Each year as summer’s heat fades and fall’s cooler air moves in, I begin planning my Thanksgiving menu. It is finally cool enough to use the oven a bit more as I experiment with recipes to test which yield just the right flavor ensemble, which recipes freeze well, and which ones fit my meal courses as appetizers, entrees and side dishes.
Infusing this annual feast with new taste experiences is a welcome challenge in my kitchen. I’m tired of serving dinner rolls, popovers and cornbreads, redundant when sitting alongside stuffing, for my Thanksgiving spread. My thoughts turned to little filled pastry shells to enliven the meal.
One of the first pastry doughs I learned to make is called choux, multi-layered pastry dough, also known as choux paste, cream-puff pastry or pâte à choux.
A simple choux contains flour mixed with water and butter, and then beaten with the addition of eggs. It is a very paste like, sticky blob that can be piped onto a baking sheet or simply dropped from a spoon like drop cookies and baked.
(They can be baked in advance and frozen too.)
While a choux bakes, the eggs inflate the pastry creating a delicate, hollow shell comprised of a flakey crust.
Splitting this pastry in half reveals a perfect inner hollow begging for a sweet or savory filling, rendering it easily consumed in one or two bites.
As an inexperienced cook, I struggled to make this choux into a delicate puff pastry, sometimes shaped as swans, filled sweet creams or preserves comprising a cream puff pastry or its larger cousin, an éclair.
These miniature choux-based pastries, served as either savory appetizers or sweet desserts, offer every cook a fulfilling creative experience in the composition.
My great-aunties presented these balls of baked choux as a sticky profiterole stack served with a drizzled sweet cream or gooey honey (called a Taiglach in Yiddish) also commonly known as an impressive French dessert, a Croquembouche.
As I became more adept in the kitchen, I learned to flavor my choux with herbs, spices and a variety of cheeses, sometimes combining finely minced meats or nuts too, culminating into the ever-popular gougère.
The little bite sized pastry made of choux suddenly fit into all parts of my menu leaving me with a large dilemma.
Should I serve a savory appetizer gougère filled with a mound of goat cheese and fresh herbs? The thought of a sweet appetizer puff filled with diced fresh pear and sweet cream with a tart cranberry or two sounds delectable too.
Then again, a miniature gougère made with gruyere or parmesan and minced pecans might make a wonderful crouton with our soup. Perhaps I should serve a cream puff filled with ginger-vanilla custard and a cranberry puree or simple pumpkin filling as dessert.
I simply can’t decide where to use these precious mini-bites of flavor. Maybe I’ll just serve a bite-sized array for our Thanksgiving feast and call it Donna’s Mini-Morsel Thanksgiving Meal.