On this week’s episode of “My Adventures with Pâte à Choux”, I conquered an old childhood favorite. I have vivid memories of Friday night pizza dinners where my dad, who drove to New Jersey every day for work, would bring home pizza from the special pizza place with the triangle windows, and a box of cream puffs for dessert. While I was perusing the unofficial baking bible, Erin McDowell’s The Fearless Baker, I came across this recipe and the memories flooded back, and suddenly eating a dozen cream puffs single-handedly was all I could think about. These can be done in so many ways, changing the glaze on top and the filling inside are definitely encouraged (TFB ones are topped with a beautiful berry glaze), but for today I went with a classic vanilla cream filling and a chocolate top.
This recipe is broken down into a few parts, the pastry, the filling, and the glaze. Pâte à Choux, a light french pastry dough, can be a little tricky, so I would recommend reading the directions all the way through (something I’m notoriously guilty of not doing), and set out all your ingredients in the correct forms, since once it gets going, there isn’t much downtime. These puffs are filled with vanilla diplomat cream, which sounds fancy, because it IS. But it’s also really just a mix of pastry cream and whipped cream together and wow is it good. At several times during the process I found myself standing over the bowl of it, “taste-testing” by the spoonful, we all know how that goes, right? ANYWAY, without further ado, happy baking!
½ cup water
½ cup milk
4 tbs unsalted butter
1 tsp kosher salt
1½ cups bread flour
5 large eggs, beaten (plus 1 or 2 extra if needed)
1 large egg, beaten + 1 tbs water (for egg wash)
1. In a medium-sized saucepan, add water, milk, butter, and salt, and bring to a boil on medium-low heat. Add flour all at once, and immediately begin to stir. Reduce heat to low and stir constantly, until the mixture becomes sticky and forms a ball when moved around with the spoon. There should be a film of starch on the bottom of the pan.
2. Transfer this mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or to a large mixing bowl with a hand mixer). Mix briefly on low so that the mixture is slightly cooled before you add in the eggs.
3. Drizzle in beaten eggs in a steady stream with the mixer on medium, and mix until it is fully incorporated into the batter. It should be about 5 minutes.
4. To test the consistency of the batter, dip the paddle (or whisk) into the batter, and lift. The batter should form a V shape that slowly separates from the batter remaining in the bowl. If this doesn’t happen or it breaks away too quickly, it means that the dough is too stiff, in which case, repeat step 3 with another beaten egg and test again. Add a final egg if necessary to reach the right consistency. At this point, add the batter to a piping bag or ziploc bag, fitted with a large circular tip or cut to about a ¾ inch opening.
5. Pipe small circular mounds of batter onto 2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper, like above. If the tops are too pointy, dip your finger in water and gently flatten the tops so that they bake evenly. Let the piped puffs rest for 20 to 30 minutes until the batter forms a “skin” on the outside.
6. Preheat the oven to 400ºF and position your oven racks to the upper and lower thirds of your oven. Brush each puff with the egg wash and bake until they are golden brown and crisp, about 24-26 minutes. If you’re unsure of their done-ness, tap the puff with your fingertip, it should sound hollow. Allow them to cool completely.
3 cups whole milk
¼ tsp kosher salt
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise, or 2 tsp vanilla extract
5 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1/3 cup cornstarch
3 tbs unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups heavy cream, whipped
1. Combine milk, salt, and ¼ cup sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add them, along with the pod, to the milk mixture. If you’re using vanilla extract instead, do NOT add now because it will just boil off. Save the extract for the end, don’t worry, I’ll remind you!
2. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat. In the meantime, whisk together the remaining ½ cup sugar and the cornstarch in a medium bowl and set aside. When the milk has reached a simmer, remove the vanilla bean pod and turn the heat down to medium-low.
3. Whisk the egg yolks into the cornstarch mixture, and then carefully (and slowly!!) drizzle in one third of the hot milk mixture, whisking the whole time to keep the eggs from scrambling. This process is called tempering, and it helps raise the overall temperature of the egg mixture so that it doesn’t immediately cook when added to the hot milk.
4. Add this tempered mixture back to the rest of the hot milk mixture, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula and making sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the pot as you go. Cook this mixture for three to four minutes, until it becomes very thick. Remove from heat and stir in the butter and vanilla extract if you’re using it.
5. Push this mixture through a sieve (just in case there are lumps or accidental pieces of egg) into a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap by pressing it directly to the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Chill until completely cooled.
6. Right before filling the cream puffs, fold in the whipped cream to the chilled pastry cream gently until combined.
7. To fill the cream puffs, you can go one of two ways: 1) slice each puff completely in half and fill the bottom half of each puff with cream before replacing the top, OR 2) using a pairing knife, cut an x into the bottom of each puff. Using a piping bag, fill each puff from the bottom until they feel full- I like to overstuff mine but it’s totally your preference.
4 ounces bittersweet (or dark) chocolate
½ cup heavy cream
Drizzle of light corn syrup (optional)
1. Place chocolate in a medium bowl. Bring heavy cream to a boil in a separate pot.
2. Once boiled, add the heavy cream to the chocolate and let stand for a few minutes to allow the chocolate to melt. If you want the glaze to stay shinier, add a drizzle of light corn syrup and whisk until smooth.
3. If you cut your cream puffs in half, spoon the chocolate glaze over the tops, the more chocolate the better! If you filled them from the bottom, dip the tops of the puffs into the bowl of chocolate and let the excess drip off.
At this point, do what I do, which is try not to eat all of them before anyone else in your family even makes it to the kitchen. I hope you enjoy!! xoxoD