In the last couple of weeks, I decided with my mentor to make profiteroles, also known as cream puffs. For this post, I will only feature one dish since my mentor and I only met once. I chose to make this dessert with my mentor because I wanted to make something that required more technical skills. The base of profiteroles is used for many kinds of desserts, and it involves many techniques that can be applied when making other dishes. The base is called pâte à choux or choux pastry. Choux pastry is also used to make eclairs, another popular French pastry similar to profiteroles. Another reason why I chose to make profiteroles was because of the very simple ingredients it requires. It only requires butter, flour, water, sugar, salt, and eggs, all of which I already had.
Prior to meeting with my mentor, I had to do some independent research. I knew that profiteroles were going to be difficult to make, especially for someone with little to no baking experience. Knowing that it would be a challenge, I decided that I would look at recipe blogs and videos to see how each person made profiteroles. I discovered that despite the few ingredients it requires, there are many different ways of making them, each with small differences in the techniques used. I chose the recipe to follow based on recipes that followed similar instructions to other ones.
The process of making the profiteroles took longer than I thought. It was also a lot messier than I thought. One of the important processes of making profiteroles is to combine eggs to the dough, however mixing it by hand is a very strenuous process as the dough gets thicker very quickly. The amount of dough also makes the eggs hard to combine by hand. Normally, a stand mixer or food processor is used, however, I did not have either of those and the next best option was a hand mixer. The problem with the hand mixer is that the dough becomes so thick that it attaches to the whisk and begins to fly everywhere. Thankfully it didn’t take very long to mix so I only had to turn the hand mixer on for five seconds at a time. By estimation, the entire process from prepping to plating took about an hour and a half. It would have taken much longer if I also made pastry cream.
Normally, profiteroles are called cream puffs because they are typically filled with pastry cream. Pastry cream is a thick, sweet vanilla cream and is often compared with custard. I chose not to make pastry cream because it was too much to do for one day. In the future, I would like to make profiteroles with pastry cream for the full cream puff experience. Since I did not have the traditional filling, I just went with vanilla ice cream which is a popular alternative. Another popular alternative is also whipped cream, however, I went with vanilla ice cream for the taste.
There are quite a few steps involved in making profiteroles. First, you need to combine butter, water, sugar, and salt and bring it to a boil. This is so that an emulsion is created and the butter and water are not separated. Sometimes milk is used instead of water, or both milk and water are used, however, for the recipe I chose, it only used water. Butter is rich and creamy enough that I did not think adding milk was going to heavily affect the result. Then, you need to quickly add flour and immediately stir vigorously to create a dough that balls up. One of the techniques involved is drying out foods. In this case, it was a crucial step to dry up the dough as much as possible. Drying out food is done by slowly evaporating it with heat. I had to constantly stir on medium-high heat for about five minutes. A lot of recipes varied in time, however, I chose to do it for five minutes because there is no such thing as over-drying. Drying the dough as much as possible allows for the eggs to fully absorb into the dough, allowing for more rise and air in the profiterole. Next, is to combine the eggs slowly. Combining eggs one at a time is to ensure that the texture of the dough is correct. I learned that you can test the texture by grabbing dough between two fingers and stretching your fingers until the dough breaks and the tip just barely falls. Fortunately, the recipe I followed had just the right number of eggs so I did not need to worry about testing the dough.
This is what the dough looks like after drying it out fully. It develops a shiner coating, and the pan is covered in a thin film which is another type of indicator that it is dried out enough. This is also before adding the eggs and is in the process of cooling down so the eggs don’t cook when added.
The next step was the step that I had the most trouble with, which is piping. Normally, piping is not a difficult task but the piping bag that I was using was very thin and not plastic. The bag not being plastic made putting in the thick dough very difficult and very difficult to pipe. It did not pipe very nicely so getting a good and consistent shape for the profiteroles was difficult. Reflecting back to when I made crème brulée, I noticed then that my oven temperature was not accurate because the crème brulée was a little underdone. I had the same issue when making the profiteroles. It was not underdone, but the top did not look as golden as it should have. To fix this problem, I decided to purchase an oven thermometer to test the heat and see how much the temperature needs to be adjusted.
