I've been quiet for a few weeks because a fairly miserable cold prevented me from baking — I thought it wouldn't be kind to pawn germ-filled treats off on my friends and co-workers. I do have one treat up my sleeves to share soon, but first I want to let you know about my fantastic baking lesson today.
I've signed up for a four-course recreational baking series at Cambridge Culinary School and this morning was lesson 1: Pâte a Choux.
Pâte a Choux is the soft sticky dough that puffs up magically in the oven to create the base for both cream puffs and eclairs. From 9:30am through about 1pm, I learned how to create this dough, a phenomenal pastry cream filling, and the real kicker: Cream Puff Swans!
While I feel completely at ease making cupcakes and cookies, Pâte a Choux was totally uncharted territory for me. As it turns out, the recipe is quite simple and with the help of my teacher, even the intricate swan puffs came together in a snap.
The class consisted of about 10 individuals of mixed baking experiences. We each made our own Pâte a Choux and filling of choice, and only one other student and I ventured to make Swans. I stuck with traditional pastry cream filling, but a few others mixed up lemon curd and one student made a batch of savory cheese puffs to share.
Access to a professional grade kitchen was phenomenal — so many spatulas and mixing bowls! We had about 4 easy to reach stove top locations and two large ovens to work with, so we had to take turns with the heat sources, but after about the first hour or so we figured out how to work around each other and no one was in anyone's way.
We all took home several boxes of cream puffs and eclairs, and I brought home several unfilled puffs and a bag of pastry cream so that I can fill them on demand for the next week or as long as they last. I'm told the filled cream puffs and eclairs are best eaten on the same day they are made, but left unfilled, the shells stay fresh in the freezer for months. I'll be testing that theory for sure!
I'm not sharing the recipes here today as they are from Cambridge Culinary School, but I'm sure there are standard recipes scattered throughout the Internet just waiting to be found and followed!
I will tell you about the swan making.. The body and wings of the swans are just cream puffs cut in half horizontally and then cut in half again vertically on the top piece. These two half circles become the wings. To make the neck, we created a second batch of Pâte a Choux that contained a teaspoon of sugar to help the pastry crisp up a bit in the oven. (The sugar was the only difference in the recipes)
Each neck was piped using the same large circle tip that I used to make the cream puffs, although next time I make them I'd like to try either a smaller tip or a star tip or both. The shape is just like the number "2" where the top loop forms the neck and the base sits in the pastry cream. Assembly is just filling the bottom half of your cream puff with pastry cream, setting the wings in place and then sliding in the neck's base.
Next week, we'll be making pies and tarts! I can't wait!