Saturday, January 17, 2009

sugar puffs


I have been wanting to make the sugar puffs known as chouquettes forever, or at least as long as it has been since I read about them for the first time on Chocolate and Zucchini. I loved Clotilde’s descriptions of buying them by weight in French bakeries and how the best part is eating the sugar crystals (by licking your finger and reaching in, of course) that have collected in the bottom of the bag. They’re apparently the after-school goûter, or snack of choice, for the French schoolkid set and though I might be getting a late start on them, I am quickly making up for lost time.

mini chips and pearl sugarblending in the flourpiping the moundschouquettes, ready to bake

Chouquettes are actually really simple: they are based on the “paste” or pâte à choux dough that is also used to form cream puffs, éclairs and gougères — a simple mix of water, melted butter, flour and eggs. There’s only a smidgen of sugar in them, which is why that craggy pearl sugar on top, or — who are we kidding — a deluge of miniature chocolate chips, are so essential. And it was precisely the absence of that pearl sugar that caused my, ahem, five-plus year delay in making them.

sugar puffs

I finally grabbed some at G. Detou, a bakers paradise, in Paris in October, blind to the fact that there is a store in my neighborhood that sells them and an Internet full of sites where they can be ordered as well (I’ve listed sources at the end.) I don’t regret holding out for them. They are texturally different than I’d expected; I imagined a large, hard sugar crystal, instead, they’re more like a million tiny ones squished together — they crunch like toast crumbs. If I ever get that chocolate pretzel cookie recipe right, I will be using them there as well, because I much prefer them to coarse sugar, but of course, in a pinch, it will do as well.

chouquette, puffy!

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Twitter I mentioned a few weeks ago that I had set up a Twitter feed solely devoted to letting people know when there is a new post from the smitten kitchen. But I also have a separate Twitter stream I didn’t mention because I honestly do not know why anyone would want to hear me tersely babble about the weather, shopping, irritating Web sites that resize my browser, and how gigantic my crush on a certain NYTimes style writer is (in a word, colossal). As it turns out, there are 1,000 people in that category so on the occasion of that nice round number, let me be out with it. But don’t say I didn’t warn you: I really do go on about Bill Cunningham a lot.

Sugar Puffs [Chouquettes]
Adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini and David Lebovitz

Makes about two dozen, depending on the size

1 cup (250 ml) water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
6 tablespoons (90 grams) unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
1 cup (135 gram) flour
4 large eggs, at room temperature

Glaze: 1 egg yolk whisked with 1 teaspoon milk

Toppings: Pearl sugar [see places to buy them at the end] and/or miniature chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C). Line a cookie sheet with a reusable nonstick baking mat or parchment paper.

Heat the water, salt, sugar, and butter in a meduim saucepan, stirring, until the butter is melted. Remove the pot from the heat heat and dump all the flour in at once. Mix vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture forms a smooth ball and pulls away from the sides of the pan.

Let the dough cool for five minutes, then briskly beat in the eggs, one at a time, until the dough is smooth and shiny. [At this point you can cover the pot and chill it in the fridge for up to a day.]

Using two spoons, a piping bag fitted with a wide tip, a zip-lock bag with a one-inch corner cut off or a spring-loaded large cookie scoop, pipe or scoop the dough into walnut-sized mounds spaced evenly on the baking sheet.

(If you find your dough to be a bit thin at this point, as you can see mine was in the photos, do not fret. They still puff just fine. And if they don’t, David says he sees bakeries all over Paris selling flat ones, so perhaps you’re just being trendy!)

Brush the top of each mound with some of the egg glaze then press coarse sugar crystals or miniature chocolate chips over the top and sides of each mound. You want to be generous because the puffs will expand a lot, and you’ll want that area to be covered.

Bake the cream puffs for 20 to 35 minutes, or until puffed and well-bronzed. (Yes, this is a rather long range in baking time but I know that in choux recipes especially, baking times can greatly vary depending on the heat of an oven and how fast it browns the top of items. Watch for that nicely bronzed color rather than a precise cooking time.)

Do ahead: Sugar puffs are best the day that they’re made. I find if they’re stored overnight in an airtight container, they get damp on top and the sugar and chips will slide off, though you can easily re-crisp them in the oven If you can deal with them being a bit dryer on day two you can leave them out unwrapped. Chouquettes can also be frozen in a freezer bag for up to a month, and re-crisped in the oven once defrosted.In addition, you can store the unpiped/scooped dough in the fridge for up to a day.

Places to buy sucre perlé or coarse white sugar: The Baker’s Catalogue, L’Epicerie, Ikea (!), Amazon and if you’re in New York City, the Cake and Baking Supply store on 22nd Street.

I bought mine at G. Detou in Paris in October, tra-la-la, along with a vial of the fattest vanilla beans ever, more Dijon mustard than normal people would go through in a decade yet regrettably not the 3-kilo super low-priced box of Valrhona cocoa, because I had no room left in my suitcase. And yes, I am still kicking myself.


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