Tell me - how do you spend your Friday evenings? I get to the end of the week and i experience this disorienting duo of sensations: exhaustion from surviving the past five days and excitement from knowing I have no responsibilities for two days.
I definitely do not want to go out on a Friday night because I am tired. Unless we are going to Art After 5 at the Philadelphia Art Museum because that is my happy place and it is over at 8:45 PM. However, I also don't want to waste a Friday night by binge watching Tipping the Velvet until 3AM, then realizing what time it is and that I still haven't eaten dinner. I haven't done that in a long time, but the shame is still palpable. The point is this: I am too old to go out on the town, but too young to be legitimately ok with that fact.
As I was trying to wrangle with these conflicting feelings, the solution suddenly dawned on me. What is better way to spend your Friday night that experimenting with baking basics? Let me tell you what is a better way - experimenting with baking basics while kicking back a beer, that's what. And that is what I will be doing! I don't know why, exactly, this feels like reconciliation between wanting to stay in and wanting to go crazy. I think it's pretty clear to all of us here that there is nothing crazy about this plan. Except that I did stay up until 2AM making the baked goods below. That was kind of crazy. But I hope you enjoy this Baking & Beer series, whether you read it on Friday night in your bed or while nursing a hangover on Saturday morning, you crazy animal.
In this first edition of Baking & Beer, we are going to be tackling PÂTE À CHOUX! Pâte à choux (pronounce it like pat-a-shoe) is used to make cream puffs, eclairs, gougeres, and other doughy delights that are airy, light, and hollow in the middle. It's not puff pastry - we'll take a look at that later on - so you are just going to have to suck it up and call it pâte à choux. The word "choux" means cabbages... and don't cream puffs totally look like brussel sprouts? The thing that makes pâte à choux so fluffy and light is the water in the dough. When the heat of the oven hits the water it turns it to steam which makes the dough rise. The proteins from the eggs and butter set the dough and keep it from falling back down - if you cook the choux correctly, which, as you will soon discover, is a little tricky.
Ok, first we gather our ingredients -
1.) 250 grams water (or 170 grams of water and 80 grams of milk)
2.) 4 grams of salt
3.) 5 grams of sugar
4.) 125 grams of butter
5.) 150 grams flour
6.) 250 grams eggs
7.) Your beer
I highly, highly suggest using the grams because the proportions matter a lot for pate a choux, but if you don't have a scale, here's a rough conversion:
1.) 1 cup water (or 2/3 cup water and 1/3 cup milk)
2.) 3/4 tsp salt
3.) 1 1/4 tsp sugar
4.) 9 tbsp butter
5.) 1 1/4 cup flour
6.) 4 eggs
7.) Your beer
The making of the dough is super easy! All these tips come from Mercotte, the adorable queen of pastry.
The first easy thing you do is throw the water, butter, salt, and sugar together in a saucepan and bring it to a simmer. Don't let it boil! You don't want to mess up the proportions. Immediately after the mixture starts simmering, take it off the heat and add all the flour into the pot all at once. BAM! Flour bomb. Mix, mix, mix until the flour is incorporated and the dough pulls itself together. Now put your dough back on the stove and stir the dough over the fire until a film forms on the bottom of the pan. You are doing this to dry out the dough a little. It will make your choux all nice and fluffy. But don't over dry the dough - once the film forms on the bottom of the pan, take the pan off the heat.
Now dump the dough in a mixing bowl. Beat the dough so that it cools down to about room temperature. Beat the eggs together, then mix them into the dough little by little. Beating them first guaruntees that the whites and yolks are distributed evenly through the dough. The dough should end up being "like satin." It will be smooth, and when you dip a spoon in the dough and pull it out, a little "V" of batter should form on the end of the spoon. Another way to do a batter check is to draw your finger through the dough. If the channel you created with your finger slowly closes up behind you, you've done good. The batter is done now. You are doing so well!
Ok, this is when you have to make the decision about what you are going to make with the dough. What are you going to "choux's" Get it? Choux pun! If you choose cream puffs, you are wise and will probably be out of the kitchen in no time. I am neither wise nor quick in the kitchen, so I decided to make eclairs. In retrospect, this was not the best thing to make as a beginner choux-er, but here we are. We'll talk about cream puffs on another Friday, but for now, let me show you some eclair tribulations.
Did you know that "eclair" means lightning bolt? Is it because they are shaped like a long bolt of lightning, or is it because they are all eaten up in a flash like lightning? Either way, you should probably serve them at your next "the Boy Who Lived" party.
Put your dough in a pastry bag with a large star tip (sometimes called a cannele tip). It turns out this is really important. If your eclairs aren't ridged thanks to the star tip, they are more likely to crack in the oven. The ridges give the eclairs space to grow. Eclairs are sort of a lesson in life. We all need room to grow, you know? I did not know this at the time, and I do not have a wide star-shaped pastry bag tip, so I ignored this part of the recipe and just piped out flat eclairs.
Ok, now that you piped your babies out, throw them in the oven for 25 minutes at 350 degrees. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN while the choux are cooking. They have extreme performance anxiety and will get flaccid if you look at them before they are done. Using your oven light - or, if your oven is a piece of crap like mine, using your heartfeels - check the color of the little guys. Take the eclairs out of the oven when they are golden brown. You can also let them sit in the over for a few minutes after they are done cooking with the oven door ajar to dry them out a little more. If you open the oven door too soon, the choux will collapse, and there is nothing you can do about it. That's life. That's all there is.
Choux are damn existential.
So. A bunch of things went wrong with this first batch of eclairs. First, as mentioned above, I didn't pipe ridged eclairs, so they were cracked all over. Secondly, I took them out way early. Oh man, they were so beautiful all puffed up in the oven. Then I opened the door and watched them all die. Would you look at these flat bastards?
ALL BUT ONE. Hello, Nemo.
Ok, so I started all over again. Instead of using a wide star-shaped pastry bag tip, which I still don't own, I just forked ridged into my newly piped eclairs. I also let the eclairs stay in the over longer. Will this make a difference? Keep reading to find out....
Yes! The second batch stayed puffed! They were light and fluffy and wonderful. However, they were still cracked all over, so apparently my forked ridges did nothing to combat my poor eclair aesthetic. But you know what? Who cares. They are going to be covered in chocolate anyway. Pah.
Those three at the bottom look pretty decent.
So now that you have beautiful eclairs that are all light and fluffy and amazing, you can fill them with whatever you want! I whipped up a whipped cream, put the whipped cream in a pastry bag, then poked holes in the eclair bottoms and piped the cream in. Finally, I dipped the tops of the eclairs in melted chocolate and added decoration in the form of pomegranate seeds, gold balls, and almond slivers. And you know what? They were damn delicious! And yours will be, too.
What I will say about pate a choux is this: it is harder than it looks, but it is so satisfying when you get that funny, fluffy dough to stay in the shape you intended. Pate a choux will teach you a lot about patience and resilience while you are making it, but I advise against patience when you are eating them. They are 100% not as good the next day because they get all soggy and weird. So eat up, Queermos!