Ever since visiting Paris in November, I’ve been simultaneously craving croissants and itching to make them. But whenever I went to the bakery, they never looked as appealing as the ones that came fresh out of the oven in Montmartre. And whenever I got home and looked at the recipe, I never felt ready to tackle this pastry. The challenge lies in the drawn out preparation – croissant dough needs at least 16 hours to reach optimal gluten and yeast balance, and I so want to do it right.
To satisfy my need to make and consume French pastries before I was mentally ready for the croissant, I went back to something that I learned earlier this year – choux. If you’re in North America, you’ll know choux in the form of cream puffs and eclairs, and in Canada, I highly suspect that Tim Horton’s honey cruiller is made with choux paste.
I was introduced to this little puff in the form of chouquettes in Paris last February. Severely jetlagged from an overnight flight, I went on a walk in the fancy 16th arrondissement, hoping the cold Paris air could cure me. Attracted by its yellow storefront and bright interior, I went into my first Parisian boulangerie (bakery) and took in the sights and smells. My eyes fixed on these little balls that were a little bigger than Timbits, studded with crystal sugar, nestled together like eggs in a basket by the cash. For some reason, nothing else caught my zombie-like attention and I asked for these little pastries, labelled chouquettes.
One bite, and I was cured. I forgot all about the crying baby on the 7 hour flight, and all about the turbulence. It was the lightest little puff of pastry I had ever tasted – it was barely sweet, eggy inside, with a light crunch from the crystal sugar. Hello, Paris! I have arrived!!
Having later learned the simple recipe consisting of very few ingredients from M. Crouton’s mother, I can see why these little bites of joy are a popular snack for locals.
Made with only six ingredients that you probably already have on hand, the choux pastry is a quick little snack that you can make to satisfy a pastry craving or to impress your friends and family. Not only is it simple to make, the dough itself is infinitely versatile. The pastry dough can be piped into a number of shapes like puffs, shells, beignets (doughnuts/bagels), and eclairs – refer to Joy of Cooking for the how-to. After they are baked in the oven, they can be filled with cream, custard, or ice cream, coated in a variety of things from simple (confectioner’s sugar) to decadent (chocolate ganache or icing). They’re also not limited to the world of desserts, as they can be used as a bed for stew (instead of Yorkshire pudding) or baked in the oven in a casserole.
To make chouquettes, before putting them in the oven, you can brush the piped or spooned dough with egg wash and press on the traditional crystal sugar if you have access to it, or small chocolate chips as David Lebovitz and Smitten Kitchen suggest.
Here is my belle-mère’s recipe, translated into English. It only takes 30 minutes of active time to prepare chouquettes, from 45 minutes up to 1 hour from start to finish.
- ½ cup butter
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup white flour
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tsp sugar
- 3 big eggs
- Bring to a boil the water and butter
- Add flour, salt, and sugar all at once
- Mix with a wooden spoon until a ball forms
- Remove from heat and cool for 20 minutes
- Add eggs, one at a time, mixing vigorously with a wooden spoon
- Pipe or spoon onto a lined baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes at 425F, then [10 min at 350 for small ones] OR [15 min at 350 for large ones]
This recipe makes around 30 small ones (a heaping tablespoon of dough) and 12 large ones that you can use for choux à la crème.
To make egg wash, beat one egg yolk with a tablespoon of milk.