Madeleine Kamman — French chef, author and cookery teacher — is acclaimed for her superb recipes, many of which you won’t find elsewhere, and for her beautiful prose. Both celebrate the food French women have cooked in the home, giving it due recognition in a culture and profession that tends to privilege the French haute cuisine cooked by mostly male chefs in fine restaurants.
This profiterole recipe of hers is a stunner, achievable with excellent results at home while being worthy of a special occasion or especially good establishment. I’ve made these for many years from Kamman’s superbly useful and inspiring The Making of a Cook, and they get rave reviews every time. What makes them is the combination of praline crème chantilly filling, and a fine milk chocolate glaze. Madeleine Kamman developed the recipe, she says, to recreate the tastes remembered from a ski holiday in the Swiss alpine region of Pontresina. I’m usually disappointed when choux buns are filled with whipped cream instead of crème pâtissière, but I make an exception for the sweet roasted-nut and creamy hot-chocolate dreaminess of these. They’re in a different league.
There are a few steps to making them, but the praline can be made ahead and kept in a jar for some time, with the fortunate result that these delicious mouthfuls are no more effort than profiteroles filled with plain whipped cream.
Here’s the summary, with step-by-step instructions below: 1) Mix and bake the choux pastry into 36 little puffs. 2) Roast the nuts for the praline. 3) Make the caramel for the praline nut brittle, cool it until hard, and then pulverise it to a fine consistency in a food processor. 4) Lightly whip the cream and fold in the praline powder. 5) Fill the profiteroles with the help of a pastry tube. 6) Make a very simple milk chocolate glaze by melting a bar of the best with a little water. 7) Drizzle it over layers of the profiteroles to hold them together in an impressive mound.
A few tips may be helpful: 1) ‘Dry’ the choux paste on low heat before adding the eggs; this will evaporate excess water and make for lighter little cream puffs. 2) Whip the cream just until mounding, as it will get quite a bit stiffer as you fold in the praline and pipe it into the profiteroles; you want it to stay cloud light, not curdle into butter. 3) Roast the nuts until good and crisp and cool them before making the praline; 4) Use a very good milk chocolate that you love eating; and 5) If you make this dessert a few hours before serving, keep it refrigerated, but plan to take the out of the fridge about 30-45 minutes before serving so the consistency of the glaze and the cream are softer.
Adapted from Madeleine Kamman, The Making of a Cook, (Athenaeum, 1971)
Ingredients for the pâte à choux:
- 250ml (1 cup) water
- 115g (1/2 cup or 4oz) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 130g plain flour (1 cup sifted flour)
- 4 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Optional egg wash, made from 1 yolk and 3 tablespoons milk
Directions for pâte à choux:
- Heat the oven to 200C /400F and line two baking sheets with parchment.
- In a medium saucepan, heat the butter, salt and sugar in the water and bring briefly to a boil once the butter has dissolved.
- Immediately take the pan off the heat and add the flour to the water all in one go. Beat hard with a sturdy spoon until the mixture comes together in a ball.
- Return the pan to low heat on the stove top and ‘dry’ the paste by pressing and flipping it quickly against the sides and bottoms of the pan with the spoon or a flat spatula, for about 5 minutes. You’ll know the paste is dry enough when you begin to see some moisture escaping, or beads of butter oozing from the paste, and when a slight film has formed on the bottom of the pan. Set the pan off the heat to cool to lukewarm.
- When the paste is almost cool, add the eggs one at a time, beating vigorously with your sturdy spoon until the mixture first tightens, and then becomes smooth and shiny; it should still be stiff enough to support itself and not flop flat when it’s piped into rounds.
- Fill a pastry tube fitted with a large plain nozzle with the paste and pipe 18 small profiteroles about 1 inch in diameter onto each of the two trays, for a total of 36. Leave about 1 ½ inches between them to allow for expansion. Using a pastry brush, lightly paint them with an egg wash before baking if you like, smoothing out any peaks that formed when piping. This will add to their colour and strength.
