This Fancy French Dessert Is Actually a Cinch to Bake with Kids
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I love baking chocolate chip cookies and banana bread as much as the next person, but when it comes to homemade treats, my 7-year-old and I make something a little more unexpected: Chouquettes. Pronounced shoe-ket (like the thing you wear on your feet, plus the second syllable of the word “basket”), these hollow, sugar-crusted puffs of choux dough are a crisp and tender miracle. We first discovered them in France where they’re often displayed in tempting mounds at the corner boulangerie, sold by weight as an after-school snack, or presented by twinkly-eyed bakers to well-behaved children.
Chouquettes are made of choux pastry, which sounds intimidating, but is actually a combination of fridge and pantry staples you likely already have on hand — butter, eggs, flour, salt, and sugar — making them a snap to whip up. The only special ingredient you need is pearl sugar (also called Swedish pearl sugar), which is sugar that has been compressed into small chunks; they stud the surface of the puffs and add to their airy crunch. (And, they look absolutely beautiful and festive!) Pearl sugar is available online and we keep a bag in the cupboard — but if you can’t find it, you could use chocolate chips.
Choux dough is great to make with kids because it’s really just a simple paste of butter, water, flour, and eggs; and it’s hard to mess up — my daughter and I have been making it together since she was 4-years-old. She’s now almost 8 and can almost make it by herself. The crucial step is cooking the dough on the stove for two minutes, which allows any excess water to evaporate — make sure to set a timer, as this is the secret to light choux! Then allow your kids to crack the eggs, one by one, into the dough, and help them beat the mixture thoroughly. While some people use a pastry bag to pipe the dough into small mounds on the baking tray, I prefer using two spoons, which means I can make chouquettes anywhere without much equipment or fuss. Sprinkling the lumps of uncooked dough with pearl sugar is the best part of the process — especially tasting the sugar, of course! Even really little kids can help with this step.
Choux dough is magical because it initially looks like gobs of paste, but when you pop it in a hot oven, it inflates and transforms into light, hollow shells. My daughter and I love sitting in front of the oven door, watching the puffs as they expand and turn golden brown, and fill the kitchen with their irresistible sugary scent. And of course nothing tastes better than a warm chouquette fresh from the oven, with its marvelous crisp crust and tender, eggy center. The only challenge is not eating the whole batch in one sitting!
Makesabout 30 puffs
- 1 cup
- 1/2 teaspoon
fine sea salt
- 2 teaspoons
- 6 tablespoons
unsalted butter, cubed (85g)
- 1 cup
all-purpose flour (130g)
Egg wash: 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 teaspoon of water
Pearl sugar, or nib sugar, for sprinkling over puffs
Preheat the oven to 425ºF (220ºC). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
In a medium saucepan combine the water, salt, sugar and butter. Heat this mixture over a medium flame until the butter has melted and the water has come to a simmer. Remove from the heat, add the flour and stir to combine.
Return the saucepan to medium heat and cook the mixture, stirring frequently for two minutes (set a timer). The mixture should come together into a cohesive mass, and film the bottom of the saucepan. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for two minutes.
Add the eggs, one at a time, beating vigorously so that each egg is fully absorbed and the dough is sticky and shiny.
Using two spoons, portion the dough into small mounds on the prepared baking sheet. Each mound should be about the size of a large cherry tomato – space them evenly and allow room for them to double in size. You could also pipe them from a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain round tip.
Gently brush the mounds with the egg wash and then sprinkle each one with a generous pinch of pearl sugar.
Bake the puffs for 15 minutes, then lower the oven to 375ºF (190ºC) and continue baking for 10-15 minutes until golden brown.
Note: Chouquettes are best fresh from the oven, but they are still appealing at room temperature. When stored, they grow soft, but can be re-crisped by warming them in a 350ºF (180ºC) oven for 5 minutes.