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Profiteroles

by Flo Braker

Recently, on a warm day, I attended a large party in a beautiful outdoor setting. It was a lovely gathering, made only more so by a grand selection of desserts. As part of a tasting menu, each guest was given a profiterole, a tiny cream puff, split and filled with vanilla ice cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce. This creation is one of the all-time classic desserts, one I used to make often, but for some reason I hadn't eaten it, or even thought about it in years. Tasting this delicious confection again struck me as being the ultimate ice cream sandwich!

Profiteroles, one of the smallest members of the cream puff family, are cream puffs made from a thick batter called píte ż choux. This literally translates "cabbage paste," because the shapes formed with it resemble small cabbages. Cream puff paste is fun to work with: It has built-in magic. A drop of the paste miraculously expands during baking to become a hollow golden orb, perfect for any number of fillings, such as ice cream, pastry cream, or even savory mixtures. The magic ingredient that transforms solid batter into hollow puffs is steam, which is produced by the liquid in the paste during baking.

Píte ż choux is uncomplicated and easy to make. Traditional cream puff pastes contain water, butter, eggs, flour and salt. But my recipe includes some milk in the mixture to create a more tender puff that retains its texture even when eaten straight from the freezer, as is the case with the Frozen Profiteroles.

The usual profiterole presentation is to mound the ice-cream-filled puffs into a pyramid on a dessert plate, spoon chocolate sauce over the top and serve. Frozen Profiteroles, with their dipped chocolate glaze tops, can be eaten individually, or by the plateful.

Here are some important steps for baking great cream puffs:

* To form a smooth paste, add the flour all at once to the boiling water-milk mixture in the saucepan. Stir vigorously and scrape the sides of the pan until a stiff paste comes together in a ball.

* Transfer the thick shiny paste to a large mixing bowl, separate this mass into a few pieces, and cool them for only 10 minutes before adding the eggs. If the eggs are added when the paste is too hot, they can set the eggs, resulting in a paste that will not puff sufficiently in the oven.

* Baking sheet preparation is important. Merely greasing a baking sheet is not enough; during baking the paste will not grip and the base will bake hollow. Lining with parchment paper is not desirable in this instance since paste in direct contact with the metal baking sheet causes faster expansion. A nonstick baking sheet is fine if its coating is in good condition. Before piping the paste on this surface, you may sprinkle it with cold water to provide additional steam during baking.

* For a less perfectly shaped cream puff, form the paste with a spoon rather than piping it from a pastry bag. However, after forming the cream-puff pastry, it can be refrigerated or even frozen on the baking sheet until ready to bake.

* Bake puffs until they are golden brown and the sides are rigid enough so they will not collapse when removed from the oven. Small cream puffs bake at a lower temperature (400 degrees) than large ones (425 degrees). When cooling the cream puffs on a wire rack, do not place close together, or the steam may soften the puffs and make them soggy.

Frozen Profiteroles
makes 4 dozen 2-inch cream puffs
These small "ice cream sandwiches" should be popped in your mouth directly from the freezer.

Cream Puff Pastry (Píte ż Choux)

1 cup flour
1 cup (about 5 large) eggs
1/4 cup milk
3/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 egg for egg wash
1 quart vanilla ice cream
1 recipe chocolate glaze (follows)

Fit a large pastry bag with a 1/2-inch round decorating tip. Lightly grease a large baking sheet and dust lightly with flour. Adjust rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees for at least 20 minutes before baking.

Sift the flour and set nearby. Whisk the 1 cup of eggs briefly just to combine the yolks and whites. Set nearby.

In a 1-1/2 quart saucepan, bring the milk, water, salt, and butter to a rolling boil over medium heat. Immediately remove from heat and stir to combine the ingredients. Add the flour all at once, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon, and scraping sides of pan, until a stiff paste forms and comes together in a ball. Return to medium heat, stirring quickly for about 10 seconds to eliminate extra moisture. Remove from the heat. The paste should be smooth, thick, and glossy. Transfer the thick paste to a large mixing bowl to cool for no more than 10 minutes.

Using an electric mixer or a wooden spoon, add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. After incorporating the eggs the batter should be smooth, glossy, and stiff yet fall slowly in a ribboning effect when dropped from the spoon.

Fill the pastry bag with the paste and pipe bite-size cream puffs about 1-inch in diameter onto the baking sheet. Space the cream puffs 1/2-inch apart to allow for expansion. (Form them larger, if you prefer.) In a small bowl, lightly beat an egg for the egg wash. With a pastry brush, glaze each cream puff with the egg wash. The brush helps shape each form smoothly.

Bake about 20 minutes or until they are golden brown and the sides are rigid enough so they will not collapse when removed from the oven. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and place on a cooling rack. While warm, poke a small hole in the side of each puff. Return baking sheet to the oven for about 3 more minutes to allow the puffs' interiors to dry. Remove from oven to cooling rack. If not using right away, freeze in a sturdy container up to 1 week.

Cut off the top one-third of each puff using a small serrated knife. Set the tops nearby. Remove any soft, uncooked paste from inside. With a small ice cream scoop or spoon, fill the puffs with ice cream. Set a cream puff top on each. Place the filled puffs on a baking sheet in the freezer until firm. Dip the top of each filled cream puff into the chocolate glaze. Return them to the freezer on the baking sheet. When glaze is set, cover sheet loosely with aluminum foil until serving time.

Freeze up to 3 days.

Chocolate Glaze: In a saucepan over low heat, combine 2 tablespoons unsalted butter with 1/4 cup milk, stirring just until the butter melts. Off heat, stir in 2 cups sifted powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 2 ounces melted unsweetened chocolate. Blend until smooth.

Flo Braker has been teaching baking techniques and her sweet miniatures across the country for twenty years and is the author of several cookbooks.



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