Chouquettes: French Cream Puff Recipe
Dinner in Paris generally starts at 8 pm, especially in restaurants. Most places don’t even open to take reservations until 7:30pm, at the absolute minimum. I once was talking to a visitor who was really upset as he recounted arriving 15 minutes early at a restaurant that he had reservations at for dinner. The staff was sitting down having dinner (how civilized!) and asked him to come back at 8, when the restaurant opened- which was the time of his reservation. He told me he threw a fit, not believing that they wouldn’t seat him, and stormed off.
Anyone who’s worked in a restaurant knows how precious those few minutes of sitting down and eating are. Those precious moments of peace and quiet with your co-workers are the last chance to get off your feet for a spell and have a bite to eat.
Parisians do dine rather late – often not until 9:30pm or later, and that’s a painfully long stretch between lunch and dinner. So French people often 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 bâton of 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 petit cadeau 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!