Last week, I came home to a 10 pound bag filled to bursting with fresh litchi fruit. It was glorious. And before shamelessly devouring the whole lot (not all in one go or all by myself, but regardless, they did still vanish in an astonishingly and vaguely terrifyingly fast rate), I managed to save a couple for this week’s extra special effort to replicate probably the most ingenious flavor combination of all time, courtesy of the brilliantly creative mind of Pierre Hermé: the Ispahan.
The world may never know why exactly this magical equation holds true, but somehow or another, Monsieur Hermé managed to deduce that rose water + raspberries + litchi = the culinary equivalent of sunbursts and marble halls filled with frolicking rainbow unicorns. And because recent exploits and attempts at macaronnage have led to…interesting, but more or less derailed consequences, I decided to wander off of the beaten path of Ispahan macarons, and instead focus my attention on another patisserie staple: the choux.
Or as some of you might know it, that delicious almost-but-not-quite crunchy shell on cream puffs and éclairs.
To form the deliciously fragrant layer of rose creme that fills the original macarons (and, to be honest, to avoid the vaguely horrifying amount of butter that actually goes into making a sufficient amount of buttercream to fill these little guys), I turned to creme diplomat, which is simply creme patissiere (your run of the mill Boston cream-esque pastry cream) fluffed up with a generous amount of whipped cream. It also happens to be super delicious and extra rosy, thanks to 4 whole teaspoons of rose water (which seems like a lot when you consider that rose water is usually added in the half teaspoons, but litchis are also super overpoweringly flavorful, so trust me – you need the extra oomph). Why diplomat? Well, despite my general propensity for rambling on about etymology, unfortunately, both Wikipedia and the first page of results from Google were at a loss, leaving me with no choice but to presume that the answer is both unknown and possibly unknowable.
(Unless, of course, any of you happen to know, in which case, don’t be shy – please let me know! The curiosity is kind of killing me.)
All ambiguous origins aside, these choux are the stuff of dreams, and if you, like me, live depressingly far away from New York and Paris, or wherever the privileged are able to get their Ispahan fix without turning to their kitchens, do I ever have the perfect recipe for you. Just pick up a pound (or 10) of fresh litchi (or canned, which is…not quite as angelic choir-inducing, but all litchi is good litchi in a pinch), and get going! Hope you enjoy!
25 g butter
30 g brown sugar
30 g flour
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
75 g flour
2 large eggs
Rose Creme Diplomat:
1 cup whole milk (by the way, whole milk ≈ 1 part heavy cream + 9 parts skim milk)
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
40 g (1/3 cup) all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup heavy cream
4 tsp rose water
6 litchis, peeled and quartered
- Blitz together the butter, flour, and brown sugar together in a food processor to form a dry dough. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for 30 minutes (or in the freezer for 15).
- On a chilled cutting board, roll out the dough into a very thin (1/16″) layer, then cut out 6 circles of dough about 2.5″ in diameter.
Tip: Don’t have 2.5″ round cookie cutters? No problem – I don’t either! You probably have teacups or saucers or something circular lying around the house to trace with a sharp knife – it does the trick just as well!
- Continue chilling the dough circles until you are ready to bake!
- Preheat the oven to 400º F. As desired (and for easier cleanup!), line a baking pan with foil.
- Place butter, water, salt, and sugar in a small pot and bring to a boil on medium-high heat, then turn the heat down to low.
- Add in flour all at once and stir well to mix. Turn off the heat, remove the pot from the stove, and continue stirring until the flour is fully incorporated and the dough is smooth. Allow the dough to cool until it is warm but not hot to the touch.
Tip: Do not proceed to the next step until the dough has cooled slightly. There’s really no such thing as over-cooling at this point. However, if you don’t wait for long enough, you will end up with a sad mixture of floury dough and scrambled eggs.
- Add in one egg and mix into dough until fully incorporated. Repeat with second egg.
Tip: This is easiest to do with a whisk or by using a cutting motion with a rubber spatula to break up the dough into smaller pieces, then mixing. Also, make sure to use large eggs!!
- Load the dough into a piping bag with a large round tip. Pipe the dough into large dollops with a diameter of 2.5-3″ by pressing the tip against the surface of the pan and continuously squeezing, allowing the dough blob to expand outward.
Tip: I used a Wilton 2A tip, but if you don’t have a large round tip, feel free to just cut a reasonably sized hole in the bottom of the bag. Since the pastry puffs up so much, it really doesn’t make too much of a difference whether or not you pipe through a tip.
- Top each pastry with a rolled circle of craquelin.
- Bake choux pastries at 400º F for 25 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 350º F and bake for another 20-25 minutes until the pastries are puffed with a nice golden color.
- Set pastries aside to cool until you are ready to fill them!
Rose Creme Diplomat:
- Heat milk in a small pot on medium-high heat until the liquid comes to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium-low.
- Whisk together the eggs, sugar, flour, and salt in a bowl and set aside.
- Pour in about 1/2 of the boiling milk mixture into the egg mixture, whisking quickly as you pour.
- Pour the egg mixture back into the pot through a sieve, whisking quickly as you pour. Continue whisking until the pastry cream thickens to the consistency of thick pudding, then remove from heat.
Tip: Always make sure to mix your eggs into the milk by tempering them with hot milk, then pouring through the sieve rather than dumping them all in at once. No matter how many times and how quickly I’ve tried to whisk while pouring in untempered eggs, I always ended up with unpleasantly eggy pastry cream because some of the egg inevitably scrambles as it hits the hot milk. After lots of sadness, disappointment, and wasted pastry cream, I finally started to use this tempering method as a virtually fool-proof strategy for keeping pastry cream (or any other type of custard) scrambled eggs-free!
- Pour the mixture into another bowl, cover the surface with saran wrap, and set aside to cool.
Tip: Make sure the saran wrap touches the surface of the creme patissiere when you cover the bowl to prevent a skin from forming at the top of your pastry cream if the surface dries out.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer or with an electric mixer, whip the heavy cream until it reaches the firm peaks stage. At this point, when you lift out the whisk, you should see distinct peaks with tips that curl over slightly.
- Fold the cream and rose water into the cooled creme patissiere, adding the rose water all at once and the whipped cream in 3 additions. Set aside for decorating!
- Using a sharp knife, cut a 2″ diameter circle around the top of the choux to remove the cap of the pastry.
Tip: If you have bits of soft choux on the inside, go ahead and remove them (just be careful not to poke through the bottom!) – it’ll make filling them neatly much easier!
- Add 4 litchi quarters to the bottom of your choux, then fill almost to the brim with creme diplomat.
- Using a piping bag and a star tip (I used the Wilton 1M!), pipe a small swirl of creme diplomat on top of the flat, filled surface of creme.
- Poke 5 raspberries along the rim of the choux, open sides out, using the small swirl of creme to hold them in place.
- Add tall, heaping swirl of more creme diplomat on top of the raspberry layer, the cap with the top of the choux. Top with another dollop of creme diplomat and a raspberry, and serve on a plate dusted with colored icing sugar (or pulverized meringues). Enjoy!