Fear of Chouxing

Several years ago I included cheese puffs, or gougères, in a flight of hors d’oeuvres for a party and they never ballooned into their usual state of fabulous perkiness.

Cheese Puff

Cheese Puff

Fortunately, there were plenty of other offerings, so I put them aside and no one was the wiser. But that incident has always stayed with me.

When you have a culinary mishap, it’s best to revisit it as quickly as possible. Like falling off a horse; you pick yourself up, get back in the game, and do it again—with style—so you can move on.   I didn’t do that.  I have no idea what went wrong, but ever since I have avoided choux pastry.  Call it a fear of chouxing.

I’m not sure what I was worried about, because it never happened.  Today I tackled choux pastry again and I am back on the horse.  Still slightly spooked, I started with a very small batch of this basic pastry: simply butter, water, flour and eggs.  I paid attention as the water and butter came to a boil, and I stirred in the flour until it was well incorporated and slightly cooked. Then, I continued beating the dough off the heat to cool it down; then beat in the eggs until it formed a lovely smooth paste.  It took all of about 5 minutes.choux paste

I carefully piped rounds onto a silicone sheet, smoothed the tops with moist fingers, brushed them lightly with an egg glaze, and tucked them into a hot oven.  I peered and paced anxiously.  In no time, the steam from the paste was doing its job, and they were expanding into glorious golden puffs.

Now, that wasn’t so hard after all.  What was the big deal, I wondered. Likely I was multi-tasking at the time, and not paying attention. This is an activity that requires due diligence since it comes together so quickly.  Today I was prepared, I had all ingredients and steps organized; essential to the success of any project.  It was very good lesson and I’m finally moving on.

Although I am highly optimistic, I am still staying with a small batch yield of 12 two-inch puffs.  With confidence, I know the recipe can easily be doubled without problem.

Puffs 1Once again the door to choux pastry is open, and I am reminded of the possibilities: choux pastry is the height of entertaining versatility.  Lovely cream puffs or éclairs can be filled with pastry cream or whipped cream and dusted with confectioners’ sugar.  Long profiteroles can be filled with ice cream and drizzled with chocolate.  Small puffs can be filled with flavored mousse, dipped in ganache, and stacked in a tower as a buffet dessert centerpiece…

Savory puffs can be mounded with lobster, crab or chicken salad.  Cheese puffs can include a little nutmeg or a grinding of pepper; or the cheese can be varied to manchego or other firm cheese.  Small savory puffs can be baked into one large ring, filled with a seasonal green salad and the puffs can be pulled off and enjoyed as a bread alternative….  Ah, the possibilities.

Choux Pastry

Ingredients

1/2   cup all-purpose flour
1/4   tsp  salt
1/2   tsp  granulated sugar (optional)
1/4   cup  unsalted butter
1/2   cup  water
2     lrg  egg
Egg  Glaze
1    lrg  egg, lightly beaten
1/8 tsp  salt
1     tsp  water
For Cheese Puffs
1/2  cup  Gruyere cheese, grated
1/4  cup  Parmesan cheese, grated

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Line baking sheet with parchment or silicone sheet.
  2. Sift the flour, salt, and sugar if making sweet puffs, and set aside.
  3. In small heavy pan, heat the butter and water until boiling.  Remove from heat and add the flour all at once.  Return to low heat; beating with a spatula or wooden spoon until mixture is smooth and it begins to come away from sides of pan; about 2 minutes.
  4. Place the dough in a small mixing bowl and beat on low for a minute or two to cool the dough and no longer hot.  Add the eggs and continue beating until a smooth, thick and slightly sticky paste forms.(For cheese puffs, add about 1/2 cup grated Gruyere and Parmesan combination with the eggs (reserve the balance for tops).
  5. Fit a pastry bag with a large plain round tip and pipe 1-1/4″ mounds, or drop using 2 spoons, onto baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. Smooth any swirls or unevenness with moistened fingers.  Brush the tops lightly with egg wash of beaten egg, salt and water.  For cheese puffs, finish with an additional sprinkle of grated cheese.
  6. Bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees; rotate the pan from back to front, and lower heat to 350 degrees.  For cheese puffs, bake an additional 35 minutes, until golden brown and slightly soft inside.  For sweet puffs, lower heat to 350 degrees after 15 minutes and bake 40-45 minutes or longer, until amber and dry inside.  They can be left in warm oven 10-15 minutes longer to dry further, if desired.  Makes about 12 – 2″ puffs.

Notes:  Best served same day while crisp.  To overt sogginess, when removed from oven cut a slit in each puff on side to release steam build up.   The dry puffs can be cooled and frozen.  Defrost and reheat at 350 degrees, 5-10 minutes, until crisp.

Serving Ideas:  for profiteroles, shape pastry in 1-1/2″ x 1″ with large round tip and bake.  Cut each pastry shell in half lengthwise, fill bottom with a scoop (or two) of vanilla ice cream and top with second half.  Drizzle each with warm chocolate ganache, and serve immediately.

For cream puffs, fill with pastry cream or whipped cream and dust tops with confectioners’ sugar

For savory puffs, fill with favorite salad:  chicken, lobster, etc.  Or, make a ring of small puffs and fill the center with green salad of choice and enjoy as a bread alternative.

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