Not much to say, except these are rather good. Standard choux pastries topped with a rich, barely sweet cocoa cookie crust and stuffed with banana-infused pastry cream.
You might be thinking: why bother infusing it? Surely it’s nicer and simpler to just have fresh sliced banana. I am not denying you that option, rather, I’m suggesting this as an additional use for hideously overripe bananas, the kind you’d joyfully make into banana bread. You could, with equal joy, infuse milk with the bananas before straining them and mixing the pulp into banana bread batter. If anything, it is even more thrifty and delicious.
The first day they’re baked, the cookie layer is crisp and crumbly, a wonderful contrast to pastry. It all softens with storage, but the cookies still provide a striking, deep cocoa flavour. They’re worth making. And even if you heck it up (as I have!), you won’t have wasted anything: dip cookies in the pastry cream or make it into German buttercream.
CHOUX AU CRAQUELIN WITH BANANA CUSTARD
Makes 4 – 6 puffs. 1 puff = 1 serving.
Puffs are best assembled and served on the day of baking, but it’s common practise to freeze unfilled pastries to retain crispness. I’m not too bothered about the texture: tender, soft puffs are delicious, too.
chocolate cookie topping:
35g unsalted butter, soft and pliable (not sloppy or melted)
35g light brown sugar
35g plain flour
30g cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
70 ml water (5 tbsp, or mix of water and milk)
40g (3 tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature
40g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, beaten, plus an extra egg on hand
2 – 4 tbsp pastry cream per puff, or similar amount of softly whipped cream/chantilly, or 50/50 mix of both (crème diplomat)
First, make the cookie layer.
Beat butter with wooden spoon or mixer until creamy. Add sugar, continue to beat until fluffy and a bit lighter in colour. Roughly fork together the cocoa powder, flour, and sugar in a small bowl, then gradually work it into the butter mixture. Mixture will be dry, but persevere until it darkens and begins clumping together; once you can easily press it into a ball, turn out onto a large piece of baking paper, bring crumbs together and pat into a thick disc, cover with another piece of paper and roll it to 2 – 3 mm (1/8 inch) thick. Store flat in the fridge until needed.
Make choux pastry.
Preheat oven to 190 degrees Celsius (375 F).
Put water and butter in a small saucepan over a medium heat. Bring to a rolling boil (butter should melt as it reaches that point). Meanwhile, combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a small light container and have it on hand.
Once liquid is boiling, add the flour mixture all at once, lower the heat, and stir vigorously until it all comes together in a lumpy, dull, fairly firm ball. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes.
Gradually add most of 1 beaten egg, beating all the while. It won’t want to incorporate but carry on beating: the matt paste should relax into a smooth, glossy batter. It should hold its shape while also possessing a somewhat molten consistency, rather than being aggressively stiff. Pull the spoon/beater slowly out of the batter: it should slowly pull away into a glossy V. Carefully add more beaten egg until you get that nice, glossy batter.
Spoon or pipe the batter onto a lined baking tray, dividing them into 4 – 6 puffs about 5 – 6 cm (2 – 2.5 inches) wide. (If you’ve a little leftover egg, lightly brush some onto each puff.)
Remove the paper-covered cookie dough from the fridge. Cut out rounds about the same width as your spooned/piped puffs, quickly topping each puff with a disc of cookie dough.
Get them in the oven quickly and bake for 30 – 35 minutes until deeply browned and the pastry visible underneath the cookie layer is also lightly browned (in my experience, if you underbake, the domes might collapse under the weight of the cookie!).
Once they’re out of the oven, cut a slit in the side of each puff to allow steam to escape. Once you can justabout handle them, transfer to racks and cool completely before filling.
Generously stuff with the filling of your choice and eat immediately.
BANANA PASTRY CREAM
Remember to start this a good few hours (ideally the day before) you want to use this, to allow the strongest banana flavour.
The recipe makes rather more than what you’ll need–the yield is 500 ml (2 generous cups or 17.5 oz). However, pastry cream can easily be scaled down. It’s very versatile and keeps for 1 week well-covered in the fridge, so no rush to use it all up. Alternatively, make it into German buttercream and freeze it.
I tried using custard powder purely because I had some to use up and it gave a lovely sunny yellow, not at all lurid. It is entirely optional.
500 ml (2 generous cups or 17.5 oz) whole milk
2 – 4 bananas, as ripe as possible–hideous ones are perfect–roughly sliced
1/2 to 1 whole vanilla pod, depending on what’s available (alternatively, add 1 tsp vanilla extract once cream is cooked)
4 tbsp Bird’s custard powder (not instant custard) or cornflour
100g (1/2 cup or 3.5 oz) granulated sugar
6 egg yolks (what I used) or 2 eggs + 2 egg yolks from UK medium/US large eggs
Pinch of salt
Put milk, your beautifully ugly ripe sliced bananas, and split and scraped vanilla pod into a medium-large pot. Slowly bring to a gentle simmer over a moderate heat. Immediately remove from heat and allow to cool until near room temperature, 30 mins – 1 hour. Transfer everything to a lidded container or whatever’s convenient, and refrigerate for a couple of hours, up to a few days. (The flavour doesn’t intensify past 24 hours but this way you can quickly put overripe bananas to good use)
When you’re ready to cook the pastry cream, whisk the sugar and custard powder together, then gradually add your egg yolks/whole eggs, whisking to form a smooth paste. Gradually strain the banana mixture through a fine sieve into the pot, whisking thoroughly between additions. Press gently to extract liquid without pushing pulp through sieve. Give the vanilla pod another scrape, adding the fragrant innards to the pot.
Once everything’s in, gently warm pot over a medium-low heat, whisking constantly and thoroughly getting at the edges of the pot. Be patient and don’t aggressively increase the heat. Once your whisk feels very slippery against the base of the pot, thickening is imminent. Adjust heat so it stays steamy without actually simmering, continuing to cook until really thick (my hob is an intense gas hob so I have to switch it off completely/use smaller gas rings at times: you know your hob best). Mine got a bit lumpy, but I saw that the large round lumps weren’t overcooked egg curds, so just thrashed it out until smooth.
Strain the hot pastry cream into a suitable container (a pyrex jug for me). To cool swiftly, whisk over a cold water bath. Press clingfilm to its surface and refrigerate until ready to use.
For German buttercream (crème mousseline)
Beat 1 part pastry cream to 2 parts soft butter by volume. Sweeten with honey or icing sugar. This, unlike the pure pastry cream, can be frozen. I had a weird 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) leftover; with 100g (scant half cup) butter and a bit more icing sugar, this became a nice amount of buttercream.