Dinner in Paris generally starts at 8 pm, especially in restaurants, and I get ravenously hungry between lunch and dinner.
Parisians do dine rather late – often not until 9:30 pm or later, and that’s an awfully long stretch. So French people visit their local pâtisserie for an afternoon snack, known as le goûter, although nowadays Parisians often call it le snack.
Le snack is often nothing more than a buttery financier or a tender madeleine. At home, French children at home are often given a split piece of baguette with a bar of dark chocolate tucked inside to keep them happy until dinner.
But my snack of choice is invariably les chouquettes: Cream puffs covered with crunchy nuggets of sugar, then baked until golden-brown. The eggy, pillowy puffs are piled uneventfully behind the counter and sold in crisp little paper sacks, each one holding about 100 grams, or about 10. I found that engaging the counter person in a few words of niceties will often mean that before the ends of the bag are twisted shut, an extra puff will be tossed in as a little gift for l’américain.
Nothing is easier to make than chouquettes and you can bake them right with ingredients you likely already have on hand. The only thing you’ll need to find is pearl sugar, which gives the puffs their signature crunch. Some tell me you can buy it at Ikea stores, or you can find it at King Arthur or on Amazon. If you have sugar cubes, you can crush those up into rough chunks and use those, although they’re not quite the same. And if you’re like me, and like chocolate, you could press some chocolate chips into a few of the puffs before baking.
This is one of my favorite of all French snacks and I can polish away a whole bag, or tray, in no time. These are best made and eaten right away, or later the same day – if they last that long!
From The Sweet Life in Paris (Broadway Books) Shaping the mounds of dough is easiest to do with a pastry bag, although you can use two spoons or a spring-loaded ice cream scoop.
1 cup (250ml) water
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
6 tablespoons (90g) unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
1 cup (135g) flour
4 large eggs, at room temperature
Glaze: 1 egg yolk, mixed with 1 teaspoon milk
Pearl or Crystal sugar (Pearl sugar is available in the US from King Arthur and on Amazon. In Paris, I buy mine at G. Detou.)
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees (220 C.) Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. (Depending on the size of your baking sheets, it may take two.)
2. Heat the water, salt, sugar, and butter in a small saucepan, stirring, until the butter is melted. Remove from heat and dump all the flour in at once. Put the pan back on the heat and stir rapidly until the mixture is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the pan.
3. Allow dough to cool for two minutes, then briskly beat in the eggs, one at a time, until smooth and shiny.
4. Using two spoons, scoop up a mound of dough with one spoon roughly the size of an unshelled walnut, and scrape it off with the other spoon onto the baking sheet. You can also use a pastry bag fitted with a plain 1/2-inch tip and pipe them.
5. Place the mounds evenly-spaced apart on the baking sheet(s). Brush the top of each mound with some of the egg glaze then press pearl sugar crystals over the top and sides of each mound. Use a lot. Once the puffs expand rise, you’ll appreciate the extra effort (and sugar.)
6. Bake the cream puffs until puffed and well-browned, about 25 to 30 minutes. If they get too dark midway through baking, lower the heat of the oven to 375ºF (190ºC) and continue baking.
(If you want to make them crispier, you can poke a hole in the side with a knife after you take them out of the oven to let the steam escape.)
Storage: The cream puffs are best eaten the same day they’re made. Once cooled, they can be frozen in a zip-top freezer bag for up to one month. Defrost at room temperature, then warm briefly on a baking sheet in a moderate oven, until crisp.