- Bake the profiteroles for 20-30 minutes, turning once for even browning. They should be hard enough to hold their shape, and dark golden brown. Turn the oven off and leave the oven door open slightly to let them dry out further as the oven cools. This is an important step or the profiteroles will collapse on cooling. It is also helpful to turn them over when they appear done on top, to let the bottoms dry as thoroughly. Cool them on a cake rack where the air can circulate under them and prevent them from going soggy.
- When the profiteroles are completely cool, fill them with the praline crème chantilly using a pastry tube and plain round tip, and assemble them in three layers with the milk chocolate glaze (recipes below).
Ingredients for the praline powder: (This can be made well ahead; the recipe below yields more than you will need for the profiteroles pontresina, but it keeps well in jars for several days and is delicious on other cakes or ice cream — or keep some nut brittle intact to eat as is.)
- 400g (2 cups) sugar
- 185ml (¾ cup) water
- 230g (2 cups) roasted and cooled pecans or hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
Directions for praline powder:
- Put the sugar in a medium saucepan with the water, and slowly dissolve over medium-low heat until the sugar is completely dissolved, about 15 minutes. You can gently stir at this stage, but not when the syrup reaches the boil, otherwise sugar crystals will form that make your nut brittle grainy. If there are a lot of sugar crystals at the watermark in the pan, wash them down with a wet pastry brush to dissolve them.
- When the syrup is completely clear, raise the heat to medium-high and bring it to a boil. Boil until you reach the hard-crack stage (350F), which will be an amber caramel colour.
- Immediately remove the pan from the heat and add the roasted, chopped nuts and give them a swirl and gentle stir to mix through. Pour the molten mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment and let it cool completely until hard enough to break into manageable pieces.
- Pulverise the pieces of brittle in a food processor until very fine in texture, so no hard lumps of caramel or nut remain. Store airtight.
Ingredients for the praline chantilly cream:
- 700ml (2¾ cups) double (heavy) cream
- 225g praline powder (1½ cups, lightly packed)
- Whip the cream just until it is barely mounding. Fold in the praline powder and gently mix it well, but without going further than you need to, as the cream will stiffen further in the pastry bag.
- Fill a pastry bag fitted with a large, round tip. With the tip, gently press into the base of each profiterole and squeeze as much cream as will go in before it bursts out of the hole at the bottom.
- Begin layering the profiteroles into your serving bowl or platter as you fill them, doing one layer at a time so you can drizzle each layer with the chocolate glaze, which you should melt just before assembling the dessert.
Ingredients for the milk chocolate glaze:
- 200g (7 ounces) milk chocolate, or milk chocolate with almonds — the best quality you can get
- 3-4 tablespoons water
- With care, you can melt the chocolate with 3 tablespoons of the water in the microwave on a low heat setting. Give it 30 seconds, stir, and then another 10seconds at a time if needed. It may be sufficient simply to stir it well and let it finish melting in the residual heat. You can also melt the chocolate with the3 tablespoons water in a small saucepan set into a larger pan of simmering, not boiling, water, stirring frequently. Whichever method you use, take care not to burn or overheat the chocolate, or it will seize and become grainy and bitter.
- Add the remaining tablespoon of water, or a little more, if the glaze is too thick. It should be thin enough to drizzle, but not run. It will thicken as it cools, so if needs be you can reheat it for 10 seconds to make it more pourable, which is preferable to adding more water.
- Drizzle lightly over every layer and every profiterole. The balance is better if you don’t drown them in chocolate, but provide enough for every bite without a thick coat.
I’ve written about Madeleine Kamman recently on Wikipedia, as part of the ‘Wiki-Food (Mostly Women) Project’, a collaboration between the British Library and Oxford Food Symposium that is working with Wikipedia to redress the gender imbalance in its coverage with a focus on women in the world of food. See Felicity Cloake’s article on the project in The New Statesman. You can find all Madeleine Kamman’s wonderful books listed on Wikipedia now, along with an account of her fascinating, controversial, life. I’ve also written about her elsewhere, in “Slumped Dumplings, and other lessons from the kitchen“; and in the Books section of this blog.