Birthday Cake for the Right Brain Thinker

It’s my birthday.  Here is my cake.  When I asked myself what flavors/tastes/textures I wanted out of my cake this year, my favorite dessert came to mind.  Profiteroles.  No question, the choice was easy.  How to make that profiterole dessert look like a festive whole to serve a group, rather than the more usual plated dessert for an individual, was the conundrum.

And then, as if by magic, the idea for what the finished cake would look like and how all the elements might look when assembled came to me as a big picture, right down to the domed shape and antennae placement of tall and slender pink candles.  From there, creation and assembly was only a matter of deconstructing a whole down to its parts.

Part croquembouche, part make your own sundae, part alien spacecraft, the finished cake may look a little bizarre to birthday traditionalists.  But while it may not be everybody’s idea of cake or birthday, this cake is just what I wanted: something sublime.  Crispy choux pastry shells, cold and creamy vanilla and coffee ice creams, a slathering of warm chocolate sauce – the combination of tastes and textures and temperatures makes this the perfect dessert.

Profiterole Birthday Dessert with Vanilla and Coffee Ice Creams and Warm Chocolate Sauce

For the choux pastry puffs:

  • 6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3 large eggs at room temperature

Position two oven racks evenly spaced, with one in the top third of the oven and the other in the bottom third.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment and set aside.

Place butter, water and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring until the butter is melted.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the flour all at once to the pan.  Stir the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon until the dough cooks a bit and forms a ball that pulls away from the sides of the pan, about 30 seconds.  Transfer this dough to a clean bowl and let rest for a couple of minutes to cool slightly.

Using a hand held electric mixer, add the eggs to the dough, beating in one at a time, and mixing well after each addition.

Scoop the batter using a #40 ice cream scoop onto the parchment lined sheets, about 10 per sheet.  Alternately, you may put the batter in a piping bag fitted with a wide round tip and pipe a mound of batter about 1-inch high by 1 1/2-inch wide onto the sheets.  Or use a tablespoon to drop rounds onto the prepared sheets.  Makes between 18 and 20 puffs.

Bake puffs until golden brown for 20-25 minutes, switching racks once midway during baking.

Remove the trays from the oven.  Using a skewer or toothpick, poke each profiterole along its side once or twice to release steam.

Return the trays to the oven to dry out the middles for another 3-5 minutes, keeping the oven door open a few inches.  Remove sheets from the oven and cool them on cooling racks.  Once cool, profiteroles may be transferred to cooling racks and used immediately, or stored in an airtight container for the next day.

Profiteroles may be made a day in advance and recrisped the next day before serving by placing them on a baking sheet in a 350-degree oven for another 5 minutes.

Warm Chocolate Sauce

This very delicious, thin, pourable, but richly chocolate sauce comes from Thomas Keller’s cookbook, Bouchon.  The corn syrup gives the sauce the right consistency for pouring, and helps the sauce stay glossy, sauce-like, and pliable once poured over something cold, in this case ice cream-filled choux puffs.  If you don’t like using corn syrup, make a thin ganache with just the cream and chocolate, but be advised the sauce will harden on contact with the cold.

  • 8 ounces good quality semisweet chocolate (60-62%) (Thomas Keller recommends Valrhona Equatoriale; I used Ghirardelli), finely chopped
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup

Place the chopped chocolate in a bowl.

Combine the cream and corn syrup in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring to combine.  Pour the hot liquid over the chocolate and allow it to sit for about 3 minutes, or until the chocolate has melted.  Whisk to combine.  Allow sauce to cool slightly, then pour over profiteroles immediately.

Alternately, allow the sauce to cool completely and cover tightly.  Stored covered with plastic in the refrigerator, this will keep for up to two weeks.  To reheat, warm the sauce gently in the top of a double boiler or in the microwave, then serve as above.

For the ice cream fillling:

This may be done in advance of assembly to make putting the cake together a breeze.  Done this way, the ice cream will not melt between filling puff 1 and puff 18.

  • 1 pint best quality vanilla ice cream
  • 1 pint best quality coffee ice cream

(These flavors provide nice contrasts to the chocolate sauce, and also happen to be my favorites.  But choose any smooth, mix-in free flavor of your choice.)

Using ice cream scoop # 40, scoop 9 balls of vanilla ice cream and 9 balls of coffee ice cream into a glass dish with a cover.

Place a layer of plastic wrap over the top of the ice cream and then top the dish with the lid.  Chill at least an hour.  Scooped ice cream will stay in good condition overnight, so this step may be done the day before serving.

To assemble:

Crisp up the puffs if necessary.  Split 18 of them in half horizontally and fill the bottom half of the shell with a ball of ice cream.  Top the puffs with the top half of the shell, and pile these in an alternating pattern on top of a cake plate or stand in any decorative display you choose.  Decorate with candles if desired.

After singing, use a spoon to transfer 2 or 3 profiteroles to a plate, ladle on some warm chocolate sauce and  serve to your guests.  Enjoy.

©2011 Jane A. Ward