Sometimes France confuses me. Well, ok, France always confuses me. For a country so obsessed with milk and dairy products you would think they would have totally embraced ice cream creating even crazier combinations than Ben and Jerry’s. Or at least embrace Ben and Jerry’s. (Which they do have here but in very limited flavors.) But when I go into the supermarket and can’t even find vanilla ice cream for a recipe, I know there’s a problem. Vanilla ice cream! It’s the simplest flavor, the most common flavor in the world. I muttered into the freezer case at the choices that were before me, asking myself yet again what I would have to do to convince the French to make ice cream an important product in the frozen foods aisle and settled on some pistachio.
Profiteroles are kind of like fancy ice cream sandwiches. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if they were the predecessor to the ice cream sandwich. I always see them on dessert menus, sometimes with the traditional vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce; sometimes more dressed up with fresh fruit, homemade ice cream of exotic flavors, or maybe some salted caramel. Yet, until I made my own, I had never a profiterole for myself. There was always something else more enticing.
It was the choux pastry that did it. I love ice cream, I love chocolate sauce, I love whipped cream. But I was confused about the choux. What could it add to an already perfect combination but buttery, flour-y calories?
Choux pastry or pâte à choux is one of the basic fundamentals of French cooking. They can be served sweet or savory – though the recipe hardly changes either way. Made with simple ingredients of water, butter, flour, and eggs, they are used for everything in pastry from eclairs, to crullers, beignets, and the crazy Saint Honoré cake. Despite having tasted all of these things at some point in my life, I had this idea that choux pastries were heavy, sugary sweet things.
Not so. When made right they are buttery, but they should be light and airy, and if sweetened, then it’s only a suggestion of sweet.
So what does it add to ice cream? A bit of craquant as they say in French, a bit of crunch. Though they aren’t crunchy, the choux add just enough texture to the smooth ice cream to elevate the interest and the taste to a slightly higher level. It brings out the creaminess, the sweetness and the flavor of the ice cream, enhancing it rather hiding it, and without overwhelming the taste buds with heavy creams and sugars.
A medium sized choux by itself, like the ones I made, are about 60 calories and like I said, they’re light. By the end of your dessert, you’re not going to need to unbutton your pants. Not bad considering the extra fancy-shmancy look and texture they give to your otherwise simple scoop of ice cream.
I made our profiteroles with pistachio ice cream and melted chocolate, but they can easily be adapted to any tastes. Caramel, butterscotch perhaps, whipped creams, fruit sauces, feel free to do whatever. Choux pastry can withstand it all.
- ½ cup water
- 43 g butter
- 1 tsp sugar*
- 48 g all purpose flour
- 2 eggs
- Ice cream of choice
- Topping of choice
- Preheat oven to 220°C/425°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In a large sauce pan boil the water, butter, and sugar until all the butter has melted. Remove from heat and add all of the flour at once, beating vigorously with a wooden spoon until most of the flour is absorbed and the dough is smooth. Return to high heat and continue beating 1-2 minutes more until the mixture leaves the sides of the pan and forms a mass.
- Remove from heat completely. Make a well into the center of the paste and add one egg. Beat vigorously until the egg has been completely absorbed and then add the second egg. The second egg will take longer to absorb than the first. Put some elbow grease into it. Continue until the paste is smooth and homogeneous.
- Spoon the batter into a pastry bag with a plastic spatula and carefully form small circles directly onto the lined baking sheet. Make sure they have plenty of space between them because they puff quite a bit.
- Bake 15-20 minutes at 220°/425°. When the tops are golden brown and the room smells like choux, removed from the oven and gently poke a hole into the center of each choux with a sharp knife. Turn the oven off, but put the choux back into the oven for about 5-10 minutes, leaving the door open. This ensures that the insides finish baking but the choux don’t collapse.
- Remove from heat and let cool before serving.
- Carefully slice the choux in half. Scoop ice cream of choice on to the bottom half and gently cover with the top half. Spoon a little chocolate sauce on top. Enjoy!