There comes a point in every baker’s life when she realizes that she has to get professional help. No, not therapy (although one would call my baking obsession a little . . . intense), but instruction. See, while I’ve had a great deal of fun in my kitchen, trying different recipes and obsessively reading through my cookbooks, I’m at the point where I just want someone more experienced to tell me how to do it right. So I signed up for a 20 week baking and pastry course at L’Academie, the culinary school up in Maryland. It’s a three hour (ish) class once a week, instructed by Chef Mark Ramsdell.
For our first class, we made pate a choux – the incredibly versatile dough that’s used for cream puffs, eclairs, profiteroles, and countless other French pastries. It’s one of those simple doughs that’s difficult to do well – just butter, milk and/or water, flour, salt, and eggs. You bring the butter, water and milk to a boil, add the flour that’s been mixed with salt, and mix everything together to form a thick paste. After cooking the paste over the heat for a minute or so, you dump the paste into a mixer and beat in the eggs. If done right, the dough should be soft enough to pipe in any shape you desire, but still have enough structure to hold its shape.
I’ve made choux paste at home a couple of times to try to cement what I learned in class – well, that and refine my rather poor pate a choux piping skills. My friend Kristen graciously agreed to host by birthday party this weekend (my actual birthday is today), hosted by one Kitty Hagan, who was a fabulous hostess – thank you Kitty!), and brought the fruit of my labors – mini puffs, filled with a mixture of bittersweet chocolate and Nutella.
I’m still writing up the recipe for this one, so you should find it here tomorrow. In the meantime, I’ll try to fill you in on what I’m learning in class.