As we don't serve meat chez Chateau Forkful I feel dutybound to ensure that the final course (cheese always before pudding if it's going to be served) offers a richly satisfying end to the meal. Tiramisu often makes an appearance on a menu, as do dense flourless chocolate cakes served with lashings of creme fraiche or thick double cream. For a recent Friday night supper party I decided to make some choux buns filled with creme patissiere lightened with whipped cream and covered in burnt sugar. They were a big hit and also came in handy the following morning when making breakfast with a rampant hangover was an impossibility.
This recipe serves 8 to 10 people.
For the choux buns
180ml of water
180 ml of whole milk
180g of unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon of salt
180g of flour (sifted twice)
6 large eggs
Preheat your oven to between 200 and 220 degrees, depending on how hot it gets. Position one rack in the top third of the oven and another on the bottom third. Line two baking trays with greaseproof paper.
Bring the first four ingredients to the boil over a medium heat. When the butter is melted tip in the flour and stir vigorously until a dough forms. Continue to stir for 1 to 2 minutes more, until a film forms on the bottom of the pan. Put the dough in a large bowl and leave it to cool for a few minutes. Give it a prod now and again. When it has coolled a little add the eggs one by one. You will need to stir it very well after each egg: the mixture will look like a curdled mess, but some serious elbow grease should see that it all comes together to form a smooth and shiny dough. Put teaspoons of the dough on to the greaseproof paper, about an inch and a half apart. You can neaten the dough by shaping it with a wet finger.
Bake the puffs for 15 minutes. Reverse the baking sheets and reduce the temperature to 180 degrees. Bake for a further 30 to 35 minutes. You want the puffs to be deep golden brown and dry. If they are not sufficiently cooked through the finished dish will go soggy in a matter of minutes.
For the creme patissiere filling
300ml of whole milk
100ml of double cream
6 egg yolks
90g of caster sugar
30g of plain flour
30g of corn flour
One vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped out
300ml of double cream, whipped
Place the milk and 100ml of cream in a saucepan and bring to steaming point. Cream the eggs and sugar together in a bowl and then mix in the flours. Add the vanilla seeds to the milk and cream mixture, and then pour the whole lot on to the eggs in a thin stream, whisking as you go. Return the mixture to the pan and cook over a low heat until the mixture bubbles and makes a smooth, thick cream. (I had a hairy moment when it looked as though I had over-cooked it and had made scrambled egg a la patissiere - some vigorous whisking got me back on track, so fear not.) Taste to make sure that the flour is cooked. If the mixture looks as though it is getting too thick but still tastes a bit floury, add a little cold milk or cream and keep stirring.
When the creme is cooked, transfer it to a bowl and press some greaseproof paper on to its surface. This will ensure that a skin doesn't form. Chill well (for at least two and a half hours).
When you are ready to fill your buns stir in the whipped cream. This is best done by adding one spoonful to slacken the creme patissiere and then adding the rest of the cream bit by bit.
Then, slice the tops almost entirely off the buns and fill generously with the creme.
For the burnt sugar
300g of caster sugar
Heat the sugar in a non-stick frying pan until it is melted and deeply golden. Then, carefully dip each bun into it (burnt sugar really burns so you may wish to use gloves for this bit. I tried to do it using a fork, but it made the operation much harder and much, much messier.). Position your buns either in a single layer on an enormous platter, or, as I did, in a mound on a plate or cake stand. The sugar will set hard making them fiendishly difficult to extract neatly, but it looks really dramatic and, after all, it's the taste that really matters once they're on each plate!