featured, showstopper

A Choux Pastry Gâteau

This is the first challenge that I completely flopped and had to start all over again. My choux pastry failed to rise, so I was left with a flat-as-a-pancake gateau. Fortunately, choux pastry dough is easy to mix up, and it’s made with just a few eggs, some flour and a stick of butter. So not a huge loss. 

On my second attempt, I achieved a fairly decent rise on my Paris-Brest, a circular choux pastry that’s split and filled with delicious creams, fruits or nut pastes. The Paris-Brest was first created in 1910 by a pâtissier named Louis Durand to commemorate the Paris-Brest-Paris bicycle race. Its shape is reminiscent of a bicycle wheel, and apparently its high-caloric content made it a favorite of the bicyclists themselves.

Only the French would name a pastry after a bicycle race, but I messed with their tradition a bit. Originally, the Paris-Brest was filled with praline cream. I decided to mix it up and make a fruity variation, with mango curd as the base layer, followed by mascarpone cream and blueberries. I topped it off with mango ribbons and a sprinkling of blueberries as well as a bevy of choux swans to make it a true showstopper.

As I said earlier, making choux pastry is not difficult, but it can be a little tricky to achieve a puffy result that’s tender on the inside and crisp on the outside. I’m not exactly sure what I did wrong the first time, but here’s a helpful troubleshooting guide. The second time around, I switched to this recipe, which uses a little less flour and has you cook the mixture a little longer than the first recipe I tried.

The basic method for any choux pastry—cream puffs, éclairs, profiteroles—is pretty much the same: Bring water, butter and salt to a boil. Pour in flour, and stir until it all comes together in a ball. Remove from heat, and cool slightly before adding eggs, one at a time, stirring well after each one. When all the eggs are incorporated, the dough should be stiff enough to pipe. Once piped onto a silicone sheet or parchment paper, the dough is baked at a high temperature for a short amount of time; then the temperature is lowered to finish baking.

The idea is that the water in the dough turns to steam, which causes the pastry to puff up in the oven, creating air pockets that make choux pastry the perfect carrier for delicately light creams, decadent sauces or flavorful pastes.

Even though my first attempt didn’t work out, I did have enough dough left over to make a few choux swans. For step-by-step directions on how to make them, check out this site.

Once I was assured that my second choux pastry ring had risen to my standards, I worked on the filling and toppings. I had made the mango curd a few days before with an overripe mango that was languishing in the fridge. For the cream, I whisked the mascarpone with some powdered sugar, then added heavy cream and whipped it till it was pipable.

When the pastry was completely cooled, I split it in half horizontally, spread the mango curd on the bottom half, then piped on the cream. Before putting the top back on, I sprinkled the cream liberally with blueberries. Then I replaced the top half of the pastry, adorned it with mango ribbons and more blueberries, added my choux swans, and dusted it all with powdered sugar.

Despite my early failure, the end result truly was a showstopper! And besides looking the part, the flavors worked well together. It was light, flavorful, and the perfect balance between tangy and sweet.

Mango-Blueberry Paris-Brest

Credit for mango curd and choux pastry: Epicurious.com

For mango curd:

  • 1 15-ounce ripe mango, peeled, pitted and diced
  • ½ c. sugar
  • 3 T. lemon juice
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • ¼ c. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

    Directions

    1. Puree first four ingredients in food processor or blender, scraping down sides occasionally. Add yolks and puree 15 seconds longer. Strain through a sieve set over a large heat-proof bowl, pressing on solids with the back of a spatula to release as much puree as possible. Discard the solids in the sieve.
    2. Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. (Bottom of bowl should not touch the surface of the water.) Whisk puree until thickened and thermometer registers 170°F. Remove bowl from pan and whisk in butter, one piece at a time, until melted and fully incorporated. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

    For choux pastry*:

    • 1 c. water
    • ½ c. unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
    • 1 t. sugar
    • ½ t. salt
    • 1 c. all-purpose flour
    • 4 large eggs
    • 1 large egg yolk
    • 1 T. water
    • 3 T. sliced almonds

    Directions

    1. Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 425°F. Trace a 9-inch circle with a pencil on a 12-inch square of parchment or wax paper, then trace a 5-inch circle inside it. Turn the paper over (circles will still be visible) and place on a large baking sheet.
    2. Place 1 cup water, butter, sugar and salt in a 3-quart heavy saucepan. Over high heat, bring to a boil; then reduce heat to medium. Add flour all at once, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon, and cook until mixture pulls away from sides of pan, about one minute. Continue to cook and stir vigorously (to dry out mixture) for three more minutes. Remove from heat and transfer mixture to a large mixer bowl. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until warm to the touch (less than 125°F). Add the whole eggs one at a time, using the mixer with a paddle attachment to incorporate each egg until dough is smooth.
    3. Transfer dough to pastry bag fitted with large round tip, and pipe three concentric rings to fill the space between the circles on the parchment, then pipe two more rings on top to cover the seams between the bottom rings. Reserve about ¾-1 cup of dough to create choux swans, if desired.
    4. Lightly beat the egg yolk with 1 tablespoon water to create an egg wash, and lightly brush the pastry with it. Scatter almonds over pastry. Bake until golden and puffed up, 20 to 25 minutes; then reduce temperature to 375°F and continue to bake until deep golden and firm to the touch, about 25 minutes more. Immediately prick the top of the pastry in eight to 10 places with the tip of a small sharp knife (to release steam), and continue to bake until golden brown, about 10 more minutes. Transfer pastry (on parchment) to a rack to cool completely (about 30 minutes).

    For mascarpone cream:

    • 8 oz. mascarpone cheese
    • ½ c. powdered sugar
    • 2 c. heavy whipping cream

      Directions

      1. Using mixer fitted with whisk attachment, whisk mascarpone till light and fluffy. Add powdered sugar and whisk until fully incorporated. Pour in cream and whisk starting on low speed and gradually increasing until stiff peaks form. Refrigerate until ready to use.

      For assembly::

      • 1 mango
      • 1 T. lime juice
      • 1 c. blueberries
      • 3 T. powdered sugar
      • 6 choux swans (optional)

        Directions

        1. Peel mango and use a mandoline or thick vegetable peeler to slice it lengthwise in very thin slices (slightly less than 1/8-inch thick). Use caution, as peeled mangoes are very slippery. Gently toss mango slices with lime juice and pour into a strainer. Set aside while assembling Paris-Brest. Wash blueberries and spread out on paper towel–lined baking sheet to dry.
        2. Split pastry ring in half horizontally with a serrated knife, and carefully invert top onto work surface. Place bottom half of pastry on serving platter and spread with mango curd. (You may not need to use all of it.) Transfer mascarpone cream to a clean pastry bag fitted with a star tip, and pipe cream decoratively on top of curd (reserving enough to fill choux swans, if using). Then sprinkle blueberries on top of cream, reserving a few berries for garnish.
        3. Carefully reinvert the top half of the pastry ring and place over the filled bottom half. Arrange mango ribbons in curls on top, leaving room in between for choux swans. Add a few blueberries among the mango curls. Arrange swans evenly around the ring. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve within 2 hours.
        4. *NOTE: Choux pastry can be baked (but not cut open) up to eight hours ahead of time. Cool uncovered, then cover loosely with foil (not plastic wrap), and keep at room temperature. It can also be frozen, tightly wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to one week. Keep in plastic wrap to thaw completely before unwrapping and crisping it in a preheated 350°F oven for 10 minutes. Cool to room temperature before filling.

        Next week: A pithivier

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