These start with a pâte à choux, which sounds fancy and complicated but really isn’t. It was a recipe I was anxious (but excited) about doing, because I’ve never done anything with choux pastry before, but it’s the base of so many wonderful things (croquembouches, profiteroles, eclairs, beignets, etc.) that it’s a handy skill to have. Those are all desserts; this is supposed to serve as an hors d’oeuvre. We don’t generally do such things in this house (we haven’t had any guests yet because we’re still in the middle of barely controlled chaos), so I’ve been eating them as snacks. And as dinner. And breakfast.

They’re kind of addictive.

Anyway, the pastry is simple enough to put together. The key is that you have to be dedicated to doing it. You can’t just start it, then meander off to check your email or something. It’s simple but needs attention. Fortunately, it’s not a long process. In fact, it goes by pretty quick.

Butter, milk, water, and salt go into a pan and are brought to a strong boil. Flour is then dumped in, the heat is reduced, and everything is beaten rapidly together so that the dough dries out and becomes smooth and firm.

The dough goes into a mixing bowl, and you start adding eggs, one at a time. Beat terrifically as each egg goes in, incorporating it fully before adding another. Tough work at times, but it goes quickly.

See how nice and thick and shiny it is? This is what gets dropped on the baking sheets in tablespoon-fuls. Then, they go into the oven for a total of about 24-28 minutes.

And when they come out of the oven, they are all puffy and light and golden.

Aren’t they cute? These were actually supposed to be “mini” puffs, but I didn’t make them mini because . . . well, I have no reason, I just didn’t. Not all of them ended up so lovely and puffed. I put 18 into the oven first, but I had some batter left over, and I hate to waste anything that promises to be tasty. So I prepared another tray of them (about 8, I think) and let them rest while the others baked. The first batch puffed up in the oven, but as soon as I took them out, they began to deflate. I was a little disappointed, but they still tasted good, so I didn’t let it bother me too much. I just went ahead and threw the second batch in the oven.

And they came out perfect. Their puff held outside of the oven, and still does even after spending the night in the fridge. I may have baked them a minute or two longer than the first batch, but I’m not sure if that’s what made the differece. All I know is, it doesn’t matter what they look like if just Geordie and I are going to eat them. They are delicious.

Of course, they’re better when they’ve got something stuffed into them. Behold:

Herbed goat cheese mixed with cream cheese and heavy whipping cream. Let’s not even pretend this is in any way healthy.

That mouth-watering concoction got put into a pastry bag and then squeezed into the choux pastry puffs. This was pretty easy to do, though I can see why “mini” would have worked better here. It took me a few tries to figure out exactly how much cheese I was putting into the puffs. Some got not enough, others got gorged. The perfect puffs were easy enough to fill, but the flat puffs were a little trickier. But they all got filled and thus fulfilled their choux pastry destiny.

Seriously, I love these things. Just looking at them makes me hungry.

Since making them, I have been eating them non-stop. I ate one before I even put any goat cheese in them. I ate another while deciding what to do for dinner. I had had a plan, but the kitchen was now a mess, Geordie wasn’t feeling very well, and all I wanted to eat was goat cheese puffs. He ended up making some canned soup for himself. I sliced up a tomato and ate it with four more goat cheese puffs. Then I forced myself to stop, even though I could have eaten at least ten more before bedtime.

And now I’m having them for breakfast.

I can see myself making these again. Oh, yes. I want to stuff them with custard cream, which is what is generally done with them in Japan. There, they are called シュークリーム (shu kurimu), which sounds more like something you’d put on your leather shoes to keep them supple than something you’d want to eat. When I first encountered choux à la crème in Japan, it was explained to me (by a fellow foreign teacher) that the name was another weird example of mangled language – something to do with the cream looking like shoe polish or the like. It was a ridiculous explanation then, just as it is now. The French choux is pronounced shu. Apparently, this guy forgot that the Japanese adopt words from languages besides English.

Language points aside, the Japanese know what they’re doing. They sell shu kurimu the size of your fist, stuffed full of pastry creams of various flavors and sometimes coated in chocolate, making them a rounder, jollier version of an eclair. They are messy to eat and insanely delicious. And you can buy them anywhere. Including the local 7-11. But the best places to get them are at stores that specialize in them, like GinzaWest or Hirota or Beard Papa’s (yes, seriously).

Alright, so I doubt you’d ever see choux pastry stuffed with goat cheese in Japan, but you would certainly see choux pastry. And now that I know I can do that, it would be nice to see if I can bring shu kurimu back into my life!

It seems like these were popular all-around this week. To see how the other Doristas liked them, check out the links. And if you want to try them yourself, find a copy of Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table and have some fun with us!