Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Cream Puffs

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It's weird because every year for Valentines Day I want to go out to eat. This year I actually want to stay home. If I could do anything I would turn the music up and have cocktail hour with the family. Champagne and strawberries for me and the husband and pellegrino-cranberry for the kids. At 7:30, the littlest would go down for bed and I would put a special movie on upstairs for the older ones. Then, Jeremy and I would sit down to a late dinner. I would serve something sexy but not pretentious, like an upscale herby, cheesy pasta or a beef bourgiugnon. Or better yet, we would do it up picnic style on the living room floor with homemade pizzas with hot red pepper flakes, Parmesan and wine while listening to Adele, Dave Matthews, and Nora Jones. Then, we'd start a movie, pop some popcorn, share a blanket, and eat the most perfect cream puffs filled with the most indulgent vanilla pastry cream and topped with creamy chocolate ganache for me and a simple dusting of powdered sugar for him. The kids would put themselves to bed, and then so would we, and then proceed to sleep all night long with no crying/bad dreams/sleep walking/crib bashing to disturb us. I would sleep a full nine hours-undisturbed. And that would be the greatest Valentines Day for me this year.

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It won't happen. For several reasons. First off, Jeremy can never wait to eat dinner past 6:00pm. He starts to raid the fridge, then inevitably eats all the salsa that I am always saving for tostadas. This always happens. Second, we don't eat meat so beef bourguignon is out. Pasta and pizza are negotiable. Third, we live with other people in the house right now so romantic picnic's with just the two of us is definitely not going to happen. Plus, my husband is the furthest thing from cheesy so I'm not sure it would go down anyway. Maybe- because he loves me. Fourthly, The kids won't put themselves to bed. And lastly, the last time I made these cream puffs (two days ago) my husband walked through the door, saw them and said, and I quote "Oh, no. Am I supposed to eat those again?"

Well, to be fair I have made either cream puffs or eclairs 4 out of the last 5 days because I am completely obsessed with making the most perfect pastry cream on planet Earth. You can quote me here when I say, this is the best, most luxurious, smooth, vanilla pastry cream imaginable. Yep, I just said that. The actual puff part is awesome too, and you can make small or large ones to suit your tastes. Surprisingly, cooking time is almost the same for both.

I don't care for cream puffs filled with whipped cream because I find them boring. I don't like cream puffs filled with eggy vanilla pudding either. I like a cross between the two (and just folding them together sounds simple enough, but with the wrong recipe to start with, it's not good, or smooth.) I like my pastry cream rich, and not too sweet. I like it fluffy, yet dense. In short, I am absolutely head over heels for this pastry cream. And you will be to.

The first secret is in the recipe for the actual pastry cream itself which came from this website and originally from the Laduree cookbook in Paris. The recipe is easy and doesn't ask you to watch a candy thermometer so the eggs won't curdle. It's also not heavy with egg but thickened with cornstarch, so it's almost lighter and it couldn't be easier. Just whisk the egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch together in a bowl.
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Then in a saucepan bring the milk and vanilla to a simmer. Then slowly or gradually pour the milk mixture into the egg mixture whisking like mad the whole time. If you don't whisk madly, or pour too much of the hot milk into the eggs they will curdle. I've never had it happen, but just take caution. Pour everything back into the saucepan and bring to boil while whisking. It will thicken up beautifully in just a few minutes. When it looks like vanilla pudding, you are done.

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Let it cool for a couple minutes, then whisk in the cold butter until smooth and shiny. Now let it cool to room temperature before folding into your whipped cream:

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The vanilla taste and sweetness is spot on. Since the pastry cream has not cooled in the refrigerator it doesn't set up too firm, so it's easy to fold into the cream without lumps. If it's just straight pastry cream you are looking for (like in a fruit tart, don't fold the whipped cream in. Traditionally it's supposed to be thick and generally keep it's shape). For pastries though, folding whipped cream in is the way to go. The result will make you swoon. Refrain from eating right out of the bowl. Now you can refrigerate until ready to use.

Choux pastry (pronounced "shoe") is stupid easy and fast. This is the actual cream puff. Once you make it you'll wonder why you don't everyday.

