Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Choux Pastry at La Patisserie

Something terrible happened to me recently. Are you ready to hear about it?

I was accused of being a “girly-girl”.

Gasp! I nearly had a fit of the vapours, I was so shocked! Me, a girly-girl?! Never!

I had to know – “WHY do you think I’m a *shudder* girly-girl?!” The answer: “Because you wear skirts and makeup and brooches on your coat, and you like to bake.”

All true things, but I must add caveats to each: I wear skirts because they’re fun and comfy and I’m not into pants at the moment; I wear makeup because I have to thanks to my invisible eyelashes and little eyes, seriously I could never be one of those backpackers who doesn’t bring her makeup with her; brooches are fun!; and of course I like to bake, I married a Baker, and also many many humans of the male persuasion also bake, so therefore it is not inherently girly. So there. You have no grounds for your argument. :)

My aversion to “girlyness” started back when my mother decided to dress me in blues and yellows as a baby, and people would think I was a boy. When I was 8 and my sister was 4, we were given boy-short pixie haircuts, and we both mistaken for boys constantly, not helped by the fact that we would dress ourselves and didn’t wear very girly colours. Read: nothing ever matched at all in any way – one of my favourite outfits was a lavender/blueish sweatshirt with bears on it with hunter green dinosaur sweatpants. My seester and I, we are blue-and-gray girls. BTW – “seester” is not a misspelling, it’s her official title.

I did sports and got dirty and didn’t wear socks for a whole school year. One whole knee is covered in scars from bike accidents. I didn’t understand the value of blow-drying my hair until I was in college.

I am NOT a girly-girl.  Maybe I was influenced by Arnold too much - Kindergarten Cop was my fave.  Even my cupcakes are frosted in non-girly primary colours!

I don’t have a problem if you might be one, it takes all kinds of people to make the world go round, but it’s just not me.

And then I learned how to make choux (sounds like shoe!) pastry. It’s light, it’s French, it can be filled with all kinds of fancy cream fillings, and to me it seems very very girly. And I’m ok with that. But just this once, coz while it is sooooo good, I’m still not a girly-girl.

I went with the Wellington Foodies Meet-up Group to La Patisserie in Miramar, the only true French patisserie in New Zealand, according to chef-owner Marie Loic Monmont, who is cute as a button and highly entertaining. She only uses completely organic, local ingredients, with the sole exception of hazelnut and pistachio pastes, the best of which is made in northern Italy. She also employs actual French boys to help out in the kitchen, tre authentic!

Chef Marie Loic Monmont - aka deliverer of heavenly delights.

You know how at parties, there are always people who don’t leave the kitchen? That’s me. I don’t do chatting in groups very well, so I make myself useful instead. Inevitably someone ends up in there with me and we have a blast just one-on-one. And if people start to catch on to the fun happening in the kitchen? Oh, there’s something in the bedroom that I mustbedoingrightnow. 

That's me, getting all up into the pastry, piping like a pro!
So being that person, going to a Meetup Group event was pretty intimidating. If you haven’t heard of Meetup Groups, it’s an online forum where people of similar interests start and join groups with a specific focus and then hold or attend events. I am also a member of the Circa Theatre Meetup Group, and it’s really great for people who enjoy going to plays but don’t have someone to go with them. The Foodie group is really active and constantly organising new activities, like attending cooking classes together and doing dinner parties. So like I said, walking into a group of people I don’t know, on my own, with no one to lean on or keep me from hiding in the corner, yeah that was big.

And not as scary as I thought it would be! Probably because the reward of being a big girl and talking to new people was getting to eat the best éclairs everrrr. I made myself take 10 minutes to eat mine, there was a lot of savouring to be done.

That green stuff is pistacio-flavoured creme patisserie and it's the best green thing I've ever eaten.
Here is Marie’s recipe for choux pastry – it’s very exact, because according to her, “Cooking may be love, but pastry is science. It’s a chemical reaction happening in your pan, in your oven.” A scrumptious chemical reaction!

Pate a choux
from French chef Marie Loic Monmont @ La Patisserie, Miramar Wellington
  • 250g cold water
  • 110g unsalted butter (you can use salted butter, just omit the salt)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 180g flour, sifted
  • 360g eggs (because eggs are different sizes, and this can also vary through the year
  1. Put the water and butter in a saucepan and bring to the boil and mix, then take off the heat.
  2. Add the flour and whisk it up into a ball. This will take a lot of muscle!
  3. Transfer to a mixing bowl, and add eggs one a time, mixing well after each one. The batter should be pretty thick, as it will be piped, so definitely not runny at all. *You can use a mixer with the paddle attachment for this step! Saves arm strength.
  4. Using a very wide piping tip and large bag, pipe thick lines of 12-15cm or golf ball-sized dollops onto a lined baking tray. Keep tip pointed down at tray, not at an angle.
  5. Make a quick egg wash by beating one egg. Brush over the top of the piped choux to even out the bumps and lumps.
  6. Finish by raking a fork down the length of the choux.
  7. Bake in 180C oven for 20 minutes or so, depending on how hot your oven runs – watch the choux to make sure they don’t go too brown, but DON’T open the oven as this will let all your precious steam out, and it’s the steam that helps these pastries rise with their bubbles inside.
And if you want to fill your delectable pastries (and what sane person wouldn't?), Marie also provided a recipe for fancy filling!

Creme Patisserie
  • 1/2 L milk
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 125g sugar
  • 60g flour
  • 1 vanilla bean, split open
  1. Bring the milk to boil in a saucepan with the vanilla bean.  Take off the stove and wander over to your bench.
  2. Stir in egg yolks, sugar and flour.
  3. Put saucepan back onto the stove and cook until the cream is thick, stirring constantly with a whisk.
Aaaaaand what éclair wouldn’t be complete without a chocolatey topping?!  None, that's what.

Chocolate Ganache
  • 100g cream
  • 100g chocolate
  1. Bring cream and chocolate to the boil in a saucepan together and stir together.
  2. Smother on top of those glorious choux....what's the plural of choux?
For a chocolate filling, mix chocolate ganache with some crème patisserie, and add a pinch of cocoa powder and a pinch of icing sugar!

To fill: poke a hole in the bottom of the baked choux. Put your filling into a piping bag and pipe into choux.

Shove one into your mouth and collapse into dreamy bliss.

You’re welcome.

OR if you can’t be bothered doing all these crazy things yourself, swing by La Patisserie in Miramar, but be warned that they only make enough to sell for that day and because what they make is so good, it does sell out. Go now!  And please bring me some too.

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