Thursday, April 26, 2012

French Cooking Part 2: Pâte à Choux Creations

Discovering that using the Pampered Chef Easy Decorator makes it really easy to create pate a choux shapes
Explaining the finer points of French pate a choux

Continuing on the French theme this month, what could be more Frenchy than cream puffs? But not only cream puffs, but the many other wonderful things created from the very versitile, eggy, magical dough that is pâte à choux.  Pâte à choux is a light pastry dough used to make cream puffs, eclairs, profiteroles, swans, croquembouche, slovak veternik and cheese puffs, to name a few.  The difference between the different pâte à choux creations is the shape of the dough and what filling is used in the end product.  I would bet that most of you have the ingredients on hand to make pâte à choux, so why not give it a try?
This is a mini Croquembouche.  A Croquembouche can be over 4 feet tall!  What an amazing centerpiece that would be!
I had a lot of fun preparing for this month's class.  My oven produced several batches of swan body parts, big swirling mounds for slovak veternik; smaller, smoother spheres for cream puffs and profiteroles, and oblong cylinders that would become custard-filled eclairs.  More than one friend received a plate of my experimental models.  After all, what are friends for?  (Your family will love you more, too!)

Pâte à Choux

10 ounces Water (1 1/4 cups)                                        4 ounces Butter or 6 ounces Oil
4 teaspoons Sugar                                                         1 teaspoon Salt
6 ounces Sifted bread flour (about 1 1/4 cups)             5 eggs

1. Combine water, butter or oil, sugar and salt in a medium sauce pan. Bring the mixture to a
boil over medium heat.
2. Remove from heat and add flour all at once. Stir quickly with a wooden spoon.
3. Return pan to medium heat and stir vigorously until dough forms a ball and pulls
away from the sides of the pan. Remove from heat.
4. Transfer to a stand mixer affixed with the paddle attachment. While mixing dough,
add the eggs one at a time. Mix dough until each egg is completely absorbed before
adding the next egg. Continue until all eggs are absorbed into the dough and the dough drops from the paddle and creates a V.  Alternatively, the eggs can be mixed into the dough by hand in the same pot used for cooking the dough.

To make the different shapes, follow the directions below:

Basic spheres:  Fill Easy Decorator fitted with an open star tip (or a pastry bag fitted with an open star tip) with prepared pâte à choux. On a parchment-lined cookie sheet, squeeze out a mound of dough and twist the end of the tip to release the dough.  Space mounds of dough about 1" apart to keep them from touching.  Wet the tip of a finger to push down any points that are left on the top of the dough mounds.  To make larger mounds (and therefore larger pastry shells), begin as for the smaller mounds but draw the tip around the center point one or two complete turns, then begin another layer and end back at the center.  All I can offer is the advice of my piano teacher: practice makes perfect.

Alternatively, you can use the filling tip (very long, narrow tip) on the Easy Decorator to form smooth spheres.  To do it this way, start the tip in the center of your sphere and draw the tip around the starting point while gently squeezing the trigger.  Build up a second layer on top of the first and end back in the center of the sphere.  This takes a little practice, but even if your spheres don't come out very spherical, they'll still be very good to eat.

Eclairs:  Fill Easy Decorator fitted with an open star tip (or a pastry bag fitted with an open star tip) with prepared pâte à choux. On a parchment-lined cookie sheet, squeeze a line of dough about 4"-6" long, depending on how big you want your eclairs.  Use a twisting motion to break the tip away from the dough.  Use a wet finger to remove any points.

Swans:  Fill Easy Decorator fitted with an open star tip (or a pastry bag fitted with an open star tip) with prepared pâte à choux. On a parchment-lined cookie sheet, pipe oval shapes about 3” long to form the bodies of the swans.  For the neck/head, fit the Easy Decorator with the round tip and pipe an elongated S-curve for the neck.  Go back to the starting point and squeeze out a small circle of dough and pull the dough away a little to shape the beak.  Fix your shape with a wet finger as needed.

