[Like you loved me more than chocolate cake – Fromage blanc and chives crispysoft choux buns]

Believe it or not, but I’ve made pâte à choux twice in the past couple of days; and nope, no flat little choux buns were involved. This might not sound special; but trust me – if you’re unaware of my choux-bun-helplessness – it is.

Choux pastry is something I love to make. I mean don’t you dream about not feeling your own arm anymore, because you’ve just beaten three whole eggs into a thickish dough, which tends to split as you do so? Come on! Admit it, you love it too.
Well, I do. But choux buns. Oh no; these definitely don’t love me back. They probably even hate me; and that’s a massive understatement.

We all know how the story ends. On a random day, I decide to overcome this feeling, persuading myself that choux buns do actually love me. After all, there just made of flour, milk, water, salt, butter and – breathe – eggs.
So, yes, I make pâte à choux. It looks sleek and pretty, and has the most wonderful smell. I gently pipe it onto a lovely baking sheet. And bake. And cry.

During my whole life, I might have gotten choux buns right once or not twice. Not a single time more. So well, after giving up for a year, I made it again. Thanks to the NY Times magazine – yeah, finally a twoway relationship!

When I spotted the recipe for herbed fritters, my heart felt quite excited. How could fromage blanc and chives folded into pâte à choux then fried could taste bad? And, perhaps more importantly, how could I possibly failed that?
Frying. This is like totally different from baking. Three different letters, and a couple of litres of oil later, I found myself dropping little balls of the most beautiful dough ever into some bubbling greasiness. It felt good. Quite dangerous –yes – but I’m wild and fearless, so that doesn’t count.

Anyway, since I got such terrific results, I decided to love the NY Times even more. And even got the idea to make one recipe from it every week. Oh, I know, those don’t looks as yummy as the frosted cake and luscious tart I got you used to; but well, they pretty much have the same calorie content!

Choux croustimoelleux au fromage blanc et à la ciboulette
Adapted from the NY Times.

This is quite straightforward a recipe. If you know how to make pâte à choux, then you’re done. And it happens to actually be true as well if you don’t know a thing about choux.

You first make the pâte à choux. Heat the milk, water and butter together, then throw in the flour and salt in one go. Now using a wooden spoon, mix the dough like mad until it forms a ball. Finally mix in the eggs, one at a time. Here I have a couple of things to add: 1) you needn’t a stand mixer, keep using your wooden spoon. And 2) you might not need the entire third egg, so what I advise you to do is to crack it into a small bowl, mix it with a fork until smooth and slowly pour half ot it onto the dough. If it feels right, add more. If not, throw the remaining egg mixture away.

Once the dough is made, it should be used immediately, so I can only recommend heating the oil before you even start making the dough.
Making the fritters is just a matter of folding: some fromage blanc – which you can substitute with ricotta, a handful of chopped chives, and freshly ground pepper.

Then comes the frying. Be careful. I decided to pipe the dough into the hot*hot oil. Basically, I filled my piping bags with the dough, squeezed it over the oil and cut it – using my tiny pair of scissors – to form little balls.
Oh and yes, while I’m at it. I don’t own a thermometer that goes high enough in temperature, so I just rely to the dip-it test; i.e. spoon a little of the dough and se it it pops up and float. If it does, the oil is hot enough; falling that just wait for an extra couple of minutes before trying again.

Choux croustimoelleux au fromage blanc et à la ciboulette

makes 30

for the fritters
150g fromage blanc (ricotta cheese may be substituted)
a handful chopped chives
ground black pepper
one batch warm, just-mixed basic choux pastry
canola oil, for deep-frying
fleur de sel

Fold the fromage blanc, parsley, herbs and black pepper into the choux dough.
Place a cooling rack over a sheet pan. In a large heavy pot, heat at least 5cm of oil to 180°C. Working in batches, pipe-and-cut (using scissors) the dough into the oil, and please don’t burn yourself. Fry each ball for 3 to 5 minutes, turning, until deep brown. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the fritters to the cooling rack and sprinkle with fleur de sel. Let cool for at least 2 minutes, then serve. Repeat with the remaining batter.

for the basic pâte à choux
100g flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
50g butter
125g whole milk
125g water
3 large eggs

Mix the flour and salt in a small bowl. In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter with the milk and water over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Bring to a rolling boil, add the flour mixture and stir briskly for one minute. The dough should form into a ball, and a thin film should cover the bottom of the pan.
Immediately transfer the dough to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle. Mix on low to quickly release the steam. Just after the steam subsides, add an egg and increase the speed to medium. The dough will break into lumps at first. Once the dough comes back together, add the second egg and continue mixing.
In a small bowl, lightly beat the third egg. Stop the mixer. When the dough is lifted with a spoon, it should detach and form a slowly bending peak. If the dough is too thick and doesn’t bend, mix in half of the beaten egg. Check the dough again; add the remaining beaten egg as needed. The dough is now ready to be used for any recipe calling for choux paste. It must be used while still warm.