For Chocolate Lovers only
 


Grand Prix

Tips: This is a dessert for a party—preferably an informal gathering, as it is not neat or tidy once you cut it. A giant cream puff is made in the shape of an oval track. After baking, it’s split, cooled, and filled with both chocolate pastry cream and whipped cream; a bit of chocolate sauce or syrup is drizzled on top as a final touch. May I suggest a very light meal beforehand?

Most pastry creams use flour as at least part of the thickening, but I don’t like the texture that results from this, so I use all cornstarch, technically making this pastry cream a pudding. For the chocolate, you must use a good-quality brand, but you have the option of playing with the flavor a bit. You can use all semisweet, a mixture of semisweet and bittersweet, or all bittersweet. The usual cautions about cornstarch-based puddings apply here: don’t overheat or overstir.

I have seen numerous recipes claiming that the pastry can be frozen after baking if you don’t want to use it immediately. In theory, you can split it as described in the recipe, remove as much of the uncooked pastry as possible, placing it in a sturdy container, and freezing it for up to 4 or 5 days. Defrost, still in container, before using. I have not tried this myself, however.

You’ll need an electric stand mixer to beat the cream puff pastry and baking parchment (also called parchment paper) for baking it. Once this is completed, it must be served immediately, and leftovers don’t hold up well. This is a project, but it’s a lot of fun to eat and, I think, to make. A nice alternative to traditional birthday cake.

Ingredients:

    Pastry Cream
  • 4 ounces good-quality semisweet OR bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (see Introduction)
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. plus 1-1/2 tsp. cornstarch
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 egg yolks, from eggs graded “large”
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
    Pastry
  • 1 cup minus 1 Tbsp. water
  • 1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into six pats
  • 1-1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 4 eggs, graded “large”, at room temperature (the eggs must not be cold)
    Cream
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 Tbsp. sifted confectioners’ sugar
    For Serving
  • Good-quality chocolate syrup or thin chocolate sauce ( I like to use Hershey’s Special Dark syrup)

 

Make the Pastry Cream first; it can be made up to 24 hours before the dessert is served; it must chill for at least 4 to 6 hours. Have ready a heatproof container of at least 3-1/2 cup capacity. Tear off a piece of plastic wrap large enough to cover this container with some excess on all sides. With the tip of a sharp knife, poke at least 12 holes or small slits into the plastic wrap; when the pastry cream is done, the plastic wrap will be placed directly on top of it to prevent a skin from forming, and the holes will let any steam or heat escape. Set both container and plastic wrap aside near stovetop. Place finely chopped chocolate(s) in small heatproof bowl. Place bowl over simmering water on low heat (water should not touch bottom of bowl); stir until almost melted. Remove from heat and hot water; dry bottom of bowl. Stir until melted and smooth. Set aside near stovetop. Have ready a fine strainer; set aside near stovetop.

Off the heat, in a 2 quart, heavy-bottomed, nonaluminum pot, combine sugar, cornstarch, and salt. With small whisk, blend well, eliminating as many lumps as possible. Set aside. In small bowl, combine egg yolks and about 1 Tbsp. milk (no need to measure); with fork, beat until well-blended. Add egg mixture to cornstarch mixture. Stir gently with whisk (do not beat) only until well-mixed. (At this point, it is optional to heat the remaing milk over low heat or in the microwave, stirring often, until it is very hot. You don’t have to do so, although it speeds the cooking of the pastry cream.) Gradually (very gradually if milk is hot) add milk to egg-cornstarch mixture, stirring gently and constantly with whisk. Place the 2 quart pot over medium heat; cook and stir gently until mixture comes to a boil. Just before the mixture boils, no matter how consistently you have stirred it, you’ll begin to see lumps rising to the top. Ignore them; the mixture should smooth out as it boils. Boil and stir for 90 seconds. Remove from heat. Immediately add melted chocolates, butter, and vanilla. Allow to stand for a minute or two, then gently and carefully stir these ingredients in until the pastry cream is a uniform color; it will be quite thick. Quickly strain through fine strainer into your selected heatproof container. Place prepared plastic wrap directly on top of hot pastry cream. Allow to cool briefly at room temperature, then chill until very cold and set, at least 4 to 6 hours.

