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Et si on faisait semblant d’être amoureux- Petits choux au chocolat au lait

[Wouldn’t it be nice if we pretended to be in love – Small milk chocolate choux puffs]

I checked on the daring bakers’ recipe quite late this month, thinking I would have to miss out on this one (yet again) given how tired I felt.

However, things turn out to be a little different. Far from what I expected them to be. As I opened the forum thread, I was thrilled by Meeta and Tony‘s pick.

But I mean, who wouldn’t?

1. It’s from Pierre Hermé. Yes, this is totally the point where I blabber about how I loved working him, getting to make all the pâtisseries he sells in his shops, blah, blah, blah. Someone, please stop me. I love him. Period.

2. It has chocolate. Lots of it.

3. It’s made from pâte à choux: perhaps my most favourite thing in the entire world (if you put my consistent inability to produce nice looking choux puffs aside).

And if that didn’t convince you, I’ll have to force the following into your minds. How could you not love something that oozes chocolate crème pâtissière everytime you sink your teeth in it?

I knew it, you’re sold. So was I.

The experiment
– golden choux encasing
– the most luscious chocolate crème pâtissière
– and iced with a simple chocolate fondant

The pâte à choux is a basic. Flour is cooked into a smooth mass with water, milk and butter. First, the butter is cut into small even-sized cubes that are thrown into a pan along with water and milk, and a little salt and sugar. Both the milk and butter make for soft and golden-coloured choux. Indeed, milk is the perfect ingredient to enhance the Maillard reaction that naturally occurs between amino acids and reducing sugars. Heat milk proteins and lactose together and the magic will take place: deep brown colour, and lovely caramel and smoky aromas.

Anyway, this mixture is slowly brought to the boil. And as soon as the butter has melted, flour gets incorporated off the heat in one go, and beaten until it forms a smooth dough.

Then, the pan is placed back over medium heat. The dough is beaten vigorously with a wooden spoon to get rid of excess moisture, and also slightly denaturate the proteins behind gluten – glutenins and gliadins. This prevents the gluten from forming too strong a network, and thus, enables the development of the choux in the oven.

Once the flour mass is ready, I moved it into a pyrex bowl and added the eggs, one at a time; beating well after each addition.
For me, four 60g eggs were enough to get a thick yet soft dough. It should hold its shape but be pipe-able as well.

Since I don’t have my piping tools here, I used a Ziploc bag, but as you can see from the not so perfect choux above and below, well, I didn’t do a good job. The thing is, if you want to get nice even choux, you must pipe from above, not pressing the piping tip against the baking sheet (in comparison with how macarons are piped). Well, do this, unless you want multi-air-pocket-choux.

The dough will most likely form peaks which you can press down using your wet fingers. Next step is the baking: preheat the oven to 200°C, but reduce it to 180°C as soon as you place the baking sheet into the oven. As you do so, sprinkle water over the little balls of dough, then close the oven door and do not open it before the choux have risen well – approximately, 10 minutes later.

At this point, you want to open the door slightly and keep it that way. Given that I suppose you have other things to do than staying close to the oven maintaining that door opened, I suggest you stick a wooden spoon in there. It does a magnificent job at it.

Now, you should bake the choux for 10 more minutes or until golden-brown, and dry and firm to the touch.
Take out from the oven, and quickly pierce the bottom of each choux using a pointy knife to help the steam escape and not making those choux all gooey inside. Allow to cool then store in an airtight container.

The crème pâtissière is pretty classic too. Except for the extra-chocolate. You start by making a simple crème pâtissière: bring the milk to the boil, then temper the egg yolks, sugar and starch mixture. Place back into the pan and cook to 84°C.
This crème is then transferred into a container, and chocolate is incorporated. When it reaches 60°C, a little butter gets mixed in for extra smoothness and thickness.
Cover with cling film, making sure the film is right onto the crème filmé au contact, as we say in France; and refrigerate.

To pipe the crème pâtissière into the choux, simply fill a piping bag fitted with a fine noozle and use the hole previously made to fill in the choux.
Chill while you get on with the fondant.

For this, I forgot Pierre’s recipe and went with a very simple fondant: warm milk, icing sugar and cocoa powder, mixed into a smooth and thick paste.
Then it’s all very easy. Dip the choux, allow the excess fondant to drip and arrange the choux onto a serving plate. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.

What if I say that the crème pâtissière was out of this world? Thick and luscious, with the most delicious chocolate flavour.

