending peak.’
– The pastry puffs must be baked until the insides are dry. Otherwise the puffs will collapse when they are removed from the oven. A few websites suggest that you cut a small hole in the pastries to let steam out, and then bake for another 5 minutes. I’ve left the pastries in the oven with the heat turned off and oven door slightly open for about 20 minutes.
(adapted from Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan, note I halved this recipe)
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
3/4 stick or 85 grams unsalted butter
2 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 cups (approx 210 grams) AP / plain flour
Optional: 1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon cold water, for egg wash
1. Preheat oven to 400F/200C.
2. Put the milk, water, butter and sugar into a small sauce pan and bring to a full boil over medium heat. Stir until the butter is melted. Add the flour all at once, stir energetically and without stopping until the flour is thoroughly incorporated. Continue to cook and stir for another 30-45 seconds, while the dough forms a ball around the spoon. (If you are using a stainless steel saucepan) a light crust will form on the bottom of the pan – don’t scrape this.
3. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the dough into a medium bowl, cool slightly. (Some recipes recommend breaking up the dough a little at this stage.) Beat in the eggs, one at a time, stirring vigorously to incorporate each egg before adding the next one. Check the dough after the 5th egg is added. The dough is ready when, as you lift your spoon, it pulls up some of the dough and then detaches and forms a slowly bending peak. If the dough is too thick, add the 6th egg.
4. Pipe or drop the dough onto a baking sheet while it is warm. If piping, finish each puff with a small twist at the end, so there isn’t a point on top, like writing the letter C. If you get a point, just dab the point with a moistened fingertip. Brush the pastries with the egg wash if you like.
5. Bake for 20 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 350F/175C and bake for another 5-7 minutes, until the pastries are golden and feel hollow. (Note I baked for another 10 minutes, and left the puffs in the oven to cool off and further dry out.)
6. Fill with ice cream, or pastry cream (below), or whipped cream, or anything else you like. Drizzle with chocolate sauce (below) or similar. Or, turn them into croquembouche.
Pandan-scented pastry cream
(based on various recipes in hand-scribbled notes)
1 1/2 cups milk
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup castor / granulated sugar
3 tbsp cornstarch (I’ve used rice flour at a pinch, or flour if you don’t mind the taste)
1 teaspoon pandan essence
1. Whisk together egg yolks, sugar, and corn flour until no lumps remain.
2. Heat up milk in a small saucepan until just under boiling temperature (steaming).
3. Add 1/3 to 1/2 of the milk to the egg mixture, a spoonful at a time, whisk well after each addition. This stabilises the egg yolk. Add the milk and yolk mixture back into the saucepan, add the pandan essence. Cook over gentle heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture turns into a kind of custard and becomes thick.
4. Chill, with plastic wrap over the surface to prevent a skin forming.
Chocolate sauce, infused with star anise
(based on the salted butter chocolate sauce, by David Lebovitz)
1 cup (250ml) milk
2 pieces of star anise
6 tablespoons (3 ounces, 85g) butter
1/4 cup (45g) packed sugar (original recipe calls for light brown, I used castor)
8 ounces (230g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1. Heat the milk with star anise. Leave to cool and let the flavours infuse.
2. Heat the milk with butter and sugar until the milk begins to steam.
3. Remove milk mixture from the stove and add the chocolate. Stir gently but constantly until the chocolate has melted and the sauce is smooth, dark and glossy. Cool and serve.