For Pastry: You will need either one very thick baking sheet at least 15-1/2 by 10-1/2 inches, or you can use two thinner baking sheets of at least those dimensions. If you use the thinner baking sheets, stack one on top of the other; this will prevent the bottom of the pastry from overbrowning while it bakes. In either case, line the baking sheet (the top baking sheet if you’re stacking) with baking parchment. Using a pencil or black pen, draw an oval 12 to 13 inches long in the center of the baking parchment; all sides of the oval should be about 2 inches wide, and there should be about a 3 inch wide gap in the center of the oval between the two long edges closest to one another. Turn the parchment over so that these marking face down; you should still be able to see them through the parchment.

In a 1-1/2 to 2 quart, heavy-bottomed, nonaluminum pot, combine water, sugar, and salt. Place over medium heat; with large spoon, stir to dissolve sugar and salt, then stir occasionally until mixture boils. Add butter pieces; continue to cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture comes to a rolling boil. Remove from heat. All at once, add flour and stir in. When flour has been incorporated, place pot over LOW heat for 10 to 30 seconds, no longer, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.

Place spoonfuls of this paste into the small or large bowl of your electric stand mixer. If available, attach whisk beater. Now, cool the paste for 10 minutes; do not omit this standing time! (If paste is too hot when eggs are added, they might scramble.) Adjust rack to one-third up from oven bottom; preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

After 10 minutes, beat paste at a low speed for a few seconds to start it going. Add eggs one at a time, beating at a low speed until the first two are incorporated. Scrape down bowl and beater(s). Add remaining eggs one at a time, beating at medium speed after each addition until incorporated. When finished beating, the paste will still be thick, but it will be shiny and smooth. Remove from mixer.

By large spoonfuls, place paste within guidelines of oval, mounding it high. If any strays beyond your traced lines, gently push it back into place with a spoon or rubber spatula. It is helpful if the shape is relatively smooth and even all the way around, but don’t fret if it isn’t perfect.

Bake pastry in preheated 425 degree oven for 15 minutes. Without opening oven door, REDUCE HEAT TO 350 DEGREES F, bake 25 minutes longer. Reach in and rotate baking sheet from back to front. With the tip of a small, sharp knife, make 6 to 10 slits near the bottom of the pastry and parallel to the baking sheet. Re-close oven door; bake 10 minutes longer. The pastry should be well-risen and nicely (but not overly) browned, although after you slit it it may reduce in volume somewhat.

Remove baked pastry to cooling rack. Carefully slide the baking sheet(s) out from under the parchment, leaving the parchment with the baked pastry still on it on the cooling rack. Now, work with the pastry when it has cooled just until you can handle it gingerly—it should still be pretty hot. Using a very sharp, serrated knife and working parallel to the tabletop or work surface, slice off about the top third of the pastry; you may have to slice around the outside of the oval first, then the inside. Gently remove the top third of the pastry and transfer it to a second cooling rack, turning it upside down along the way. Using a small spoon, scoop out as much of the uncooked pastry filaments as you reasonably can from both the bottom of the oval and the top portion. Don’t scrape too deeply, or you’ll have large holes in the outer shell. You won’t be able to scrape out every last bit—OK. Now, the pastry must cool completely before it is filled (this won’t take long). While it cools, chill a small bowl and the beater(s) for a handheld electric mixer and sift the confectioners’ sugar for the heavy cream if you haven’t already done so. Ready a serving plate that should be at least two inches longer and wider than the outer dimensions of your oval; the plate should have shallow sides. Have ready your chocolate syrup or sauce, serving plates, forks, and especially napkins.

When the pastry has cooled completely, place the bottom oval on your serving plate. Remove your pastry cream from the refrigerator; stir gently to loosen slightly (it will remain very thick).

In chilled bowl with chilled beater(s), beat heavy cream at high speed until you can see definite traces of beater marks in the cream. Add the confectioners’ sugar. Beat it in at low speed. Return speed to high and beat until the cream holds very stiff peaks.

Working quickly now, spoon the pastry cream into the bottom portion of your oval. Spoon or pipe the whipped cream on top, then set the top third of the oval on the whipped cream. Drizzle chocolate syrup or sauce over the top of the pastry; this looks most attractive if the lines are zigzagged back and forth from outside of oval to inside and back again, but keep the amount of this garnish to a minimum (you can pass extra syrup or sauce for individual portions, if you like). Pause briefly to let everyone admire your creation, then cut with a large, very sharp, serrated knife. Refrigerate any leftovers promptly, but don’t expect the pastry to hold up well under refrigeration.


Yield:
12 servings


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