For the first dessert in the countdown, I present to you, les profiteroles. Milk, water, butter and flour are cooked twice – on the stove and in the oven – a deceptively easy process producing elegant golden puffs of air that nestle scoops of ice-cream, topped with a warm chocolate glaze.
I rarely order profiteroles for dessert because I’m usually so stuffed after the main course and two glasses of wine that a créme brûlée is just about all I have the capacity for. It doesn’t help that I’ve also seen a fair share of forgettable profiteroles on those occasions that I’ve ordered the dish. Somehow, my profiterole karma seems to attract huge servings of the dessert, a far cry from the dainty, bite-sized portions that I’m looking for. Imagine being greeted with 4-inch towers of stale choux pastry filled with numbingly cold scoops of ice-cream topped with copious amounts of whipped cream and chocolate sauce squeezed from a bottle. Err, no thanks.
All the same, combining pastry dough with ice-cream and a chocolate sauce can never turn out too badly (stale yes, but still edible). And so when a good friend, W, named profiteroles as her dessert for this challenge, I was excited (and a little nervous) at the prospect of putting it together. Fortunately, a quick dive into my collection of cookbooks yielded a variety of pâte à choux recipes to choose from. I finally settled on Damien Pignolet’s version from his mouth-watering cookbook, French.
After setting aside a whole afternoon to prepare these puffs, I was delighted to discover how easily they came together. It took no longer than 2 hours from start to finish, including the time needed for baking. I happily set to work, fulfilling my profiterole dreams by piping out small mounds of choux paste on the baking sheet. A couple of minutes later, trays of dainty choux puffs emerged from the oven, and of course, had to be tested for doneness. It’s a good thing I was preparing them for W’s birthday, because these puffs are dangerous for your waistline. You can finish them in a whole sitting without even realizing it!
All that remained was the chocolate glaze, which was a cinch to prepare, and to assemble the profiteroles. For its relative ease of preparation, this dessert yields the best returns on “ooh” and “ahhh” responses from your guests, especially as all the different components can be prepared in advance and the dish assembled a few hours before serving.
Profiteroles (adapted from the French and Tartine cookbooks)
Profiteroles are usually served with a generous drizzle of warm chocolate but I chose to glaze the tops of the puffs in advance to bring it along for W’s birthday. Both taste equally good so choose the format that best suits your needs.
Pâte à choux:
Makes 25-30 small choux puffs
1/2 cup/ 150ml water
1/2 cup/ 150ml milk
4 ounces/ 120grams unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into small pieces
1.5 cup/ 150grams all-purpose flour, sifted
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
Egg wash – 1 well-beaten egg with a pinch of salt
Bring water, milk, butter and salt slowly to a boil, stirring constantly to ensure that the butter dissolves before it boils.
The moment bubbles start appearing on the surface, draw the pan away from the heat and add all the flour at once, mixing immediately to make a smooth paste. Place the pan over a low heat, stirring constantly until a ball is formed and leaves the pan clean (this only takes about a minute).
Transfer the paste to large mixing bowl and allow to cool for 5 minutes before beating in the eggs one at a time. Make sure that each egg is fully absorbed before adding the next. The final paste should have a ‘dropping’ consistency, where a spoonful of dough held over the bowl should slowly fall off the spoon. If it’s too liquid, add more flour in small additions until the paste reaches the right consistency.
Preheat the oven to 400F/ 200C and line a baking tray with a baking sheet.
Form the choux pastry into the desired shape with 2 spoons or a piping bag. Leave an inch between each pile of dough to allow for expansion during baking, then glaze the choux paste with egg wash. Be careful not to let the egg wash drip onto the baking sheet as that would inhibit the rising.
The baking process involves two stages. In the first phase, the paste is baked at 400F/ 200C for 6-7 minutes, then the temperature is reduced to 325F/ 170C for another 3-4 minutes, until golden and crisp. Note that these timings assume that you’re baking with a convection oven. If you have a gas oven (like me), or your oven is just not as powerful as the regular convection oven, I’d recommend doubling the times (i.e. 14 minutes for the first phase and 8 minutes for the second phase). If you’re unsure in any case, always begin with a shorter duration and gradually lengthen the baking period.
4 oz/115g bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons/ 22g confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1/2 cup/ 125ml heavy cream
Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Add the sugar to the cream and bring to a just under a boil in a small saucepan, stirring to dissolve the sugar into the cream.
Pour the cream over the chocolate and leave to sit for a few minutes until the chocolate melts, then stir gently with a rubber spatula until smooth and shiny. If you’re glazing the puffs in advance, let the chocolate cool to room temperature first. Otherwise, start assembling the profiteroles and drizzle the glaze over the dish.
1 pint of ice-cream in your flavor of choice (chocolate, vanilla and coffee pair particularly well but the possibilities, really, are endless)
Half each choux puff horizontally with a serrated knife. Using your fingers (or a pair of tweezers if you wish), dip the tops of each puff into the chocolate glaze, allowing the excess to drip off and leave the glazed tops to set on a wire rack.
With a teaspoon, scoop the desired amount of ice-cream into the profiterole bases, add the glazed tops and freeze the assembled profiteroles until ready to serve. They should be eaten within a day.
The prepared choux puffs (glazed or unglazed) can be stored in an airtight container and frozen, ready for each profiterole party. The chocolate glaze can be kept, refrigerated, for up to a month.