Cream Puffs

This is a bit of a baking project for those of you willing to try them out. Don’t, as I did, start this “project” at 730pm on a Sunday night when you’re hoping to go to bed at a reasonable hour. Instead, you’ll end up wide awake at midnight, having just finished your completed cream puffs. But, hey! You do you. If that sounds appealing, then do as I do.

I’ve been taking some baking lessons via Zoom for the last few months. So far I’ve done a macaron class, meringue, apple tart, and now cream puffs. They’re great for some tips and tricks and explaining how and why the chemical and scientific processes take place when baking treats.

Yesterday, I watched and took notes for the cream puff class and thought I’d pass on what I learned.

The completed cream puffs. Don’t let the light fool you. It was very much nighttime.

The sensible and logical way to start this process is by making the creme patissiere first. I say this, because it needs to chill and harden before it can be used and you might as well get a jump on that chilling.

Most crème pâtissière recipes are fairly similar in their quantities and descriptions with some minimal variations. The process remains fairly unchanged from recipe to recipe.

In a small/medium sized bowl, whisk together three egg yolks with 1/4 cup of granulated sugar. It should form a near paste. Then whisk in 2 tbsp of all-purpose flour and 1 tbsp of cornstarch. Continuing to whisk, add 1/4 c. of milk. Set aside.

In a smallish saucepan and over low heat, combine 1c. of milk, 1 tbsp of unsalted butter (room temperature), 2 tsp of granulated sugar, and 1/2 tbsp of vanilla paste. Don’t feel the need to stir this mixture, you’ll just bug the sugar while it tries to do its thing. Just watch it and look for it to just start simmering. If you wanted to, you could also add about a teaspoon of say Grand Marnier, to make a more adult dessert.

Once the milk mixture comes to a simmer, take it off the heat. You’re going to whisk it into your egg yolk mix. Whisk quickly, but pour slowly. You don’t want scrambled eggs. After its combined, return the whole thing to the saucepan and bake on the heat for about 30 seconds. This time, the heat can be a medium-high. You’re going to whisk vigorously at this point for about 30 seconds. If you don’t do this, the milk could interfere with the setting process.

Remove from the heat and either return it all to the bowl you were using, or more appropriately, try using a shallow smallish baking dish. I recommend this for allowing the creme pat to set more quickly. Cover it with cling wrap and make sure the wrap is touching the surface of it. Toss that in the fridge! It’s ready to use when it’s cold and firm, but will need to be whisked before it can be used.

Choux Pastry

Preheat your oven to 375F.

In a small/medium saucepan, combine 1/2c. of milk, 1/2c. of water, 7 tbsp of unsalted butter (cubed and room temp), 1 tsp of granulated sugar and 1/2tsp of salt. You want it to simmer, but start it on a low/medium heat. The butter should be melted.

Have 1 &1/4c of all purpose flour measured out nearby. As soon as the saucepan is simmering, take it off the heat and add the flour. Stir vigorously. It should come together nicely with a bit of a sheen to it. If it looks messy or oatmeal like, start over. Your milk might not have been hot enough.

Return it to the heat and continue to stir until a film appears on the bottom of the saucepan. This means that the dough is cooking a bit. It’s a good thing. Toss it all in the bowl of your stand mixer, if you have one.

With the paddle attachment and at the lowest speed, run your mixer with just the dough until you see absolutely NO steam. It will take a few minutes.

When there is no steam, mix in three eggs, waiting for each to be incorporated before moving on to the next. After the third egg, stop your mixer and grab a spoon. Pick up some dough on the spoon and turn the spoon to the side, allowing the dough to fall. If the dough remaining on the spoon leaves a pointed shape, you’re good. If the dough is more sloppy and less pointed, you may have to add another egg. This is because of the humidity in the air. If you have to add another egg, beat it in a separate bowl and start by adding a tablespoon. Try the spoon test. Repeat until you get that pointed shape. Make sure you do the spoon/point test in a couple places in the bowl. This dough should be THICK.

Place your dough in a piping bag with a fairly big circular piping tip. Hold the bag one inch from your parchment lined baking sheet. Apply pressure and wait for the dough to meet the piping tip. Your rounds should be about 2 inches wide and about an inch tall. If the rounds look messy, wet your fingers and shape them into smooth rounds. You don’t want any pointy parts here, otherwise they’ll bake that way.

I got 16 rounds out of this recipe and I wrestled with my piping bag the entire time. I’m talking like childbirth levels of difficulty here.

Toss your baking sheet in the oven for at least 30 minutes and DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN until that timer goes off. You want a nice brown colour to the eclairs. Not tan. Not olive. BROWN. If they’re not brown, keep baking for another 5-10 minutes. At 30 minutes, just open the door quickly to take a peek. No hanging around. When they’re done, leave them to hang out on the pan to cool. They should feel light. They should be hollow-ish. They must be cool to the touch before continuing on.

In the meantime, check on your creme pat. See if it’s cold and firm. Whisk it back up, if it is.

Whip up some chantilly cream! Using your whisk attachment on the stand mixer, combine 1c. of heavy cream with 1/4 c. of icing sugar and 1/2 tsp of vanilla paste or extract. You can adjust the icing sugar and vanilla quantities to your tastes. Continue mixing until medium to stiff peaks form.

Slice your choux pastries in half with a serrated knife. You can pipe creme pat and whipped chantilly cream on to the bottoms, or your can just spread it on, as I did at 1100pm. Place the tops back on them. They’ll keep for a couple days in this state, but not much more.

TA-DA! A very involved baking project, but they are SO delicious! Again, you can use pretty much any creme patissiere or choux pastry recipe, but make sure you consider these tips or tricks for a successful outcome. I’ve made too many bad batches of both not knowing what I was doing and it’s such a waste of time and ingredients when it goes sideways. Hope that was helpful!

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