Step 1: Heat water and butter in a saucepan
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Step 2: Measure out flour, sugar and salt


Step 3: Once water and butter is simmering, add all the dry ingredients at once and stir with a wooden spoon until the dough comes away from the edges and forms a ball
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Step 4: place the dough in your electric mixer with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed for one minute to cool it off. Next, add your eggs a little at a time until you have shiny dough.
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Alternately you can manually mix the eggs with the dough with a wooden spoon. The dough should look like this when done:
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You are now ready to pipe your puffs

Press down spiky parts with a wet finger and bake
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Voila! Perfection! These are the smaller sized cream puffs
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No, wait. Top with ganache, fill with cream and then...Voila! Perfection! Large Cream Puffs
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smaller cream puffs
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And just to set the record straight, Jeremy was not complaining about having to eat these cream puffs again. He was lamenting that they were in the house, yet again, and he knew (because they are so good) that he would not have as much self control and he would wish, and he would gobble them down. I know most men don't lament like this.

And don't let this lengthy post fool you. Cream puffs are easy, especially when the recipe is explained throughly and there are lots of pictures, which makes the post long and seem complicated. Read through the lines.

Vanilla Pastry Cream
adapted from the Laduree Cookbook
makes enough for one recipe cream puffs

4 eggs yolks
2 cups whole milk
2/3 cup granulated sugar (I just use the 1/3 measurement twice)
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter
1 vanilla bean, cut open, seeds scraped or 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon powdered sugar

In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together thoroughly. Add the cornstarch and whisk until combined and thickened.

Heat the milk and vanilla together until simmering. Slowly stream the hot milk into the egg mixture whisking like mad the whole time. Or, add small amounts of the milk mixture from a ladle, a little at a time and whisk like mad (this approach works better if you have weaker wrists, like me).

Once everything is combined, add it all back to the sauce pan and bring to boil over medium heat, whisking constantly. It won't take long, and it is important to whisk so you don't get lumps. You want a smooth cream.

Once mixture has thickened to pudding like consistency, remove from heat and let it cool for 5 minutes. Next, whisk in the butter a tablespoon at a time until pastry cream is shiny. Transfer the pastry cream to a non-reactive bowl and let sit until it comes to room temperature.

Beat the whipping cream on high until stiff peaks form, add the 1 tablespoon powdered sugar and mix to combine. When the pastry cream is cool, add it to the bowl of whipped cream and gently fold the two together. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Choux Pastry
makes 9 large, or 18 smaller cream puffs

1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
1 cup water
4 eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (wax paper works too). Measure out the flour, sugar and salt together and set aside.

Place the butter and water in a sauce pan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and with a wooden spoon quickly add the flour mixture. Put back on the heat and stir together until the dough forms a smooth ball (about 30 seconds to a minute).

Place dough ball in an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed for one minute to let some of the heat escape. Next, add your eggs slowly, letting some combine into the dough before adding more and mix until you have a smooth, thick paste.

Spoon or pipe (a zip lock back with the tip cut off works) nine large mounds, or 18 smaller mounds of dough onto the parchment paper, spacing them a few inches apart. With a wet finger, push down any spots that are sticking up.

Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. bake for 30 to 40 minutes further (My large ones took 35 minutes, and smaller 30 minutes) until shells are a nice amber color and when split, are dry inside. Let the shells cool to room temperature on a rack.

Chocolate Ganache
1/3 cup heavy cream
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate

break chocolate into small chunks and place in a small bowl. Heat the milk in a small saucepan to simmering. Pour hot milk over chocolate and allow to sit for 1 minute, then whisk into a thick ganache. use right away to top your cream puffs.

To Assemble The Cream Puffs
Split each cream puff in half horizontally. Fill or pipe with chilled pastry cream. Spoon the chocolate ganache over the top of each and spread slightly to cover. Or sprinkle powdered sugar over instead of the chocolate, if you prefer true vanilla cream puffs.

Store at room temperature if eating the same day, or stick in the refrigerator for a few hours. These are best eaten the same day they are made, otherwise they will get soggy.


11 comments:

  1. as always... sounds so so yummy! this year my husband is making v-day dinner (we always eat v-day dinner at home).... he lost the super bowl bet! yay me!

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  2. We used to get the frozen cream puffs when I was younger! Yours look absolutely amazing! Thanks for sharing!

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  3. wow...looks divine...excellent presentation with stunning cliks..
    Tasty Appetite

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  4. Absolutely gorgeous, Krysta! I can see why you would be obsessed with them. Your dream does sound perfect. I hope you find some quiet time with your sweetheart on Valentine's Day.

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  5. WHAT!!! where was I? I did NOT get a phone call that these were even on the premises. I feel SOOO left out!!! :(

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  6. These are just beautiful! Perfect for Valentine's Day! Wonderful pictures too, by the way.

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  7. these turned out SOOOO cute!! and they look delish!! believe it or not, i've never had a cream puff......what's wrong with me???

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