[Lullaby from another summer – Sugar choux puffs]
I could tell you how my dad would take me to the boulangerie after school, as I was smaller than the smallest tree of your garden. In fact, I could barely walk. But making my way to the bottom of the crumpled paper bag handed to me by the lady at the counter seemed easy.
That paper bag could hold a dozen of chouquettes. Or as I would call them, chouchou. Possibly, a made-up word from my dad.
Oh yes, I could tell you how my hands would be sticky. And my mouth most likely surrounded by pearls of sugar.
But instead, I will tell you about what happened a few days ago.
I brought milk and butter to a rolling boil. With a pinch of salt, just so; because, that’s the way to go. I added a good amount of flour. Off the heat, it goes without saying (and yet, here I am). I placed the pan back over the gas and mixed it with a wooden spoon until it was just dry enough.
I transferred it to the bowl of my stand-mixer; although arms and a spoon would do a fine job too. And add the eggs, one at a time. Until it was just wet enough.
I piped. Without a nozzle, because they all seem to be in London. And I am not.
I brushed eggwash. I scored the top with a fork. Dipped in the remaining egg.
I sprinkled sucre casson [pearl sugar].
I baked. And poured us a glass of white wine. Or perhaps it was a rosé.
And then, we ate them. Slightly warm. And guess what? Sticky hands and sugar around the mouth are a must.
Just like they used to be. Just like they always will.
Which reminded me about this sentence from one of my very favourite books: la contemplation de l’éternité dans le mouvement même de la vie [the contemplation of eternity within the very movement of life].
I think there are roughly as many pâte à choux recipes as there are pastry chefs. I remember a place where a mixture of milk and water was used. Sometimes, they would add a pinch of baking powder. Or some sugar.
My recipe possibly originated from the one we used at school. Except, it called for water only. And perhaps, a touch more flour and less butter. As I went by, I switched the water for milk. Full-fat, please. Added an extra knob of butter. A pinch of salt. And reduced the flour to 150g.
As for the baking method, it’s the one Pascal Lac taught me. A foolproof method that worked even in the most sophisticated English ovens. Or failing that, the most plastic toy-ovens at home.
Basically, you preheat the oven to 250˚C. Quickly get the trays inside. And just as the oven records 250˚C again (the temperature will drop slightly as you open the door), turn the oven off. For 15 to 18 minutes, until the temperature reaches 160-180˚C; at which point, the choux should be puffed up and yet still pale in colour. Then, oven set on 170˚C, without fan, dry them for 10 to 15 minutes, until nice and golden; and making sure you keep the door slightly open with a wooden spoon to let any steam escape.
However, feel free to bake them all the way at 200˚C if that works better for you. But I’m warning you: an oven has never failed me with this technique.
Just a note on the eggs. I usually use around 4 eggs and a half. So what I do is to incorporate the first four eggs, then whisk the last one, add a little of this to the dough and keep the rest for a made-up eggwash!
makes 40 small choux (roughly the size of a golf ball*)
a pinch of salt
150g plain flour
4 to 5 eggs, see note above
q.s. pearl sugar
Preheat the oven to 250˚C, and lightly butter two baking trays.
Place the milk, butter, and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a rolling boil over low heat – you want the butter to be fully melted before the milk boils. Take the pan off the heat and add the flour all at once, mixing as you go until combined.
Return to the heat. And using a wooden spoon, mix until a thin crust appears at the bottom of the pan. This shows that the dough is dry enough. It should not be sticky.
Transfer to the bowl of a stand-mixer and allow to cool for 2 to 3 minutes. Then using the paddle attachment, add the eggs one at a time on medium speed until fully incorporated.
Scrape into a piping bag, fitted with a 12mm nozzle. And pipe little balls, around 3cm wide and 2cm high.
Brush with eggwash, making sure to smooth the tops. Then, dip a fork into the eggwash and score the top of the choux.
Sprinkle with pearl sugar.
Place the trays in the oven. As fast as you can. Really. Trust me, oven temperatures drop so damn fast. Then keep an eye on your thermometer and the second it says 250˚C again, turn the oven off.
After 15 to 18 minutes (see note above), turn the oven back on to 170˚C, without a fan. After a few minutes, keep the oven door slightly open by sliding the handle of a wooden spoon inside.
The choux are ready when golden-brown and not too moist inside**.
* Disclaimer: I have never played golf in my life. Even though I must admit, I really wanted too as a child. So much in fact, it’s now affecting me as I’m using a golf ball as a unit!
** Even now, I always test them (and by test, I really mean eat one) every two minutes past 10 minutes at 170˚C.