Once upon a time, in a land far away[i], this blog was a collection of whimsical anecdotes about baking and shooting. Somehow it has morphed into a general outlet for whatever my internal monologue is concerned with at the time – not least because I am shooting and baking vastly less than I used to. But despite the general downhill trend of baking experiences, a few weekends ago I attempted to bake for the first time this year. More excitingly, it was something I’ve never made before and have always wanted to try; choux pastry. Therefore, in homage to the heritage of After The First Frost (and because I’ve currently no more Tinder Tales to report to you[ii]) I present to you: My Guide to Profiteroles.
The Day Before
- Recipe & Ingredients
The day before you want to make your profiteroles, it’s a good idea to buy the ingredients. If you also have friends coming for Sunday lunch and expecting roast lamb, it’s not a bad idea to buy some lamb too, so head to Sainsbury’s with your wife[iii]. Definitely don’t write any form of shopping list. Once at the supermarket – and only once you are there – look up a recipe for profiteroles. Try to curb your impatience as the 3G coverage in the supermarket flickers in and out, before you realise there’s free Wifi available and get slightly over-excited. Once successfully plugged into the interweb, again Google a recipe for profiteroles. It’s obviously a very bad idea to look this up in advance, check which of the ingredients you have in the cupboard and write yourself a shopping list. It is far preferable to stand in Sainsbury’s trying to remember whether the Kilner jar of flour is self-raising or plain, and wondering what impact it would have on your profiteroles if it turns out you’re wrong. Do this therefore, and decide to risk it.
- Mental Preparation
Remember to put the cream and butter in the fridge once you get home, but leave the other ingredients out on the table, because it’s easier than trying to put them away. When a friend cancels the film night you had planned because he’s still unwell, poor thing, agree to go out for a quiet drink with your housematebestfriendwife to a local beer café after dinner. Have her mix a round of sweet Manhattans while you make dinner, and know that your subconscious is definitely thinking about profiteroles, somewhere in the background. As dinner is almost ready, mix up another round of Manhattans – this time to test whether you prefer a perfect one to sweet. Enjoy dinner, and when it turns out that you do prefer a Manhattan perfect, make a third to celebrate the fact while applying a little make up before you leave. End up in a deep discussion about bourbon with the very educated barman in the beer café, and instead of beer, end up trying two brand new bourbons: Elijah Craig and Basil Hayden’s (BH definitely won.) Fast forward to 1am, where your profiterole and Sunday-lunch-hosting prep should will be taking the form of you trying not to cry over the piano in a bar, distraught that you can’t play from memory the second half of that Bach piece you learned about a decade ago, and that your fingers are turning the opening waterfall of Debussy’s First Arabesque into a discordant tangle of fingers and wrong notes. It’s definitely because you can’t play the piano anymore and music has abandoned you; nothing to do with the booze. Make a mental note to be grateful tomorrow morning that the bar is closed at this hour of the morning, and only the lovely owner and his equally lovely daughter have had their ears subjected to the caterwauling coming from your hands.
- Rest Up
Steel yourself for the unbelievable cruelty that is telling your housematebestfriendwife that the two of you can’t go dancing at 1.30am. Her lower lip will wobble, the heartbreak will be blindingly evident on her face, but you will have to be firm. Even when her eyes fill with tears as she begs to find somewhere still open to dance, stay strong and call that taxi. (Spoiler: it’s fine, she won’t remember in the morning.) Bed at 2am will give you plenty of rest before profiterole-making duties.
On The Day
When your body clock kicks in and wakes you up too early, forgive it. On this occasion, you need to be up as your plan to clean the house on Saturday unfortunately fell by the wayside, and thus not only is there last night’s dinner and drinks mess to clear up, but a sitting room and kitchen to clean, lamb to prepare, and, of course, the all-important profiteroles. Lying in bed, drink some water and start plotting out your morning and how you’re going to get things done. Hear a groan from across the corridor as your housematebestfriendwife wakes up too. End up spending an hour sprawling on the bed, nattering together and to a friend on the phone, feeling thoroughly sorry for yourselves. Drink more water. Decide that any preparation can wait, and that coffee and breakfast take precedence. Head to a local Melbourne-inspired coffee shop for poached eggs on smashed avocado on sourdough, not forgetting the prosciutto and of course an incredible coffee. Sneak in a blueberry and lemon friand, because you can, and another cup of coffee. Decide to leave the café. Drink another glass of water. Fifteen minutes later, actually leave the café. Get back to the house just before midday, and don’t start panicking that no prep has been started. Your housematebestfriendwife will start the lamb, and you will definitely not start thinking about profiteroles. Instead, you’ll drink yet another glass of water and tidy the sitting room (read: throw anything that is looking messy up the stairs with the intention of getting it out of sight, but accept right now that you won’t get round to it, and the stairs will simply stay covered in stuff.) Try to ignore your churning stomach, and take two painkillers. No hangover here, promise.
