Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Choux with Pastry Cream


A man should not so much respect what he eats, as with whom he eats. 
- Michael Eyquem de Montaigne

One day slides into the next, a long, tranquil river, as the French say. Rain to sun to fog to fine mist. And back to sun. We work and play to the same rhythm as one day melts into the next and so on and so forth, our son’s school schedule and the tv program our only indication of the passing of time, the only indication as to what day of the week it is. I’ve taken to jotting down words, phrases and thoughts in pencil in one of the several notebooks scattered around my desk. I have become reacquainted with my own handwriting. I am working on our Plated Stories workshop, putting together sessions and creating exercises as my mind wanders to Tuscany and the amazing group of students that is starting to pull together. I dig out my notes, from two bygone speaking events, and begin to rearrange the words for two public presentations, one online and one at a conference…very excited!

I am often out of the loop, buried, as I am, in my own affairs, my own home life, weaving, sometimes staggering between articles I am researching and husband’s and sons’ demands for attention. I discover what is going on in the world via social media if not the television news, and once in a while a headline, a rumor or a buzz grabs my attention and I hop from website to website reading up on the topic. Recently, it was Chef Grant Achatz’s tweet – he of 3-star Alinea fame – complaining of a crying baby in his restaurant. This fascinated me and I rushed to read his thoughts on the topic, which he had made very public.

I thought back to our own sons who we have been bringing to restaurants and museums since their first hours. Contrary to what many American friends of mine think, the French do not dine out often with children in tow. Our sons have been, more often than not, the only children in a restaurant, and we always wondered why this was so. Our boys, used to going out with us, rarely were less than exemplary and always fun dining companions, but then again, we made a huge effort to teach them as well as to really share the experience with them as equals, including them in all table conversation, regaling them with stories about the food, etc. It was all just a part of their life.

So needless to say, when I saw the hubbub, I had to write what was on my mind. You can find my piece on Huffington Post about bringing small children to restaurants, a response to the mild uproar and less-than-mild discussion caused by Chef Grant Achatz’ tweet about the crying baby (and unconcerned parents) at his Michelin 3-starred restaurant Alinea. As a mother and as one half of a couple who has been bringing our sons to dine out with us since they were born, I definitely have a few insights and a couple of things to say on the matter. Feel free to add your view of the topic as a comment to the piece on HP.

And in between the writing, I bake. He cooks… and I bake. With a man in the house who is not only a better cook than I am but who is also more than happy and willing to prepare the meals, the stews and tagines, why should I worry? It allows me more time to write and more time to bake.

We have a set of friends – a fascinating and fun couple we met through our son who was best friends with their son – whom we spend the occasional evening with, not often enough. They spend half the year down south and when they are back in Nantes we try and grab an evening or two with them. And, as the French do, we take turns preparing the meal. This time it was their turn, but I offered to bring dessert. Actually, JP told them that I would bring dessert. I wanted to bring something light to eat, something that could easily be picked up and popped into the mouth, something that would go well with a big bowl of fresh fruit. I decided upon choux.

It had been quite some time since I last made choux and pastry cream. As Zoë of the marvelous Zoë Bakes reminded us on her recent post about éclairs, choux is French for cabbages, as these tiny, lovely, ethereal gems look like little cabbages. A rather inelegant, unappetizing name. I prefer to think of the very French “mon petit chou”, “my little cabbage”, a loving term of endearment. Choux, the pastry, is a beautiful, elegant, sweet little nothing, airy and light, a bland yet perfect backdrop to any filling at all, whether savory or sweet. Choux are the perfect carrying case to a gorgeous cream filling, whipped, ice or pastry. Pick one up… pop it in your mouth. Savor.

Both choux and pastry cream are fiddly and time consuming, but really quite simple to make and such a pleasure. I use my father’s recipe, the one he used for years and years to make saucer-sized puffs that he would fill with pudding, vanilla, chocolate, pistachio. He made so many things from boxed mixes; granted, he made them with the attention and precision of the engineer that he was and he made them with love, often adding something special to personalize whatever he would be serving to his family or carry proudly to some Brotherhood Club event or Bingo Night at the synagogue. But certain things he made from scratch and these choux were part of his repertoire.

I chose to make simple, unglazed, unfrosted choux filled with pastry cream, half vanilla rum and half chocolate rum, dusted with a light shower of cocoa powder and icing sugar. Both the choux puffs and the pastry cream, although demanding careful attention, were quick and simple to make. This is such a perfect dessert to make when you want to impress family, friends and guests!

