Last Friday, I was accosted (strong word, maybe) by two coworkers, on different occasions, both of whom made the suggestive comment of, “remember those salted caramel brownies you made that one time? Those were good…” I’m known around work as the baker, and I can take the hint of when it’s time to bring in treats. I’d usually go for something easy like said brownies, but today I had the itch to create something a little more elaborate. With nothing but a blank slate for a Sunday afternoon, I set to work to make cream puffs. From scratch.
I’m not usually one to oogle the flaky pastries in the bakery case, but I do love me some cream puffs. I’ve seen on TV that choux pastry was easy to make, and today I’d see if this was in fact true. I went with the recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. If anyone was going to teach me to successfully make a French pastry, I’d trust none other than Julia Child.
The ingredients were simple. Little more than butter, flour, milk and eggs for both. Following the recipes step by step, the finished product did prove to be extremely easy, if a little time consuming, though now that I’ve done it once, I suspect any subsequent effort will go a lot faster. I’d successfully made a mess in my kitchen and about 30 perfect little bites of heaven. I’d say this is totally worth repeating. As an FYI, these choux pastries can be filled with savory fillings as well, and would be an excellent addition to any holiday party spread.
Cooking the pastry cream
- 1 cup sugar
- 5 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup flour
- 2 cups boiling milk
- 1 TB butter
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup water
- 6 TB butter, unsalted
- pinch salt
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 eggs
- 1 tsp sugar
- sprinkle cinnamon
- 1 egg, beaten with 1 tsp water
- Gradually beat the sugar into the egg yolks into a 3 quart mixing bowl and continue beating for 2-3 minutes until the mixture is pale yellow.
- Beat in the flour.
- Beating the yolk mixture, gradually pour on the boiling milk in a thin stream, careful to not scramble the eggs.
- Pour into a saucepan and set over moderately high heat. Stir with wire whip, reaching all over bottom of pan. As the sauce comes to a boil it will get lumpy , but will smooth out as you beat it. When boil is reached, beat over moderately low heat for 2-3 mintues to cook the flour. Be careful the custard does not scorch in the bottom of the pan.
- Remove from heat and beat in the butter and vanilla. Let cool in the fridge and cover with saran wrap, pressing the plastic directly onto the custard to prevent skin from forming over the surface.
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
- Bring water to boil with the butter, sugar, salt and cinnamon and boil slowly until the butter has melted. Meanwhile, measure the flour.
- Remove from the heat and immediately pour in all the flour at once. Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon for several seconds to blend thoroughly. Then beat over moderately high heat for 1-2 minutes until the mixture leaves the sides of the pan and teh spoon, forms a mass and begins to film the bottom of the pan.
- Remove saucepan from heat and make a well in the center of the paste with your spoon. Immediately break an egg into the center of the well. Beat it into the paste for several seconds until it has absorbed. Contine with the rest of the eggs, beating them in one by one. Beat for a moment to be sure all is well blended and smooth.
- Fill a pastry bag with the warm pastry dough. Squeeze the paste onto two buttered baking sheets, making circular mounds about 1 inch in diameter and 1/2 inch high about 2 inches apart. Dip your pastry brush into the beaten egg/water mixture and flatten each puff slightly with the side of the brush. Avoid dripping egg down the puff and onto the baking sheet because the puff won't rise properly.
- Bake about 20 minutes until the puffs have doubled in size, are golden brown, firm and crusty to the touch. Remove them from the oven and pierce the side of each puff with a sharp knife. Then set in the turned-off oven and leave the door ajar for 10 more minutes. Cool the puffs on a rack. This piercing step is necessary becasue if not done, the puffs will get soggy and deflate. Piercing is necessary to release the steam.
- Once everything is cool, use a pastry bag to fill the puffs with the cream. Top with chocolate because, well, why not??