day seven - pâte à choux

Paris-Brest and Gougeres

Note: For six weeks, July 5 - August 11, I will be enrolled in the culinary arts cooking and pastry/baking certificate programs at Boston University. Cooking is Monday and Tuesday, baking is Wednesday and Thursday. We have to keep a daily journal of the experience, so I'll be blogging about the class every day.

After the craziness that is cooking, baking is positively zen. Ribbons of sugar and egg yolks, slowly caramelizing nougatine, piping circles of pâte à choux, lightly dusting with powdered sugar; it's slower, more methodical and we almost always get out of class on time.

Both of last night's recipes utilized pâte à choux, and I can't for the life of me figure out why people aren't making this all the time. You probably have made it before because you made my recipe for lavender honey eclairs, so good for you. But why aren't other people making pâte à choux? It is very easy and very impressive and delicious and versatile.

First of all, pâte à choux does not mean "shoe paste." "Choux" doesn't translate to "choux" just because they sound the same. It's actually French for "cabbage." Because pâte à choux is made by boiling cabbages, pureeing them, mixing them with eggs, flour and butter, piping the cabbage paste out and baking it so you have a sort of cabbage pastry shell. For dessert.

I got you! Did I get you? I totally got you. You were like, "Gross, cabbage pastry." I got you so bad. What was I talking about? I forgot because I was reminiscing about that time that I got you. Hahaha. That was some good times. Cabbage pastry. Oh, dude.

Anyway, so originally choux buns looked like little cabbages. Awww. Although it's really Brussels sprouts that look and taste like tiny cabbages to me. I just looked up the French word(s) for Brussels sprouts and guess what it is!? Choux de Bruxelles! The learning never ends.

So, we made our pâte à choux (de Bruxelles) for the Paris-Brest, which is so-named because the dessert was first created to commemorate the very-long bicycle race that goes from Paris to Brest and back again (so really they should call it Paris-Brest-Paris; who was naming all of this stuff back in the day, because they could have done it better). We were a bit worried because it seemed like our pâte à choux might be a bit dry - it wasn't sticking together in one large ball and it kind of crumbled into pieces in the stand mixer during cooling, but once we added the eggs it looked fine. And we shouldn't have worried - they rose wonderfully high and tasted perfectly light, crisp and toasty.

To fill them, we made pastry cream and, while that cooled, we made almond nougatine. I'm still not really sure what the difference between nougatine and praline and brittle is, but it was basically almonds in crunchy, caramelized sugar. It was outstanding. This was pulverized in the food processor, mixed in with the pastry cream, and piped between the layers. They were, to say the very least, great. This is my kind of pastry. Incidentally, my partner for last night's class (Hi, Kate!) and I quit school to open up a Paris-Brest Shoppe (I'm pretty sure it's a Shoppe, not a shop). We'll take it from here. (The only thing I might do in the future is whip up some cream and fold it into the pastry cream to give it some body and air).

We also made gougeres with gruyere, bacon and thyme. Rich gruyere cheese and tiny pieces of bacon studded throughout a warm, flaky pastry. They were disgusting.

Got you again! It's just too easy! You make it too easy to get you. Oh boy. Hahaha. You thought they were disgusting and they weren't disgusting. That really gets me.

Where was I again? Sorry. Oh, they were actually delicious. Surprise! I said, "This is my last one," about six times. They are light and rich and savory and airy and salty and crisp all at the same time. I think a very normal and maybe even conservative serving size is 50 per person. That sounds about right. To make them we simply made pâte à choux again, but with savory flavors. So versatile!

Anyway, what a great class. Savory gougeres, sweet Paris-Brests. Chablis. Ending class on time. Just what a class should be.

Tonight: pies and tarts, including tart citron, apple galette and chess pie.