Thursday, January 8, 2009
POLKAS AND CREAM PUFFS AND POLKAS....
And Cream Puffs............
Well ...yes... so I have a slight weakness for anything custardy and anything with pastry. That's because I like the combination of a buttery and not so sweet pastry combined with the gentle sweetness of a creamy custard as opposed to the glaring and painful sweetness of cakes filled and topped with rich, rich buttercream. And they're very pretty too. Most of the time anyway. And it brings back a flood of memories.
I remember, as a very little girl, clutching my father's little finger as I stumbled along, trying hard to keep up with him, as he strode across the street like he was trying to win a racewalk. Somehow it never crossed my father's mind that I was just under four feet tall and needed three steps to match his one. But our destination was a place that I always looked forward to as much as he did.
That little cafe, in George Town, had swing doors like those in cowboy saloons in cowboy shows that were screened on black and white television a long, long time ago. But those doors were painted a lovely pale green and as we pushed them open they would creak, and we left them flapping behind us.
Inside it was cool, as cool as the pale minty green that greeted us, and quaintly furnished, with tall-backed, worn, wooden benches, painted in that lovely pale creamy avocado green. Those benches, with their tall backs, faced each other across a table but they were also arranged so that they were back to back along the length of a wall. So if you sat in one cubicle you could not see the people in the next. They had the same arrangement done along the opposite stretch of wall and I think too that they had some fragile looking tables and chairs scattered in the middle.
I can't quite remember if the seats were cushioned but what I do remember vividly was the beautiful soft, pale green which at the time gave me the childish feeling that a gigantic tub of soft creamy green ice cream had melted, spilt and swathed the whole cafe in its gentle sweetness.
It seemed to me at the time too, illogically though, that it was because of the lovely creamy green that they were able to serve us the most wonderfully delicious, scrumptious and softest cream puffs that hid the most wonderful creamy custard filling inside. To me they were the best in the whole wide world. We would eat in satisfied silence, my father and I. My father finishing his cream puffs in seconds while I savoured each soft mouthful as I thumped my heels softly against the bench.
My father patronized that cafe whenever he yearned for a plate of cream puffs or chocolate eclairs with his ceaseless daily cups of tea after a day of lectures. And if I was lucky I went with him.
Cream puffs have been and still are my very favourite dessert sweet. And that little cafe with its swing doors in its wonderful creamy sweet-minty green with traces of our colonial past leaves in my memory the things that I attach to cream puffs and it will remain one of the most nostalgic childhood memories ever.
So I felt very very lucky one day, many years ago, when I discovered a recipe from a French cookbook, written by Eileen Reece for Marks and Spencer, that turned out those exact wonderful custardy filled puffs as I remember them. And since then I have made no other. It was and remains the puffiest tangible link to my childhood yet.
But what a surprise too that that very mixture for cream puffs and custard could be turned into one of the prettiest pastries that are a cross between cream puffs and a tart. They are called POLKAS. And they taste utterly delicious. Pate a chou (choux pastry), Creme patissiere (custard cream) and a Pate sucree (sweet pastry) combine to make this the most delectable tart I know. Another sweet pretty puffy pastry to my repertoire. And yours. But first the Cream Puffs......
The Recipe for Cream Puffs :
Choux Pastry :
5 oz flour
1/2 pint cold water (less 2 dessertspoons)
pinch of salt
3 oz butter
1/4 tsp sugar
Creme patissierie/custard cream :
4 egg yolks
4 oz castor cugar
1 1/2 oz flour
18 fl oz/500 ml milk
To mkae the choux :
Sieve flour on to folded paper and set aside. Put the water,salt, butter and sugar into a heavy based pan over a medium heat and bring to boiling point. When the butter has melted draw the pan from the heat, pour in the flour all at once and stir vigourously with a wooden spoon. Work the paste thoroughly until smooth, return the pan to the heat, working until the all moisture has evaporated and the mixture leaves the sides of the pan clean. Like so....
Add the eggs one at a time, working the mixture thoroughly in between each one. I used the machine for this. Beat the last egg seperately in a small bowl and add it gradually to the mixture to avoid making the mixture too liquid. When finished the mixture should be glossy and firm and supple.Leave to rest for 20 minutes.
Heat oven to 220 C. Line a baking sheet with non stick baking paper of butter and flour it. Drop small balls of the choux onto the baking sheet using two teaspoons shape into balls, well spaced out. Bake for about 15 minutes until well risen and golden brown and firm to the touch. Golden brown not brown as in the picture. I had forgotten to put the timer on and I over baked them :( Cool on a wire rack.
The filling :
In a large bowl beat egg yolks and sugar and flour until a smooth paste. Add the milk and continue beating until smooth. Strain the mixture into a heavy pan. Place over medium heat and cook stirring continuously until the mixture thickens which will happen rapidly.
Remove from heat and leave to cool completely.
Make a slit in the cream puff and using a teaspoon fill with the custard or alternatively make just a tiny hole and pipe in the filling using a piping bag and a plain nozzle.
THEN THE POLKAS :
Pate Sucree :
8 oz flour
4 oz butter
3 oz castor sugar or granulated sugar
pinch of salt
Cream butter and sugar until creamy. Add egg and beat until well mixed. Take it off the machine and fold in flour with a spatula. When it begins to stick together pour out onto a floured board and work the ingredients until it forms a ball using only your finger tips. Sprinkle flour if necessary. Refrigerate for 20 or 30 minutes until firm.
Make a quantity of choux pastry and custard cream as above.
Roll out the pate sucree to about 1/4 inch thick and cut intorounds using a 3 inch fluted cutter. Place on a lined baking sheet. Pipe the choux pastry in a ring along the sides of the rounds. The thickness of the ring should be that of a little finger). Cook for 20 minutes in 200 C oven. During the last 10 minutes check to see that the surface does not get too brown too fast. Cover with foil if necessary. Cool on a wire rack.
The empty Polka shells ......
To serve :
Dust each polka with icing sugar, fill with the custard cream and place 1/2 a teaspoon of granulated sugar in a heap in the centre of teh filling. Hold a metal kitchen fork with an oven glove over a high flame and when extremely hot place the back of the prongs of the fork on to the heap of sugar to caramelize it and colour it golden.