This won't come as a shock to many of you, but if there's a Hell, and if I wind up going there (in a handbasket or otherwise), it will almost certainly be for gluttony. Anyone who cooks and eats as much as I do is bound at least to be a candidate, if not a shoo-in, for the third circle. Accordingly, when I found myself with leftover pastry cream this weekend, there was only one thing to do about it: make some choux paste, and bake up some eclairs and cream puffs.
I get the sense that choux paste, or pâte à choux, has gotten a bit of an undeserved reputation for difficulty. I once brought chocolate eclairs to a potluck, and from people's reactions, you would have thought that I had made the sort of thing you see on the World Pastry Championships. All I'd made was a bit of choux paste, some pastry cream for filling! Seriously folks, eclairs and cream puffs might look fancy and sound like they'd be all kinds of tricky and temperamental, but they aren't. They just aren't. You boil together some water and butter, you dump in some flour and beat it like crazy, add some eggs, and beat some more until you start to see a film on the bottom of the pan. It's that simple.
Choux paste is not only one of the easiest items in a baker's repertoire, it's also one of the fastest. You can go from raw ingredients to baked cream puffs in under half an hour, plus a little more time for the oven to heat up. It's perfect for when you find yourself with unexpected guests, because it bakes up quickly and can be filled with all manner of things. You get the idea. There is no reason for this not to be in your cooking arsenal.
The recipe I've written up here (below the fold) is the master recipe from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It's served me well for as long as I've had that book, which is going on several years now. This is the sweet version, suitable for filling with things like ice cream, whipped cream, pastry cream, or--in my case--a combination of whipped cream and pastry cream. Fresh berries would not be out of place, and indeed I couldn't resist placing fresh raspberries on top of the cream in some of mine. If you are so inclined, the paste would also be excellent fried up and rolled in sugar (or cinnamon sugar). And if on the other hand an hors d'oeuvre is what you have in mind, I have included instructions at the end of the recipe for a savory pâte à choux. So have at it!
From My Blogroll
Monday, July 6, 2009