Choux à la Crème
It was time to switch over to some deserts. I remember as a young boy, going with my Grandma for a treat at the “Cofetarie” (means “pastry shop” in Romanian), and getting Choux à la Crème, a delicious desert, commonly found in the same choux pastry family with cream puffs, Eclairs, Profiteroles. The common thing is that all of these are using the same light pastry dough called pâte à choux.
The History of Choux
Despite the fact that the dough is mainly common for French deserts, it was actually invented in 1540 by Panterelli, an Italian chef from Florence in the court of Catherine de’ Medici. He used the dough to make a cake called Pâte à Panterelli.
Later, a French pastry chef called Avice, evolved the the dough’s name to cabbage-like shape buns called Pâte à Choux (Choux means cabbage in French).
I found this recipe in the Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home. I love the recipes there and the way the book is written, giving two versions of the same recipe – one Julia’s and the other Jacques. You can find classic recipes there, and if you are a visual person like me who learns by seeing, you can even order the DVD series that go with the book.
To make a serving of about 20-25 small-sized choux buns (that can be frozen for weeks), I used:
1 cup milk
1 cup flour
4 Tb butter (half a stick)
1/8 Tsp salt
The only tool you need here is an icing bag. Make sure you have a sturdy one that can hold quite a bit of the dough. Do NOT use a regular zip-lock bag as I did that came apart at the seams (read: exploded) as I was pushing the dough. This Wilton 18 Inch Featherweight Cake & Pastry Decorating Bag is an excellent tool to have since it can hold the pressure very well, made of coated polyester, easy to handle, and most of it, it is very easy to wash.
Start out by bringing the milk, butter sugar and salt to a boil in a larger sauce pan on high heat. Once the butter is melted add the flour and start mixing so that the mix becomes a dough-like consistency. Pull the pan off the heat and keep mixing to a dough-like consistency using a sturdy wooden spoon. Reduce heat to medium, and keep mixing the dough until the bottom of the sauce pan starts coating with a thin dough film. Take it off heat and let the dough cool for 5 minutes – you don’t want to cook the eggs as you add them.
Place the dough in a food processor and pulse it a couple times to break up the dough. Then add 4 eggs at a time, while processing. Wait until each egg is completely absorbed before adding the next one.
Using the Icing Bag
Prepare two cookie sheets with prefferably parchment paper on them (or some sort of non-stick sheet). Pepin uses a neat trick to fill the bag. He tucks about 1″ of the bag at the tip side into the wider end, so while he fills it, the contents stays inside the bag. Then he places it in some sort of a tall container (measuring cup) and folds the bag edges over. This way you can use your both hands to empty the dough in the bag.
All you do from there is just “unplug” the spout by pulling the tip to free it, and start twisting the upper side until the dough starts coming out.
Use one hand on the twisted top to squeeze and the other close to the tip to pump about 2 Tb of the dough for the choux (or 1 Tb for Profiteroles). The trick here is to hold the tip still as you squeeze close to the cookie sheet and then rapidly lift it up vertically, leaving a small “tail” in the center.
Finish the choux by lightly brushing them with egg wash from the leftover egg.
Have your oven preheated to 375°F, and bake the choux for something between 25 to 40 minutes depending on the size. You will have to peak inside the oven and judge by the color when they’re done – a golder brown would be a good color.
But – don’t take them out just yet! prop the oven door open about 2-3 inches and let the choux relax for about 20 minutes. If you take them out right away, the tend to collapse.
What actually makes the choux “à la Crème” is the crème Chantilly which is nothing more than a sweetened whipped cream with a choice of vanilla flavor or invented (debatable) by the father of French gastronomy, Karl Fritz Vatel in the late 1600.
You’ll need about 2 cups for this batch:
1 cup heavy cream (35 fat content, chilled)
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
A notably tip here is to keep the tools (large bowl and a balloon whisk) chilled. You can of course use your hand-held mixer. In that case chill the beaters, NOT THE MIXER!
I had the mixer on high speed and just used a circular motion to beat the cream until the cream started holding its shape. Do not over beat it as that will result into butter!
Fold in the sugar and vanilla extract and voila – crème Chantilly at your service!
To fill the choux, cut them proximately at 2/3 of their height, and fill the bigger part with crème Chantilly, then add the other half on top. Finish them with sifted confectioner’s sugar on top.
Of course as always you can great great impact on how you present a dish. Pepin suggests starting out by adding a pool of chocolate sauce or Crème Anglaise in the middle of your plate and placing 2-3 choux à la Crème on a dab of raspberry jam so they won’t move around.
Gosh! This seems like a long post, but seriously it’s a breeze to make choux. The great thing about it is that you can make them way ahead and freeze them for up to 3 weeks in freezer bags.