How to Make Pâte à Choux

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I can hardly believe that Thanksgiving is next week! The fall season has been a whirlwind for our family. Matthew and I recently returned from a fantastic 10 day trip to France and Belgium. We struck a nice balance of relaxation and fun sightseeing activities. Highlights included a chocolate and beer tour in Brussels and tickets to the ballet at the Paris Opera! It seemed as though our vacation was over before we knew it, and then it was back to reality. That reality meant adjusting back to our time zone, recovering from a cold for Matthew, and both of us attending conferences out of state. Whew. It feels like we’re finally settled now!

Speaking of fall…I couldn’t be more excited that today marks our fall baking competition at work! I love brainstorming ideas and testing out new recipes. However, there is also a certain amount of pressure involved in a baking competition. I decided to think a little outside of the box with my dessert entry this year. Instead of going with the typical fall flavors of pumpkin or apples, I decided to try a LEMON dessert! I love lemon because it’s so light and refreshing.

So let’s talk about this lemon-inspired dessert. I decided to make miniature cream puffs and fill them with a mixture of lemon curd and whipped cream. I garnished them with lemon glaze and candied lemon. Cream puffs are made from a light pastry dough called pâte à choux. This dough is quite simple and contains only butter, water, flour, and eggs. There is no leavening agent, and instead the high moisture content creates steam during the baking process to puff the pastry. I really like this dough because it’s simple and you can fill it up with anything your heart desires. Since these buns are so versatile, I’m simply sharing the recipe for the choux pastry. After that, let your imagination guide the way!

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How to Make Pâte à Choux
The Pastry Cookbook by Michel Roux

Ingredients
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
8 tablespoons butter, diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 medium eggs
Egg-wash (1 medium egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon milk)

Directions
Combine the milk, water, butter, salt, and sugar in a pan and set over low heat. Bring to a boil and immediately take the pan off the heat. Shower in the flour and mix with a wooden spoon until completely smooth. Return the pan to medium heat and stir continuously for about 1 minute to dry out the paste, and then tip it into a bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, beating with the wooden spoon. Once the eggs are all incorporated, the paste should be smooth and shiny with a thick ribbon consistency. It is now ready to use.

Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. For small choux buns, put the paste into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch tip. Pipe small mounds in staggered rows onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or directly onto a greased baking sheet. Brush the choux with egg-wash and lightly mark the tops with the back of a fork. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until the outside of the buns is dry and crisp but the inside is still soft. Cool on a wire rack.

Once buns are cooled use a pastry bag to fill the choux buns with your filling of choice. Feel free to be creative. Pudding, custard, whipped cream, and jam are all viable option depending on the flavor you want to achieve. If you’d like a chocolate topping, melt chocolate over a double boiler and dip buns in the chocolate to coat. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
Cool the dough slightly before adding the eggs. If you add the eggs right away, the hot dough will cook them, thereby preventing the eggs from doing their puff job. Some bakers cool the dough in the pan off the heat, while others transfer the dough to a stand mixer and beat it on low speed for a minute or two to cool off.

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Homemade Pop Tarts

As a Minnesota girl at heart, the heat and humidity of summer can feel a bit oppressive at times. I’m usually okay up to about 80 degrees, but anything beyond that is just… hot. Add in some humidity and I’m far from a happy camper. The heat and humidity have both settled on Ann Arbor recently, and it leaves me dreaming of mild autumn days. That being said, the hot days of summer do bring some things that I love. Matt and I recently went camping which was great, and who doesn’t love s’mores cooked over a campfire?! We also went on a kayaking adventure, which (minus one tip over) was a fun time. The passing of the summer solstice also reminded me that summer never lasts forever. The change is ever so slight, but I can already tell it’s a little less light when I wake up for my early morning workouts.

