Technique: Cafe Alsace’s Benedicte Cooper on perfect profiteroles

Master the versatile choux paste dough, and you can build a number of sweet and savory dishes
Photograph by Patrick Heagney

The profiteroles at Cafe Alsace have developed quite a reputation since Benedicte Cooper first put them on the menu 18 years ago. “We have regular customers who order them on their anniversaries instead of Champagne,” says Cooper. The trio of airy, crispy puffs, filled with homemade ice cream, arrive nestled in a pool of vanilla bean–flecked custard, draped in bittersweet chocolate sauce, and showered with toasted almonds and confectioners sugar. The pastry is made from dollops of eggy, buttery dough called choux paste (pâte à choux, pronounced paht-ah-shoo). Master this versatile pastry dough, and you can build a number of sweet and savory dishes. Poke a hole in the bottom to pipe in chocolate mousse for a cream puff. Form into an oblong log, fill with custard, and frost with chocolate for an éclair. Drop dollops into hot oil and roll in powdered sugar for beignets. Or pipe in cheesy béchamel for gougères.

1 Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

In a medium saucepan, combine 1 cup water, 1 stick unsalted butter, and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium. Add 1 cup all-purpose flour, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon until dough pulls away from the sides of the pan, about 2 minutes.

Transfer dough to a large mixing bowl. Add 4 large eggs, one at a time, beating mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon in between. The dough should be shiny and smooth. Don’t over-stir, which can prevent puffing.

Using two spoons, scoop a mound of dough about 1 ½ inches in diameter and place on parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough, placing mounds about an inch apart.

5 Dip your finger in water, then smooth the top of each mound. Bake until lightly browned, puffed, and firm to the touch, about 20 to 25 minutes.

6 Remove to a baking rack and let cool completely. Using a serrated knife, slice each puff in half horizontally.   7 Spoon a pool of crème anglaise onto the center of the plate. Set the bottoms of three puffs on top and crown each with a scoop of ice cream. Add tops, drizzle with chocolate sauce, and sprinkle with toasted sliced almonds. Shower with confectioners sugar.

Top it off—bonus recipes:

Crème Anglaise
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

1 cup whole milk
1 vanilla bean, split
4 egg yolks
½ cup granulated sugar

Place milk in a medium saucepan. Scrape seeds of vanilla bean into milk, add bean, and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks and sugar until very light in color.

Remove vanilla bean from boiling milk. Gradually whisk hot milk into egg mixture. Return to saucepan and cook over medium-low heat while stirring, being very careful not to let the mixture boil. Keep stirring, and test thickness by dipping a wooden spoon into mixture and then dragging it through the custard. If it leaves a path, it’s sufficiently thickened. Strain custard into a bowl; cover and chill.

Dark Chocolate Sauce
Makes 1 ¼ cups

1 cup 58 percent dark chocolate chips
½ cup heavy cream

Place chocolate and cream in top of a double boiler set over simmering—not boiling—water. Heat, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and thoroughly incorporated into cream.

Remove from heat; cover and refrigerate if not using immediately. To reheat, place in a saucepan over low heat.

Benedicte Cooper
Illustration by Joel Kimmel

About Benedicte Cooper
A native of Alsace, France, Cooper first made her mark on the Atlanta pastry scene at the now-defunct St. Agnes Tea Garden, a quirky little shop that developed a cult following after opening in Decatur in 1995. Then in 1997 she followed up with Cafe Alsace, also in Decatur, which quickly became a neighborhood favorite thanks to a homey menu rooted in French-German classics, from boeuf bourguignon with spaetzle to these profiteroles.

This article originally appeared in our February 2016 issue.