Anyway, I’m quite happy with how this all turned out. I’ve now officially conquered my choux-fears; not that they look perfect. But at least, I know why they look this way – read multi-air-pocketed. It also made me realise I’m not that bad at making choux. I mean, when I look at my second attempt, they somewhat look goo to me.

Ok, so enough digressing. Back to those chocolate choux, I’m pretty sure I’ll make them again, but this is something I knew even before I started making them. Now the next step is to top the unbaked choux with what French call craquant: a dough make of sugar, flour and butter; rolled very thinly, that gives the choux a lovely crackly look.

Choux au chocolat au lait

for 60 choux

for the pâte à choux
125g milk
125g water
125g butter, diced
pinch of salt
1tsp of sugar
150g type 55 flour
4 eggs (approx. 240g)

for the crème pâtissière
500g milk
4 egg yolks
3 tbsp cornflour
80g caster sugar
200g milk chocolate
40g butter, diced

for the fondant
milk, scalded
icing sugar
cocoa powder

pour 60 choux

pour la pâte à choux
125g lait
125g eau
125g beurre, coupé en dés
pincée de sel
1tsp sucre
150g farine type 55
4 oeufs (approx. 240g)

pour la crème pâtissière
500g lait entier
4 jaunes d’oeuf
3 tbsp maizena
80g sucre poudre
200g chocolat au lait
40g beurre, coupé en dés

for the fondant
lait, tiède
sucre glace
cacao en poudre

Something glorious is about to happen – Blueberry focaccia

Apparently, it’s been a month since I last told you about this beautiful blueberry focaccia. A month. And no, I’m not going to ramble on how time flies; I’ve done that too much in the past already. Not that I don’t like to complain – you know I do; but well, I’m just too tired and unhappy.

Or at least I was too tired and unhappy until it all happened.

You see, those past few weeks of unusual silence had a reason. I’m physically exhausted, and an emotional wreck. I barely sleep. I don’t eat how I should. I can’t find comfort anywhere or in anyone. I’m restless, always on the lookout for new experiences to share, new sensations to explore, new, new new.

Every morning I wake up after a couple of hours of sleep only to remember what a long day I’ll find on my path. Daily internship. Writing my thesis. Then going back home. Let the fun begin. I create. Or less fancily – and perhaps more appropriately – I make things.

The creative process is part of me. I don’t care about the end result. What matters to me is how you get it. Beautiful.

This is terrific. Exciting. And totally fulfilling. But also very shattering. Especially when I haven’t had the chance to have a few days off since last Christmas. When I know I’ll have to wake up at 3:30am every morning for a year. No break.

And I still don’t know what I want to do next.

Or more exactly, I know what I want, but also feel like it’s never going to happen (St Martin’s school of design, I shall tell you goodbye before we even met).

I’m scared.

What do I want to be? Product developer. Certainly. Pastry chef. Possibly. Making my dream come true: being the owner of a pastry shop meets bakery meets book store meets cooking school. Hopefully.

So many doubts. And only one thing to be certain about: this focaccia is out of this world. Go and make it before it’s too late and blueberries disappear for another long year full of expectations, worries and excitement.

Blueberry focaccia
Adapted from Dan Lepard.

When I was younger, I remember my dad talking about how his grand father would make him olive oil bread topped with freshly cut apricot halves and baked until the flavours blend beautifully.
And well, since I had some blueberries to use (OK, I needed an excuse for not eating that whole tub); I thought I should give it a try.

The base recipe is just from Dan, as you may have guessed. So good it makes for the most perfect brunch or snack.

You could also replace the oil with softened butter if you feel like the olive flavour might be overpowering (I loved it, but it’s all a matter of taste).

Blueberry focaccia

serves 8

one quantity of focaccia dough
120g demerara sugar
four handfuls of blueberries or any other fruit

Make the dough as detailed here, mixing in the sugar along with the second batch of flour.

Due to the addition of sugar, the dough will turn out way more sticky than your usual focaccia dough; but please, don’t be tempted to throw it away. Make your best to knead it (ever so slightly), proof it then fold it; adding a little extra flour is you really need to.

Shape the dough and scatter the fruits over it.
Bake as indicated. Feel happy.

Photography and projects portfolio

As crazy as it may sound, I did check something off my to-do list. Last night. At 4am.

I now have an online portfolio to display some of my pictures and crafty projects. Please do check it, you’ll make me super*happy.

PS. I know it’s cheaply coded in dirty html, but damn, it was 4am!

Edit (january 2010): my portfolio is now heeeere (more…)