There’s something about the alchemy of eggs that fascinates me. Take a few simple ingredients that look like they couldn’t possibly turn into anything substantial, add eggs, and through a magical process of transformation suddenly you have a whole tray of treats waiting to dazzle your holiday guests.
One of my specialties is gougeres, savoury French cheese puffs. While they never fail to make me #BeEggsquisite in the eyes of my guests, this year I wanted to try a subtly sweet puff with no cheese. One bedecked with holiday colours of gold and red, infused with the gentle warmth of cinnamon and cardamom, and sparkling with just a fairy dusting of coarse sugar. I envisioned the kind of treat that looks like an ornament on the dessert tray.
The puffs turned out just as I had hoped: light and airy, golden and crisp, rich but not heavy. The contrast of ginger’s bite with the sour tang of the cherries will have your friends reaching for more.
The base for these puffs is choux pastry, a French invention that’s a simple mixture of flour, water and, yes, eggs. You may not have heard of the name, but if you’ve ever eaten cream puffs, profiteroles or eclairs, you know choux pastry. If you’re thinking that surely French pastry must be complicated, the recipe below will prove to you just how easy it is.
Eggs are critical to the success of this pastry, as it’s their leavening power that makes the little balls of dough puff up to about twice their size. I use large, Grade A, free run, local, brown eggs. While the colour of the shell makes no difference to the egg’s qualities, I choose brown whenever I can. You see, I grew up on an egg farm and gathered thousands of eggs over the course of my youth. Thousands. Thousands of white eggs. Not brown. Not Martha Stewart speckled blue. Just white. Brown eggs have always seemed exotic to me and they’re what I reach for at the market now.
You can choose conventional eggs, free run, free range, organic, or enriched … it doesn’t matter as long as they’re fresh, which they will be due to the system of supply management run by Canadian farmers themselves. You can be confident that the eggs you buy at your grocery store or market are not only fresh, but also high quality and local. So, get cracking and support your local egg farmers and their families, hard-working people like my Dad. (By the way, he wanted to name our farm “The Best A Hen and I Can Do,” but that was vetoed by Mom. Go figure.)
BeEggsquisite, choose recipes you can prepare ahead of time to make entertaining almost effortless. Freeze large batches of a few favourite recipes several weeks or a couple of months in advance, and bake them off just before you need them.
I’ve already stashed hundreds of choux pastry bites in my freezer, both savoury and this sweet version, so I can pop them into the oven just before friends arrive. But I don’t save them just for company. There’s nothing like settling into my favourite armchair with a glass of bubbly, a plate of these ginger and sour cherry puffs and a good book. How’s that for an eggsquisite celebration of the season?
Disclosure: I jumped at the opportunity to participate in the Egg Farmers of Canada (eggs.ca) #BeEggsquisite campaign. They’re compensating me for writing this post and promoting it on social media. The recipe for ginger and sour cherry puffs is my own creation and all opinions are my own. I should also declare that the memories this assignment brought back are priceless. My parents are gone now, but they would be just tickled to see me promoting the livelihood that served our family well.
Ginger & Sour Cherry Puffs
Preparation Time: Under 45 minutes; Baking Time: 35 minutes; Makes: 50; Serve: warm or at room temperature. Wow Factor: Eggsquisite!
If baking right away, pre-heat the oven to 375℉. Line two baking trays with parchment paper. These are best served the day they’re made, so just bake what need. The rest will keep very well in the freezer.
The level of sweetness in this dessert is subtle, even with the sugary coating on the crystallized ginger and the light sprinkling of sugar on top. I find this an appealing contrast to the proliferation of highly sweet treats at the holidays. Ensure the dried cherries you use have a bright sour tang for best results. Also be sure you have the ginger, cherries and spices ready before you start to make the pastry. And as for the pastry making process, back in the day I used to make it entirely by hand; yep, just my biceps and a wooden spoon. These days I use my stand mixer.
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 cup water
- 6 tbsp unsalted butter
- 4 large eggs plus one egg yolk for the egg wash
- 1/3 cup / 79 ml (or about 2 oz / 60 gr by weight) coarsely chopped crystalized ginger
- 1/3 cup / 79 ml (or about 2 oz / 60 gr by weight) roughly chopped dried sour cherries
- 1/4 cup / 59 ml (or about 1 oz / 30 gr by weight) chopped walnuts
- 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
- 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tbsp water for the egg wash
- 2 tsp turbinado or other coarse cane sugar for sprinkling
Stir together the flour, salt and sugar and have on hand next to the stove. Bring the water and butter to a lively boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Dump in the flour mixture all at once, reduce the heat to medium and stir with a wooden spoon until well incorporated. The dough will pull together into a ball or two and a slight crust will form on the bottom of the pan. Continue stirring for another full minute to dry out the dough somewhat. At this stage it looks similar to play dough.
Put the dough into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on low speed for a couple of minutes to release some of the heat. Add one whole egg one at a time, beating in until incorporated. At first the dough will look split, but it will come together into a smooth paste at which point you add the next egg.
Once all the eggs have been incorporated, scrape down the bowl and then stir in the ginger, cherries, walnuts and spices.
Using a 1 tablespoon ice cream scoop, a pastry bag with a large plain tip, or a teaspoon, dollop small rounds of the dough onto the prepared baking trays. If you’re going to bake them right away, place the dough mounds about 1-1/2 inches apart. If you’re going to freeze the dough, space them closely together so that all 50 fit on a single large tray.
In a small dish, whisk the egg yolk with a couple of teaspoons of water. Lightly brush onto the tops of the pastry mounds. Sprinkle delicately with coarse sugar; I used turbinado but a finer cane sugar would work well too.
Place the tray on the middle rack of the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 350℉. These will take 35 minutes to bake, but check them after 30 minutes. If you’re baking two trays at a time, rotate them between the upper and lower oven racks after 15 minutes to ensure even baking. When done the puffs will be a glistening golden brown colour, and sound hollow when you tap them on the bottom. Set the tray on a wire rack. You can let the puffs cool on the rack, or place them on serving trays as soon as you can handle them.
If freezing the puffs, place the tray in the freezer. Once frozen, seal the pastry mounds into a freezer bag or other container. They will keep for several months. When it’s time to bake them, just arrange them on a parchment lined baking tray about 1-1/2 inches apart and let them sit while the oven is pre-heating to 375℉. Once in the oven reduce the heat to 350℉ and bake as directed above. They may take a minute or two longer; their appearance and sound when tapped are your guide to doneness.