Classic French Desserts
The French are also enormously proud of the petit choux, so fashionable these days. These are small round pastries filled with whipped cream or custard, whose origin is as Italian as it is French. The recipe dates back to the 16th century when Queen Catherine de Medici—an unabashed glutton who loved sweets—summoned the Florentine pastry chef Popelini to the French court. The illustrious Italian chef created a cupcake he named poupelin. His creation featured a baked dough called pâte à chaud (heated dough), cooked in small portions and filled with fruit jelly. By the 18th century, the pâte à chaud was renamed pâte à choux (puff pastry). Then came Antonio Carême, a distinguished pastry chef—pupil of Jean Avice—and improved the pâte à choux with a selection of derivatives to make the delicious petits choux.
Similar to cream puffs, the petits choux can be filled with whipped cream or vanilla custard and covered with chocolate. When they have an elongated shape, they are called éclairs, creampuffs, petisùs or susos, depending on the geographic zone. The best ones have a crunchy texture on the outside filled with fondant.
Petits choux are made with flour, water, milk, butter and eggs, and the dough should be neither too firm nor too wet—a task difficult to achieve. Every choux has a story to tell. Those who like very sweet pastries will favor the chocolate choux as did King Louis XV in 1750 during a banquet at Versailles. As it happens with the famous macaroons, they come in all flavors, including passion fruit, pistachio and coffee.
Miss Chou Paris.
Paris has some of the world’s most famous pastry shops serving petits choux, including Popelini, Odette, La Maison du Chou, La Pâtisserie des Rêves and Gâteaux Thoumieux. But petits choux are also available in other cities. Miss Chou Paris recently opened a Madrid store under the helm of the French, Laurence van Strydonck. If you are in New York City, and feel the urge to have a choux, you’ll find them at Francois Payard Bakery. ■