To bake the dough shapes:  (Don't try to bake different shapes together on the same cookie sheet.  Each shape will need different baking times based on size).
  • Preheat oven to 425° F.
  • Bake pastry shapes 10 minutes, then without opening the oven door, turn the heat down to 375º and bake for another 10 minutes.  Turn the heat down to 325º and bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown.  For smaller shapes, reduce baking time to 6-8 minutes per cycle.  These baking times will vary based on size of dough shapes and oven variations.
  • Remove the shells from the oven and cool completely.  Note:  If shells are soft to the touch when you remove them from the oven, prick the side of each shell to let the steam escape and put back in the oven to dry out (the oven should be turned off and the residual heat will dry out the shells).

Filling Options:

Crème Chantilly (fancy for sweetened whipped cream)
1 cup Heavy cream
3 tablespoons Extra-fine granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean or ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1. If using vanilla bean, remove seeds and discard the rest of the bean.
2. In a stainless steel bowl, whisk cream and vanilla until cream begins to thicken and
coat the whisk.
3. Add sugar and continue to whisk until the mixture forms soft peaks. Cream should be
smooth and not grainy.

Crème Caramel 

7 Tbs. sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

2 tsp. plain gelatin (Knox)
2 Tbs. heavy cream.

Heat the sugar over medium high heat in a heavy bottomed saucepan until the sugar melts.  You may need to use a silicone spatula to help the sugar melt.  The sugar will become a wonderful amber color.  If the sugar begins to brown well before the sugar is completely melted, turn the heat down so the sugar doesn't burn.

As soon as the sugar is completely melted and it is an amber color, add the cream.  Be careful because the cream added to the hot sugar will spatter.  The sugar will become hard, but continue to heat until all the sugar dissolves.  Remove from the heat and pour into a covered container.  Chill overnight.

Heat the 2 Tbs. cream until very hot.  Sprinkle the gelatin over the hot cream and let soften for a few minutes.  Stir the cream and gelatin until the gelatin completely dissolves.  You may have to heat up the cream to get the gelatin to dissolve completely.  Set aside.  Pour the chilled caramel cream into a large mixing bowl and beat as you would for whipped cream.  Pour the slightly warm gelatin into the beaten caramel cream and beat a few seconds.  Store the crème caramel in a covered container until ready to use.

Vanilla Pastry Cream

12 egg yolks
12 ounces sugar
3 ounces all-purpose flour
1 ounce corn starch
4 cups milk (at least 2% milk fat)
2 ounces butter
1 Tbs. pure vanilla extract

In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks. Mix together the sugar, flour and corn starch and add it to the egg yolks.  Add one cup of the 4 cups milk to the egg mixture and whisk until completely lump-free.

Heat the remaining milk to a boil over medium high heat in a large, heavy-bottomed sauce pan.  As soon as the milk begins to boil, remove the pan from the heat and add a little of the hot milk to the egg mixture and whisk.  Continue to add the hot milk to the egg mixture, a little at a time, until all the hot milk is added.  Pour the mixture into the sauce pan and cook over medium high heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture boils.  Boil for a minute and remove from the heat.  The cream should be very thick.  Add the butter and vanilla and stir to combine.

Cool the cream while it's in the pan by placing the pan in a cold water bath (fill the kitchen sink half way with cold water).  The water should come half way up the sides of the pan.  Stir until cooled to room temperature.  Store in a covered container in the refrigerator.


Chocolate Cream:  Add 4 ounces good quality dark chocolate to the hot vanilla cream.  Stir until the chocolate is completely melted.  Follow the directions for cooling the cream.

Chocolate Hazelnut Cream:  Add 1/2 tsp.-1 tsp. hazelnut extract to the chocolate pastry cream.  (Hazelnut extract is available at Savory Spice Shop downtown on Tejon St.).

Lavender Cream:  Omit vanilla extract and add 4 Tbs. lavender-vanilla flavored sugar to the hot egg-milk mixture.  Cook as for vanilla pastry cream.  (Buy flavored sugars at Savory Spice Shop downtown on Tejon St.).

Vanilla or Chocolate Mousseline:  Whip 1 cup heavy cream to stiff peaks. Fold into 1/2 a recipe of  pastry cream.

