Choux pastry, the stuff of which éclairs are composed, is the result of neat kitchen chemistry. I have no idea how it works; all I know is that, one minute you’re boiling butter and milk, the next minute you have a tray of hot, puffy things with hollow insides, made for stuffing, which is how you get an éclair.
But when, really, was the last time you had an éclair? The éclair is a misuse of the entire choux concept; they should be eaten hot or not at all. That means frying them as beignets, as they do at Annissa (the tiny, crispy gems are also filled with warm butterscotch), or baking and filling them with ice cream, as in profiteroles.
This recipe comes from a book that’s been sitting on our coffee table for a few years, French Country Kitchens. Not exactly the kind of thing that calls out to you at a bookstore, so I assume it was a gift. It’s filled with pictures of French home kitchens, each quainter than the next: old copper pans, antique stoves, baby blue and white tiling, windows facing the herb garden in the backyard. Still, there are some attractive recipes for vegetable gratins, roasts, and apple tarts; the kinds of thing you’d expect to find in the French countryside.
You get the sense that here sits a nation of people in their yards eating warm beignets. True or not, this is a choux recipe notable in that you boil the dough and then roll them in fried breadcrumbs. It’s a romantic recipe for a romantic vision, true to the spirit of choux pastry, so often mangled into an éclair.
(NOTE: we used dried apricots. You can soak them a bit to soften. We also used a healthy pinch of sugar as a substitute for sugar cubes. You probably don’t have sugar cubes lying around, and this works fine. Just pry open the apricots and drop in a good pinch of sugar.)
Apricot Beignets (adapted from French Country Kitchens)
For the pastry:
½ cup milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in small bits
2/3 cup flour
For the dumplings:
12 fresh apricots (see NOTE)
12 cubes sugar (see NOTE)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
¾ cup breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
1. For the Pastry: In a medium saucepan over medium high heat, combine milk, butter, and a pinch of salt. Boil, lower heat, add flour and stir to combine. Remove from heat and add egg. Stir vigorously until a ball has formed. Cool off the heat to room temp.
For the Dumplings:
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
- Meanwhile, roll the dough into a log about 2 inches thick. Using a bench cutter, cut into 10 or so pieces. Roll or press each into a circle about 1 ½ inches in diameter.
- Stuff an apricot with sugar, place in the center of a round and fold to enclose the fruit completely. Repeat.
- Boil the dumplings for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium pan and fry the breadcrumbs until golden. Remove to a plate.
- Use a slotted spoon to remove dumplings, roll in the crumbs and dust with confectioner’s sugar.