And my two sons and their lifetime of dining out with us?

The older one, Clem, goes wild for éclairs. These are filled with a just sweet frangipane whipped cream.

The younger one, Simon, only eats profiterole, his preferred dessert.

Husband and I went wild for these choux filled with a cool, light orange pastry cream and topped with an orange glaze.

Make about 40 small choux; each half batch pastry cream fills half the choux

Vanilla Rum Pastry Cream (Half batch):

1 cup (225 ml.) whole milk (I used low fat)
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
6 Tbs (100 g) sugar
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
2 Tbs (30 g.) unsalted butter (at room temperature makes it easier)
1 tsp vanilla or half a vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped out *
1 Tbs rum or to taste, optional

* If using a half vanilla bean/pod, split the pod down the center and scrape out the seeds. Add both the pod and the seeds to the milk in the pot. Remove the pod once the pastry cream is made and before pouring it into a bowl to chill in the refrigerator.

Dissolve cornstarch in ¼ cup of milk; whisk until smooth and there are no lumps. Combine the remaining milk with the sugar in a saucepan.Bring to a boil; remove from heat. Beat the whole egg, then the yolks into the cornstarch mixture. Pour 1/3 of boiling milk into the egg mixture in a slow stream, whisking constantly so that the eggs do not begin to cook.

Add the rest of the hot milk to the egg mixture then return all of it back into the casserole and return to the heat. Continue whisking (this is important – you do not want the eggs to solidify/cook) until the cream thickens and comes just to a boil. Remove from heat and beat in the butter, vanilla and rum.

Pour the pastry cream into a heatproof pyrex or stainless steel bowl. Press plastic wrap firmly against the surface. Chill immediately and until ready to use.

For Chocolate Pastry Cream (Half Batch):

Ingredients as for Vanilla Rum Pastry Cream
¼ cup (50 ml) milk
3 oz (80 g) finely chopped semisweet chocolate

Follow the recipe above for the Vanilla Rum Pastry Cream but begin by bringing the ¼ cup (about 50 ml) milk to a boil in a small pan; remove from heat and stir in the 3 ounces (about 80 g) finely chopped semisweet chocolate; mix until smooth.

Prepare the pastry cream as above (leaving out the rum if you want plain Chocolate Pastry Cream) and whisk the melted chocolate into the pastry cream when you add the butter and vanilla.

Pour the pastry cream into a heatproof pyrex or stainless steel bowl. Press plastic wrap firmly against the surface. Chill immediately and until ready to use.

Refrigerate both pastry creams covered in plastic wrap while you prepare the choux.


1 cup (250 ml) water
1/2 cup (8 Tbs, 115 g) unsalted butter
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup (140 g) flour
4 eggs

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°). Grease a large cookie sheet or line it with oven-safe parchment paper.

In a large saucepan, over medium heat, heat the water, butter and salt until butter melts and the mixture comes to a boil. Remove from the heat and add the flour all at once. With a wooden spoon, stir vigorously until the mixture forms a ball and pulls away from the sides of the pot.

Scrape this ball into a large pyrex mixing bowl and, stirring, allow to cool for a minute or two. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition (here I switched to a whisk as it worked better than a wooden spoon), until mixture is smooth and creamy.

Using a teaspoon (or tablespoon for larger puffs), scoop up mounds of the dough and carefully push the dough off onto the prepared cookie sheet, using your finger or a rubber spatula. They will rise and almost double in size, so leave a bit of space between puffs.

Bake for 35 minutes (for the small puffs) until risen and golden. Working very quickly, open the oven and, with a sharp knife, make a small slit in the side of each puff to allow steam to escape - I also use this opportunity to turn my cookie sheets around back to front, as my oven heats quicker in the back - then bake them for about 5 more minutes until golden brown.

Remove the sheet from the oven, replacing this batch for the next in the oven, and allow to cool on a rack (as I bake my puffs on sheets of parchment or oven paper, I slide the paper off of the hot cookie sheet onto the cooling rack).

To fill the choux with pastry cream, simply pierce a small hole in the bottom or side of each puff. Fit a pastry bag with a small plain tip, fill the bag with cream, gently nuzzle the tip into one choux after the next and fill.


Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Exquisite! As a child, I used to dislike cream puffs and éclairs, but now I go wild for them...

A well-written article about bringing children to the restaurant. I agree with you.



Zoë François said...

