I feel exasperated already and I've barely started writing this post. You see, it's been a long journey to get here, and not a pleasant one. I've spent a few months flipping through recipes for chouquettes, those tiny French sugar puffs sold as mid-afternoon snacks in the country of my heart, bookmarking a handful of variations to include chocolate chips and the crunchy sugar bits that trademark this petite snack.
It was not meant to be, me and chouquettes.
I read through David Lebovitz's book before picking a recipe, and heaven knows there are plenty to choose from, but the idea of a puffed pocket of choux pastry studded with snappy crystals of pearl sugar right after school (assuming I still had school, of course) was so incredibly charming I couldn't resist. His recipe calls for chocolate chips studded throughout each puff, which sold me from the get go, but I should've listened to my internal warning that chocolate burns at 425 degrees when you leave it in the oven for twenty minutes. They were alright once I picked out the burnt bits of chocolate chips, but after munching on a handful, we all decided they tasted like pancakes, and not in a good way. It was almost as if the eggs didn't cook into the pastry, leaving behind that unmistakable flavor of scrambled egg. It wasn't very nice.
[By the way, the pictures of the chocolate chip chouquettes were much lovelier than what we have here today (the result of lousy kitchen lighting and my impatience), but my sister thought it might be a bright idea to "borrow" my camera, break the lens, and erase everything on my memory card. Like I said, not meant to be. God rest her soul.]
This recipe promised a method meant to dry the pastry out a bit more to erase some of the egg flavor - you leave the oven open a bit after turning it off to help the chouquettes cool off slowly, a technique that keeps them from deflating and evaporates and unpleasant egg taste. It also instructed to put the pearl sugar on the baking sheet to add further crunch to each puff - I'm going to save you a headache and advise against this. The bottoms of the puffs get too hot and the sugar melts into a sticky brown glaze that makes it difficult to peel them off the parchment.
I know it sounds like a bit of fuss, but once you get the technique down, they are really a quick and fun snack to prepare. Before you know it, you'll be making cream puffs! Chocolate covered, even! A cromquembouche! The crunchy bits of sugar are key - the more you can stick to the chouquette, the better. And don't be shy about it, they will puff up so much you'll be wishing you added more before baking. Pearl sugar is inexpensive and easy to find, I ordered mine from King Arthur Flour.
Chouquettes (Sugar Puffs)
Adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 tablespoons (25 g) sugar
1 cup (140 g) all-purpose flour, sifted
4 eggs, at room temperature
Pearl sugar for sprinkling
For the sugar syrup:
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons water
Mise en place - have all your ingredients measured and ready before you begin. In a medium saucepan, combined the butter, salt, sugar, and 1 cup cool water. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat until the butter melts - it should never boil. Remove the pan from the heat, add the flour all at once, and mix vigorously with a wooden spoon until it forms a smooth ball, about 30 seconds.
Turn the mixture into the bowl of a food processor and give it a few pulses to break up the ball of dough. Allow it to cool in the food processor (with the lid off, of course) for about 3 minutes. Add the eggs in one at a time, pulsing a few times after each addition until just combined. Cool the dough in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes or until cool to the touch. In the meantime, give yourself a pat on the back - you just made choux pastry.
Meanwhile, make the sugar syrup. Bring the sugar and water to a boil in a small saucepan, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer 1 minute longer. Pour the syrup into a heatproof bowl and allow to cool slightly.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove the choux pastry from the fridge and scoop or pipe it onto the baking sheet, each chouquette should be about the size of a walnut, leaving about 2 inches in between each one. Brush each one with the sugar syrup and sprinkle generously with pearl sugar, taking care to press it onto the sides and tops of each one.
Bake for 20-23 minutes, without opening the oven door within the first 10 minutes, or until puffed up and golden brown. Turn off the oven, open the door just a crack, and leave the chouquettes in for another 5 minutes.
Transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely, although they are delightfully good when warm. Any leftovers will keep in an airtight container for a few days, but I found they get a bit spongy, so a 5 minute reheat in a 300 degree F oven will restore their just-baked texture.