I always think of Profiteroles as a bit of a throw back to the ’70’s, but they have been around a lot longer than that. They are little balls of choux pastry (pronounced “shoe”) that are filled with custard cream, ice cream or whipped cream and are often garnished with a sprinkling of icing sugar or chocolate ganache.
For anyone who hasn’t worked with choux pastry before, the very idea can seem daunting but it really is one of the easiest pastries to master. My introduction to choux pastry was during Home Economics in high school. In our final year we had to prepare a 3-course meal for a wedding or other formal engagement and as I’d seen my step mum make these a few times, it seemed like a fancy way to end off the meal.
Choux pastry is the basis for many French favourites including éclairs – those gorgeously decadent cream-filled chocolate-covered finger shaped treats. This is a cooked pastry which uses steam during the cooking process to puff the pastry instead of a raising agent. The mixture is then placed onto baking sheets, either by piping shapes or using two spoons to blob the mixture into place. I personally prefer using the piping method as often the spoons make me feel like I have an extra set of hands I can’t quite control. Using the spoons, I can also never get the right shape, but that could just be my lack of dexterity. You decide which method works best for you.
Once the little balls of pastry have baked and cooled, they are filled and then piled on top of each other making a tower. The chocolate ganache is then drizzled over the top. With a charmingly French origin, these Profiterole Towers are still quite popular in France today as wedding cakes, although those towers are lots bigger than the one I made the other day.
When catering for guests, allow 3 – 4 profiteroles per person. The little balls should be large enough that they can be filled easily, but small enough that they are popped into the mouth whole. Trying to bite off pieces becomes an embarrassingly messy affair with cream and chocolate escaping everywhere.
I’ve tried a few recipes and this is the one I keep returning to so I’ve just binned the others. It is super easy. One tip: work quickly combining ingredients in the pot. Don’t fluff around, you need to concentrate and focus. Also, don’t panic if the piped or blobbed mixture looks a little flat on the baking tray, it should rise beautifully in the oven.
Basic Choux Pastry
65 g plain flour.
50 g butter, cut into small pieces
¼ tsp salt
2 eggs, well beaten (mid size, not too large)
150 ml cold water
Filling and Sauce
300 ml double cream (whipping cream)
1 Tbsp icing sugar (optional)
¼ tsp vanilla essence (optional)
225 g chocolate
3 Tbsp cold water
- Preheat the oven to 200°C and grease a couple of baking sheets.
- Sift the flour and salt together onto a piece of baking paper.
- Put the butter and water together into a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Once the butter has melted and the mxiture is almost boiling, remove it from the heat and immediately tip in the sifted flour all in one go. Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until the pastry comes together into a smooth ball (that’s how it is described, but isn’t always perfectly round) that leaves the pan sides clean – you’ll be amazed, it actually works!.
- Return to the heat to dry out the mixture slightly (about half a minute). Remove from the heat and gradually beat in the egg until the mixture becomes less solid but resembles a stiff paste. Again, the heat of the pastry begins to cook the egg. Make sure you don’t end up with scrambled egg. You shouldn’t be able to see any of the egg as it combines and becomes less solid, resembling a stiff paste. If you’re worried it is getting too runny, don’t add the last bit of egg.
- Either using the spoons or a piping bag, make small, round shapes.
- Cook in the oven for about 10 minutes and then increase the heat to 220°C and cook for another 15 – 20 minutes until the balls have risen and are a light golden colour.
- Remove from the oven and using the handle of a spoon, a sharp knife or even a cake tester, pierce the side of each choux bun to allow the steam to escape. Return to the oven for a further 2 minutes to make them even crispier but watch that they don’t darken too much.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire tray. Once cooled, they can be stored in an air-tight container. I wouldn’t advise filling them more than 2 hours prior to serving as they will collapse and be too wet/gooey.
- To fill the buns, either whip the cream and use it as is or make a Chantilly Cream by adding the icing sugar and vanilla essence to the cream. I find it adds another dimension completely but the plain whipped cream is just fine on it’s own. Again, I find it easier to pipe the mixture into the buns as trying to spoon it in can become messy and you want to avoid breaking or handling the delicate buns too much.
- Melt the chocolate and water together in a basin over a saucepan of simmering water. Either dip the top of each bun into the melted chocolate or make a tower out of the buns (good balancing skills are required or you can cheat and “glue” each bun in place with a small dab of chocolate) and pour the chocolate sauce over the top. Serve at once.