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In pursuit of puffiness

If you first read that title as “In pursuit of puffins”, I salute you. We should hang out.

M already has a pro hand when it comes to pâte à choux (the steam-risen dough from which gougeres, eclairs and profiteroles are made), but watching this video with Julia Child and Norman Love flicked a switch in his brain. Flicked it to MAXIMUM AWESOME. It was time to take pastry cookery to the next level. The goal: light puffs of pastry filled with chocolate crème pâtissière. The pastry would be based on David Lebovitz’ gougeres recipe, which we’ve both used with all-round success, but without the cheese and other savoury bits (duh). The crème pâtissière would be based on the way they did it in the Julia Child/Norman Love vid, from memory.

That weekend we saw three batches of profiteroles, each more glorious than the last. The first batch came out lofty, but M, in his excitement, took them out of the oven too soon and they deflated on the bench. Lesson learned: the pastry has to be more than just-cooked — when they’re light brown, the shell is firm enough to stay put as it cools. Nonetheless, he filled them with the chocolate crème pâtissière he made. Lesson two learned: separate the eggs before making your crème pâtissière, and don’t forget the cornflour. Failure to separate the eggs results in chocolate scrambled eggs, which isn’t as good as it sounds. So this batch were a little squashy, and a little eggy. We ate them anyway.

The next day dawned glorious and hopeful and M resumed his efforts. Friends were coming after lunch: he set to and threw together another batch. The crème pâtissière was amazing: we thoroughly tested it. The puffs, er, didn’t. Lesson learned: adding the eggs too soon to the liquid/flour roux will cook them immediately and they won’t puff in the oven. They came out more like small, buttery scones:

Nomlings.

M chopped them open and filled them with chocolate crème pâtissière and lo, we saw that they were good. But the itch wasn’t scratched. M pushed aside the imperfect puffs and began batch 3.

And this time he would not be denied.

SQUORK

The steady hands of a piper.

Instead of scooping spoonfuls of dough, he made a piping bag and piped little chicky-blobs onto the tray. And lo, the chicky-blobs became chicky-puffs:

Chicky-puffs.

Lesson lined: piping makes rounded, plump, chicky pastries.

PUFF

They rose perfectly. Compare the batch above (the buttery-scone batch) with the chicky-puff batch: they were exactly the same recipe, but the difference in texture was amazing. M fashioned a second piping bag (from the envelope his MOST AWESOMEST COOK certificate came in) (man, talk about prompt delivery), and attached a recycled plastic nozzle from a sriracha bottle. Thus equipped, he could poke a hole into the bottom of each chicky, and fill it with lush chocolate crème pâtissière. If you think that sounds good, you’re about halfway there: it was fantastic. The crispy, light puffs perfectly complemented by the thick, smooth crème pâtissière.

Insert crème!

I don’t have a finished photo of these delicious puffs, because I was eating them and got crème all over the camera. Also, while rolling my eyes back into my head and grunting happily as I ate, halting the moment and taking a photo was the last thing on my mind. I believe the only thing on my mind was GET MORE PUFFS.

It’s easy to get put off pastry-making because it seems so delicate and easily ruined; there’s no doubt there’s a different set of rules to learn (compared to, say, eggs on toast). But you’ll get it, and the results are incredible. And also puffy.

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