This is after the dough had been piped. The tips were flattened down and the dough was brushed with egg wash to encourage more colour.
Finally, the last step was to pierce the profiteroles so that the steam would not make the inside soggy, and to dip the tops in chocolate ganache. I learned that chocolate ganache is made with only chocolate and heavy cream, so I just adjusted the amount of chocolate and heavy cream to the texture that I wanted.
In the oven after fully cooked. Normally opening the oven door before the profiteroles are cooked is not allowed and will ruin the rise of them. This is only after they have been cooked and is in the process of drying out so that it does not get soggy right away.
This is the final result, after being dipped in chocolate. This is actually without the ice cream filling. To add ice cream as filling, it requires the profiteroles to be cut, ruining the look of them. Normally, they would be filled with pastry cream.
A little about choux pastry:
Choux pastry was invented in 1540 by Pantanelli in France. Pantanelli was an Italian chef who was the head chef of Catherine de Medici of Florence. It was originally named pâte à Pantanelli, but later changed to pâte à popelins, named after the dessert popelins. Popelins were made with a dough that was dried by evaporation, just like pâte à choux. The dried dough used to make popelins was called pâte à chaud, which evolved to pâte à choux. Some say the name choux comes from the cabbage-looking shape that the choux pastry becomes after being baked as choux is cabbage in French. Over time, chef Antoine Carme improved the recipe which resulted in the same recipe used to this day.
Questions to answer:
1. What has been your most difficult mentoring challenge so far? Why?
The most difficult mentoring challenge so far has been the involvement and clarifying expectations. Mentoring is a completely new experience for my mentor so it feels like he does not always know how to be involved and mentor me. Normally, a mentor would try and assign independent work outside of meetings and give more consistent feedback throughout the process. With my mentor, I do not get assigned any work and we usually only talk during the meetings that we have. So, any learning I want to do outside of meetings becomes mostly independent and the learning that I do with my mentor does not remain consistent. I think that my mentor may not hold the same level of enthusiasm for cooking as I do so he may see what he does as a mentor as satisfactory while I see it as the minimum. I hope as more experience builds and time continues to pass, I can do a better job expressing what I would like to see from him as a mentor.
2. What is working well? Why?
I find that the cooking has been going well. Everything that I have cooked up to this point has helped me develop my learning about French cuisine and cooking. Cooking the foods I have so far with my mentor has been insightful and fun, and the foods that I have been choosing to cook with my mentor have all been chosen to fit my level of skill. My mentor has been able to support me whenever I cooked or baked as well. I think leaving what foods to cook mostly up to me is a contributing factor to why all the cooking has gone well. Since it is about my learning, I know what I am able to make best and I am able to check with my mentor on what I would like to cook so that he is also prepared.
3. What could be working better? How can you make sure this happens?
I think I could be planning out scheduling meetings with my mentor better. I would like to have more frequent meetings because that gives me more flexibility in my choice of what I can cook. Some foods require multiple days to cook and exploring what resting or refrigeration does to food may be interesting. I originally planned to stick with having meetings bi-weekly on Sundays, however, that was only because that was a day that my parent’s restaurant kitchen was available. That is no longer a problem as we have meetings at my home instead which opens more dates for us to meet. To make this happen, I first must communicate with my mentor to see what his work schedule is like. He works full time so Sunday may be his only day off, however, I will be checking with him to see if any changes to our schedule can be made. I will also talk to him about meeting online sometimes. Since the commute for him is quite long, coming back and forth often may not be something he would like to do. I think that some foods don’t require much in-person support as others so having some online meetings on top of in-person ones will allow me to make more food.