Milk tea cream puffs

These cream puffs were the result of me craving milk tea in dessert form, but not wanting to do another panna cotta or ice cream. So instead, my mind went to pate choux, or cream puffs. Since I make hojicha(toasted sencha or Japanese green tea) sugar quite regularly, I knew I could use that to flavor the choux dough, the craquelin(thin butter cookie) that went around them, the cream that went inside of them, and to make a caramel sauce to pour on top of these. I originally was going for a Tiger Sugar-type of aesthetic with the caramel drizzled all over the top of the cream, but realized that would just be a mess to eat. So instead, I went with a more contained appearance, doing a dollop of cream on top being made into a small well, and pouring the caramel into that. I debated back and forth a ton about whether or not I would do a “boba”-type of component. Personally, I don’t want to put actual boba on this kind of dessert. Tapioca is best served hot, while the pearls are still chewy and soft. When you cool those down, they get hard, dense, and just unpleasant to consume, which is why I dislike seeing boba pearls used in desserts. But I figured, why not take a page out of my Masterchef bestie Bri’s book, and synthesize caviar? So I went that route instead, and made a hojicha caramel caviar, using a bit of soy sauce to darken the color and to add that pop of salt to season the mixture with in place of actual salt.

To list down all of the components, we have pate choux with a hojicha craquelin, hojicha cream, a soy-hojicha caramel, and soy-hojicha pearls. For the hojicha sugar, you can make it yourself by toasting sencha leaves and grinding that with sugar in a spice grinder, or you can just mix powdered sugar with hojicha powder in a 4 to 1 sugar to tea powder ratio to get the same result! I prefer making mine from scratch, just because I love the smell of freshly made hojicha leaves wafting through my house, but I also get that not everyone has the time or spice grinder/food processor/blender/mortar and pestle for that, and that’s A-okay! Other things I want to note include making sure that the craquelin dough is nice and cold, just so that it is easier to transfer to the tops of your pate choux. For the pate choux, once it is in the oven, DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR. Pate choux only bake and inflate by staying insulated in the oven. Once you let cold air into it by opening the door, they deflate, and you can’t save them. Just trust the process and the times I listed below in the recipe for baking those. And lastly, the caviar. You use a lot of oil to make these, but that oil is perfectly reusable. I literally poured the oil back through a funnel into the oil bottle after using it, since all it is really there for in the recipe is to keep the pearls separate while bringing down the temperature of them quickly. That oil is 100% reusable and it would be a waste to pour it down the drain after one use. You can also shape the caviar using either a syringe(what Bri would use) or piping bag. I used a squeeze bottle because that’s all I had on hand.

For the hojicha sugar:
3 packets of sencha leaves
1/2 cup granulated sugar

Toast the sencha leaves on low heat for 2-3 minutes, until browned and toasted. Cool down. Transfer all ingredients into a spice grinder and blitz into a fine powder(you can use a food processor, blender, or mortar and pestle as well!). Store in an airtight container until time to use.

For the craquelin:
2 tbsp hojicha sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tbsp unsalted butter
a pinch of salt

Mix to form your dough. Refrigerate for 10 minutes first. Then roll out and cut into 8 2-inch disks of dough. Keep frozen.

For the choux:
1/4 cup water
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp hojicha sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 egg

Bring water, butter, sugar, and salt to a boil. Once the butter is fully dissolved into the water, add in the flour and stir until combined. Take off heat and allow the mixture to cool down to lukewarm. Mix in the egg and transfer into a piping bag. Pipe the pate choux mixture on a lined sheet tray, keeping them about 2 inches apart – you want 8 2-inch wide mounds in total. Place the craquelin on top. Bake first at 400 degrees F for 10 minutes, then another 15 minutes at 325 degrees F. Cool completely before cutting in half.

For the black tea “pearls”:
1 packet sencha leaves
2/3 cups water
1 tsp agar agar
1 tbsp hojicha sugar
1/4 tsp soy sauce
1 cup oil, kept in the freezer for at least 1 hour

Toast the sencha leaves on low heat for 2-3 minutes, or until brown and toasty. Pour in water and bring to a simmer. Reduce by half and then strain out the toasted sencha leaves. Stir in the agar, hojicha sugar, and soy sauce. Heat up until the agar is fully melted in. Transfer to either a squeeze bottle or syringe. Pipe small dots of the liquid into the oil and let the caviar sink to the bottom. Strain the caviar out of the oil, rinse them off with cold water to remove any excess oil, and store in an airtight container.

For the milk tea caramel:
1/4 cup hojicha sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp soy sauce
1 tbsp unsalted butter

Heat up hojicha sugar in a pan. Once the sugar dissolves and begins to turn an amber-brown, add in the milk, salt, and butter. Stir until everything is combined. Pour through a sieve if necessary and cool down the caramel before transferring to either a squeeze bottle or piping bag.

For the milk tea cream:
1 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp hojicha sugar
a pinch of salt

Whip to stiff peaks. Transfer to a piping bag. Keep cold until time to use.

To finish:
Hojicha sugar

Pipe the cream inside of the choux. Drizzle the caramel over the cream before placing on the other half(to give it that “tiger sugar” effect). Dust with the remaining hojicha sugar to finish.

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