Oh, profiteroles. Puffs of cream. They are what dreams are made of: Soft, pillowy, fluffy, sweet goodness, wrapped up in a crisp, delicate layer of pastry. Okay, maybe not that last bit. But definitely the soft, fluffy, pillowy, sweet part. I always assumed that profiteroles were really difficult to make: the pastry fiddly, the filling not just a mere whipped cream but actual custard, the baking impossibly precise and the filling process a messy disaster. At least, that’s what Masterchef taught me: I have seen battle-hardened contestants crumble under the pressure of producing the perfect choux pastry in a short period of time, their pastry failing, the mixture either turning out way too liquid or not liquid enough to pipe, and their filling not thickening up to be an actual custard at all.
So why was I desperate to try and make them by hand then? Because difficult recipe or not, I love profiteroles and was eager to at least give it a go. To prove the Masterchef contestants wrong, perhaps.
I used a recipe from a TV chef, because the night of the Masterchef choux disaster, we also watched an episode of his show where he made Saint Honorés, little pastries with a puff pastry base and profiteroles on top, dipped in salted caramel. So call it fate! He insisted that choux pastry is actually really simple to make. It’s a special kind of pastry, because you start by boiling the liquid with the butter, add the flour and, while stirring constantly, cook the mixture until it starts to sweat, and then add the eggs one by one. According to the Masterchef contestant, you had to cool down the mixture entirely first otherwise the eggs would cook when you add them to the mixture, but the TV chef (who happens to be a trained pastry chef) simply tips the mixture out of the pan into a bowl, stir it for a few moments, and then adds the eggs one by one, stirring constantly and vigorously, allowing the temperature of the eggs to cool down the mixture so that it no longer can cook. I followed his lead, and lo and behold, my mixture came out perfectly.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing, though: I discovered that my piping skills are less than acceptable. My first batch turned out slightly flopping all over the place and they were almost as big as my fist when they came out of the oven! Remember, folks, choux pastry grows. A LOT. And because choux pastry depends on the moisture in the puffs to grow, letting them rest after the cooking time in the oven is very important, otherwise they stay a bit moist on the inside. My second batch, however, turned out a bit too crisp because they were smaller than the first batch. They were dry on the inside, though!
When the pastry was done, though, they needed a filling. The recipe called for crème pâtissière or pastry cream, another thing I had been wanting to try but was intimidated by. But it’s easy! Milk, sugar, vanilla, egg yolks and flour. That’s all it takes! That, and some time to cool down. It was sweet and creamy, the perfect filling for the crunchy pastry. Tim wanted a lighter filling, though, which was perfect because my profiteroles turned out so big that I didn’t have nearly enough pastry cream to fill the lot, so I whipped up some simple sweetened whipped cream for the other half.
Profiteroles (makes about 24, depending on size)
100 ml water
100 ml milk
100 gram flour
100 gram butter
(you will need a piping bag with a round tip for piping your pastry and a smaller tip for filling them)
Bring the water, milk and butter in a pan to the boil. Once it boils, add all the flour in one go and stir constantly until it begins to sweat. This should take a few minutes, tops. You will get some build-up in the bottom of the pan, but that’s all part of it. Take the pan off the heat, transfer the ball of dough to a bowl and stir firmly for a few moments. Then, one by one, stir the eggs into the dough. Stir vigorously! It will look like it’s splitting, but don’t worry, keep going, until all four eggs are incorporated and the mixture is smooth.
Preheat your oven to 210°C. Line a baking tray with greased paper. Fill up your piping bag with your mixture and pipe small dollops of mixture onto the tray. Try to keep them relatively far apart, they will grow to about 3 times their size!
Bake them for approximately 20 minutes or until golden brown. Turn the oven off with your pastry inside and allow it to cool down. (If you need to bake multiple batches, unfortunately, you will have to let the oven cool down first. Sorry!)
250 ml milk
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 tablespoon of flour
1 vanilla pod
Bring the milk, half the sugar and the caviar from the vanilla pod to a simmer. In the mean time, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and flour in a bowl. When the milk is brought to a simmer, add a small amount of milk to the egg mixture while stirring continuously to acclimatise the egg mixture to the heat without boiling the eggs. Take the milk off the heat and slowly, pour in all the milk, whisk, and pour the mixture back into the pan. Put back on the heat, turn the heat to low and allow the mixture to cook for a few minutes, until it thickens up.
Take a dinner plate and hold it under the tap for a second, and without drying it off, pour your pastry cream onto the plate and smooth out. Cover it with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming and allow it to cool before you place it in the fridge.
And now for the fun part! Once the pastry is cooked and cooled, use a sharp knife to poke a hole in the bottom of all profiteroles. Put your cooled pastry cream in a piping bag with a smaller tip and fill your profiteroles by gently sticking the tip into the profiterole and squeezing! Resist eating all of them at once.