I love the concept of learning something new everyday, whether it’s a new word to add to the vocabulary, or a snippet of information you didn’t know. I’ll admit I’m one of those people who love useless trivia. Did you know there are two million possible sandwich combinations that can be created from a Subway menu, or that fish are in fact susceptible to seasickness? I don’t ever want to stop learning, there are so many subjects that I find fascinating.
But one of the things I like most of all is the feeling that you could learn something every time you step into the kitchen. There are hundreds of different cuisines to explore and a countless amount of ingredients, each with its own flavours and properties. It excites me to go into the kitchen knowing that I’m going to make something new, because you’re never quite sure how it will turn out – in triumph or in tears. I remember the first time I made choux pastry, about two years ago. My profiteroles were sad, flat little mounds rather than gloriously risen puffs. I didn’t know what went wrong, and it took me three attempts (and probably some rather choice language) before I finally got it right. Here is a short list of the things I’ve since learned about making perfect choux…
• This recipe has a considerable amount of water. It’s the water turning to steam in the oven that makes them puff.
• When adding the flour, make sure the butter mixture is boiling rapidly. This ensures that the starch cells in the flour will accept more water and create more steam, and consequently more puff.
• I like to sift the flour before adding it to the mixture. You will need to stir vigorously to prevent lumps forming and incorporate the flour evenly.
• Make sure the oven is at the correct temperature before the puffs go in, and don’t be tempted to open the oven door while they are cooking!
• When they are cooked, prick the puffs with a skewer or cut them open to release the steam, and then return them to the oven for 5 minutes, which prevents them from going soggy.
• Cooked but unfilled choux will keep in an airtight container for 3 days or can be frozen for up to 3 weeks.
Choux pastry is a wonderful base for an incredible variety of sweet and savoury dishes; the choice of what to fill your éclairs or profiteroles with is up to you! Crème pâtissèrie, or pastry cream is one of my favourite things to make so I decided to put my leftover ginger to good use with one of its very best friends, dark chocolate. It gave the cream a nice subtle flavour that I loved. I dipped my profiteroles into melted chocolate, but you could also drizzle it on top. This is also my entry for Hay Hay Its Donna Day #20, brainchild of Barbara from Winos and Foodies, now being looked after by Bron Marshall, and hosted this month by Suzana of Home Gourmets.
Chocolate and Ginger Pastry Cream
• 2 cups whole milk
• About 6 strips of fresh ginger, cut with a vegetable peeler
• 4 large egg yolks
• 6 tablespoons sugar
• 3 tablespoons cornflour, sifted
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 7 (200g) ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted
• 2 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, at room temperature
• 100g unsalted butter
• 1 cup cold water
• 150g plain flour, sifted
• 4 eggs
• Melted dark chocolate, for dipping
1. To make the dark chocolate cream, bring the milk to a boil, add strips of ginger and infuse for at least 30 minutes. Strain and discard the pieces of ginger.
2. Re-heat the milk. In a heavy bottomed saucepan, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar, cornflour and salt until thick and well blended. Without stopping whisking, drizzle in about ¼ cup of the hot milk, then add the remainder of the milk in a steady stream. Put the pan over medium heat, and whisking vigorously, bring the mixture to a boil. Keep at a boil, still whisking for 1-2 minutes.
3. Remove the pan from the heat. Whisk in the melted chocolate and let stand for 5 minutes. In the meantime, fill the sink about a quarter full with water and ice cubes. Whisk in the pieces of butter, stirring until they are fully incorporated and the cream is smooth and silky.
4. Put the bowl into the ice filled sink, and stir occasionally until it is thoroughly chilled. Refrigerate with plastic pressed against the surface of the cream to avoid a skin forming.
5. To make the choux pastry, preheat the oven to 220°C (430°F) and line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper. Combine butter and water in a large saucepan and bring to the boil over high heat. Add flour and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until mixture leaves the sides of the pan. Remove from the heat and cool for 10 minutes.
6. Add eggs to the mixture, beating vigorously to combine after each addition before adding the next. To make profiteroles, use either a piping bag or a spoon to make 3cm mounds on the baking tray.
7. Bake for 15 minutes. Prick pastries with a skewer or the tip of a small knife and bake for an additional 5 minutes until golden and dry. Cool profiteroles on a wire rack before filling with chocolate and ginger pastry cream. Dip into melted dark chocolate before serving.