Pâte à choux, or choux pastry, is the Madonna of doughs. It is always reinventing itself. It can be fried into beignets; boiled into Parisian gnocchi; piped into éclairs; piped with cheese and roasted in gougères; sliced and sandwiched into profiteroles. But the most simple and perfect of them all is when they're crusted in sugar and baked into the little-known (Stateside) chouquettes.
Chouquettes loosely translates to "little bits of choux." They are usually sold in baskets perched atop the glass pastry cases of bakeries and pastry shops in France. A sort of afterthought, they are just profiteroles shells—crisp, airy, and hollow, crusted in lumps of pearl sugar. They are just a bit sweet, and slightly rich and eggy from the pastry. They make the perfect snack: unassuming, unextravagant, unfilling. But yet they add that touch of afternoon sweetness to the day, and take the edge off a rumbling belly.
Choux pastry, which is composed of one French word and "pastry," another intimidating word, sounds like it might not be worth the trouble. But in reality, it is one of the easiest doughs to make, and unusual in process too, so that you feel accomplished and chef-y. And once you've mastered choux, you can make any of the things I enumerated above.
The basic method to making choux pastry is to boil together one cup of water and one stick of butter, with some salt or sugar or both. Take it off the heat, and dump in one cup of flour. You don't even need a recipe! Then put it back on the heat, stir for 30 seconds, dump it into a bowl, add some eggs, and you're done. I don't even pipe these; I just scoop them onto a sheet and bake them, topped in that iconic pearl sugar like a crusty snow crown.
Chouquettes are snowflake festive in the winter, and perfect for all the holiday teas, breakfasts, brunches, and desserts we all make or attend over the next few months. It is the kind of cooking I call therapy cooking: a process that always turns out the same, requires minimal work, but a bit of attention, and coaxes you back to sanity after a workday. Eating them is a just reward.
- 1 stick unsalted butter
- 1 cup water
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup flour
- 3 eggs
- 1 to 2 tablespoon milk, half and half, or heavy cream
- 2 to 4 tablespoons pearl sugar
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
To make choux pastry, place the butter, water, sugar, and salt in a saucepan, cover, and bring to a boil. Take the pan off the heat when it boils, and dump in the flour. Stir to incorporate with a wooden spoon. Return to the pan to medium-low heat, and stir constantly for about 30 seconds, until the dough comes away from the pan. Scoop the dough out of the pan and into a bowl to cool down for just a couple minutes. You'll want to put that pan to soak right now. Then, add one egg at a time, stirring for all you're worth with that wooden spoon. When all three eggs are absorbed, you'll have a thick, smooth, and sticky dough.
Use two tablespoons to drop tablespoon-sized mounds of choux pastry onto a Silpat-lined baking sheet. Brush lightly with the milk/half and half/cream, and sprinkle with pearl sugar, remembering that these chouquettes will puff up and be much larger later than now, and so can probably handle more sugar than you think.
Bake for 10 minutes at 400°F. Lower the heat to 350°F, and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the chouquettes are puffed, golden, and hard to the touch. Cool on a rack. Eat them as is, or drizzle with honey or smother with jam.
An Illustrated Guide: