Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Chouquettes (Sugar Puffs)

These dainty and light sugary snack reminds me of my days in Fontainebleau, France as an MBA student there. It would be my comfort snack, that I always get from the campus bar (yes, we there was a bar in the campus building, where students we could get coffee, ice cream, sandwiches and snacks and probably alcohol too though I don't remember ^_^) in between the afternoon classes.

These chouquettes are basically mini-cream puffs (the french call it pate-a-choux) without any filling, but that are covered with lots of coarse sugar bits. When I started my attempts at baking, it was one of the first thing I though to try, after the less satisfactory batches of blueberry muffins and banana bread. To my surprise, it was not difficult to make at all! I did get lucky by getting good tips beforehand (watching youtube demonstrations was also useful), but once you get a hold of the one/two key tips, it's such a delight to make, especially for one who does not have an electric mixer and minimal baking tools such as myself! It has become so far, my favorite thing to bake!

The ingredients are pretty much similar across all recipes you find in the internet (the one I'm including below will be half the size of the typical recipes). But there are some key things you need to watch out for to ensure that the dough puffs up properly in the oven. To be honest, I've been fortunate to never have experienced any deflated or unrisen chouquettes, but I think this is due to ensuring those key things are adhered to ^_^. So here goes.

Chouquttes (Sugar Puff) Recipe

Adapted from Clotilde's Chocolate & Zuchini blog.
Do also check this Youtube link as a guide to the process.
Makes about 20-25 chouquettes or 12-14 medium-small cream-puffs

Water: 1/2 cup (120 ml). (You can sub half the portion with milk for a softer choux)
Butter: 3 TBSP (approx 37 gr)
Salt: 1/8 tsp
All-purpose flour: 1/2 cup (62 gr)
Large eggs: 2 (or more depending on dough, see below)
Sugar: 1 TBSP
Pearl sugar for sprinkling (see note below)

For sugar syrup glaze:
Sugar: 1 TBSP
Water: 1 TBSP

  • Make sure you have all the ingredients measured out before you start.

  • Combine the butter (cut them up into three or four pieces), salt, sugar, and water in a small saucepan, and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Make sure the butter is fully melted.

  • Remove from heat, add the flour all at once, and stir quickly with a wooden spoon briefly (couple of seconds) until roughly blended.
  • Return the pan over medium-low heat and keep stirring for 3-4 minutes until the mixture forms a smooth ball that pulls away from the sides of the pan and until you can see a thin layer residue sticking to the bottom and sides of pan. This step is basically to dry moisture out of the dough and is the most important step to ensuring your choux puffs up. The drier the dough, the more eggs you need to add, the puffier the choux.

  • Let cool for 3 minutes. (This is so that you don't scramble the eggs you will add after. But, it's ok if it's still abit lukewarm when you touch the dough after the 3 minutes is up). 
  • Add the eggs one by one, stirring well with the wooden spoon after each addition. Don't worry if the mix initially curdles, keep stirring until the mix comes together. 
Dough looks curdled after just adding the egg, keep stirring...

...until dough comes together
  • You may need to add more eggs if the choux dough still looks too dry; Add the white first, then yolk, and so on, until the right consistency (alternatively, I use the liquid white egg from "Egg Beaters" to balance the rest). You are aiming for a consistency such that the dough takes 5-7 seconds to drop back to the pan when you lift it. Dough will look smooth and shiny. 

  • Cover with plastic cling-wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes, or up to a day; you have just made choux pastry.
  • Make the sugar syrup glaze: combine the 1 TBSP sugar and 1 TBSP water in a small bowl. Microwave for 20 seconds and mix to dissolve the sugar. Set aside to cool.
  • Preheat the oven to 390°F (200°C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. 
  • Sprinkle pearl sugar evenly on the prepared sheet. 
  • Remove the batter from the fridge and use two teaspoons to form small balls of dough, about the size of a walnut, that you will plop on the prepared sheet, leaving an inch of space between them. 
  • Brush lightly with the sugar syrup (you can use the back of a spoon to do this, just dip spoon into syrup and lightly brush back of spoon to choux)
glazing the sugar syrup with back of spoon
  • Sprinkle LIBERALLY with pearl sugar, as the dough will expand 

  • Bake for 20 minutes, until puffed up and golden brown (never ever open the oven door during the first 10 minutes of baking). Turn off the oven, open the door just a crack, and leave the chouquettes in for another 3-5 minutes to prevent a temperature shock, which would cause them to deflate.
  • Transfer to a rack and let cool completely before serving. Keep any leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature, and reheat for 5 minutes in a 300°F (150°C) oven to restore the original texture.
Pearl sugar -- sucre perlé in French -- comes in coarse, lentil-sized nuggets that remain crunchy when baked. It sometimes goes by the name of nib sugar, and apparently are sold in IKEA or other Scandinavian shops.

If you can't find it (like in my case, I searched high and low to no avail), crush sugar cubes in a sturdy storage bag using a rolling pin or a meat mallet; you may find this quite relaxing (this is what I did). Alternatively, use a coarse sugar, such as Demerera or Turbinado, chopped caramelized nuts, or chocolate chip.

If you're aiming to make small-medium choux/cream puffs using tablespoon as a sizing guide, then baking time could take abit longer (25 mins or so). 

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