29th December 2014
‘C’ is for ‘Choux’
‘C’ is actually for ‘Conundrum’. What to bake, what to bake? Carrot cake, coffee cake, coconut? Crumpets? Something exciting!? Something obvious with chocolate? Perhaps something warming with cinnamon? Well, I’m not particularly a fan of coffee and sweet things, it’s like nuts in bars of chocolate; I just find it a tad odd. Great for Mr. Egg when there’s something of that description in the house as he gets it all to himself. But for me, I prefer not to, so that’s two ingredients off my list. Ever so slightly narrowing the search! I could go on a complete tangent and just bake cookies (boring) or go a bit fancy with choux. But the decision still has to be made and I am still none the wiser as to what I should go for. I already think I have ‘D’ set up, and as this particular baking day was a Saturday and Mr. Egg had gone into work, it was possible I could get two letters done at the same time. My midwife might not think that the best idea, but if I said “pregnancy cravings” perhaps that would be a good enough excuse. It might be hard to get through the rest of the alphabet using that phrase…
I have to admit I do fancy making choux. My mum has an eclair tin that I have always had my eye on….it’s one of those tins that she’s had for years and years, and it looks so well used, yet I’ve never actually seen her use it. Perhaps she’s a secret pâtissiere? The only thing that I’m not a fan of (yes readers, something else!) is cream. Single, double, whipped. It’s ok, I mean, I like cream cakes like the rest of them, but somehow shop bought cream cake cream is nicer than home whipped. Probably something to do with a high amount of sugar and preservatives. Maybe I’ll go out and get a can of squirty. Noone’s going to judge me right? Ok. decision made. Cream cakes it is. Or ‘choux’ if you’re feeling a bit posh.
When I was growing up I had never heard of choux pastry. We had good ‘ole cream cakes. There used to be a bakery near my parents house that was in a ‘tunnel’. It wasn’t really a tunnel, it was actually a long entrance-way to a small supermarket, but to a child it was a big echo-y tunnel. The bakery was always busy and the ladies that worked there knew my mum and us children quite well; we always got our fresh bread from there (I do have very early memories of my dad baking bread all the time, but my second memory of freshly baked bread is coming here) one thick sliced white loaf and one thin, and I’d marvel at the slicing machine. Sadly the bakery is no longer there, and like most people we get our bread from supermarkets. I’ve not yet mastered baking bread my own, but my younger sister is most definitely a succesful bread baker in the making. The slicing machines are in most large supermarkets for you to cut the bread yourself now too, but the magic of the mysterious machine has been left behind with the memory of the local bakery. My mum would often go to this bakery on a Saturday morning and pick out six different cream cakes; one for each of us for after tea. They were all different, and we always fought over who got what. Not all were choux, there was sometimes meringue, or that weird doughnut sausage shaped bun which was basically a sweet bread roll cut lengthways and filled with piped cream and a sprinkle of sugar. You lost if you got that one! My dad always got the apple turnover. But there was always an eclair and if she didn’t go to the bakery there was more than likely a box of eclairs lurking in the freezer. Becoming an adult and the world of pâtisserie opened up to me. No doubt a result of celebrity chefs and televised baking competitions.
As the name would suggest, choux pastry or pâte à choux, originates from France. It is essentially a twice baked pastry; once in the pan and then in the oven. Similar to making a roux for a cheese sauce followed by the magic of Yorkshire Pudding, rising in the oven and drying out ready to be filled. Choux translates from French to cabbage. Pastry cabbages, I like the way that sounds. No doubt a reference to the classical shape of a choux bun. Like most recipes, the choux bun started off as something similar to what we know it today, but over the years the recipes changed and adapted. According to the book ‘Classic Pâtisserie: An A to Z Handbook’ by Claude Juillet, the choux bun pastry originated from pâte à Panterelli, a similarly hot paste pastry invented in 1540 by the head chef (Chef Panterelli) of Catherine de’ Medici, wife of Henry II, King of France. It is understood, according to Juillet, that the recipe we use today was perfected, and given its current name, in the nineteenth century.
Having never made choux pastry before, I was a bit wary of making it, but it is actually really simple. A pan, a spatula, some scales and a piping bag is literally all you need. If you don’t own a piping bag you could always use a food bag with a corner cut out. You wouldn’t get the perfect bun shape, but then I used a piping bag and I didn’t get a perfect shape either!
60 g unsalted butter
150 ml tap water
75 g plain flour
2 eggs, whisked
Preheat the oven to 220 °C
In a pan heat together the butter and water until all of the butter has melted. Bring to the boil then take off the heat and add the flour. Beat together with a spatula until all the flour has combined. The mix will be like a sticky dough. Return to the heat and continue beating the paste for five minutes (I found it helpful to set a timer). Make sure you don’t use too high heat or the paste will burn. After 5 minutes turn off the heat and leave for ten minutes to cool slightly. Add the eggs, the mixture will separate and become lumpy, but persevere and continue beating away with your spatula and the mix will eventually reform into a doughy ball. Get a baking tray and line with grease proof paper then transfer the paste into a piping bag. I used a jaggedy nozzle as that was the biggest nozzle size I had, but you can use any so long as it has an opening of around 1-2 cm. Hold the nozzle upright and close to the baking tray and squeeze gently to make a blob of pastry around 3 cm diameter. Twist the nozzle to release the dough. You can dip your finger in some water to smooth the top if you like. Bake for 10 minutes. When the timer goes off, do not open the oven door, just turn down the heat to 190 ºC and set the timer to 15 minutes. When the pastry has puffed up and gone a nice golden colour take them out and pierce with a skewer. Return to the oven for a further five minutes. This releases the steam and dries out the pastry ready for filling. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
To decorate make a dark chocolate ganache: Heat 75 ml double cream to just boiling and add 100 g dark chocolate. Mix until the chocolate has melted and set aside to cool. I used squirty cream, but you can use freshly whipped cream or even crème pâtissiere if you fancy being a bit fancy (!). Squirt the cream into the base of the pastry bun (so the hole is hidden when you serve it) and dip the top of the bun into the ganache. Serve immediately. Not that you will be able to wait.
Happy caking, One Egg xxx