Your writing is like summer, so warm and comforting. I could spend all day lost in your words, hiding from the polar vortex of MN. Then there are the puffs. They look impossibly light and delicious. Thank you again for inspiring me to make the éclairs, they made a lot of people very happy!

Barbara Bakes said...

One of my favorite desserts. Love how you described them.

Mardi Michels said...

One of my favourite desserts too - and so much easier than many people think! I just took a full-day class called "The Art of the Eclair" here in Toronto and we made éclairs and decorated them with all sorts of fancy designs and made a ton of pastry creams to fill them with (results on my Instagram feed!). These are what I seek now when I go to France (savoury versions too!) - I think they are fast becoming my fave thing to enjoy as a sweet treat!

Joyti said...

Ooo, that looks delicious.

The workshop sounds like fun too :)

Brooks Walker said...

Dear Jamie, I haven't made choux in years, a lifetime really. Thank you for jarring my memory of them in your words and images. I'm inspired! I'll check out the HP piece soon, but like you & JP, we dined with our children in restaurants from the get go. Despite the occasions when I'd flee the dining room with baby carrier in hand at the onset of distress to spare fellow diners, we stuck to it. Now our children are perfectly behaved in public eateries making those doggie bag dinners worth the minor inconvenience.

Bizzy Lizzy's Good Things said...

Ah, my favourite... I remember how my mother and I would enjoy chocolate eclairs together when I was small. I will try your recipe for choux, Jamie. Thank you for sharing xo

Dina said...

they look great!

Terra said...

A vanilla rum pastry cream? Now that would be perfect in a cream puff!! They look fantastic, Hugs, Terra

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Choux is one of my favourite pastries-it's wonderful in France where the humidity is low and they remain crisp. I am now off to read your article! Am interested to read what you have to say :D

Jill Colonna said...

Bravo on your piece in the Huffington Post, Jamie. Well said! Couldn't agree more with you, as a mixed French family we've brought up our kids to enjoy restaurants and they have been well behaved. But we'd never take them to Michelin restaus, which is a different and longer ball-game!

Also love choux and you're so right: they're simple yet delicious and well worth making them. Cheers!

Maureen | Orgasmic Chef said...

I agree with the huffpo piece too. My husband's favorite (and probably only) dessert is a profiterole. I don't make them often enough but your photos make me want to make them for him tomorrow.

Barb | Creative Culinary said...

One of my favorite desserts Jamie; light yet rich and so perfect with some fresh fruit. Now I want some for breakfast; have returned the favor!

Going now to read piece on Huff Post. Personally? It's not about babies, it's about crying babies and we've all been in situations where the parents should have attended to their children out of regard for others and did not!

Meeta K said...

Oh Jamie I adore choux filled with pastry cream. When I started hotel school I was so looking forward to get to the pastry kitchen so that I could finally make my own choux pastry... I knew that that was all I needed to make me happy. Lovely lovely post.

Shut Up and Cook said...

These look absolutely incredible! I recently made gougeres for the first time (When in Paris...right?) and made them WAY too big. Excited to try this recipe next...YUM!

Carolyn Jung said...

I haven't made these in ages, either. But now you have me mulling over that orange-scented one. Heavenly!

Valentina said...

I had this sweet friend who'd invite me for dinner , a ver low key meal, and she would serve banana with hot chocolate sauce plus choux filled with cream. ohk, those were special days. simple and delicious moments. On a different note, I'd love to read your post about children. Will look it up. Wonderful post , beautifully and graciously transferred to paper, with dancing words setting up beautiful musical sentences. Soul inspiring.

Rambling Tart said...

How lovely to be able to bake while he cooks. :-) That sounds so companionable and nice, both of you doing what you love. :-)

Nuts about food said...

I loved your article and tried to comment but for some reason had problems. I agree with what you wrote and how you brought up your children. We are doing pretty much the same thing. Our children (now 8 and 4) have travelled and eaten in restaurants with us from a very young age and as a result enjoy all kinds of food and know how to behave most of the time. Because they are children, however, there have been some embarassing episodes and either my husband or I take them out immediately so as not to disturb the other diners. We also usually bring books and drawing material along with us to keep them busy and only take them to places that we consider appropriate for children. I would never take them to a Michelin-starred restaurant as I believe people who are paying a lot of money for an extraordinary experience should not have to deal with other people's children (as kids cannot be expected to sit quietly for hours at a table). And honestly, it would not be a relaxing or enjoyable experience for me either.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...