This is the first of a few posts about choux. People are daunted by making choux, but if you follow a good recipe and know a few tips and tricks, they can’t go wrong. Furthermore, they are incredibly versatile. You can make them small or large, and everything in between, and when you make them elongated instead of round, you get eclairs. You can fill them with chantilly cream, pastry cream, flavoured (pastry) cream, ganache or whatever you fancy, and dip or drizzle them with caramel, chocolate or fondant. And they don’t have to be sweet, for example gougeres (crispy cheese choux) or choux filled with a cheese-ham bechamel filling. Of course, there are also many savoury variations to be thought off.
This recipe is for a choux tower with a coffee filling and caramel. Stacking choux gives them a stunning presentation perfect when you need a dessert to impress, but it is a lot easier (and more stable!) than making a real croquembouche (which is hollow inside). It also gives you a more edible finish with just a little caramel instead of the rock-hard tooth breaking croquembouche (all that caramel is needed to stabilize the thing).
Choux tower (64 choux)
Choux recipe slightly adapted from Joe Pastry
Choux – make this recipe twice (2 separate small batches are easier to work with than one large one)
110 g butter
250 ml water
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar
140 g flour
140 g milk
140 g very strong coffee (make coffee with 500 ml water at double strength, then let it condense to 140 g in a pan on very low heat; don’t boil because this makes the coffee bitter)
15 g sugar
20 g corn starch
50 g sugar
2 egg yolks
500 ml cream
2 bags whipped cream stabilizer (klopfix in the Netherlands)
2 tbsp of sugar
sugar, for the caramel
Choux freeze excellent, so you can make them in advance and freeze them until needed (up to a few weeks). Make sure they are completely cooled before placing in the freezer. When ready to use them, leave to defrost at room temperature for an hour, then place in a preheated oven at 220C for about 5 minutes. Then tend to get a little soggy in the freezer, by baking them they will crisp up again. Leave to cool completely on a rack before filling.
Preheat the oven to 220C. Line two baking sheets with baking paper.
Heat the butter, water, salt and sugar together until it comes to the boil. Don’t leave it boiling too long, because this will evaporate some of the water, which causes an imbalance in the recipe. Take the pan from the heat and add the flour to the butter-water mixture. Stir until the flour is completely incorporated. Place the pan back on medium heat and cook the dough while stirring 3 minutes on medium heat. Set a timer, because this step is essential for a good end result. Take the pan from the heat and tip the dough into a bowl. Leave to cool a little, then add an egg. Stir until well incorporated before adding the next egg. Repeat this with the other two eggs.
Scoop the dough into a piping bag with the tip snipped of to create an opening of about 1 cm diameter. Pipe blobs of about 1,5-2 tbsp equally spaced on the prepared baking sheets, they puff up quite a bit so leave enough room. I can fit 16 blobs on my baking sheets and bake two sheets at once, so I can bake this batch in one go.
Place the baking sheets in the oven. Bake them for 10 minutes at 220C, then reduce the temperature to 190C and bake them another 15 minutes. Take the baking sheets out, turn each bun on its side and stick a knife in the bottom to let the steam escape. Place the sheets back in the oven at 120C and stick a wooden spoon between the oven and the door to keep it open slightly. Keep them in there for 20 minutes, then take them out and leave to cool on a rack.
Repeat the steps above for the second batch of choux.
Make the pastry cream the day before serving the choux tower, because it needs time to get completely cool. Mix the milk, coffee and first measure of sugar in a pan and bring it to the boil. Meanwhile, mix the corn starch and second measure of sugar. Add the egg yolks and whisk to mix. Pour a little of the boiling milk-coffee mixture on top and mix well, then add the rest of the boiling milk-coffee mixture while whisking continuously. Pour the whole mixture back into the pan and place it on medium heat. Bring it slowly to the boil to thicken it. It should bubble very gently for 45 seconds to 1 minute to thicken completely. Then take it from the heat and pour it into a bowl. Cover with cling film directly on top to prevent a skin from forming. Leave to cool at room temperature for about an hour, then place it in the fridge to cool it completely.
Pour the cold cream in a cold bowl. Add the sugar and start mixing (I use an electric hand mixer for this). Gradually sprinkle in the stabilizer. Keep whipping until the cream is stiff, but not too stiff. Add about 1/3 of the cream to the pastry cream and stir it trough. Add the rest of the cream and fold gently until mixed. Scoop into a piping bag fitted with a bismark tip.
Make the caramel by sprinkling sugar in a pan (I like to use non-stick), adding a splash of water and cooking on medium heat until it turns to a caramel colour.
To assemble the choux tower, start with a large plate or serving platter. Take a choux, stick the bismark tip into the knife hole you made in the bottom and fill it up with the coffee cream. Place on the plate and repeat until you have a nice base. For the second tier, fill a choux, dip it into the caramel (careful, it is VERY hot and will give nasty burns) and place it on top of the first layer of choux. Repeat until you finished this layer, and go further with additional layers. The goal is to make a nice conical tower, finishing with 1 bun as the top. When the caramel cools too much it will be difficult to dip the buns, in that case gently reheat it.
Serve immediately, or within 2 hours. I like to let people tear of their preferred amount of choux themselves, but of course you can plate them out if you like. Unfortunately, I was not able to photograph my choux tower before it was devoured.