Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Profiteroles au chocolat

It is with good reason why these little desserts are so often referred to as “profit-roles” in a restaurant; the “food cost” (i.e. the price of ingredients) is so low compared to the money you make from them (i.e. the profits).
Made from classic French pate a choux, they are the basis of many classic desserts (cream puffs and éclairs, Paris Brest, and the popular bistro dessert, profiteroles au chocolat). If  you omit the sugar and add some cheese  they make a great hot hors d’oeuvre, gougeres. It is also used for gnocchi a la parisienne. It’s a good dough to know.

I once worked with a chef who received his formal French training on the job at a restaurant in St. Helena, Calif. When I worked with him, he gave me his recipe which is pretty much the classic pate a choux dough recipe (they are all pretty much identical). He said he used to make the profiteroles for the restaurant everyday for 9 months. When I use the recipe I am reminded of the years we spent together.*

The flour is given as a weight, which was how he passed the recipe down to me. A typical pate a choux recipe will use equal amounts milk (or water) to flour. This has a little more. If you don’t have a scale, 5 ounces is about 1 cup and 3 tablespoons of flour.

For this particular take on the classic, I folded some crushed Oreo cookies into the completed choux paste, but you don’t have to. One day at work while I was crushing the Oreos with a hammer, someone walked by, stopped and seeing what I was doing said, “That looks like the way my mom must have packed my lunch for school. Or at least that’s how my cookies always ended up.”

I pipe the puffs with a pastry bag fitted with a ¾” wide tube tip. You could use a “zip-lock” type plastic bag or you could drop the pate a choux onto the baking tray with spoons. Since pate a choux is so sticky, spray the spoons with non-stick cooking spray.
Baked profiteroles can be frozen then thawed for future use. You can also warm the thawed profiteroles in a low oven to re-crisp them.

Pate a Choux
Makes 20 individual puffs, about 2” each

1 cup milk
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter                                                       
½ teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons sugar
5 ounces all-purpose flour (approx. 1 cup plus 3 Tablespoons)
4 eggs
3 Oreo cookies, crushed (optional)
1 egg beaten, for egg wash

1. Heat oven to 425 degrees.  Pour the milk into a medium-sized saucepan. Add the butter, salt and sugar and stir together. Place the pan over medium high heat. When the butter has melted and the mixture is boiling, add the flour and stir with a wooden until the mixture comes together and forms a ball of dough (this is called a panade). Continue stirring over the heat until a floury film coats the bottom and sides of the pan. Remove pan from heat and let cool slightly.
2. Place the choux dough into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Turn the mixer on low/medium speed. Add the eggs, one at a time, adding the next egg only when the previous egg is completely incorporated into the dough. At first, the dough will “fall apart” but it will blend together as each egg is absorbed. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix until all of the eggs are incorporated and the choux dough is smooth. Fold in the crushed Oreos, if using.

3. Line a baking sheet with either a silicon mat or sheet of parchment paper. Pipe the pate a choux onto the tray, about 1” apart. Brush each puff with the egg wash. Place the tray into the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Lower the temperature to 350 after 20 minutes, rotate the baking sheet and continue baking the profiteroles for 25 to 30 minutes until browned. Remove the tray from the oven and let cool.

4. To serve, slice off the top of the profiterole and fill with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream. (I will get around to the ice cream post). Drizzle with warm chocolate sauce, recipe below:

Chocolate Sauce:
¼ cup heavy cream
¼ cup milk
¼ cup light corn syrup
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
8 ounces chocolate (semisweet or bittersweet), chopped
1. Place the cream, milk, corn syrup, and oil into a small saucepan. Place the pan over medium-high heat until the mixture approaches the boil. Remove from heat, add the chocolate and whisk until smooth. The chocolate sauce can be made ahead of time, kept in the refrigerator and reheated as needed.

*He was working at the restaurant (La Belle Helene) when my wife, youngest daughter, and I visited Napa years ago. We dined (almost) next door at Miramonte. He told me later when we worked together and found out about this remarkable coincidence that the kitchen staff from both restaurants used to hang out after hours. Small world.  

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