Ever since K came back from a little Parisian rendezvous with his friend last summer, he’s been raving about chouquettes. I’ve been wanting to try baking these as well, for a quick change from the usual eclairs or gougère, but couldn’t find the proper sugar in the supermarkets here (it’s available online, however, for a premium price). It was only while we were in Germany on a quick backpacking holiday that we stumbled upon Hagelzucker (nib sugar!!!) in the supermarket and quickly nabbed a kilogram of it. As if our backpacks weren’t heavy enough already. The things we do for food.
Unlike eclairs or creme patisserie filled choux puffs, chouquettes are dressed with a simple sprinkle of nib sugar. This modest treat is no less delicious and in fact, the simplicity of crunchy sugar on a crisp cloud of pastry is mighty dangerous- we’ve each inhaled about 5 of these straight of out the oven. I would make them a wee bit smaller next time though, so that each is perfectly bite-sized!
Choux pastry is quite the chemical wonderchild. With 4 pantry staples, and a bit of elbow grease, these crisp, fluffy, buttery morsels puff up in the oven without a single trace of chemical leavening. The secret behind these is simply, the high water content, which translates into steam in the oven, filling each choux puff with hot air while it bakes. It also makes it slightly temperamental because opening the oven halfway would result in instant deflation, and after many flat, soggy puffs I’ve hidden at the back of the fridge (to sorrowfully drown in ice cream and eat), I’ve learnt the hard way that these CANNOT be disturbed. Here are a few tips that I’ve come to incorporate into my choux every time:
1. The humble wooden mixing spoon
The first time I made a batch of choux three years ago, I used a whisk. Because, obviously, whisking = the most even distribution of the ingredients, right? Wrong. It was such a bad idea and I ended up with flat puffs because I (ironically) couldn’t whip the paste thoroughly. Using a wooden mixing spoon really really gets the egg to combine and absorb into the flour paste mixture, even though it will look like slippery curds initially.
2. Large eggs
It’s not scientifically proven or anything, but I do like to use the largest eggs in the tray for these. With so few ingredients in the recipe, eggs do play a pretty big part. Be generous with the eggs and save the smaller ones for your morning scramble.
3. A HOT oven
You’d want the oven really hot (about 225°C) while preheating, simply because heat is lost when you open the door to place your trays of choux in. You can turn the temperature down after the trays have gone in and the oven door is closed. A hot oven really kick starts the leavening process, which leads to fluffy choux!
4. Fan-forced, or convection?
I used a fan-forced oven, because I’m impatient and like to bake 3 trays of choux at a time. The fan distributes the heat evenly throughout the oven, but if a convection oven is the only available option, do bake one tray at a time to prevent uneven heating.
5. Absolutely, no checking.
Once the trays are in the oven, resist the urge to open the oven door for a peek. Choux pastry is so unforgiving when it comes to changes in temperature. Bake them till golden brown, (I like to give them an extra 2 minutes more, even) because once you pull them out, and if they’re not fully cooked through, they will collapse. And returning them to the oven will not work. And you will be sad (I certainly was).
Onward with chouquettes!
Recipe from David Lebovitz
- 250ml water
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp sugar
- 90g unsalted butter
- 135g flour
- 4 large eggs
- About 100g of nib sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 225°C
2. Place the butter, sugar, salt and water into a saucepan. Heat on medium heat until the butter melts but do not let the mixture come to a boil.
3. Take it off the heat, and add in the flour, all at once. Mix quickly with a wooden spoon until the mixture forms a smooth paste.
4. Put it back onto the heat to dry out the paste a little, mixing it consistently to prevent it from burning.
5. Transfer the paste into a large bowl, and stir the mixture to loosen it up and to help it cool down quicker.
6. Add in the eggs, one at a time, beating vigourously after each addition, until the resulting paste is thick, glossy and completely smooth. The mixture might look like it has curdled badly in the beginning, but just keep going with the wooden spoon! (Alternatively, a stand mixer with a paddle attachment works really well.)
7. Pipe or spoon mounds onto lined baking trays, spacing the chouquettes about an inch and a half apart.
8. Using your finger, dip it in water and lightly press down any ‘tips’ that result from the piping/spooning process (this prevents the ‘tips’ from burning)
9. Press on the nib sugar (do this generously, the chouquettes will expand). Place the trays in the oven and immediately turn the heat down to 220°C.
10. Bake at 220°C for 10 minutes, and lower the heat to 200°C for another 15-20 minutes. Chouquettes should be golden brown, and hollow inside when done.
These are so good. I never thought I’d eat so many chouquettes at a go, but I have, and so will you (when you bake them!)
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