Henri’s kitchen: 2. Chouquettes

Harry Hayfield, a resident of Ceredigion in Wales, has long had an interest in the stories of the Musketeers which are set in early 17th century France, this led in turn to an interest in the Stuart period of history and joining a living history group. However, as a registered carer for his grandparents, he is unable to get to many of the events and yet wanted to do something to help. One day he was watching “The Little Paris Kitchen” broadcast on the BBC and thought “These are recipes designed by the French, therefore could they be converted in the 17th century versions of themselves?”. Doing some research he found that they could. Harry will therefore contribute four of the recipes as shown in the programme as if cooked by Henri de Ceredigion (Harry’s Stuart persona) a cadet member of the Musketeers, with able assistance from Planchet, his manservant cum stable lad.

There is nothing nicer after a hard day’s training as a cadet to get back to my digs, command “Planchet, chouquettes please!” and know that about half an hour later you can be doing a very good impression of Athos at a grand dinner relaxing and enjoying life. I’ll admit that when Planchet first introduced them to me, I wasn’t entirely sure about them, but once I tasted one I couldn’t have enough. And what are these little wonders, you may be asking? Basically little pastries that, ooooh, you cannot describe without having experienced them first. So, if you fancy making some, here’s how you do it. First you take a quarter of a cup of water (and before you hold your hands up in horror, don’t worry, this is freshly collected rainwater, I know to avoid the stuff in the streets), the same amount of milk, a little salt and a little sugar, some butter, roughly the length of your index finger, chopped into small pieces. Put it all in the pot. Then add a third of a small packet of flour and mix. Now, when I first made this, at this stage it just looked, well, wrong is the only word I used. It was lumpy and reminded me of very badly made porridge. But Planchet was on hand to help and spent the next several minutes mixing it so hard that by the time it had turned into a solid mass, he was breathing hard. When it reaches that point, place it in a bowl and then move on to the next ingredient.

Chouquettes. Credit: Aerith, Wikipedia

That ingredient is eggs; however, do not do what I did the first time I made this on my own, because if you add the eggs now, they will scramble, and although I like scrambled eggs of a morning, that’s not what I was wanting to make, so here’s a little tip from Planchet. Give the mass a stir until the pastry is cool enough so that it is still warm but nothing like as hot as when it came out of the pot. Add the eggs and keep on stirring as you do so and don’t worry if it looks like it has all gone wrong, you are on precisely the right path, as you want to end up with something that looks like mud in terms of its consistency. Then you put that into a special bag for piping, available from any half decent chef ,or in my case, my manservant, and then it comes to piping it. Now, there’s a special technique for this. In order to pipe properly make the shape of a letter L with your thumb and finger next to it; then turn the shape around, place your thumb part of the shape to the left of the bag and then wrap the other finger around and you are ready to go. Hold the bag upright and count to three whilst squeezing at the top and, if you will pardon the term, voila, chouquettes! Then, if you can get any, dust with icing sugar and decorate with either small pieces of chocolate or if you like, small pieces of cheese, although technically that will turn them into gorcherge, but that is purely personal preference.

Now comes the tricky part of the whole exercise: baking them. Ideally they need to be baked until the smell of baking fills the kitchen and here is where the problems can start. We first made this on a very hot day and so had all the windows and doors open, just as we finished making them the local priest walked in, quite unexpectedly and asked if we would be willing to donate anything to help raise funds. All we had were these chouquettes so we asked if that would be all right. He popped one into his mouth and collapsed with desire before placing the rest into a bag, blessing us and walked back the way he had come. So we had to make another set; however that version caught the attention of Athos and I regret to say that his reputation precedes him. He managed to devour four sets of them before he had his fill. If that wasn’t bad enough, just as we thought we would have some to ourselves, lots of children starting rapping at our door asking for some. So a word of advice: never bake these on the hottest day of the year or if you have to then, do it during the coolest part of the day. If you do manage to get them out of the oven before anyone realises that you have, make sure they are nice and golden brown and devour before anyone gets the chance to pinch them.

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