Vanilla Bean Cream Puffs on a bed of Caramel and dusted with Powdered Sugar
This was my day off from work at the Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver or shall I say, “day off”. I find baking at home almost harder than baking at The Culinary Institute or Four Seasons because the kitchen isn’t solely dedicated to baking; the equipment is good enough for the “home cook”, but to be making treats good enough to be found in a restaurant the space only just meets expectations. Despite home baking being a little more chaotic (re: no dry storage stocked with anything you could possibly need, no fridge full of eggs and dairy, no endless amounts of sheet pans etc.), I feel like it gives me an opportunity to problem solve and understand my craft even more.
I decided to make pate a choux, or choux pastry. Pate a choux is a very versatile batter that can make eclairs, Paris-Brest, profiteroles, croquembouche, creampuffs… with limitless filling/flavour pairings. It is made by combining milk, water, butter and a bit of salt in a pot and bringing it to a boil. Once boiled, it is removed from the heat and the flour is stirred in until there are no lumps. Then, the mixture is placed back on medium heat and cooked until a thin film forms on the bottom of the pot. When the film begins to gain colour, transfer the mixture into a KitchenAid and with a paddle attachment, whip it until there is no steam coming out. Then, slowly add the eggs allowing each addition to fully incorporate. Stop before adding the last bit of eggs and check if the batter is the right consistency; the batter should fall and form a “V” shape when the paddle is lifted out of the mixer. It is crucial not to add too much of the eggs, or else you have to make a half batch of the cooked flour mixture to add to your currently runny batter. Now you’re ready to pipe the batter into whatever shape you desire. Before baking, wait 10-15 minutes to allow a skin to form on the piped batter- this helps the pastry rise upwards rather than just out. Last but not least, egg wash them and pop them in the oven! They will brown, and the dark colour enhances the pastry’s flavour since it develops due to Maillard reaction (protein+carbohydrate+dry heat).
The baking problem that needed solving today: the batter was too loose/fluid from an additional half an egg. Yes that’s right, it went south due to 25 grams of egg. Rather than make another half batch of the cooked flour mixture, I put the whole mixture in a pot and on low heat, stirred it until it began to thicken. I caution using this method because the eggs can curdle from the heat. I threw them in the oven as a Hail Mary for the Baking Gods, and these beautiful puffs came out!
When I made eclairs for my Second Term Practical Exam at CIA, Chef Difilippo gave me a near perfect grade (the only deduction was that on two of the eclairs the fondant did not have a clear line, it had a drip mark). Recently at Four Seasons Vancouver, I made gourgeres which are a cheesy, bite-sized savoury puff. I felt pleased with myself that I could take the knowledge I had gained from making pate a choux at CIA and apply it at Four Seasons!
PS- After working my first off-site catering event with Four Seasons, I’ve found a new love for plating desserts.
PPS- The caramel sauce pictured was the result another baking problem/blessing that happened while I was trying to find the perfect temperature on the electric stove to heat sugar for Italian Buttercream.
Teaser: a mini version of what is to come on the Mooch menu