With a veritable mountain of creme patissiere beckoning from the refrigerator I decided to resurrect my tried and true choux puff pastry recipe. And so it was I spent a pleasant afternoon playing around with pastry in the kitchen. The end result? A deceptively elaborate looking Strawberry Choux Pastry Crown. What started off as a classic Paris Brest somehow morphed along the way into an unconventional hybrid of a Gateau St Honore.
Crisp, puffed and golden, my crown was constructed from an almond encrusted choux pastry ring, filled with fresh strawberries and luscious creme patissiere, and topped with toffee dipped profiteroles. It really did look fit for a king and almost, but not quite, eclipsed my husband’s birthday pavlova. Light as a puff of air, it was inhaled in mere moments. A sticky, empty platter a testament to its short lived existence.
Drawing many oohs and aahs, it’s definitely a dessert I will make again. All the major elements can easily be made ahead, a poster child concoction for the magic of mise en place and an unhurried stress-free assembly. The creme patissiere can be stored in the fridge for up to three days, and baked choux pastry in an air tight container or freezer requiring just a quick crisp up in a hot oven before use. Replace the toffee with a drizzle of chocolate, if you prefer, or even easier a light dusting of icing sugar.
Strawberry Choux Pastry Crown With Creme Patissiere
Makes one 20cm ring and a dozen puffs
For The Choux Pastry
100 g butter, chopped
1 cup (250 ml) water
1 cup plain flour, sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
3 tablespoons sliced almonds
an additional egg, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
For The Filling
2 1/2 cups Creme Patissiere
1 punnet strawberries, 1/2 punnet washed, hulled and sliced and remainder left whole
For The Toffee Glaze
1/2 cup caster sugar
Prepare The Choux Pastry
PREHEAT oven to 200 C. Line two large baking trays with baking paper. Draw a 20cm-diameter disc on one sheet of paper. Turn paper over (circle will be visible), use this sheet to pipe the choux pastry base and the other for the puffs.
COMBINE butter and water in saucepan, bring to the boil. When butter has melted and water boiling rapidly, add sifted flour and salt all at once.
STIR vigorously until the mixture is glossy and pulls away from the side of the saucepan to form a smooth ball.
TRANSFER to a bowl. Cool slightly and beat in eggs a little at a time. The pastry dough should be smooth and stretchy and fall easily off a wooden spoon. If it reaches this stage before you’ve added all the eggs don’t add the rest. You are aiming for a good dropping consistency that holds its shape well. If the mixture is too stiff (not enough egg) then the choux pastry will be too heavy. If the mixture is too wet (too much egg), it will not hold its shape when spooned onto baking paper.
Pipe And Bake The Choux Pastry Crown And Puffs
TRANSFER the choux pastry into a large piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle.
PIPE two rings of choux pastry next to each other over the traced circle on the paper lined baking tray.
PIPE a third ring between the top of the two bottom rings to cover the join between them. This should use about 2/3 of the pastry dough and will form the crown.
BRUSH the top of the pastry crown with egg wash, and scatter over flaked almonds.
PIPE 12 choux puffs onto the second prepared tray, spaced well apart to allow for expansion. Brush tops with egg wash.
TRANSFER the baking trays to the oven, middle rack position for the crown and lower rack position for the puffs.
BAKE in hot 200C oven for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 180C and bake puffs for a further 10-15 minutes and the larger crown for 25-30 minutes, until puffed, golden and crisp.
REMOVE trays from oven when each is ready. It is important to bake the pastry until well browned and firm. If removed from the oven too soon, the choux will collapse as it cools and have a dense, tough texture.
ONCE removed from the oven, make a small slit in the bottom of the puffs with the tip of a sharp knife to allow steam to escape. Likewise, make 8 small slits at evenly spaced intervals in the sides of the choux pastry crown.
TRANSFER the puffs and crown to a wire rack and leave to cool completely, at least 30 minutes.
Assemble Strawberry Choux Pastry Crown
HALVE the pastry crown horizontally with a serrated knife and carefully place the almond encrusted top half to a wire rack.
SPOON 2 cups of the creme patissiere into a piping bag fitted with a large nozzle over the cut side of the pastry base.
COVER the creme patissiere layer with sliced strawberries. Replace the top half.
SPOON the remainder of the creme patissiere into a piping bag fitted with a 5mm nozzle. Push nozzle into the base of each of the 12 puffs and fill with creme patissiere.
PLACE a large heavy based non stick pan or wok over medium heat.
ADD the sugar in an even layer.
HEAT without stirring until the mixture caramelises, swirling the pan every now and then until all the sugar crystals have dissolved and the mixture is a light golden colour. The mixture will caramelise very quickly in a matter of minutes. Remove the pan from heat.
CAREFULLY dip each of the 12 filled puffs into the hot toffee and immediately place on top of the filled choux pastry crown.
TRANSFER the filled and decorated crown to a serving platter. Fill its centre with remaining strawberries.