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French in a Flash: Chouquettes

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.

About the author: Kerry Saretsky is the creator of French Revolution Food, where she reinvents her family's classic French recipes in a fresh, chic, modern way. She also writes the The Secret Ingredient series for Serious Eats.

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