If I had to name one dessert as my “desert island dessert”, it would probably have to be profiteroles. It seems most people are abuzz with French macaroons these days (which I also adore) but, to me, the profiterole is what encapsulates a typically French dessert. There is something about the sweet custard encased in a soft choux pastry and then covered with a decadent chocolate sauce. Whenever I see it on a dessert menu, I often find it hard to resist, even if there might be many other more exotic desserts on offer.
Growing up in Brisbane, I remember eating profiteroles only on rare occasions when my French class and I would visit one of the few French restaurants in the area in an attempt to practice our clumsy French with the poor chef and waiter who probably had to put up with the same lame dialogue on a frequent basis. I often wondered if the Alliance Française or even the French Embassy collaborated with these few French restaurants to somehow facilitate unusually slow, clear and polite French with their customers.
Although these French restaurants were rather modest but served excellent food (such as Le Bressane in Stafford), the fact that it was French meant that I had a hard time convincing any of my friends to dine there with me. So desserts like profiteroles and crème brûlée were rare treats for me which I savoured until the next anxiously-awaited occasion.
Fast-forward to my adulthood and to the first dinner which my now-husband prepared for me during the early days of our courtship, either in an attempt to woo me or to prove that he had more impressive culinary skills. If he didn’t have me at hello, he certainly had me by dessert. Why? Well … he made profiteroles.
Yes, a guy actually made me profiteroles. From scratch.
I was beyond impressed that someone would even bother to make profiteroles at home and, at the same time, amazed that my future husband had made my favourite dessert without realising. And to top it all off (pardon the pun), he even made the chocolate sauce to go with.
What was rather surprising about dessert was that he had filled the profiteroles with vanilla ice-cream (shop-bought, thankfully). At the time, I quietly forgave him for not attempting to make a custard; the guy had just made choux pastry which even I had not attempted up until that time, so I couldn’t blame him for skipping the custard.
It was only (a bit) later that I queried him on why he served his profiteroles with vanilla ice-cream. His reaction was, at first, stunned silence.
Hubby: Why, profiteroles are only served with vanilla ice-cream. What else would you serve them with??
Me: Er … custard?
And so it seems that the French have a lot to laugh about when it comes to the rest of the world attempting their highly-evolved cuisine. It appears that, in France, profiteroles are traditionally only served with vanilla ice-cream and drizzled with dark chocolate sauce. Indeed, since this moment of enlightenment, this has has also been my experience in restaurants in France and other parts of Europe. Even at a recent meal at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon in Las Vegas, his exquisite profiteroles were served with cold, cold vanilla ice-cream.
For me, this has been a stark change to what I grew up knowing as profiteroles. I happen to prefer the custard-filling; I love the soft pastry against the unctuous custard with the bitter contrast of the dark chocolate sauce. With vanilla ice-cream, the profiteroles are less of a sweet treat and more of a proper, sit-down dessert. That said, I would never say no to a profiterole and would probably be happier to have an ice-cream filling if I was indeed stranded on a desert island.
I recently tried my hand at making profiteroles and was so wowed by my own effort that I quickly forgot the lengthy, yet relatively easy, steps in order to arrive at the finished product. After a quick research of all recipes for profiteroles I could find in my cookbooks, I settled on Nigella Lawson‘s recipe from How to be a Domestic Goddess; her recipe seemed the most instructive and less scary for a novice choux-pastry maker like me. My only deviation was to make a dark chocolate ganache instead of the toffee sauce.
I also toyed with the idea of making a plain custard instead of the burnt-sugar custard, but in the spirit of trying new things, I went with the latter. The custard is absolutely delicious and gives a toffee-sweetness that means you could probably do without the chocolate sauce if you don’t have a sweet tooth.
I found Nigella’s recipe to be fairly reliable. However, I did end up using my KitchenAid to beat the choux pastry rather than doing it by hand. And instead of baking the pastries for 15 minutes, mine took about 25 minutes even though they were quite small.
I served the profiteroles later that evening and they were wonderfully delicious (though, of course, not as good as my husband’s!). I had made so many that I even imposed a plateful on my neighbour downstairs.
As per Nigella’s recipe, I kept a few unfilled profiteroles in a Tupperware container but sadly found them to be too soft the next day. Hence, I think they are best eaten on the day they are made.
There are a few other recipes for profiteroles which I would love to try sometime soon (including Thomas Keller’s), so watch this space!