These luscious French pastry treats are based on a classic confection known as choux. Choux pastry differs form other confectioner's pastry because it is twice cooked - firstly in a saucepan, then the oven.
Profiteroles are traditionally shaped in little oval spheres, or in French kitchenese - quenelles. When baked they have a sublime mixture of crunch and yield that is the hallmark of their allure. But it gets better, because they are filled with a wickedly rich mixture - either sweet pastry cream (crème patissiere) or a cheesy savoury mixture. The name is derived from profit, which in its antiquated sense meant a small gift.
Don't let the fact that there is two cooking steps put you off - choux pastry is actually much more forgiving than other pastries, there is little chance of you over-developing the gluten in the flour (which normally results in shrinking or tough pastry) as you have already modified most of the gluten with heat in the first step of cooking.
Once you have the basic choux recipe under you belt, you can wield it in all manner of other pastry dishes and sweets; of course profiteroles, but also éclairs and the awesome croquembouche.
Here's how to - with a sweet filling.
150 gm plain (all purpose) flour
125 ml (1/2 cup) milk
125 ml (1/2 cup) water
100 gm (3 oz) butter
250 ml (1 cup) milk
3 egg yolks
1 vanilla bean, split in half
90 gm (3 oz) caster sugar
25 gm (1 oz) cornflour (cornstarch)
125 ml (1/2 cup) cream, 35 % butterfat
Profiteroles (choux pastry)
Heat your oven to 180° C (360° F). Combine milk, water and butter in a saucepan and bring to the boil - as soon as it boils, remove from the heat and add all the flour. Using a whisk or wooden spoon, stir with some vigor until the mixture is smooth. Return to a medium heat and stir continuously for 6 or 7 minutes. The mixture will start to clump and come away from the side of the saucepan. Transfer the mixture (ideally) to a Mixmaster with a dough hook - or a food processor, and start mixing. Add 1 egg at a time and beat thoroughly before mixing in the next. Continue until all the eggs are used.
Place a sheet of non-stick paper on a baking tray (sheet). Spoon small amounts of the mixture, around the size of a walnut (they double in size in the oven) onto the baking tray, keeping them well apart (if you are really keen, you could do this with a piping bag).
Bake for 25 - 30 minutes. They should be puffed and golden. Return to the oven if they are a little pale.
When fully cooked, remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Place the milk and vanilla bean in a small saucepan and bring gently to the simmer. Place the yolks, sugar and cornflour together in a large bowl and beat until well combined. As soon as the milk has reached simmering point, pour onto the yolk mixture and beat vigorously - you want the mixture to combine before the yolks curdle. Return the mix to a saucepan and set over a medium heat, stirring until the mixture has thickened and is just about to boil. Pass the mixture through a sieve into a waiting bowl. Once the pastry cream has cooled, whisk the cream until it has formed soft peaks. Gently incorporate into the pastry cream to lighten it a little.
Cut the top third off the profiterole and scoop out any excess pastry in the middle - you want them hollow. Spoon a generous amount of pastry cream into each profiterole and replace the lid.
Serve them up to adoring guests!