French connection

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 August, 2011, 12:00am


Most of us are familiar with pate a choux, the dough used to make profiteroles, cream puffs and eclairs. When baked, it rises into an airy, hollow puff. When fried, it makes the most ethereal of doughnuts: beignets souffles. I like to serve them in a large pile, lightly dusted with icing sugar, alongside bowls of fillings such as pastry cream and jam. Diners can break the fried puff in half and add whatever they want to each mouthful.

Beignets souffles (pictured)

This recipe is based on one in The Sweet Spot: Asian-Inspired Desserts, by Pichet Ong. As with any pate a choux recipe, the amount of egg required depends on factors such as how long it's cooked in the saucepan (which makes it drier) and how much steam is released when it's mixed.

120ml whole milk

150ml water

120 grams unsalted butter

40 grams condensed milk

1/4 tsp fine sea salt

160 grams bread or plain (all-purpose) flour

Five to six large eggs, at room temperature

Oil, for frying

Icing sugar, for dusting

Put the milk and water in a medium-sized saucepan and add the butter, condensed milk and sea salt. Place over a medium flame and heat until the mixture boils. Add the flour all at once and stir immediately so it is evenly moistened. Turn the heat to low and stir the mixture constantly until it forms a rough mass that comes away from the sides of the pan. Stir constantly over low heat for about a minute. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and stir for two to three minutes to release the steam (it's possible to do this with a wooden spoon and a strong arm, but it's much easier with an electric mixer). Add four eggs one by one, letting each incorporate fully before adding the next. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the bowl between additions. Check the consistency: if the dough is very stiff, add the fifth egg. Check the consistency again: the dough is ready when it's smooth and shiny, and forms a peak when you touch the surface with your fingertip and lift it. If it's too stiff, beat the sixth egg and add it a little at a time until the consistency is right. If you don't want to fry the dough immediately, press a sheet of cling-film directly onto the surface, to prevent a crust from forming.

Pour oil to a depth of about 4cm in a pan and place over a medium flame. Heat to 180 degrees Celsius. Dip two teaspoons into the oil and let the excess drip off. Use one to scoop up some of the pate a choux mixture. Use the second to help to shape the dough into a ball of about 2cm, and gently slide into the oil. Repeat with more of the batter, leaving enough room in the pan so they have space to puff up. Fry for about three minutes, adjusting the heat so they don't cook too quickly or slowly. If the puffs are round enough, they should turn themselves over about halfway through cooking. Break open one fried puff and check the inside - it should be moist but not doughy. If it's too wet, cook the others longer. Drain on paper towels then pile on a plate. Use a fine sieve to dust with icing sugar then serve warm with pastry cream and your choice of jam.

Pastry cream

This recipe is based on one in Mastering the Art of French Pastry by Bruce Healy and Paul Bugat.

2 large eggs, at room temperature

2 large egg yolks, at room temperature

125 grams granulated sugar

1/4 tsp fine sea salt

35 grams flour

35 grams cornstarch

500ml whole milk

1 vanilla bean

50 grams unsalted butter, chilled

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the eggs, yolks, sugar, sea salt, flour and cornstarch until smooth. Put a fine sieve over the bowl and set aside.

Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape out the tiny black seeds. Put the seeds and the scraped-out pod into a saucepan and add the milk. Bring to a simmer over a low flame then remove from the heat. Add a ladleful of milk into the egg mixture and whisk; repeat this twice, and whisk well after each addition. Pour the mixture in the bowl into the saucepan and whisk well to combine. Place the pan over a low flame and whisk constantly until the mixture is thick and doesn't taste of raw flour (about four minutes). Scrape the mixture into the sieve and use a rubber spatula to force it through into the bowl. Add the butter and, when it's melted, whisk it in. Let the pastry cream cool to room temperature, whisking frequently, then cover with cling-film and chill.

Styling Nellie Ming Lee