Patrick was the pastry chef in the family. He was a little dyslexic and so he loved the precision of pastry recipes — if you follow the recipe exactly, pastry usually works. A few years ago, he made a Paris Brest for our Christmas dinner. The first few years we lived together, we had these great, impromptu Christmas dinners — one year, Patrick called me from the fancy butcher shop at the Stanford Mall and said “What do you think about Guinea Hens for dinner?” So Guinea Hens it was … The year of the Paris Brest, I was off doing last minute gift buying when Patrick, consulting his beloved Jacques Pepin, decided the Paris Brest looked good.
The first batch of pate choux, when he piped it into an oval on the cookie sheet, looked very unpromising. “This can’t possibly work,” he told me he thought and so he threw it out without even cooking it. When the second batch looked just like the first, he figured that must be what it’s supposed to look like, and so he put it in the oven. It puffed! Just like it was supposed to! Joy and celebration were ours that Christmas Eve as we ate the yummy pastry stuffed with pastry cream and frosted with a chocolate ganache.
Maryanne is doing Chrismas eve this year, and she asked me to bring something for dessert. At first, I thought I’d do a trifle — because it’s pretty, and I have a nice trifle bowl (hmm … Christmas Day?) and then I remembered Patrick doing pastry on Christmas eve. Maryanne is having an open house, and there will be too many people for a Paris Brest, so I thought I’d try a croquembouche. It’s festive. There’s a lot of it in little pieces, so it should work for a bunch of people. And because it’s pate choux, it’s sort of Patrick-like.
So, today I made the cream puffs. The first batch was sort of a problem — I forgot about the altitude. There are a few flat-ish puffs, but I figure they’ll be good for the base of the croquembouche. The second batch of pate choux I used a little more flour, and one fewer egg, and I put the dough in a baggie and cut the corner to use it as a pastry bag. They’re rounder, the second batch, and poofier. Clearly these are the star puffs that are going up on the top of the croquembouche where everyone can admire their fabulousness.
Tomorrow — the pastry cream, the filling of cream puffs, and the exciting new world of caramel! Think good thoughts for me that I don’t burn myself … I’ll try to take a picture of the finished croquembouche!