Thursday, October 2, 2008

Fun with Pate a Choux

Pate a Choux (pronounced Pot-ah-shoo) is a quick-to-put-together dough of water, butter, flour and eggs and is the basis for a number of wonderful treats, including cream puffs, eclairs, profiteroles, crullers and beignets. It's also used for round little deep-fried donuts called zeppole or sfinge.

I've been experimenting with pate a choux lately. It started as a donut craving--and it's impossible to find a sugar-free donut! And while this in no way was a low glycemic-index (not with that beautiful white flour), it was made using sugar-substitute in the dough and topping.

After these, I did an experiment with another batch of pate a choux, and two other sweet treats. Here's the recipe for basic pate a choux, followed by additional notes.

Basic Pate a Choux

1 stick salted butter (1/2 cup) OR use unsalted butter plus 1/4 tsp salt
1 cup water
1 cup all purpose flour, sifted
3 large eggs

Place butter and water in a saucepan over medium heat; when butter is melted remove from heat and stir in flour with a wooden spoon. Return to low heat and continue stirring until dough comes away from the sides of the pan and clings to your spoon in a ball. Transfer dough to a mixing bowl and let cool for 5 minutes.

Using an electric mixer, add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. When finished, dough should be glossy and smooth.

For fried donuts:

Add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract with the last egg when making the dough. Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls in hot vegetable oil (oil should be 375*F) and cook, turning occasionally, until tripled in size and golden on all sides.

This is very important--in fact, the donuts will look done before they expand fully--if trying for the first time, start with only one in the oil and watch it. If the oil is too hot the donut won't expand properly, either. Also, don't crowd your pan--I found it was best to do only 3 or 4 at a time.

Drain on paper towels and roll in powdered sugar.

Properly cooked donuts will be airy and moist--but not doughy--on the inside.

A few days later I had a repeat craving--only this time, I only had a wee bit of oil. I also wondered if the basic pate a choux pastry could be flavored. With a half-gallon of apple cider in the fridge, an experiment was in order.

I made this batch of pate a choux using apple cider instead of water, and added some cinnamon to the flour. Here are the specifics:

Apple-Cinnamon Pate a Choux: Substitute 1 cup apple cider for the water, and add 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon to the flour.

Test 1: Apple-Cinnamon Baked Donuts

The first test was baking the dough in rounds for another batch of donuts, and preparing an apple-cinnamon glaze (1/3 cup sugar [I used substitute], 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1 tablespoon apple cider). The dough did expand to about double the size of the original dough mound--not the same dramatic size difference as the fried version from before.

They were tasty, though the apple flavor I was looking for didn't really come through in the finished baked good. (The scent, however, was amazing!) In my opinion, it wasn't worth using the cider in the dough--I should have made an apple filling, instead.

Test 2: Apple-Cinnamon "Curly Fries"

I had about 3 tablespoons of leftover batter that didn't fit on my
cookie sheet, and just a wee bit of oil. I heated the oil and piped the batter in. I was looking for something of a funnel cake, but it turned out sort of like crispy curly fries--VERY tasty topped with a little powdered sugar (substitute, in my case). But again--not a strong apple-cinnamon taste.

Lessons Learned

In the future I'll be using basic pate a choux pastry, then add fillings and toppings for the flavor desired. I'll be making more of those curly fries, too--they were really fantastic, with a satisfying crunch.

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