I'm so excited about this post. It's the first time I've participated in a Daring Bakers challenge. Jane (who blogs at The Wayward Oven) has been taking part these challenges for quite a while and I've looked on at her progress with much awe and curiosity. Finally, after about two years (am I right, Jane?) I decided to join in the fun.
The Daring Bakers are a group of cooks/bakers who meet online to discuss and share what they are most passionate about: food. Once a month, a baker poses a culinary challenge for the members of the esteemed group to take part in.
This month, the challenge was set by Kat of The Bobwhites who inspired the group to have fun in creating pate a choux shapes, filled with crème patisserie or Chantilly cream. We were encouraged to create swans but were also encouraged to experiment with other shapes. While Kat provided us with a recipe for the two suggested cream fillings, we had the freedom of experimenting with something totally different. Check out the outcome of the challenge at The Daring Kitchen site.
I had a month to do this challenge but somehow, I didn't find the time until the 11th hour. Isn't that always the case?
So you can imagine what a wreck I was this weekend: my first time doing a DB challenge on a recipe I'd never tried before. Yup, I've never made choux pastry puffs before though they've been on my to-do list since... forever. Well, maybe two years. I've made churros which use a variation of choux pastry but never have I attempted delicate cream-filled puffs or eclairs.
I followed the recipe for the choux pastry provided by Kat very closely. In the instructions to the challenge, Kat said that it was "mandatory" to have fun while doing the challenge. I tried to remember that as I beat the dough to form. I was happy when it came out nice and glossy, shiny yellow ball of dough.
Ok, since step one was done, I realised I was having a little fun. I preheated my oven and got to work on the hard part of the challenge: piping the dough. I decided to stick to the challenge and make swan-shapped puffs. To do this, I had to pipe the dough out in two different shapes: the heads of the swans and their bodies.
The heads turned out easier to do than I'd imagines. Using a 6mm tip, I piped about 20 heads. The shape was akin to that of the roman numeral 2 (see pix below). They couldn't be too thin (as this would make them wilt when assembled) not too thick (for swans have delicate necks). Baking them was a challenge too as they initially didn't brown evenly. I had to turn the tray around midway (the heads took about 5 mins to cook) to achieve some decent shapes.
Next the body. Using a 25mm tip, I piped a sort of oval onto a lined baking sheet, making sure one end of the oval was fatter than the other. The bodies took slightly longer to cook (about 12 mins) and my initial batches weren't as puffy as I liked them to be. They were kinda limp. I adjusted their time in the oven (left them for a minute or two longer) and that seemed to work better (see pic above).
The outcome: My choux puffs were still a little, err, delicate and I think they could have used still more time in the oven. I read in a forum on cheftalk.com that the puffs collapse if not baked long enough. I may have removed mine a tad early in fear of them browning too much. More work needs to be done on this.
Still, the swans tastes yummy. This seems so wrong for a vegetarian to say ... but they did. The cream cheese filling was delicious as cream cheese fillings almost always are. And though a little soft, the puffs had good flavour.
And those heads! So light and crunchy. I bit them off as fast as I could!
Pate a Choux
(makes about 20 dozen bodies and heads)
1 cup water
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup all purpose flour
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 170C. In a small saucepan, combine the butter, water and salt. Keep it on the heat until the butter melts.
Remove from the heat and add in ALL the flour. Beat the mixture until it comes away from the sides of the pan.
Add the eggs one at a time and mix them well into the mixture. The dough should start to get nice and glossy, yellow like the sun.
Now to pipe the shapes. First, the heads. Using a 6mm tip, pipe several number "2" shapes onto one of the lined sheets. Make the top end of the two a little thicker to resemble the head of the swan. Also, add a beak if you wish by adding a dash to it. It sounds odd but when they puff up, they actually look like swan heads! (refer to the pic of the completed ones. Sorry, I forgot to post a picture of them before they went into the oven! Yikes).
Now, using a 25mm tip, pipe out the bodies, an oval with one side thicker than the other. Or, like a drop of water, you know, but with a rounder tip. Ok. does this sounds a little confusing? I promise, I will endeavour to do another mini batch and take pictures of the process!
Bake the heads first for about 4-6 mins. Next bake the bodies until the puff up and turn a lovely shade of gold. Mine took about 14-15 mins.
TIP: The first batch of my choux pastry puffs became a little limp once out of the oven. For my second batch, I left them in for a couple of minutes longer and they held their shape better. My friend Jane suggested that I try puncturing them (a tiny pin hole) to let the steam escape once they are out and then popping them back in the oven (heat off) for a few minutes to crisp up. Will try that next time!
1/2 cup cream cheese, softened at room temperature
1 tbsp sour cream
2 tbsp chopped chives
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1/4 tsp garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
Simply mix all the ingredients up!
I didn't follow Kat's instructions with regards to assembling the swans as my pastry was a little soft. She suggested using a very sharp knife to cut the top 1/3rd portion of the swan bodies off and then cutting that top 3rd in half, to get two "wings". The filling is then spooned onto the button 2/3rd portion. Next, place the head in the centre, through the cream and then lastly attach the wings on. (Don't worry, Kat included a couple of youtube links: click here and here.
What I did? I used a sharp knife to split the top part of the pastry down vertically. I then filled the middle with the cream and attached the head in the centre. It looks alright, though not perfect. Next time, then!