By Jonathan Hatchman, Food Editor, @TLE_Food
Upon searching for the true origin of choux pastry, it’s almost impossible to find an absolute, definitive result. Some cookbooks name check a chef named Pantarelli (or Pantanelli) from the 1500s as the rightful inventor, using the dough to craft a gateau named pâte à Pantanelli. Others believe that the pastry’s origins stem from a more modern pâtissier named Avice – said to have created the first choux buns, which resembled cabbages (choux in French) in the 1800s. Since then, however, even more modifications have been made and the general recipe that’s now used for profiteroles (small choux buns traditionally stuffed with cream and topped with chocolate sauce) is said to have come from Antoine Carême; an early practitioner of ‘Grande Cuisine’. Whichever choux philosophy we choose to follow, it’s impossible to deny that France is the rightful home of the consistently popular dough.
Nowadays choux pastry is a staple of French cuisine, often used for sweet treats although savoury cheese filled gougères are very popular, as is Parisian gnocchi – a method that involved poaching the pastry dough. Fortunately, however, Maître Choux opened its doors in London earlier this year – a patisserie that provides a range of treats so delicious it’s no longer necessary for to cross the channel in order to satisfyingly feed our choux pastry cravings. Set up as the brainchild of Joakim Prat (a young pastry chef from South West France), Maître Choux is the only pastry shop in London to feature a three Michelin Star experienced chef. Having fallen in love with pastry at a young age, Prat eventually held positions within some of Europe’s most renowned kitchens. Most notably his work has included stints as Head Pastry Chef at London’s L’Atelier Joël Robuchon and The Green House in Mayfair (both have two Michelin Stars) as well as serving as Executive Pastry Chef within Spain’s Can Fabes, which holds three Michelin Stars.
Inside the humble patisserie, there are a handful of seats to enjoy the creations on offer, but it’s the glass cabinets filled with luxurious delights that take the main focus. As for the window display of éclairs, it resembles a colour chart of mouth-wateringly delicious flavours – baked each morning and decorated with expert precision. These nine available flavours include the likes of Maître Choux’s signature dark chocolate éclair – although this is completely different to the mass-produced traditional éclairs available throughout the city. Instead, the perfectly cooked pastry is complemented by a blend of 60%, 70% and 80% chocolate to craft an incredibly dark chocolate crème pâtissière, while whipped cream is also added to provide a comforting, albeit indulgent, balance.
Elsewhere, the Arabica coffee éclair is perfect for coffee lovers with its satisfying bitterness, while the classic Fraises Estivales (strawberry éclair) is certainly the most traditionally French looking. Topped with light whipped cream, sumptuous strawberries and a sprinkling of candied and crumbled pistachio nut, filled with vanilla cream that’s layered with strawberry purée – evocative of the summer that now seems so far away. A personal favourite, however, is undoubtedly the Persian pistachio offering that’s filled with a Mousseline-style cream and topped with candied pistachios that add a subtle saltiness, working well alongside the overall sweetness of the delights on offer to sample. The pistachio choux à la crème, on the other hand, is piped with strawberry purée, as well as the pistachio cream – the result is strangely reminiscent of a great British doughnut, albeit lighter and crafted with crisp, delicate choux pastry – of course. Another honourable mention must go to the chouquettes – empty choux casings topped with pearl sugar and baked, typically eaten in France for breakfast or as snacks – a steal at £3.50 for 10. Even better when accompanied by a cup of Basque hot chocolate, made using a recipe from Joakim’s grandmother, which is thick and perfect for dipping.
Every sweet-toothed Londoner simply must pay a visit to Maître Choux in South Kensington, just beware that only one batch of the growingly popular éclairs is made daily, so arrive as early as possible to avoid any disappointment.
Maître Choux can be found at 15 Harrington Road, London, SW7 3ES.