Les Petite Choquettes
By Katie Concannon '17 May 2014
I suppose you could say I was warned. You could hardly expect words to mean what they sounded like from a country of people who will lovingly call their romantic darlings ‘my little cabbage,’ or, if they’re feeling particularly flirty, say ‘come to me, my petite flea.’ Nevertheless, I must admit I was fooled by the seemingly innocent and cute title of ‘Petites Chouquettes,’ which translates roughly into ‘Tiny Puffs.’ It sounds like the name of a stuffed cat. In reality, it was the beginning of a night of hellish strife and disappointment.
I should have bailed in the beginning, when I began to realize I was treading through very foreign, sugar-tinted waters. The author of the recette, shown on his blog as deeply tanned and outfitted in a Speedo with a roast of veal smoking at his side, explained the directions in English that could be called clumsy at best—“set a morsel of the salt on the flour until good for the tongue; stroke it rapidly with a spoon of wood until the mix be without chunks.” The ingredients were also all listed in milligrams, a problem easily skirted by using le Google, but that presented challenges nonetheless as I tried to measure out 1.37 cups of butter. In retrospect, it must have been somewhere along these crucial succession of steps that I made a vital mistake—a couple tablespoons excess of butter, perhaps a dollop too little of cream. I persevered, however, in my floury film of self-assurance, placing all of my trust in that fit, Speedo-ed man.
It was around a quarter to eleven at night that things began to degenerate. I had taken my flour, cream, butter, and salt mix form the stove, precisely as instructed. I looked at my recipe, the poorly-formatted type print words smudged from drops of this or that ingredient. “In this moment, dough is sticky from the stove. Form with your hands small balls like a ball of tennis. Set the balls on the lining of parchment.” I looked at my quickly cooling dough. The flour and cream mix had the consistency and ball-form-ability of Motts Applesauce. The butter had separated from the mixture entirely, and was forming an oily film. I panicked, but only for a moment. I then employed what the French often call improvisation. In English: improvisation.
I tried to use paper towels to dab away the excess butter from the mix. I then had a pile of buttery paper towels. I could still nearly see my reflection in the golden buttery haze swimming on top of my Chouqette dough. No go. I tried to pour it down the drain, and in the process lost a good cup of the mix to the dredges of my kitchen sink. A blessing in disguise, however, because this decreased amount was much easier to handle, and it was through a good amount of elbow grease and the exhaustion of all of the flour supplies in my house (as well as possibly some waffle mix) that I reached a dough that could be considered vaguely cohesive. I hurriedly used my fingers to form the balls, more the size of balls of golf than of tennis, and donned an oversized Oven Glove to place them in the preheated oven.
Perhaps it was the stress of the night or the fear that stretches to my childhood of the charring gape of the burning oven’s mouth, but despite the OvGlove, the skin of my wrist managed to connect to one of the equally preheated grates of the oven. I suffered the quick shock of pain in silence, but my arm still jerked, an instinct beyond my control. The parchment slid off of the baking sheet. My Petite Chouqettes, my fragile little cabbages, were vomited onto the floor of the oven. It was nearing midnight. I sat on the kitchen floor and cried.
Perhaps we would just have to explore American cuisine. I had a half-eaten package of Oreos—wait, no, I had eaten the rest during the stress of the buttered paper-towel incident. My french grade depended on this botched recipe. What could I bring in? Some cashews? A substantial bag of croutons? It wouldn’t do. I had do get my merde together. The Chouquettes were depending on me.
The rest of the night was a blur of exhaustion that is painful to recall. Operating under the idea that it would be baked anyways (and therefore sterilized), I was able to salvage most of what had spilt onto the oven floor. And I must say, despite the emotional damage and cream spills that will remain unknown to my mother, when blobbed together with a generous amount of whipped cream, the Chouquettes pulled through. They didn’t look half bad. Maybe only a third bad. Okay, they were pretty bad.
The proverbial cream on the puff was when, the next morning in Ms. Newman’s room, I labeled my dish as “Les Petites Chouettes,” forgetting the all-important ‘q’ in the title. I realized afterwards that in doing so, I had informed the student body that they were, indeed, eating “The Small Owls.”