Profiteroles might just be the most perfect dessert in existence: crisp, tender, and airy pastry encasing cold, creamy ice cream and napped by dark, luxurious chocolate sauce. Unfortunately, perfect profiteroles are often enjoyed only in the abstract, as those served in many restaurants are stale and indelicate, with a texture somewhere between damp cardboard and Styrofoam.
The challenge is the profiteroles’ base: pâte à choux. This is the most basic French pastry and is made with just a few simple ingredients, and it bakes up into light, airy, well-puffed pastries with a delicately crisp crust. But beware the pitfalls of bad pâte à choux. The dough will spread on the baking sheet if too soft, and it may not rise properly. It may bake up lopsided, it is subject to collapse after baking, and finally, the most common problem, it can turn soggy as it cools. Scared? Don’t be. Our simple recipe and failproof procedure will help you make profiteroles like a pro.
1. Pipe the pâte à choux into evenly sized 1½-inch mounds on the prepared baking sheet.
2. Use a wet finger to even out the shape and smooth the surface of the piped mounds.
3. Once the pastries are baked, cut a ¾-inch slit into the side of each puff to release the steam. Return the pastries to the oven, turn the oven off, and prop the oven door open with the handle of a wooden spoon. Let the pastries dry until the center is just moist (but not wet) and the surface is crisp, about 45 minutes.
4. Scoop the ice cream onto a chilled parchment-lined baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and freeze until firm.
5. Use a paring knife to split the pastries about ⅜ inch from the bottom.
6. Arrange the pastry bottoms on individual serving plates or a large serving platter and place 1 scoop of ice cream on top of each pastry. Lay the pastry tops over the ice cream and press lightly to secure. Drizzle with warm chocolate sauce before serving.
WHEN GOOD PROFITEROLES GO BAD
It’s important to bake pâte à choux pastries until they are browned and firm. If they are removed from the oven too soon (when browned but still soft, as shown on the left) they will collapse as they cool and have a dense, tough texture.
Want to try it for yourself? Check out our Profiteroles recipe for free through January 17, 2013.