I first made choux pastry last summer, in the kitchen at Blackfoot, in Exmouth Market, ad hoc and accidentally. I did a few shifts to fill in some gaps in the rota and learn some new skills in a restaurant environment, rather than pottering around at home, and it was quite the baptism of fire. Recipes were scant lists of ingredients with scarce methods, several things on the go at once, and almost everything was brand new to me, but I generally got my head down and worked it out, researching methods surreptitiously on Google in the corner, making copious notes, and studying recipe methods at the bar for hours after my shift. And then along came choux, that light and oh so crispy pastry, and I panicked. Tried to palm it off onto anyone else?s prep list. ?I can?t do this? ? genuinely concerned for the first time since I?d donned a set of whites that there was something I was going to spectacularly fluff up. ?It?s easy?. Rob, the head chef, soothed. ?Of course you can.? And I did. Because, as Rob said, it?s easy.
These choux pastry hearts, incidentally, were inspired by a mooch through my CD collection, looking for something mellow and melodic to relax to a few weeks ago. I ended up with Corinne Bailey Rae?s album, and Choux Pastry Heart, and here we are.
Makes approximately 10
250ml cold water
150g Plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
4 free range eggs
For the filling:
500ml double cream
1 vanilla pod or a few drops vanilla essence
For the top:
100g dark chocolate
a generous knob of butter
2 tbsp icing sugar (or caster at a push)
You will also need a piping bag and nozzle, or a heart shaped cookie cutter. I opted for the cutter, because I can be fairly indelicate with a piping bag.
Bring the water to the boil in a good-sized saucepan, and add the butter to melt.
Separately, combine the flour, sugar and salt. Some recipes sieve the flour onto a sheet of baking parchment, but it?s much of a muchness ? I give them all a quick stir in a bowl and my choux is feather-light (a sentence I didn?t ever imagine I?d say), so it?s up to you.
When the butter has melted and the water boiling, remove the pan from the heat. With your wooden spoon at the ready, tip all of the flour/sugar/salt in and beat quickly, mixing to form a smooth paste that will come away from the sides of the pan. Set to one side for a few minutes to cool, and preheat your oven to 180C.
When the mixture has cooled slightly, add the eggs and mix well ? it may seem like they won?t combine with the dough, but they will, it just needs a bit of persistence! The finished dough should be glossy and soft, dropping extremely slowly from a wooden spoon is a good sign. Either spoon it into a piping bag to pipe into heart shapes, or press gently into a heart shaped cookie cutter, and repeat until all the dough is used up. Bake in the centre of the oven for 20-25 minutes, until risen and golden ? DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR.
Meanwhile, heat a small saucepan of water and place a bowl on top. Break the chocolate into chunks, add the butter, and stir as they melt to combine the two. In a separate bowl, beat thedouble cream with a little icing sugar and the scraped out seeds of a vanilla pod, until the cream is stiff and doubled in size.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a minute before slicing in half. Don?t leave them whole ? the steam that causes them to rise and puff will make them soft and soggy. If you aren?t going to fill them now, turn each one over and prick the bottom with a small sharp knife to release the steam.
To fill them, smear the cream filling generously onto the bottom half of your heart, and sandwich back together. Spoon on your chocolate ganache, and pop into the fridge for a quick set. And voila ? stored in an airtight container, they?ll last for three days in the fridge. Mine didn?t.
Jack Monroe. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram at @MsJackMonroe, if you like, and I?m also on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/agirlcalledjack
An abridged version of this recipe appeared in the Guardian on Thursday 12th Feb 2015