For me, profeteroles (or cream puffs) was the gateway drug, I mean pastry, that ultimately led to my full-blown addiction to baking.
I still remember sitting in my hand-me-down Ikea futon couch one night in my tiny one-bedroom Burbank apartment about five years ago, watching Emeril Lagassi make series of simple baked goodies on his show, in an episode called, “Pastry 101.” One of the pastries he made was profeteroles, and I was so intrigued by its simplicity that I walked straight over to my little kitchen and attempted my first of many pate a choux and pastry cream batches I will ultimately make, even before the show ended. I was especially intrigued by the fact that pate a choux required no stand mixer (some recipes ask for it but you can totally do without it if you choose), yeast, or any complicated and time-consuming steps. All I needed was a medium saucepan, a wooden spoon, a baking sheet and an oven, and ingredients I already had in my refrigerator and pantry (all-purpose flour, butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla extract). It was as simple as cooking the flour in boiling liquid (water or milk, depending on the recipe you use) with melted butter, and add eggs to it. The only difficult part is trying not to cook the eggs when incorporating them into hot dough.
I’ve tried a handful of recipes (Emeril, Martha, etc.) and although they all gave me wonderful results, I found the ultimate recipe for pate a choux that stood out from the rest, in its airy-but-perfectly-dense texture that I love so much in cream puffs. It is from a book called, “Field Guide to Cookies,” by lovely Anita Chu, creator of my favorite blog, “Dessert First.” (The book is an installment of the “Field Guide” series, a pocket size companion on anything and everything one needs to know on a topic of interest.) The book provides interesting history of every baked goodie imaginable, and although the book is tiny, it contains plethora of helpful hints and baking notes.
The recipe for porfeteroles is available in her book, but you can also find the pate a choux recipe on Dessert First. And if you have never been to the blog, I totally recommend that you grab a cup of coffee, sit down on a comfortable couch and indulge in her beautifully-written stories and salivate over yummy photos of delicious desserts.
Any of you out there who are still intimidated by this fancy French dessert, I hope you will get out of your comfort zone and give it a try. You will be amazed at how simple and fun making these little porfeteroles can be, and the reaction you receive from your friends and loved ones for serving these little heavenly morsels will make you feel like the best pastry chef in the neighborhood.
Just some simple tips:
Use a piping bag (or a plastic bag) to pipe out each dough. Make a swirl (think Pinkberry logo), and go back and put another pat of dough on top before patting it down softly with your finger. I find doing that makes a dough with perfectly-round top.
Make sure to start out at a higher temperature and reduce the heat after a few minutes (follow the recipe). Don’t be lazy! It really makes a difference in the airy-ness of the dough.
Use a serrated knife to split the dough. Fill the dough with anything you like (ice cream, whipped cream) but I find pastry cream to be the best. I highly recommend Emeril’s recipe although Anita’s is magical too. I also enjoy the simplicity of powdered sugar on top but chocolate, as always, is a perfect topping too, both visually and taste-wise.