Kat of The Bobwhites was our August 2012 Daring Baker hostess who inspired us to have fun in creating pate a choux shapes, filled with crème patisserie or Chantilly cream. We were encouraged to create swans or any shape we wanted and to go crazy with filling flavors allowing our creativity to go wild!
Did you read that? Swans?
That's right. This month's challenge was not so much about the recipe (we'd made pate a choux before in the croquembouche challenge), and more about creativity. Which is awesome. In theory.
In practice, I am fully aware that the artistry of baking, the decorating and the steady-hand work... well... they're not my strong suit.
But little miss took one look at the pictures posted in this challenge and I knew I'd have to try it right away.
I started by making a half batch of the choux pastry, which actually comes together pretty easily. Water, salt and butter melted together in a pot, flour is mixed in and the mixture is cooked together. Then, removing the pot from the heat, eggs are beaten in.
Little miss loves playing the role of "electric mixer."
(ie: mixing really, really fast)
The resulting batter is thick and sticky.
And this is where the "easy" (for me) part ends. See, the next step is piping out shapes. The swan bodies are easy - pipe a roughly oval-ish shape.
Then comes the tricky part. The head and neck.
Kat told us to make a shape somewhere between a "2" and a question mark. Makes sense, right? Also requires a super steady hand. I watched a couple of youtube videos to increas my confidence, and then gave it a shot.
Not too shabby...
Using the half-batch, I was able to make seven sets of bodies/necks. Things got busy in the house, so I didn't pull the neck pieces out quite quickly enough (they cook much faster than the bodies), but when everything came out of the oven, I was decently encouraged.
Instead of making the classic pastry-cream style filling for my swans, I chose to make a dairy-free chocolate pudding, as we were bringing these creations to a play date with some friends, and we had some food allergies to work around. Little miss took over photography duties as I worked on the swan-construction.
(not too bad, huh??)
And then it was time to sit back and smile.
Oh my gosh - they actually looked like swans! How cool is that??
I had full well intended to try these again, even trying other shapes, but the month completely got away from me with *gasp* back-to-school preparation. Because today is little miss's first day of *gasp* first grade. How does this happen???
But these beautiful swans made her happy, were very fun to share with our friends, and proved to me that, while I am still no true artist, I can still make some cool looking treats. :)
Kat, thank you so much for this awesome, fun and creative challenge. I can honestly say that I never would have had the courage to try these without your inspiration!
To check out the other beautiful, fun and creative creatures baked up in the kitchen this month, check them out here.
Pate A Choux Pastry
(given recipe from the challenge)
(I halved the recipe)
½ cup (120 ml) (115 gm) (4 oz) butter
1 cup (240 ml) water
¼ teaspoon (1½ gm) salt
1 cup (240 ml) (140 gm) (5 oz) all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
Line at least two baking sheets with silicone mats or parchment paper, or grease pans well.
Preheat oven to 375°F.
In a small saucepot, combine butter, water, and salt. Heat until butter melts, then remove from stove.
Add flour all at once and beat, beat, beat the mixture until the dough pulls away from the sides of the pot.
Add one egg, and beat until well combined. Add remaining eggs individually, beating vigorously after each addition. Resulting mixture should be somewhat glossy, very smooth, and somewhat thick.
Using a ¼” (6 mm) tip on a pastry bag, pipe out about swan heads. You’re aiming for something between a numeral 2 and a question mark, with a little beak if you’re skilled and/or lucky.
Remove the tip from the bag and pipe out swan bodies. These will be about 1.5” (40 mm) long, and about 1” (25 mm) wide. One end should be a bit narrower than the other.
(note - the given recipe and instructions indicate that you should get 36 bodies/heads. My half batch yielded seven, a far cry from the 18 I'd expcted. Just make what works for you, trying to make sure you have heads for each body and bodies for each head!)
Bake the heads and bodies until golden and puffy. The heads will be done a few minutes before the bodies, so keep a close eye on the baking process.
Remove the pastries to a cooling rack, and let cool completely before filling.
Take a swan body and use a very sharp knife to cut off the top portion (between a third and a half).
Cut the removed top down the center to make two wings.
Dollop a bit of filling (prepared and cooled in advance) into the body, insert head, and then add wings.
Your first attempt will probably not look like much, but the more you make, the more your bevy of swans will become a beautiful work of swan art.