Recently Mark Bittman used his Sunday NY Times Food pages to extoll the virtues and utter simplicity of making Pate a Choux. This dough is the basis for both Gougeres, bite sized cheese puffs that melt in your mouth and Chocolate Eclairs, my absolute favorite French pastry growing up. Now Gougeres could not be all that hard to make because my Mother, challenged as she sometimes was in the kitchen, made them with some frequency. But perhaps because the Eclairs of my memory involved a trip across town to a Montreal Patisserie, it was inconceivable to me that these could possibly be made at home. So after Andrew had stuffed us all with Gougeres at Christmas Dinner, I was taken aback when he told me he was making Eclairs for New Year’s Eve Dinner. Not only were they better than any éclair I have ever eaten, he pronounced them a cinch to make. Frankly, I never quite believe him when he says something is easy but I’ll take his word for it. Especially after it was seconded by Mr. Bittman. These two pastries are so impressive they will dazzle anyone so if you want to sweeten your Super Bowl party or dazzle your Valentine, you’ve got it made. As long as you don’t let on how easy they were to make.
|Andrew mans the Piping bag|
Pate au Choux, the basis for both of these creations, is made from just four ingredients: Butter, Water, Flour and Eggs. The beating of these ingredients is the only real labor involved and takes all of three minutes. And even there you can put it all in the hands of your electric mixer until you have a smooth batter. If you’re making gougeres, you add cheese to the mixture. If you’re making Eclairs, you’re done. You can let the dough rest at that point but you don’t even have to do that. Both Gougeres and Eclairs are best put into a piping bag, a cone-shaped contraption that allows you to form the pastry into exactly the shapes you want. These can be had for 4.95 on Amazon.com. Or you can spring for one with a 23 piece set for all of 19.09. And if your find yourself piping bagless, you can substitute a plastic freezer bag with one corner cut off. Like magic, your piped pastry will double in
size in the oven leaving a gap in the center that just made for filling with ice cream (think Profiteroles) or pastry cream (think Eclairs). Once you get the hang of it, you can invent your own fillings –savory or sweet. Because once you’ve knocked Pate a Choux, you’ve pretty much got it made. And why were Andrew’s Eclairs better than any I’ve ever tasted. We owe their charms to none other than Joanne Chang, the force behind Boston’s Flour Cafe’s and Bakeries. Andrew is practically a disciple of Ms. Chang at this point. The difference in her eclairs? The filling! The traditional custard-like filling here is ambrosial. The secret: The last minute addition of whipped cream. It elevates the whole pastry to a new level, one that’s considerably lighter than ever I’d tasted before. Here are the recipes:
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus a little more for greasing the baking sheet