As I was preparing for this post - my final one in collaboration with MelkMoment - I was sure what it would be about. The bright colors, the blossoms in the photographs and the lightness in my voice ... after what seems like a very long series of moody posts, everything in this one would point to a new beginning.
It's no secret that I've been craving a fresh start. It's also clear that throughout my life, and these past months in particular, I've been waiting for circumstances to offer me one. For the house to be sold, a new home to be found and a new life to be built. As if this 'new' couldn't really start until I'd done away with all of the 'old'. Anyway, circumstances failed me a little bit - as they sometimes do - and here I am writing this post still very much living, at least from a practical point of view, in the in-between. So how exactly was I to write about this new beginning?
I think what I'm realizing, though, is that there is no such thing. Finding a new home will offer me some very welcome stability, that's for sure, but it will not mark the beginning of a new life, nor the end of an old one. Even though some things are inevitably on hold right now, my life itself is still being built. Every day, I add to it - with the decisions I make, the moments I relish, the laughs and tears I share, and the opportunities that, even in these uncertain times, I simply can't ignore. I'm not at a standstill.
This idea of a new beginning is an illusion, and it's liberating to accept that we are forever in motion ... a series of consistencies, discrepancies and evolutions. There is no such thing as a clean slate, nor does there have to be. Instead of one big fresh start, there will be a myriad of tiny new beginnings to look forward to. I can imagine that each, in the process, will bring both frustration and accomplishment, disillusionment and relief, but in the end they will also be what pushes me forward. Once this hurdle is taken, I'm sure the next one will not be too far behind. I suppose it's a good thing, and definitely a reality to accept.
This post was created in partnership with MelkMoment. MelkMoment is a campaign organised by the Flemish Centre for Agricultural and Fisheries Marketing (VLAM) or Fresh from Belgium, aimed at showing the versatility of milk and inspiring people with a range of "milk moments". All thoughts and opinions are my own.
This little dessert has a lot of components, and while none of those are extremely complex or labour intensive, they do require a little attention.
• When you're adding the warm milk to the egg mixture for the pastry cream, do it slowly. More importantly, to prevent the eggs from cooking, be sure to continuously whisk the egg mixture as you add the warm liquid. Should you still end up with a few bits of cooked egg, just pour the finished pastry cream through a fine-mesh sieve before cooling.
• To check the consistency of the choux pastry, take a big scoop of the dough and wiggle your spoon until most of it falls off. If the remainder of the dough hangs from the spoon in a point, you're good to go. The dough should not be runny, though! The choux mounds should always hold their shape as you pipe them.
• The pastry cream and sweet dough for the craquelin are best made a day ahead.
choux craquelin w/ blackcurrant CRÈME PÂTISSIÈRE
& vanilla bean whipped cream
makes 8 to 10 choux
for the CRÈME PÂTISSIÈRE
500 ml whole milk
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out
125 g granulated sugar
50 g cornstarch
2 large egg yolks
75 ml (1/3 cup) blackcurrant puree
for the craquelin
63 g unsalted butter, room temperature
63 g granulated sugar
1 large egg
125 g all-purpose flour
for the choux pastry
50 ml water
50 ml whole milk
50 g unsalted butter, cubed
75 g all-purpose flour
2 to 3 large eggs
for the whipped cream
500 ml heavy cream
60 g granulated sugar
seeds from 1 vanilla bean
for the CRÈME PÂTISSIÈRE
1. In a saucepan, combine milk, vanilla bean and seeds, and 50 g of sugar and heat over medium heat until it starts to boil.
2. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining 75 g of sugar and cornstarch. Add about 1/2 cup of lukewarm milk, then whisk in the egg yolks.
3. When the milk reaches boiling point, remove from the heat and carefully pour it over the egg mixture, while whisking continuously. Once everything is incorporated, pour mixture back into the saucepan and heat until the cream is thick and reaches boiling point, stirring regularly with a spatula. Let boil for about 1 minute, then pour crème pâtissière into a heat-proof container and cover with cling film. Let cool to room temperature, then move container to the refrigerator and chill for at least 3 hours, preferably overnight.
4. When ready to assemble the choux, transfer the chilled crème pâtissière to a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium speed until smooth, then fold in the blackcurrant puree. Transfer to a large piping bag and set aside until ready to use.
for the craquelin
1. In a medium bowl using a wooden spoon, or on a clean work surface using your hands, soften butter and mix in the sugar. Add the egg, followed by the flour and knead until you have smooth dough. Shape into a disc, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, preferably overnight.
2. Remove chilled dough from the refrigerator and on a lightly floured work surface, roll to a thickness of about 2 mm. Using a round cookie cutter, stamp out circles with a 5 cm diameter. Freeze while you prepare the choux pastry.
for the choux pastry
1. Preheat oven to 210°C (410°F). Line one large or two small baking sheets with parchment paper. Prepare a piping bag with a large round pastry tip (I used a 13 mm).
2. In a small saucepan, combine water, milk and butter. Heat over medium heat until butter is fully melted and the mixture is just coming up to the boil. Remove from the heat, add all the flour and stir with a wooden spoon until fully combined. Return to the heat and stir vigorously until the mixture is smooth and shiny, pulls away from the sides of the pan and leaves a thin coating on the bottom of the pan, about 2 minutes.
3. Transfer dough to the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, start beating on medium speed. Start adding the eggs, one at a time and beating until fully incorporated after each addition. After you've added the second egg, check the consistency of the dough (see notes). If necessary, add about half of the third egg and beat to incorporate before checking again. If the dough is still too thick, beat in the remainder of the third egg, but remember that the mixture should never be runny!
4. Transfer the choux pastry to the prepared piping bag and pipe out 8 to 10 choux mounds (ca. 5 cm in diameter and 2 cm tall) onto the prepared baking sheet, leaving about 5 cm between each. Place a frozen craquelin disc onto each choux.
5. Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, leaving the oven door propped open with a wooden spoon. This will help the steam to escape and the choux to dry. It will also make the oven temperature drop, though, so keep an eye on the temperature. If it drops below 175°C (350°F), make sure to raise the temperature of the oven. The choux are ready when they're golden and puffed and a tap on the bottom sounds hollow. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.
for the vanilla bean whipped cream
1. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or in a large bowl using hand beaters, whisk heavy cream, sugar and vanilla bean seeds to medium-stiff peaks. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a large star pastry tip.
1. Cut off the top of each choux, fill with blackcurrant crème pâtissière and pipe a swirl of vanilla bean whipped cream on top. Replace the top of the choux and finish with a dusting of powdered sugar.