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Thursday, 7 January 2016

Problems with Profiteroles!

On 30th December we decided to go out shopping to get in a special meal for New Year's Eve. M&S had been advertising their "Meal for 2 for £20" deal so we thought this would be the ideal solution. Often their meal deals can offer substantial saving and we usually manage to buy something that will feed all 4 of us with just the addition of a few veg. So the 4 of us stood in front of the offer counter and spent several minutes trying to work out which particular combination of starter, main, side, dessert and wine would work for us. The girls were mainly motivated by the prospect of profiteroles for dessert so weren't particularly bothered about what we chose for the rest of it, however, between us we couldn't find the perfect combination that felt like it would make a special New Year's Eve family meal. Eventually I suggested we stopped trying to make this particular square peg fit into a round hole and that we just shop elsewhere for something that wasn't necessarily on offer.

We gave the girls the choice then of either going to Tesco or Waitrose and to our surprise they both voted for Waitrose without a moment's hesitation! So off we went and spent some time browsing the aisles, trying to find something both special but not ridiculously expensive. But it seems that Waitrose doesn't cater for people looking for something not expensive and the prices for their meat in particular seemed high and for no particular reason. Having bought some general household shopping items from there, we gave up on getting the special meal from them and decided to try Costco.

Costco is somewhere we usually only shop about once every 6 weeks or so and we have a few select products we buy from there that seem to offer good value. They do pride themselves on the quality of their stock and we are usually very impressed by the quality of their meat so maybe we would find the centrepiece we were after. And, indeed we did, finding a whole fresh Gressingham duck for £5.20 - that's cheaper than a chicken! So with that sorted we thought about what else might go with that to create our special meal and dessert. They do sell profiteroles in Costco but only in packs of 60. A tad too many for the 4 of us!

Back home, my daughter and I decided that we should make the profiteroles. This was something we had first done about 3 years ago when she had decided to write a short French recipe book as a project for French homework. Choux pastry was a mysterious art back then as far as I was concerned and we spent an anxious afternoon following a recipe and wondering if it would turn out OK. My memory told me that it did, although they were a little small and could have done with a bit more cream inside. Buy, hey, 3 years on we were both better cooks.

It was James Martin's recipe that we decided to use on this occasion, although without the orange zest in the cream. He is a well-respected celebrity chef after all, and particularly known for his desserts. And so, with the duck already in the oven, we cracked on with making dessert.

It had occurred to me a few days before when my daughter had decided she wanted to try her hand at making cheese souffle for lunch, that having me as an experienced cook in the kitchen with her made it so much easier to successfully follow a recipe. There are just little tips and moments of preventing mistakes that really make a difference and don't seem to make it to the instructions in a recipe, particularly if the person writing it is very familiar with what they are doing and has forgotten how easy it is to misunderstand something. Sadly, on this occasion, James Martin wasn't there was us and my expertise was somewhat lacking in the choux pastry area!

The first thing that I realised was missing from this recipe was the tip we had learnt on our previous profiterole making occasion, which is to weigh the flour onto a piece of folded paper so that it can slide off it quickly when adding the flour to the butter/water mix. The next point where the recipe is lacking is when it says to "pipe the mixture into small balls in lines across the baking sheet"
OK... but what does "small balls" mean? Something along the lines of about the diameter of a 50p coin might have been more useful. Our ideas of small was clearly way out and when we put them into the oven they puffed up to something the size of a grapefruit! To make matters worst, I'd had a new oven installed 3 days before Christmas and I was still getting used to the way it cooked in comparison to my old one. Clearly these were cooking quite quickly and after 15 minutes they were on the verge of burning even though the recipe said they needed 25-30.

It does say in the recipe that if the profiteroles are too pale they will go soggy when cool. It does not mention that if you cook them too fast they might be golden on the outside but not at all cooked in the middle and that when you open the oven door they will collapse into something as flat as a pancake. This, of course, is what happened to our profiteroles, much to my daughter's distress.

By now the duck was cooked and we abandoned the profiteroles/pancakes to finish making dinner. The duck was beautiful and the dinner excellent. After dinner we had to mentally psych ourselves up again to starting the recipe from scratch. I am proud that my daughter was able to do this as it isn't easy. Having learnt from our previous attempt, we piped the blobs to a smaller size and turned the oven down 10 degrees. This time they rose beautifully and we patiently watched them through the door of my nice new clean oven as they became unquestionably golden brown and after half an hour we removed them from the oven to cool. It was gone 8 o'clock when we were piping cream into them and nearly 9 o'clock when we sat down with our big stack to eat.

Because the dollops the second time were smaller, we didn't use all the choux pastry mixture for the profiteroles so we piped the remaining mixture into lengths and cooked it to make 5 eclairs. It was the next day when I filled them with cream and used some more of the chocolate sauce. If you are going to sprinkle the chocolate sauce as frugally over the profiteroles as shown in James' photo then I would recommend making half the quantity recommended. However, the chocolate sauce makes a lovely cup of hot chocolate if you have any left over - 3 teaspoons stirred into 200ml of warm milk. As for the profiterole/pancake disaster, we reheated them in a frying pan the next morning and served them with lemon and sugar for breakfast!

Chocolate profiteroles

Chocolate profiteroles
James Martin's profiteroles are as light as air, topped with chocolate and filled with a delicate orange cream.


For the choux pastry
For the cream filling
For the chocolate sauce

Preparation method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. Place a small roasting tin in the bottom of the oven to heat.
  2. For the choux pastry, place the water, sugar and butter into a large saucepan. Heat gently until the butter has melted.
  3. Turn up the heat, then quickly pour in the flour and salt all in one go.
  4. Remove from the heat and beat the mixture vigorously until a smooth paste is formed. Once the mixture comes away from the side of the pan, transfer to a large bowl and leave to cool for 10-15 minutes.
  5. Beat in the eggs, a little at a time, until the mixture is smooth and glossy and has a soft dropping consistency - you may not need it all.
  6. Lightly grease a large baking sheet. Using a piping bag and plain 1cm/½in nozzle, pipe the mixture into small balls in lines across the baking sheet. Gently rub the top of each ball with a wet finger - this helps to make a crisper top.
  7. Place the baking sheet into the oven. Before closing the oven door, pour half a cup of water into the roasting tin at the bottom of the oven, then quickly shut the door. This helps to create more steam in the oven and make the pastry rise better. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until golden-brown - if the profiteroles are too pale they will become soggy when cool.
  8. Remove from the oven and turn the oven off. Prick the base of each profiterole with a skewer. Place back onto the baking sheet with the hole in the base facing upwards and return to the oven for five minutes. The warm air from the oven helps to dry out the middle of the profiteroles.
  9. For the filling, lightly whip the cream with the orange zest until soft peaks form. When the profiteroles are cold, use a piping bag to pipe the cream into the profiteroles.
  10. For the chocolate sauce, place the water and sugar into a small saucepan and bring to the boil to make a syrup. Reduce the heat to a simmer and place the chocolate into a heatproof bowl set over the pan. Heat, stirring occasionally, until melted. Take the pan off the heat, pour the syrup mixture into the chocolate and stir until smooth and well combined.
  11. To serve, place the stuffed profiteroles into a large serving dish and pour over the chocolate sauce. Serve hot or cold.

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