Recently I embarked onto a culinary tour de force in my kitchen: profiteroles. This relative of éclairs and beignets is one of our favourite desserts. Albeit, it can be difficult to find good ones here in Goa where we live. Profiteroles have to be fresh to deliver. They cannot sit around because they turn soggy very quickly.
The beginnings of this wonderful sweet reach far back. Legend has it that the chef of Catherine de Medici named Panterelli invented the choux pastry in 1540 because he wanted a dough that could be made while travelling. Over time, this dough developed into the choux pastry and was used to make fluffy cakes stuffed with sweet and savoury fillings. The father of the Classical French cuisine, Marie Antoine Carême, immortalized the choux pastry by describing it in his cookbook Pâtissier Royal.
I love profiteroles and éclairs. I can resist most sweets but profiteroles dissolve my will power. I write this after having spent an entire day making profiteroles for this newsletter. In the end, I rewarded myself with eating two of the most beautiful ones. The crispy exterior topped with dark chocolate revealing a soft crème makes me forget calories.
Making good profiteroles and crème pâtissière involves quite a bit of technique and a lot can go wrong. Today, I had to make two batches until I was happy with the result. The most difficult challenge is to gauge how many eggs you have to incorporate in the choux pastry. Not enough or too much will prevent the dough from rising.
Another thing you cannot learn from recipes is the baking time. You have to bake them a lot longer than recipes recommend. They need to turn golden brown all around. My profiteroles need at least one hour in the oven. If you take them out too early they tend to deflate.
I have tasted many soggy profiteroles over the years and they do nothing for me. You need the delightful contrast of crunch, sweet softness and almost bitter chocolate. Please follow me on this journey to the perfect profiteroles.
Wishing you happy cooking, always!
Ingredients (for 24 big profiteroles):
For the choux pastry:
For the choux pastry:
- 1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
- 1 ½ cups (300 ml) water
- 125 grams butter
- 3 tbsp sugar
- 1 pinch salt
- 3 or 4 eggs
For the crème pâtissière:
- 500 ml milk
- 30 grams butter
- 1 cup castor sugar
- 4 egg yolks
- ¼ cup corn flour
- ¼ cup whole wheat flour
- 1 vanilla pod
For the topping:
- 100 grams dark chocolate
- 50 ml espresso coffee or Nescafe
You start with the choux pastry. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees. The choux pastry has to go into a hot oven or it will not rise properly.
Place the water, the butter, the sugar and the salt into a pot and bring to a boil. The butter has to melt and the sugar has to dissolve. Stir this mixture to make sure everything has melted. Then add the flour in one go and stir quickly to incorporate the flour.
Turn the heat to medium and keep stirring until the dough forms into a ball and starts to coat the bottom of the pot. Keep stirring over medium heat for two or three more minutes. This step is vital for the rising of the dough.
At this point I transfer the dough into a plastic mixing bowl because I incorporate the eggs with my hand mixer and I don’t like to do this in a metal pot because of the resulting noise.
Now add the eggs one by one into the mixture. Incorporate them completely before you add another one. The dough has to develop a glossy shine without turning too liquid. It needs to remain quite firm. If the dough is too pliable, it won’t rise.
Put the dough into a piping bag by placing the piping bag into a high vessel that supports it. Pipe balls onto a buttered cookie sheet or a silicone patch and smooth out the surface with a knife that you dip into water.
Put the profiteroles into the preheated oven and refrain from opening the oven for at least half an hour. Put the cookie sheet in the middle in a gas oven so the dough does not get burnt from the bottom. After half an hour check and turn the profiteroles upside down if you use a gas oven. The profiteroles need to be golden brown all over. If they are not cooked long enough, they deflate. I have baked profiteroles for one and a half hour for optimum results. After 40 minutes of 200 degrees I lowered the heat to 160 and kept going.
While the choux pastry bakes in the oven, start the cream. Place the milk and butter into a pot. Slice open the vanilla pod, scrape out the seeds and add them to the milk. Also add the vanilla pod and half of the sugar. Bring to a gentle boil and let infuse for at least 15 minutes.
Place the egg yolks into a mixing bowl. Beat them with a hand mixer until they are fluffy. Gradually add the remaining sugar. Don’t add the sugar all at once. Egg yolks contain the enzyme amylase that reacts with sugar and coagulates. You want to avoid this curdling to make a smooth cream.
When the vanilla milk has infused long enough, bring it to a gentle boil. Add one third of the milk to the egg cream while stirring it. Bring the rest of the vanilla milk to a rolling boil. Add the egg mix while stirring. At this point the milk should set almost immediately. Keep stirring until the mixture burps, then take it from the fire, place it into a bowl or a pan and cover it with cling film. Let it cool down. To make a smooth crème pâtissière, the eggs should spend as little time as possible over direct fire.
I take a mixture of flour and corn flour because flour makes the crème pâtissière more stable. Corn flour sets well, but if you try to loosen up the cream by stirring it, it tends to dissolve. When you use a mix you can keep the crème in the fridge overnight, stir it the next day and use it. Sometimes I make many profiteroles, only stuff some and keep some for the next day. You absolutely have to eat stuffed profiteroles immediately because they turn soggy after some hours.
When the cream and the puffs have cooled down enough, fill the cream into a piping bag with a thin nozzle. Push the nozzle into the puff and squeeze the cream into it. I like stuffing them a lot so the profiteroles explode in your mouth.
Cut the chocolate into pieces, place it with the coffee into a double boiler and melt it. You can easily make a double boiler by placing a small pot into a bigger one with some water in it. When you melt chocolate, it should never be exposed to a direct heat source. You can also melt chocolate in the microwave, but I don’t recommend that.
Cover the profiteroles with the chocolate. I dip them upside down into the chocolate and let it drip off. Place them onto a plate until the chocolate has set. Enjoy!