George and I have a bunch of really nice friends, which is awesome. Some of them, when they heard about George and my bizarro double-Dad loss, decided what they needed to do was invite us over and give us food, which was awesome. At least, he thinks it was awesome and I think it was awesome, though my waistline and I seem to be at a little bit of a loggerheads over this.
Anyway, since our friends so generously offered to ply us with delicious food and wine, the least we could do was bring dessert. I thought about what I wanted to make, for days. I thought about cake and pie, but they can be a really unfair burden if only a few people will be at dinner. I felt like being a little experimental since I haven’t been in the kitchen much lately and wanted to keep my mad skillz up to speed. So as I trolled my way through my various recipes I came upon one for orange-scented cream puffs with chocolate cream and as far as I’m concerned, puffed food + orange + chocolate = WIN! But I didn’t like the recipe given for the chocolate cream so I decided to go ganache instead, because I love ganache and it multitasks. Unfortunately, my first attempt with the recipe out of the reissued Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book totally failed–the puffs burned on the outside, were still slightly raw on the inside, and didn’t rise at all–so I was forced to both find something new AND give the Betty Crocker recipe the finger. In my frantic search for how to make puffy dough I found this recipe for a really simple, flexible, basic pâte à choux and friends, when you get this choux recipe down you can make profiteroles and eclairs, beignets, crullers, gougeres. Oh myyyyyyy.
First up: ganache! Ganache is easy-peasy, though I do take some issue with how the recipe says to make it. It calls for you to chop the chocolate and let it melt into hot cream, but I? Hate. Hate hate. Hate. Fire-of-a-thousand-suns hate. Chopping chocolate. It takes a long time. I can’t figure out how to do it tidily, it always gets all over my hands and the counter and the floor. I’ll do it if I must but if I can avoid it? Consider it avoided. I melted the chocolate in a double-boiler and then added in the cream and triple sec (see: orange-scented) but of course, if you want to make it kid-friendly or just let the chocolate be its own zen chocolateness then by all means leave out the booze. What you’ll end up with is a lovely bowl of smooth chocolate which can be used as a topping when it’s warm and relatively runny (like now). Once it cools and firms up, it can be whipped and used as a filling. See? Multitasking.
So this? Is done. Set it aside to cool. And if you stick it in the fridge and forget about it, and then it completely solidifies? Don’t worry! Reheat it over the top of the double-boiler just until it’s able to move around in the bowl; don’t let it get too hot or runny because then you’ll just have to wait for it to cool down again. Once you can move a spoon through it in the bowl, you can whip it. I speak from experience.
Next, make the pastry dough. Pâte à choux is made from a simple combination of flour, butter, eggs and water. Pinch of salt. And then you can add whatever flavor you think is appropriate regarding whatever recipe you’re making–add mustard powder, for example, if you’re using this dough to make cheese puffs. Add sugar if you’re making dessert. But first! Make the dough.
Melt a stick of butter in a cup of water. Once that boils, add a cup of flour and a pinch of salt and stir stir stir (continuously, it should only take a minute or so) until it starts to come together into something recognizable as a nascent dough.
Take your pan off the heat. You’re going to add four eggs in one at a time, and I do recommend moving the dough into a mixing bowl at this point. This will remove any concerns that the food will bear the effects of carry-over cooking, where the residual heat retained by the pan further cooks your food. When you add the eggs, you don’t want them to scramble. What you do want, after you add one and incorporate it into the batter, and then the next, and the next, and the next, is for it to turn into a tight, smooth, glossy dough.
As you approach the final stirs in the creation of your glossy dough, fold in the flavorings. Since we’re making this sweet and desserty I added two teaspoons of sugar and the zest from one very large (softball-sized, not an exaggeration) orange. Now? You’re ready to start baking. Make sure the oven is pre-heating to 425° and load your dough into a pastry bag or plastic bag so you can squeeze it out onto an ungreased baking pan.
You might be thinking, “But I don’t WANT to use a pastry bag. I don’t HAVE a pastry bag. And using plastic as a one-use-only squeezy bag seems so wasteful” and you know what? I get that, I do. But here’s the deal: this dough is super-sticky. Trying to neatly, evenly dole out puff-sized dough clouds through the clever use of spoons and fingers is a guaranteed path to this taking way longer than necessary, and for it to get all over you and your hands and up your arms and in your hair. Who needs that? I don’t need that. You’re welcome to it, but I went for the plastic bag approach.
When you squeeze the puffs out onto the pan, they may end up with little points sticking off them, from where you pulled the bag away from the formed puff. Fill a small bowl with water to dip your finger in, and tap down the pointy bits with your wet finger. The water will prevent your finger from sticking to the dough, and making the outsides of the puffs relatively smooth will prevent the errant pointy bits from burning. Put this in the 425° oven for 10 minutes, then drop the temp to 350° (and rotate the puff pan, if you want) and let them go for another 18 minutes (they would have been ok to leave in for maybe another two minutes, but no more). This is what you’ll end up with.
While they’re baking, whip your ganache.
And then–no joke this time–put your ganache in a pastry bag. You need to get it inside the puff. You could, of course, cut the puffs and just load the chocolate in there, if you don’t have a bag. But if you do?
And then you end up with a tray of desserts that looks something like this:
This recipe made 18 chocolate-filled puffs (actually, it made 19, but the cat helped himself to one and pet people, stop worrying: he got it off the tray but didn’t get a chance to eat any of it, so no, we didn’t let the cat eat chocolate, he is fine) with enough left over ganache to warm up and drizzle on top. With a scoop of vanilla ice cream? Heaven. The small dinner parties have tapered off for the time being and my waistline thanks me for that, but I’m kind of bummed I won’t have a reason to eat more of these any time soon. Surprisingly simple, extra-fancy looking, with a little hit of orange wafting up through the chocolate? Show up with these at a party and you’ll win friends, or at least one or two more dinner invitations.