But enough about the passing of the seasons. Let’s talk about revamping a classic breakfast “dessert” many of us love. When I was growing up, I never ate Pop Tarts for breakfast or even as a snack. It wasn’t until later in life that I tried one and I was far from impressed. This homemade version elevates Pop Tarts from a simple “meh” to a definite “wow” factor. While you can’t stick these in a traditional toaster, you could pop them in a toaster oven. However, I think you’ll find they are just as delicious at room temperature. I made these to bring to a brunch and I found myself wishing that I had some left over to snack on when we got back home!

Homemade Pop Tarts
Original Recipe from Smitten Kitchen 

Pastry Ingredients 
2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into pats
1 large egg
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) milk

Cinnamon Filling Ingredients
1/2 cup (3 3/4 ounces) brown sugar
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, to taste
4 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 large egg, to brush on pastry before filling

Directions
For step-by-step directions along with beautiful pictures, check out the original recipe at Smitten Kitchen. You will also find some suggestions for alternative fillings such as chocolate and jam.

Heather’s Helpful Hints 
There is a fine art to rolling out pastry dough that only comes with practice. I’m still learning as I go along but have found two things that always help with the process. First, always work with well-chilled pastry; otherwise, the dough will stick to the counter and tear. Second, never roll out dough by rolling back and forth over the same section. Each time you press on the same spot, more gluten develops that can toughen the dough.

Choux Buns

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There is definitely an art to making pastries. Ask any seasoned pâtissière and she will tell you the tricks of the trade designed to make the perfect pie crust, croissant, etc. Yet somehow the process of making pastries has always seemed to be a skill that I have lacked. However, in an attempt to expand my baking repertoire, you can expect to see several new pastry recipes popping up in 2013.

For my first recipe I tried making mini choux buns, something I’d admittedly never heard of before. Yet they looked like one of the simpler recipes in my cookbook, so I decided it would be a winner. Choux pastry is a light pastry dough used to make several familiar desserts. Most popularly, it is used for the tasty éclairs and cream puffs that you see behind the glass doors of your bakery. It can also be fried to create mouthwatering beignets. The dough is quite simple containing only butter, water, flour, and eggs. There is no leavening agent, and instead the high moisture content creates steam during the baking process to puff the pastry.

Once you’ve cooked your buns, options are abundant for what you want to do next. You can slice them and pair with meat and cheese for a mini sandwich. You could present them plain, showing off the light and flaky crust. If you want to fill them with something, the sky is the limit—think whipped cream, custard, pudding, jam, or even something savory like a tuna or crab salad. Finally, don’t forget to garnish the top with a chocolate glaze, powdered sugar, caramel, or perhaps paprika to spice things up. These little buns truly are a versatile addition to your baking repertoire.

Mini Choux Buns
Adapted from Pastry Cookbook by Michel Roux
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Ingredients
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
8 tablespoons butter, diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 medium eggs
Egg-wash (1 medium egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon milk)

Directions
Combine the milk, water, butter, salt, and sugar in a pan and set over low heat. Bring to a boil and immediately take the pan off the heat. Shower in the flour and mix with a wooden spoon until completely smooth. Return the pan to medium heat and stir continuously for about 1 minute to dry out the paste, and then tip it into a bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, beating with the wooden spoon. Once the eggs are all incorporated, the paste should be smooth and shiny with a thick ribbon consistency. It is now ready to use.

Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. For small choux buns, put the paste into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch tip. Pipe small mounds in staggered rows onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or directly onto a greased baking sheet. Brush the choux with egg-wash and lightly mark the tops with the back of a fork. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until the outside of the buns is dry and crisp but the inside is still soft. Cool on a wire rack.

Once buns are cooled use a pastry bag to fill the choux buns with your filling of choice. Feel free to be creative. Pudding, custard, whipped cream, and jam are all viable option depending on the flavor you want to achieve. If you’d like a chocolate topping, melt chocolate over a double boiler and dip buns in the chocolate to coat. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
Once cooked, it’s important to prick the base of each bun to release the steam that has helped it to rise. If left to go cold un-punctured, the steam turns back to water resulting in soft or soggy buns.
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