Choux pastry is nervously avoided by many a domestic cook: its preparation is a bit alarming and most people think it’s beyond their cooking skills. Although I don’t produce it often, it has held few fears for me because I learned to make it at school as a ten year-old. (The less said about the French teacher who taught us, the better, but he was at least an excellent cook.) The traditional filling for profiteroles – or their long, slim relative, éclairs – is a crème pâtissiere but whipped cream is less complicated and makes for a lighter result. Do experiment with different fillings and flavours once you feel confident about making the basic recipe. It’s the starting point for a show-stopping croquembouche, the traditional centrepiece at French celebrations. The recipe below is borrowed, with slight adaptations, from Lindsay Bareham’s masterclass in The Times back in October 2009.
125 plain flour
75 butter plus an extra knob
3 medium eggs
1 whisked egg, to glaze
For the chocolate sauce
200g dark chocolate (min 70% cocoa solids)
100g caster sugar
For the filling
300ml double cream
2 tbsp icing sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract (optional)
You will also need greaseproof paper and a piping bag.
Sift the flour and salt together into a bowl. Put 75g butter and 150ml water in a medium-sized saucepan over a low heat. Once the water has boiled and the butter melted, turn off the heat. Add all the flour and immediately take a wooden spoon and beat vigorously until the mixture forms a stiff dough and comes away from the sides of the pan. This happens very quickly (within a minute). Leave the dough to cool for a few minutes to avoid cooking the eggs when you add them. Crack one egg into a bowl or cup and add to the pan. Beat briskly to incorporate the egg; unlikely though it seems at first, all will be well. Repeat with the second and third egg.
Heat the oven to 180 fan. Spoon the choux dough into a piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle. To prevent the balls from sliding and the greaseproof paper from slipping, butter a baking sheet and line with lightly buttered greaseproof paper. Pipe balls about the size of a walnut about 2cm apart, fretting not if you can’t form a perfect ball. Paint the tops with beaten egg, using the brush to smooth the top. Cook in the oven for 15 minutes, reduce the heat to 170 fan and cook for a further 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and pierce the side of each ball with a sharp knife. Return to the oven for a further 5 minutes until crisp and golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
To make the chocolate sauce, break the chocolate into a pan with the water and melt over a low heat, stirring until smooth. Add the sugar and continue stirring until dissolved. Bring the sauce to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes until thick and syrupy.
Lightly whisk the cream, with the vanilla extract and icing sugar, until holding soft peaks. Half an hour before serving, slit one side of each profiterole and fill with a spoonful of whipped cream (a piping bag is useful again here). Arrange three or four profiteroles on each plate and serve with the hot chocolate sauce (reheated just before) in a jug.