Chouquettes are little puffs of choux pastry, sprinkled with coarse sugar.
They can be bought by the weight in French bakeries, in a thin bulging paper bag. When you’re a kid, the best part is eating the sugar cristals that have collected at the bottom of the bag when the last of the chouquettes has been devoured. The proper way to do this is lick your index finger and gently pick up the cristals (be warned, you may have to fight your sister for them), until the sugar is crushed too finely and you give up, then just pour the remnants directly into your mouth, shaking the paper bag to get it all.
Chouquettes are also one of my boyfriend’s favorites, and he can tell you which bakeries around his office or in our neighborhood have reached the best standards in quality chouquettes.
When you’re a kid, the best part is eating the sugar cristals that have collected at the bottom of the bag when the last of the chouquettes has been devoured.
Having recently, and to my great delight, found a bag of the special coarse sugar that chouquettes require, Saturday afternoon found me happily setting forth on the project of making my own sugar puffs, sort of following the recipe given by this great cookbook Maxence (who knows me oh-so-well) gave me for my birthday last year, called “Les Gâteaux de Mamy” (Grandma’s cakes). I say “sort of” because I did compare this recipe with others I found on the web, and changed a few things around based on their recommendations, like I usually do.
The first batch was submitted to the test of the in-house expert, who declared them yummy. He did say they were a little moister and eggier tasting than bakery-bought chouquettes, and I decided that this was because they were a little undercooked, as our oven seems to run a little colder than it says (note to self, buy an oven thermometer, find out if this is true and quit complaining). Some websites recommended to leave them to cool down a little in the turned off oven, but I am Jack’s lack of patience, and I couldn’t resist taking them out right away, which did cause them to deflate a little (no incidence on taste, of course, just looks).
So the second batch was baked at a higher temp and for longer, leaving them inside for a little while this time. (The instructions below reflect this method.) This batch turned out to be just what our tastebuds hoped for : slightly crusty yet tender little pillows that melt in your mouth, contrasting with the delicously crunchy sugar cristals.
UPDATE 1. Below is a revised recipe, as it appears in Clotilde’s Edible Adventures in Paris, my book on Paris restaurants and food shops.
UPDATE 2. I have slightly improved upon the recipe with a couple of tricks: I now sprinkle the baking sheet with pearl sugar so the chouquettes are more evenly studded, and I brush the raw chouquettes with a sugar syrup to form a slight caramelized crust on top, and help the pearl sugar adhere.
- 6 tablespoons (75 g) unsalted butter, diced
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 tablespoons (25 g) sugar
- 1 cup (140 g) all-purpose flour, sifted
- 4 eggs, at room temperature
- Pearl sugar for sprinkling (see note)
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons water
- Make sure you have all the ingredients measured out before you start.
- Combine the butter, salt, sugar, and 1 cup (240 ml) fresh water in a small saucepan, and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat, add the flour all at once, and stir quickly with a wooden spoon until well blended. Return the pan over medium-low heat and keep stirring until the mixture forms a smooth ball that pulls away from the sides of the pan.
- Let cool for 3 minutes. Add the eggs one by one, stirring well after each addition. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes, or up to a day; you have just made choux pastry.
- Make the sugar syrup: combine the 2 tablespoons sugar and 2 tablespoons water in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over high heat, lower the heat to medium, and simmer for 1 minute. Set aside to cool.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Sprinkle pearl sugar evenly on the prepared sheet. Remove the batter from the fridge and use two teaspoons - or a piping bag fitted with a plain tip - to form small balls of batter, about the size of a walnut, that you will plop on the prepared sheet, leaving an inch of space between them. Brush with the sugar syrup using a pastry brush, and sprinkle with pearl sugar. (There will be some unused pearl sugar on the sheet, but don't worry about it now; you can collect the grains after baking and reuse them for another batch.)
- Bake for 20 minutes, until puffed up and golden brown (never ever open the oven door during the first 10 minutes of baking). Turn off the oven, open the door just a crack, and leave the chouquettes in for another 5 minutes to prevent a temperature shock, which would cause them to deflate.
- Transfer to a rack and let cool completely before serving. Keep any leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature, and reheat for 5 minutes in a 300°F (150°C) oven to restore the original texture.
Pearl sugar -- sucre perlé in French, and available at G. Detou in Paris -- comes in coarse, lentil-sized nuggets that remain crunchy when baked. It sometimes goes by the name of nib sugar, and can be purchased wherever cake-decorating supplies are sold, in Scandinavian shops (the Swedish call it pärlsocker), or online.
If you can't find it, crush sugar cubes in a sturdy storage bag using a rolling pin or a meat mallet; you may find this quite relaxing. Alternatively, use a coarse sugar, such as Demerera or Turbinado, chopped caramelized nuts, or chocolate chips.