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Praline and profiteroles

Sometimes we don’t want our desserts to be sophisticated. Perhaps the more nursery-like, the better. Profiteroles are the perfect case in point. Filled with whipped cream or chilly ice-cream and doused with warm caramel or chocolate sauce, they are pure sugar solace. The millions of calories is a fleeting and forgotten thought while you devour your way through the bowl. Everyone from grannies to three year-olds loves to tuck into this classic French dish.

Not strictly relegated to sweets, they are also delicious with savory ingredients like gruyere cheese, olives, or anchovies mixed in. Cooked plain they can be filled with ham, goats cheese, sun-blush tomatoes or proscuitto for brunch or picnics.

Making choux pastry is pretty simple but a little arm power is required for stirring the eggs in. You can ward off your dinner ladies arms or buff your pecs making a couple batches of these. A hand mixer can do this as well. If doubling the batch, then scrape the cooked flour mixture into a food processor or standing mixer and slowly add the eggs. Piping them onto the baking sheets is not necessary; two little teaspoons do the job and you won’t feel suicidal trying to push the pastry into the bag.

Dulce di leche sauce (buy from any supermarket) is a great substitute for the caramel sauce if you’re feeling low energy. It never ceases to amaze me that it’s made from just slowly heated sugar and sweet condensed milk. I guess that’s sort of healthy since there isn’t any butter involved, but it will soon be eradicated with the other components. The praline can also be bought but it only takes about 5 seconds to make. The quality of the almonds is key. Spanish marcona are so superior to other almonds and most stores sell them now. If you use ice-cream instead of whipped cream, scoop out the balls 2-3 hours ahead and freeze on a baking sheet. That way you can avoid profiterole soup when pouring the hot caramel sauce over.

profiteroles with salted caramel sauce and marcona almond praline
prep time 25 minutes cook time 30 minutes
makes about 36

75 g/2 1/2 oz unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
100 g/3 1/2 oz/2/3 cup plain (all-purpose) flour, sifted
3 eggs
250 ml/9 fl oz/1 cup thick cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
55g/2 oz/ ¼ cup caster (superfine) sugar

Marcona almond praline
110g/3 3/4 oz/1/2 cup castor sugar
80g/2 2/3 oz/1/2 cup toasted marcona or other whole almonds

salted caramel sauce
125 ml/4 fl oz/1/2 cup golden syrup
100 g/3 1/2 oz caster (superfine) sugar
60 g/2 1/4 oz unsalted butter
125 ml/4 fl oz/1/2 cup thick (double) cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp sea salt flakes

Preheat oven to 200ºC (400ºF/Gas 4). Grease 2 baking trays with butter. Place 185 ml/6 fl oz/3/4 cup) water, the butter and ½ teaspoon salt in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and add the flour, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon until combined. Place the pan over medium heat and cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition, making sure it’s completely incorporated before adding the next. Beat for 2–3 minutes or until the dough is glossy. Use 2 teaspoons to shape 3 cm rounds of the mixture onto the baking trays. Or use a large zip plastic bag with one corner snipped to make a piping bag. Make sure there is at least 3 cm (1 1/4 inch) between them. Bake for 25 minutes or until crisp and golden. Cool completely on a wire rack. At this stage they can be stored 2 days ahead in a container.

To make the salted caramel sauce, heat the golden syrup in a heavy-based saucepan over low–medium heat. Add the sugar and cook, without stirring, for 8–10 minutes or until the mixture turns a deep golden brown. Be careful not to burn the sugar or it will become very bitter-tasting. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cream until well combined, then whisk in the butter and vanilla. Allow to cool, then sprinkle over the salt and gently combine.

To make the praline: Place the sugar in a non-stick frying pan over low heat and cook, without stirring, until dissolved and golden. Please don’t stir it or it will crystallise. Tilt the pan around while cooking to evenly distribute the caramel and prevent burning. Place the almonds on a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper. Pour the caramel over the nuts and let cool. Use a heavy utensil to break into pieces or finely chop.

Spilt the profiteroles in half. Whisk the cream, vanilla and sugar until soft peaks form. Spoon the cream onto the bases and sandwich with the tops. Place on serving plates, drizzle over the caramel sauce and sprinkle with toasted flaked almond to serve.