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When I was a little girl I loved cream puffs more than almost anything. Almost as much as I loved pickles, pizza and Greek food. Every year for my birthday, from ages 2 to, oh, probably, 14, instead of birthday cake, I wanted cream puffs and that’s what I got. As I got older, we would go for Greek food at my favorite Greek restaurant and they don’t serve cream puffs. It was often a difficult choice for me – my favorite dinner or my favorite dessert? A conundrum for the ages.
What is a cream puff exactly? It is a large pastry made from choux paste and filled with sweet cream or custard. Profiteroles are a miniature version of the cream puff and usually filled with ice cream. They can be topped with a little icing sugar, chocolate sauce, or any other flavour sauce one wants, or just left plain. I like my cream puffs to be wee in size. That way, if there are different flavours, you can sample the whole variety. I’ve seen cream puffs or profiteroles filled with sweet whipped cream, chantilly cream, boston cream, vanilla custard, chocolate mousse, lemon curd, espresso cream, maple cream … the list is endless really. Of course, any of the cream based fillings can be flavoured with a variety of booze. Wouldn’t be me if I didn’t at least try.
Past Cream Puffs Worthy of Note:
Eva made me profiteroles once. For my birthday. She’s a grand friend. She knows me well. She filled them with a mango mousse sorbet. They were amazing.
Lemon curd filled mini cream puffs dusted with icing sugar sold at the now defunct patisserie wing of Bon Rouge Restaurant. We called them “Crack Puffs” ’cause we were addicted and went there every second lunch hour to buy some. They were that good.
Last year I made mini cream puffs for Easter. It was my first time making choux paste. Amazingly, after all those many years of loving cream puffs, I had never actually tried making them! Shocking, right? Anyway, it was an adventure, to be sure. My beautiful Kitchenaid Professional stand mixer (wedding gift) upped and died in the middle of making the choux paste (thank goodness it was from Costco and they replaced it with a brand spankin’ new candy apple red better version – but that’s another story). Now, here’s the thing. To make choux paste, you first have to make what is essentially a big ball of roux, and then you have to beat eggs into it. This is not a task that a person wants to undertake by hand! But the batch was half done and there was no other choice. I discovered new muscles in my arms and shoulders that day. Reminded me of that time when I made risotto for 150 people in one giant pot. Such work is generally best done when assisted by copious amounts of vino.
Last Easter I learned that you should use wet fingers to pinch off the choux paste from the pastry bag (it is darn sticky) and that no one else in my family shares the same love of cream puffs as I do. Strange. I filled my Easter poppets with boston cream and with mocha whipped cream. Since it was pretty much just me eating them (and maybe a couple of others) I also discovered that cream puffs freeze brilliantly. Well, I can’t say that I discovered it. To be fair, Costco has known this forever and you can buy boxes of the little pleasure-filled buns without any effort at all. Of course, fresh homemade ones are better.
The National Cream Puff Day Batch:
At any rate, as much as I enjoy, love, adore cream puffs, I confess to being a tad daunted at the prospect of yet more rich bad for me food following on the heels of the Christmas holiday. This year was epic on the food front. We ate so much amazing food for every meal of every day that all I really feel like consuming at this point is raw vegetables and water. My rich food stomach is lastingly full! And seriously, how is a girl supposed to get herself off to a strong start for the New Year when she is forced to eat this stuff?
I made them anyway.
And I ate them too.
This time I used the Larousse recipe for choux pastry and learned that even greasing my non-stick cookie sheet doesn’t keep them from sticking. I had to use a paring knife to scrape them off the sheet and unfortunately mangled one or several. No matter, there were plenty left over. The mangled ones went to the dogs and my kid (who, lo and behold, happens to love them too).
I am actually quite a purist when it comes to my cream puffs, so I didn’t want to muck about too much. I just filled them with a lightly flavoured maple whipped cream and drizzled the smallest amount of chocolate over them for effect. Mostly it was for the picture. When given the option, I will happily use pieces of my choux pastry puffs to scoop up the whipped cream as though it were a veggie dip and the pastry was a carrot. I had planned to make a caramel rum sauce to go on top, instead of the chocolat, but my caramel-loving hubby is out for the night and after all the recent gluttonous festivities, I didn’t really feel up to making and eating a bowl of caramel sauce to myself.
Basic Choux Pastry Recipe for Cream Puffs:
1. Heat in saucepan 1 cup of milk or water (or milk and water mixed in equal parts), 5 tbsp. butter, 1 pinch salt and 2 tsp. caster sugar stirrin frequently until butter is melted.
2. Slowly bring to a boil and then remove from heat and immediately mix in all of 1 cup all-purpose flour. Return to heat and beat with wooden spoon until smooth and pulling away from sides of pan (approx. 1 minute). Do not overmix or pastry will be greasy.
3. Put into your mixer bowl and allow to cool slightly while you wash up from the previous two steps (this should be the right amount of time if you don’t have a dishwasher, otherwise wait another 5 minutes or so).
4. Beat in two eggs and then two more one after the other until the paste is smooth and shiny. To do this, I run my stand mixer on medium-high speed for at least two minutes.
5. Use piping bag (or ziploc with the corner cut off) to pipe blobs of choux paste onto lightly greased baking sheets (approx. 1 1/2 – 2 inches in size) and bake in pre-heated 425 degree oven for 10 minutes, reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 10 minutes (or up to 25 minutes for larger puffs) to allow enough time for puffing up.
6. Remove from oven and break open immediately to prevent steam from making the pastry soggy. Cool completely on wire racks before filling with your filling of choice.
Maple Whipped Cream:
Beat together 1 cup whipping cream and 2 – 3 tbsp maple syrup until stiff.
Caramel Rum Sauce: if I had ended up making it, this is the recipe I was going to use. It’s a pretty standard recipe. I’ve made it before. It’s pretty tasty.
This concludes my entry for National Cream Puff Day. Stay tuned when I return to you on January 4th with National Whipped Cream Day (really the two days ought to be together). I’m off to roll my lardy arse into bed now.