Imagine a recipe you can master and then trot out in three different guises as we head back into the world of cooking for visitors at home. This may even become your new best friend as you embark on pre-Christmas entertaining. Such is the magic of choux paste.
This paste is made by bringing water, butter and salt gently to the boil, making sure the butter is melted just before it boils, and then quickly mixing in the flour over heat until it forms a “paste”. Remove it from the heat in this instance, and add two cheeses and then eggs. Simple.
Next up you get to decide how to cook it. The most favoured method is to pipe the paste onto a tray and cook it in an oven, making what is known as a gougère. Another way is to deep-fry balls of the mixture for beignets. And you can also poach pieces of the paste for gnocchi Parisienne.
This recipe has been adapted from years of choux-making to fit all three methods. As a gougère it is slightly more solid than my specific recipe for this pastry, but is still absolutely delicious. As a beignet it shines and as gnocchi the quantity of cheese in the paste makes it a really easy one to work with, plus the added value of getting a little “furry” on the outside when pan-fried as the cheese interacts with the oil. So, if the choux fits…
Time: 30 minutes preparation + final cooking methods
- 250ml cold water
- 115g cold butter, diced
- pinch salt
- 150g plain flour
- 150g grated parmesan
- 100g grated comté or Gruyere cheese
- 4 eggs
- extra egg for egg wash, if desired
- vegetable oil, for frying and poaching
- Put the water, butter and salt in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Place on a moderate heat, stirring until the butter melts. Bring to the boil and add the flour all at once, stirring vigorously as the ingredients form a ball of paste. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool a little.
- Place the paste in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment fitted. On a low speed, add the two cheeses and then the eggs one at a time. This should be done quite quickly, so increase the speed to ensure all ingredients come together. Set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 210ºC.
- Pipe the paste onto a lined tray in walnut-sized mounds. These can be brushed with a little egg wash if you wish them to look glazed.
- Place in the upper part of the oven and cook for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 160ºC and cook for a further 10 minutes.
- Remove from the oven, place on a rack. These are best eaten warm.
- Preheat some vegetable oil in either a fryer or a deep saucepan to 180ºC.
- Pipe the paste onto strips of greaseproof paper in cumquat-sized balls. At this stage, they can be refrigerated for a couple of days or frozen.
- When ready to cook, place the strips of balls into the fryer (the paper will come away and is then removed from the fryer). Cook until golden brown, turning if necessary.
- Remove the balls from the fryer onto absorbent paper. I serve these with Dijon mustard and pickles.
- Bring a larger pot of water to the boil.
- Place the paste in a piping bag fitted with a half-centimetre nozzle. Prepare a bowl of iced water to have on the side. Pipe the paste into the water, cutting it into centimetre pieces. Cook about 30 pieces at a time. Don’t boil the water too hard as they may break up.
- Once the pieces float, check one to make sure it’s cooked through and then remove the cooked pieces and place in the iced-water bath. Continue until all the paste is cooked.
- At this stage, the gnocchi can be drained, lightly oiled and kept in the fridge for a couple of days if required.
- These guys then get cooked again. Heat a frying pan over high heat (make sure the pan is of a size that won’t crowd the gnocchi). Add a little vegetable oil (enough so they won’t stick), and toss in the gnocchi. Don’t agitate the pan too much, just give them a couple of good tosses so they are golden brown all round. I add a little blanched asparagus, peeled broad beans and tarragon leaves at this stage.
- When almost complete, add a little knob of butter, salt and black pepper and then remove onto a plate. Garnish with a little extra grated comté.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on October 30, 2021 as "Best in choux".
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