Chocolate Icing:  In a microwaveable mixing bowl (such as the PC batter bowl), combine 4 ounces dark chocolate, 4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, 4 ounces butter, and 2 tsp. corn syrup.  Microwave on high for 1 minute.  Remove from microwave and stir until the chocolate melts completely.  Let the icing cool slightly before using.  If the icing cools too much and becomes really thick, simply heat it on medium power for a few seconds until it is a good consistency for using.

An assortment of creations from pate a choux.  Clockwise from the top: Swans filled with Creme Chantilly, double decker La Religieuse filled with Lavender Vanilla Cream and topped with Craqueline, Chocolate covered Cream Puffs filled with Vanilla and Chocolate Pastry Cream, cylindrical Eclairs, Creme Caramel/Vanilla Mousseline filled Slovak Veternik

To Make Cream Puffs:  Fill the Easy Decorator fitted with the long fill tip with the filling of your choice.  Cut a small slit in the bottom or side of each cream puff.  Gently squeeze the trigger until the cream puff bulges slightly. 

To Make Profiteroles:  Form pate a choux mounds slightly larger than a golf ball and bake according to directions.  Cut the baked shells in half horizontally, fill with a scoop of ice cream, replace the top and drizzle with chocolate icing.  Serve on a plate that has been drizzled with chocolate sauce or more of the icing.  Top with a piped floret of whipped cream.

To Make Eclairs:  Bake eclairs shells according to directions.  Fill the Easy Decorator fitted with the fill tip with the filling of your choice, but vanilla pastry cream is traditional.  Dip the filled eclairs in chocolate icing.

To Make Slovak Veternik:  Bake large cream puff shells using the open star tip.  Bake as directed.  Cut the cooled shells in half horizontally and fill with a layer of vanilla mousseline using a star tip in the Easy Decorator.  Add a layer of Crème Caramel on top of the Vanilla Mousseline.  Replace the top of the cream puff shell and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Up close look at the spun sugar covering the mini Croquembouche  

To Make a Croquembouche:  Bake several dozen small cream puff shells and fill with Crème Chantilly.  Choose a pretty plate for the base of your Croquembouche.  It should be about 12" in diameter.  Make a sugar glue by melting 7 Tbs. of sugar in a heavy saucepan over medium high heat until the sugar melts and turns a rich amber color.  Working quickly but carefully, dip the filled cream puffs into the melted sugar and place in a ring around the edge of the plate, placing the cream puffs no closer than 1 1/2" from the edge of the plate.  Fill the interior of the ring with more cream puffs dipped in the sugar glue.  Begin another layer of filled cream puffs toward the interior of the previous layer using the sugar glue and continue to add layers until you add the final cream puff on top.  If you have leftover sugar glue, dip a wooden spoon in the sugar and drip strands of sugar all over the sides and top of the tower of cream puffs.  The sugar should drop into thin threads and harden quickly.  Don't get worried about you do this.  It's most important to work fast.  If the sugar glue hardens up, simply heat the pan until the sugar melts again and use as directed.  This tower of cream puffs makes a wonderful centerpiece, especially when decorated with other edible items to suit the theme.

To Make Swans:  Bake pastry shapes for the swan body and neck/head according to directions above.  Remove the shells from the oven and cool completely.

1. Slice body pastries in half horizontally.
2. To create the swans’ wings, slice the top portion of the pastry in half lengthwise.
3. Fill the bottom portion of the pastry with the filling or fillings of your choice. Carefully stick the head/neck pastry into the filling at the wide end of the filled pastry and add the wings.
4.  Place individual swans on a lake of chocolate sauce/icing on serving plates.  Dust the finished swans with powdered sugar before serving.

To Make Cheese Puffs:  Make basic pâte à choux omitting the sugar.  After all the eggs have been added, stir in 1 1/2 cups grated gruyere cheese or another strongly flavored firm cheese variety.  Use two silicone mini mix n scrape spatulas to drop golf ball sized dough balls on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Bake as for cream puffs.  These can be served straight from the oven, or they can be filled with a savory filling such as chicken or ham salad.  I like to add a finely chopped jalapeno pepper to the dough along with the cheese.  If you make these bigger, they can be used for sandwiches.

Adding the finishing touches to pate a choux swans