Desserts of the World: Profiteroles (Cream Puffs)
In the sixteenth century, Popelini, a patissier in service of the French Monarch Catalina de Medici, originally from Florence like himself, created a mixture cooked over a fire that he would bake in small portions and then fill with fruit jelly to satisfy the royal palate. This little piece of pastry was the poupelin and it spread rapidly all over France, and from there on to the rest of Europe. Over time, his heat-based mixture or pâte à chaud changed its name to pâte à choux.
It turned out to be very versatile, we can find it both in sweet and in savoury preparations such as the Gougère. It is probably this range of possibilities that ended up making it so popular in different countries. This delicious light mixture can be filled with creams, mousses or ganaches.
It has become the basis of such popular desserts such as the éclairs, Paris-Brest, chouquettes, the Saint-Honoré, or the one we will focus on here, the cream puffs or profiterols, themselves the basis for all sorts of varieties such as the Bossche Bol in the Netherlands or the famous croquembouche pyramid-shaped tower. The latter has become so famous that no weddings or birthdays in France are complete without them.
The profiterole was originally a small ball of bread that was used as a filling in soups. Its name derives precisely from the little reward or profit that was given to domestic employees for their services, and that consisted precisely of this little piece of bread. In the early nineteenth century, the ‘master of the pâte choux’ was the Parisian Jean Avice, another professional provider to French high society, specifically of the famous statesman and diplomat Talleyrand. The profiterole’s change to sweets and confectionery was the result of his efforts and that of his student, Antonin Carême, to perfect the mixture and fill it with pastry cream or Chantilly-based cream.
Recipe for cream puffs
80 g unsalted butter
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of caster sugar
120 g baking flour.
100 ml milk.
100 ml water.
This kind of mixture is very easy to prepare but requires a little patience when the eggs are added. We will follow this step energetically and with care and they will surely turn it out alright! Start by preheating the oven at 220º C
- Break 3 of the eggs in one bowl, and the remaining egg in a different one
- Put the milk, the water, the sugar, the salt and the butter cut into little pieces in a casserole on heat. Cutting the butter into pieces will allow it to melt as the mixture starts to boil.
- Add all the flour as soon as the liquids starts boiling and begin to stir, preferably with a rigid spatula, for about 2 minutes, or until the mixture takes off from the bottom.
- Pour the mixture into the bowl that contained only one egg and start to mix them together energetically to integrate one into the other
- Continue adding the rest of the eggs little by little to ensure the mixture becomes a cohesive whole
- You will know it is ready when upon lifting the mixture with the spatula, you can observe how it slowly drops and the consistency has become smooth and shiny
Then prepare a piping bag with a number 8 nozzle (in other words, with a diameter of 8 mm), with a flat or star shape, as you prefer. Pour the whole mass into the piping bag and it will be ready for use on the oven trays.
Distribute the mass on the oven trays covered in baking paper. Keeping the piping bag in an upright vertical position make little balls with a diameter of about 5 cms, without turning the bag to make a spiral movement. Simply squeeze, apply the correct dosage and lift the bag. Leave a space between them because the mixture will expand once it starts to bake. If any peaks remain crush them slightly with a finger dipped in water, so that they cook to the same size.
Bake them in the oven for about 20 minutes at 220 degrees and fill them with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, or any ganache you prefer. Enjoy!
About the author
María Fernanda Escalona is a Venezuelan pastry chef, baker, chocolatière and ice cream maker living in Belgium. She received her culinary education at CVO Gent, the Basque Culinary Centre, and the Callebaut Chocolate Academy. In 2018 she won the Bronze Medal at the Cuillière d’Or competition in Paris and became a laureate at the Belgian Chocolate Awards. You can check out more of her work at https://www.instagram.com/mariafernandaescalona/.