Christmas is in what, 2 days? And although I do have some Christmas recipes to share, I decided to first give you this one, which I am particularly proud of. But before I proceed, please allow me to apologise for my long absence – I now realise it has been over a month. Work at university has kept me busy enough and, although I carried on baking and cooking as usual, I really didn’t have the strength or the time to sit down at my computer and type away. Also, what with a Christmas party to organise, cookies to bake for my partner (so that he could give them to his bosses at work) and more festive fun to be had, writing about baking after having baked the whole day didn’t appear as appealing as you could imagine.
I made these for my Christmas party last Friday and I took inspiration from this picture. I loved the lilac swirl on these perfect choux buns and I believe the blueberry complements the whole creation beautifully. Despite looking complicated, these are by no means difficult to pull off, provided you follow the instructions below. I decided to personalise the pastry cream filling with some ground hazelnuts and crushed amaretti biscuits, but you could as well leave it plain (or use liqueur). Also, I used gelatine to set the pastry cream and make it more suitable for piping. If you’re allergic, you could just cook your pastry cream for longer and make it thicker.
Ingredients (for the choux buns)
- 100g plain flour
- 175ml water
- 75g unsalted butter, cubed
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3 large eggs
Ingredients (for the craquelin)
- 40g unsalted butter, softened
- 50g soft light brown sugar
- 50g plain flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
Ingredients (for the pastry cream)
- 350ml whole milk
- 4 egg yolks
- 50g golden caster sugar
- 1 tbsp vanilla bean paste
- 1 tsp cornflour/custard powder
- 50g unsalted butter, softened
- 3 gelatine sheets
- 75g hazelnuts, toasted, peeled and ground to a fine paste
- 5 crunchy amaretti biscuits, crushed
Ingredients (for the decoration)
- 350ml double cream
- 175g blueberry jam
- 50g blueberries
- Start by making the craquelin. This is a sugary paste which, once positioned onto the choux buns before baking, ensures an equal rise and a sugary crunchy crust. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer (or in a normal bowl), beat the softened butter until creamy, then add the other ingredients and combine until the mixture has the consistency of wet sand. Turn off the mixer (or stop beating with a wooden spoon) and use your hands to bring the mixture together to a cohesive ball.
- Lay a sheet of baking parchment onto your work surface, position the craquelin ball on it, then cover with another sheet of baking parchment and use a rolling pin to flatten the paste to the thickness of half a pound coin (approximately 3mm). Remove the top parchment, then use a 3cm round cookie cutter to stamp as many circles as you can onto the paste sheet and press enough to make sure the small ‘cookies’ are well indented. Cover again with the top parchment, transfer onto a flat baking sheet and put in the freezer to harden for at least 30 minutes.
- Next, make the pastry cream. Heat up the milk in a saucepan with the vanilla bean paste and soak the gelatine leaves in a bowl of cold water. In the meantime, combine the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour (or custard powder if you want to make it more yellow) in a big bowl and whisk together to combine until light and paler in colour. Don’t boil the milk, but take it to a gentle simmer, then slowly pour it into the egg mixture while whisking all the time to avoid scrambling the eggs. Pour the whole mixture back into the pan and place on a medium-to-low hob, stirring constantly, until thickened. You want the pastry cream to cover the back of the spoon and leave a trail when whisked/mixed in the saucepan. Don’t be tempted to increase the temperature or you will scramble the eggs.
- Once your custard is made, transfer to a bowl/shallow baking dish. Squeeze the gelatine leaves to remove the excess water, then whisk those in, followed by the room temperature butter, until fully dissolved. Press a sheet of clingfilm onto the top of the custard and leave to cool at room temperature before transferring to the fridge to cool completely.
- To make the choux pastry, heat the water and the butter in a saucepan. Again, just until simmering point and just long enough to melt the butter. Take the pan off the heat, then add the salt and the flour. Mix with a wooden spoon to combine and get rid of all of the lumps, then put back onto the heat. The mixture will look curdled and one big lumpy mess, but that is fine. Beat it with the spoon for about 2-3 minutes. This will ensure the pastry is dried out and absorbs the eggs later. To check your pastry is of the right consistency, try tilting your pan as if you were to ‘pour’ the pastry out. If the pastry sticks together in a big lump, then it’s ready. Transfer to a big bowl and spread it out with the spoon, then leave to cool.
- Heat the oven to 200C and line two small trays or one big one with parchment.
- You don’t want to add the eggs until the pastry has cooled to at least body temperature, otherwise they will scramble. Keep the eggs in a jug/bowl and lightly whisk/beat them together. Keep your wooden spoon at hand and start adding the beaten egg little by little (here’s why a small jug is handy), then beat the mixture together until fully combined. The pastry will look like it’s breaking into small lumps at first, but don’t give up and carry on. You will see the pastry gets slightly slacker with each egg addition. Keep on adding a little bit of the egg at a time and fully mixing that in before adding some more (you might not need to use it all) until the pastry becomes a shiny dough that just falls off the spoon when slightly shaken. Some French pastry chefs say to spoon some pastry and tilt the spoon towards the bowl: if the pastry/dough falls into the bowl and leaves a triangle-shaped trail onto the spoon, then it’s ready. Others say to check whether the spoon leaves a trail in the dough while mixing. I honestly use the triangle method. I also find it’s better to have the pastry slightly on the dry side, otherwise if it’s too wet the choux buns will flatten during baking.
- Transfer the choux pastry to a piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle, then pipe 3cm blobs onto the baking sheet(s). I managed to get exactly 13 on each small tray. Make sure you leave plenty of room in between the choux mounds as they will rise during baking. Remove the craquelin sheet from the freezer and gently peel off the small discs, then place one on top of each choux mound and gently press them in place. Bake the choux buns for a good 30 minutes and NEVER open the oven, otherwise you will deflate the buns. The choux buns need to be slightly dark in colour and should not have light or pale cracks/wrinkles on them.
- Remove the choux buns from the oven and leave them to cool slightly. I normally sacrifice one by cutting it in half and checking it is well baked inside – if it’s not, they go back in the oven for an extra 5-10 minutes. Leave to cool completely.
- Gently heat the blueberry jam in a small saucepan until melted, then press through a sieve to get rid of any bits/seeds. Allow the sieved jam to cool completely.
- Whip the double cream until soft peaks from. Don’t overwhip it or it will be very hard to pipe and it won’t look as nice. Mix half of the whipped cream with the pastry cream (which should have completely set), then add the ground hazelnuts and crushed amaretti biscuits. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a big plain nozzle. Mix the remaining cream with the now cooled blueberry jam, which will tinge the cream a lovely lilac, then transfer to a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle.
- To assemble the cakes, take the choux buns and use a serrated knife to cut a 3cm round hole at the top, through the craquelin. Discard the tops you have removed. Pipe the pastry cream inside each choux bun, right until the top. Now take the lilac cream and pipe a nice swirl on top of each filled choux bun, then place a blueberry in the middle. Serve and enjoy!