When your first guest arrives, have a slight panic with your housematebestfriendwife about whether profiteroles are really the best idea, with less than two hours before you’re due to serve lunch and the veg and mint sauce not yet cooked or made. Dig out an old cookery notebook and use that and trusty Google to look up ‘easy chocolate mousse’. Rule this out completely when you see the words “chill for at least eight hours before serving.” Decide to stick to the original plan and make profiteroles; you know you have the ingredients (ignoring the mystery of the flour); enough time to make them is optional. Hangovers have a magical effect on the laws of time and space and will make it possible.
- The Method
While catching up with your friend, measure out the flour (plain? Self-raising? Only time will tell), sugar and a pinch of salt. In your hungover state, get excited to be using the bamboo salt pot you bought as a souvenir on a recent holiday to Australia, with its swivelling lid. Take a few moments to demonstrate this to your bemused friend. Alternately try to calm and ignore your housematebestfriendwife as she flaps around the kitchen panicking, and start the choux pastry. Melt the butter in the water and bring to a rolling boil. The recipe says wooden spoon – will silicon really make a difference? Decide it’s not worth the risk, and dig out a wooden spoon from somewhere. Hear someone say hello at the precise moment you tip the flour mixture into the saucepan. Utterly ignore the two new guests as you frantically beat the mixture with your wooden spoon. Beat, beat, beat, and feel better about not having done any exercise; this definitely is working the muscles in your right arm, and that’ll do for now. Continue to ignore your guests, and rely on the first guest to entertain the other two while your housematebestfriendwife gets drinks, and you start beating the eggs into the pastry batter. Remind yourself to breathe as the mixture starts looking a little like the pictures online. It’s a passable choux pastry, pre-baking at least. Encourage the guests to move through to the sitting room, speaking over your shoulder while still focusing on the pastry. Scoop the mix into a piping bag, and pipe little round dollops of mixture onto the baking tray. Realise you’ve no idea how much they will puff up – if at all – and prepare yourself that even if, despite all your thorough and rigorous preparation the day before – the baking goes well and the mixture rises, you might end up with a tray of profiteroles joined together like a batch of Hot Cross buns. Too late to worry about it now. Dampen your finger in a mug of water and push down the little pointy tops, and finally sprinkle a little water over the tray, because that’s what Google says to do.
- The Cooking
When cooking profiteroles, it is essential to put them into the oven at the exact temperature at which your leg of lamb is cooking, whatever that may be. Don’t panic about whether they will take on a flavour of roasted lamb and garlic; everyone loves a savoury, meaty note in their profiteroles. Move the lamb down a shelf and slide the baking tray into the top of the oven. Absent-mindedly wonder whether baking profiteroles are affected by opening and closing the oven door while cooking. Close said door. Set a timer for 15minutes.
Four minutes later, open the oven door to remove the lamb. Close the oven door.
Check the lamb, decide it needs longer.
Open the oven door, put the lamb back in. Close the oven door.
Accept a glass of prosecco, feeling your stomach turn slightly as you do so, and finally turn to greet your guests in the sitting room. After all, it’s only been half an hour since they arrived.
Moments later, excuse yourself again and dive back to the kitchen. Squeal loudly with excited pride when you see that against all odds, your beloved profiteroles have started to rise. Rejoin your guests.
Leave the guests again to check the profiteroles again. Still rising.
After a precise ‘little while’ go back and using a sharp knife, prick a hole in the bottom of each bun. Return them to the oven to dry out slightly.
Once you’ve removed them from the oven for the final time, collapse back on the sofa with your prosecco in hand, and enjoy official success.
After gazing lovingly at your little puffed up choux buns, make the caramel cream. Fill the piping bag, and find that the swirls of once-warm caramel have set a little and are blocking the nozzle of the piping bag. Said nah will then burst its seam on one side. Decide that the filling and drizzling with chocolate sauce is asking too much – after all, how can people be expected to believe your profiteroles rose if there’s cream filling up the lovely little air pockets? Put the caramel cream in one bowl, chocolate sauce in another, and proudly serve your guests Deconstructed Profiteroles. A filled profiterole is so very gauche; assembling them yourself is all the rage right now, don’t you know?
[i] Also known as Oxfordshire.
[ii] This is due to no more story-worthy online dates, rather than the result of a successful one.
[iii] In reality she’s my best friend and housemate, but if even her mother refers to you as her Wife, you kind of have to accept it. Maybe I’ll call her ‘housematebestfriendwife’ from now on.