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.