Chocolate choux pastry topped with a crunchy chocolate craquelin and filled with a decadent salted caramel filling. These might be perfect for a fancy occasion. But one bite and you’ll be wondering if you’ll have any left when your guests arrive!
I first tried this salted caramel filling when making chef Christophe Adam’s caramel version of a Paris-Brest. Being the chocolate addict that I am, I decided to add a chocolate twist to the recipe.
You can simply use regular choux pastry if you prefer. And you can skip the craquelin if you are not a fan of the crunchy topping.
Making The Salted Caramel Filling
The salted caramel filling has to be prepared in advance and refrigerated for at least 12 hours before you whip it. So let’s start with this.
Preparing the caramel
- Soak the gelatin sheet in a small bowl of cold water and set aside for about 15 minutes while you prepare the caramel.
- Pour half the sugar into a small pan, spreading it evenly so you get one thin layer. Place over medium-high heat (heat 6 out of 9 for example). Don’t stir the sugar yet. When the sugar starts to melt, lower the heat to medium-low (heat 4 out of 9). If the color starts to change quickly but the sugar hasn’t fully melted yet, lower the heat even further.
- When the sugar has almost fully melted, pour the remaining sugar over it in a thin layer.
- Using a heatproof spatula, gently try to cover the undissolved sugar crystals with the melted sugar. Don’t worry if you get sugar clumps, they will eventually dissolve. Just keep the heat on low and don’t stir too much. Just gently push the melted sugar around so it doesn’t burn before the rest of the sugar melts.
- When the caramel turns amber and all the sugar has melted, remove from the heat.
Making the caramel filling
- Keeping the pan far from you, pour about a third of the heavy cream into the caramel. Stir immediately with a heatproof spatula, being very careful not to splatter any hot caramel on yourself. The extremely hot caramel will bubble up so please be very careful not to burn yourself.
- Add the remaining cream in two more additions, stirring in-between. If you add the cream slowly, you shouldn’t have any lumps. But if you do, simply return the caramel to low heat and stir until completely smooth.
- Squeeze the gelatin sheet to get rid of the water and add it to the caramel. Stir until fully combined.
- Add the butter in several additions, stirring in-between, then add the salt. The butter should be easy to incorporate. But if it isn’t, it might be because: 1) You waited too long before adding it and the caramel cooled down. 2) The butter was too cold. Either way, don’t worry too much about it. We will be using an immersion blender later on which will give you a perfectly homogeneous cream.
- Add the mascarpone and mix with an immersion blender until completely smooth.
- Strain the cream through a fine mesh sieve into a medium sized bowl to get rid of any undissolved gelatin bits or caramel pieces.
- Place a piece of parchment paper (or cling film) straight onto the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Let it cool down at room temperature before chilling for at least 12 hours.
Making The Chocolate Craquelin
- Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and mix with your fingertips until the dough becomes smooth and can easily be shaped into a ball.
- Place the craquelin inside a folded piece of parchment paper (or between two sheets) and roll out to a thickness of about 2 mm.
- If the dough isn’t too soft, cut out 4 cm (1.6 inches) circles that you will use to top your choux. You can use a cookie cutter for example. If the dough is too soft, refrigerate it a little and then cut the shapes. Cover once more with the parchment paper and refrigerate the dough for at least 1 hour or freeze it for 15 minutes.
Making The Chocolate Choux Pastry
If you’ve never made choux pastry before, it’s best to read first How to make choux pastry before attempting this recipe. I explain each step in detail and you’ll find lots of tips there.
- Preheat the oven to 170°C (338°F), convection setting (or 190°C/374°F conventional setting). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or with a silicone mat).
- Sift the cocoa powder and flour together in a small bowl. Set aside.
- Heat the water (and milk if using) with the butter, salt and sugar in a small pot over medium-low heat. Stir occasionally to make sure the sugar and salt have dissolved. Once the butter melts completely, increase the heat to medium-high and continue heating until the first bubbles appear.
Make the panade
- Remove from the heat and add the sifted flour and cocoa powder all at once. Stir to combine fully. Once there are no longer traces of flour, return the dough to the heat.
- Keep stirring the dough for about 3 minutes or until it no longer sticks to the pot and a film forms in the bottom of the pot (this won’t be visible in non-stick pots).
- Cooling the panade: Transfer the dough to a medium bowl or to the bowl of a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix for a few minutes on the lowest setting or by hand using a wooden spoon. Steam will come out of the dough.
Add the eggs
- When the dough cools down to about 60°C (140°F), or when your bowl doesn’t feel extremely hot and there is no more steam coming out, start adding the eggs very slowly. If you haven’t done it already, slightly beat the eggs with a fork before adding them to the dough. Add a third to begin with and mix until fully incorporated. The dough will initially look curdled but will come together with mixing.
- Add the remaining eggs little by little until the dough looks smooth and glossy. If you hold the paddle or spoon up, the dough should hold onto it for a few seconds before falling back into the bowl. If it doesn’t fall, it’s too dry. Keep adding more egg.
Pipe or spoon the choux pastry
- Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a large open tip. Get rid of any air bubbles in the bag. You can just use a big spoon if you don’t want to pipe the dough.
- Hold the piping bag perpendicular (90° angle) to the piping surface (parchment paper, silicone mat etc.) with the tip about 2 cm (3/4 inch) above it. Pipe 4 cm (1.6 inches) choux (or desired size) and top with a chocolate craquelin disk. Leave a space of about 4 cm (1.6 inches) between the choux. It is best to pipe the choux in staggered rows to ensure they won’t stick together when they puff up and to allow for proper heat distribution. I didn’t do it in the example above as I was using the template of my choux pastry silicone mat.
Bake the chocolate choux
- Bake for about 20 minutes or until they look puffy and set. Change the convection to a conventional setting (or reduce the temperature to 170°C/338°F in a conventional oven) and keep baking for about 20 more minutes or until dry to the touch. If desired, cut one pastry in half to check the inside. It should be dry or very slightly moist.
- Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely at room temperature.
Filling The Chocolate Choux With Salted Caramel Filling
- Slice the top of the choux, about 2/3 of the way up. If you want to close the choux fully again, place the top of the choux nearby so you don’t have to guess which one it is when all the choux are cut.
- Remove the salted caramel filling from the refrigerator and transfer it to a mixing bowl. Using a hand mixer, mix on medium speed for about 5 minutes, or until the cream slightly lightens in color and holds its shape.
- Fill a piping bag fitted with desired tip (I used Wilton 2D) with the cream. Fill the choux then place the top back on. I used about 20 g (0.7 oz.) of cream per choux.
And that’s it! They might take a bit of time to prepare but they are totally worth it. And you can easily prepare the craquelin and choux pastry in advance. Enjoy!