Monday, March 03, 2008

Sleight of Hand: Profiteroles

In the culinary realm, some people prefer to do easy things. Some prefer to do hard things. I’m on the fence there—I like to do easy things, obviously, because it generally means I get to eat sooner. I also like to do hard things, mostly just to see if I can. What l like best is to do easy things that turn out a product that looks like it was hard to make.

Thus it was that this weekend I made profiteroles for dessert.

Profiteroles are just puffed up dough filled with ice cream, and drizzled with sauce. The combinations of ice cream and sauce are pretty limitless, restricted only by your imagination. In this case, I used a recipe from the March Gourmet for Profiteroles with Coffee Ice Cream with Chocolate Sauce. Instead of coffee ice cream, however, I used Bailey’s Irish Cream flavored ice cream.

The chocolate sauce is a pretty standard one, made by caramelizing sugar, adding heavy cream, chocolate, and a shot of cognac. It’s deep and velvety and complex, and would make a fabulous go-to recipe for chocolate sauce any time chocolate sauce is needed (daily? Hourly?)

The part that makes this recipe look so tricky is the cream puffs. Too daunting, just can’t do it. No indeed, I promise they are the easiest things in the world.

After making the dough, you pile it all in a pastry bag…

Hold it—you lost me. I don’t have a pastry bag.

No problem, use a plastic bag with the corner cut off. Pipe the dough into little mounds…

That word “pipe”: sorry. No piping.

That’s OK, there’s another way. Take two teaspoons out of the silverware drawer. Scoop up a ball of the dough just a shade smaller than a ping pong ball. Plunk it on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Bake. Remove from oven. Marvel that these look like restaurant-quality cream puffs—golden and crisp and airy. Allow to cool slightly, then continue with recipe. Serve to guests who will think you are amazing for having made something so hard.

The wonderful thing about these puffs is that because they don’t have sugar in them they can play both sides of the field, as it were. Filled up with something savory, they could make an appetizer or starter, or something nice to have with drinks. Again, the possibilities are limited only by the imagination. Creamed mushrooms with thyme, sautéed onions with some crisp chopped bacon, even the makings of a cheese ball. They can be made large or small, depending on their use. The first time I made them I made them small, and I used the teaspoon method, and I made them savory. I’ve also used this dough spread out flat on a sheet of parchment paper as a base for a sort of pizza. It works well that way, too.

The only part of the recipe that may be slightly panic-inducing the first time around is when the eggs are added. I looked at the slippery, slimy dough I had created and wasn’t sure this was going to work out. I kept stirring, and eventually the egg was incorporated in, and the dough became shiny and smooth, just as I was promised. And they turned out to be stunning. I’ve never looked back.

Profiteroles with Bailey’s Irish Cream Ice Cream
adapted from Gourmet, March 2008
serves 6

For profiteroles
1 quart Bailey’s Irish Cream ice cream
3/4 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs

For chocolate sauce
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
7 ounce fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (no more than 60% cacao if marked), finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon Cognac or brandy (optional)

Make profiteroles: Chill a small metal baking pan in freezer. Form 18 ice cream balls with scoop and freeze in chilled pan at least 1 hour (this will make serving faster).

Preheat oven to 425°F with rack in middle. Butter a large baking sheet.

Bring butter, water, and salt to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, stirring until butter is melted. Reduce heat to medium, then add flour all at once and cook, beating with a wooden spoon, until mixture pulls away from side of pan and forms a ball, about 30 seconds. Transfer mixture to a bowl and cool slightly, 2 to 3 minutes.

Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well with an electric mixer after each addition.

Transfer warm mixture to pastry bag and pipe 18 mounds (about 1 1/4 inches wide and 1 inch high) 1 inch apart on baking sheet.

Bake until puffed and golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes total. Prick each profiterole once with a skewer, then return to oven to dry, propping oven door slightly ajar, 3 minutes. Cool on sheet on a rack.

Make chocolate sauce: Heat sugar in a 2-quart heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring with a fork to heat sugar evenly, until it starts to melt, then stop stirring and cook, swirling pan occasionally so sugar melts evenly, until it is dark amber.

Remove from heat, then add cream and a pinch of salt (mixture will bubble and steam). Return to heat and cook, stirring, until caramel has dissolved.

Remove from heat and add chocolate, whisking until melted, then whisk in vanilla and Cognac (if using). Keep warm, covered.

Serve profiteroles: Halve profiteroles horizontally, then fill each with a ball of ice cream. Put 3 profiteroles on each plate and drizzle generously with warm chocolate sauce.


Anonymous said...

WHY do I ever look at your site when I am hungry? Now I want cream puff dough. some with cheese and olives and things. Some with chicken salad. And profiteroles for dessert. Can we float the profiteroles on a lake of chocolate sauce? Arrange them under a chocolate fountain? Put the sauce in the pastry bag and pipe it directly into my mouth? I am SO drooling right now.


TD said...

I dunno, but I do the same thing (with my own site and others). I still have enough chocolate sauce left to make a LOT of profiteroles. Crap, now I want them! Let's see...dinner tonight--cream puff dough filled with ice cream! My kids will be thrilled. :)