25.6.07

SHF: my one true dessert love

i’m not sure i can pinpoint, exactly, my first experience with profiteroles. i *think* it was at chez jenny, an alsatian chicken joint in paris that my dad found in his dk guide, lovingly referred to as “the bible.” chez jenny is the perfect amalgamation of brasserie and hofbrauhaus, serving up that paragon of simple french artistry: the roasted half of free-range chicken.

with sides.

and, as it happens, with dessert. and here is where my crush began, as i looked skeptically at the dessert menu. it was my first night in paris, my first time in paris, and yet another family vacation that did not include a beach or warm weather. i was jet-lagged and suffering from sensory overload and looking at a dessert menu that i could not begin to comprehend. “what,” i am certain my 17-year-old self would have asked, “are profiteroles?” profiteroles au chocolat chaud, glace vanille, to be precise.

the exact mechanics of it escape my memory but i was, at length, persuaded that profiteroles would make an enjoyable dessert choice. and i was smitten.

my second most-memorable profiterole experience comes in london, several years later. it is, sadly, possible that i was unable to experience profiteroles at any time between these two events. this second encounter was nearly as inauspicious as the first one: a classically cold, rainy fall night in london, where the sun had set depressingly early. i had been meant to spend the day in paris, watching tennis matches at roland garros (this continues to be an ambition of mine), only the eurostar had been unexpectedly stopped due to some sort of calamity farther down the tracks. two of my friends, each of whom spent much less time wandering aimlessly around the streets of london than i, were content to follow me as i led them toward an italian place in seven dials i had been meaning to try.

dinner was simple and lovely, with wine on the side. and my heart leapt when i saw the dessert menu included profiteroles. these were positively smothered in hot chocolate sauce and delicious.

which is as a profiterole should be.

so you can imagine my great delight when i first began learning how to cook and saw, deep in the pages of my martha stewart baking book, a recipe for pate a choux…and profiteroles. i became determined to make a choux and yet for nearly two years could not find the time, the occasion or the inclination to do so. mostly i was concerned about leftovers (silly me).

then, last month, at the behest of daring baker helene of tartette, i undertook to make a gateau st-honore. and guess what one of the components includes?

this time, being free from all restraint, i pulled two recipes. one from the sinfully well-photographed seven sins of chocolate, for the choux. the second was from emily luchetti’s passion for ice cream, where she includes a profiterole recipe with orange custard chip ice cream.

i confess that i had originally tried ms. luchetti’s recipe, last week for my saturday dinner. my saturday dinner last week got turned on its head by the dying of my beloved mixer, right in the middle of rolling out fresh pasta dough. since my mixer is also my ice cream maker, i put the orange-custard-ice cream back in the fridge and watched my profiteroles, which were already baking, collapse because i slammed the oven door too hard.

i needed a clean slate this time. i rolled up my sleeves in my newly-cleaned kitchen and made the choux. the seven sins recipe is actually completely simple, eschewing the use of a mixer or anything fancy. i pulled out a wooden spoon, collected my csa fresh eggs, milk and butter, and set to with a vengeance, determined to get it right this time.

for ice cream, i took a pound of my csa strawberries and blended them with still more fresh milk, some sugar, and a squeeze of fresh lemon for a light and super-fruity philadelphia-style ice cream. i highly recommend this method—it was the sweetest, most strawberry-flavored ice cream i’ve ever enjoyed.

at long last, i pulled the choux puffs out of the oven and set them to cool. i was baffled at first by the moistness of the choux interior but eventually grasped that the delightful web of pastry forms as the choux cools. i left well enough alone and came back after dinner to slice the pretty little things in half, scoop a fresh bit of strawberry ice cream on them, and drizzle several generous spoonfuls of fresh strawberry-rhubarb compote (also from my csa) over the result.

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