Hello, long time no communicating.
It only took a quarantine to be back, very sorry. I just moved into a new home and then this big news has hit hard. No more working for a while, not seeing friends on a normal basis. Only cooking and baking for myself and Michael has been a little weird as I’m used to making meals and treats for others, I’m learning to keep to myself.
As much as I was ready for just a couple of days off from work to recharge and rest, I wasn’t ready for weeks off. A girl can only relax so much! So now that I have an upgraded kitchen that I’m happy to be in unlike the last place, I’m ready to bake full speed ahead.
Today I’m sharing a simply satisfying treat I love so much, cream puffs. I find them to be just that, simple and I could eat a couple and feel no guilt. They are created in many ways, stuffed with whipped cream, fruit, topped with various chocolate glazes. Today I’m keeping it plain and simple since I’ve washed so many dishes already. I’m saving my stash of chocolates for more important things like brownies and ice cream projects coming soon.
But what I am elevating is the filling which is a vanilla bean pastry cream. This recipe I’m working with makes plenty on purpose. As I’m learning self-isolation, I’m accepting I’ll need a late-night excuse to grab a spoon and eat this pastry cream straight out of the bowl when I don’t have many responsibilities due to the quarantine. The extra pastry cream can be used as filling for tarts, put it on top of brownies (again with the brownies, something is stuck in my head), but it is so good on its own with fresh fruit if you have any.
The dough for making cream puffs is a choux pastry (Pâte à Choux). This dough can be made for other delicious desserts such as eclairs, profiteroles, and churros. This is a great pastry to learn for its versatility. It shows you’ve got it together, even if you don’t at this moment.
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 4oz of unsalted butter
- 1/4 tsp kosher salt
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 large eggs, cracked into a bowl ahead of time
Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream
- 3 cups whole milk
- 2 tbsp vanilla bean paste or whole vanilla bean split and filling scraped, or vanilla extract
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 tsp kosher salt
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 4 tbsp unsalted butter
Medium Saucepans (2), Half Sheet Pans (2), Wooden Mixing Spoon/Large Spatula, Whisk, 16"-18" Pastry Bag, Tall Deli Container or Tall Drinking Cup, Pastry Blade, Fine Mesh Strainer, Oven Thermometer, Cooling Racks, Serrated Knife.
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Have oven rack perfectly in the middle of the oven.
- In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, add water, milk, butter, and salt and stir to melt the butter with the mixture.
- Once butter is completely melted, bring it to a boil for under a minute then turn off the heat. Move to a towel on the counter or onto a nonhot burner on the stovetop.
- Add flour to butter mixture in the saucepan and using a wooden spoon or sturdy spatula, mix in the flour thoroughly. You will notice this will look like wet mush, in the beginning, that's okay just keep mixing. This should come together into a soft dough ball, resembling whipped mashed potatoes.
- Bring back on to medium-low heat on the stove and stir it for a minute to bring it together. Remove from heat completely.
- Now, this part can be done in two different ways. If you want to remain classical French you keep your saucepan and wooden spoon and you add one egg at a time into the pan and vigorously mix the egg into the dough. This is a great arm workout but if you are not feeling this, don’t worry there is an easier way. A stand mixer with a paddle attachment or hand mixer.
- Transfer dough to a bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Turn on no higher than 4 and let the mixer run for a minute to fan the dough and cool it down for a little. You’ll see steam coming out, that’s good.
- Reduce the speed to 2 and add one egg at a time, don’t try to be fast and dump all your eggs at once, it’s not pretty and you’ll ruin your consistency of the choux dough. One egg at a time ensures it easily mixes in without too many egg whites flooding the dough. Once one egg has mostly mixed in, add another egg. Repeat this process until all eggs are incorporated.
- Let the dough mix together for another minute to make sure all eggs are mixed in. Stop and take a healthy little dollop of the dough on your index or middle finger. Gently rub the dough with your thumb and slowly pull the dough between your two fingers to see it build a “string” effect. If the dough doesn’t snap right away and gets a ½ inch string before snapping, you have successfully created your choux. If this is snapping right away, try adding one more egg to help bind it.
- Transfer your choux to a large piping bag with a clean circle tip (I’m using size #12 but you can go a larger circle). I used a circle cookie cutter and traced 16 circles on parchment paper to go on my baking sheet. Make sure you flip the inked side of parchment to face down on the sheet, you don’t want your dough touching that.
- Keep the pastry bag straight as you can when you pipe and have your tip in the middle of the circle template when you press the dough out. As you pipe, don’t dangle the tip, keep it touching the dough as you pipe to make your puff as even as possible. When done, quickly but cleanly move onto the next circle and continue on piping, it’s okay if there is a point, we will go back and fix those.
- After you have finished (I had extra dough so I squeezed two free form puffs along the sides of the parchment), have a little bowl of water to gently dip your finger in and gently press the points on your puffs. Don’t press hard, just a gentle graze to make sure nothing points out, this will cause burning to your puffs if you don’t fix those.
- Transfer your baking sheet to the oven and bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.
- After 15 minutes, reduce the heat to 350 to bake for 20 minutes.
- After 20 minutes, reduce your oven a final time to 300 degrees. Finish baking at this temp for 15-20 minutes. You’ll want the puffs to feel pretty hollow and light when you pick one up. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack.
- While those cool we move onto the pastry cream. In a medium bowl combine your egg yolks, sugar, salt, and cornstarch and whisk on the medium effort until this turns into a pale yellow and has some thickness to it, about 4 minutes (If you have a quarantine companion make them help with this part).
- In a roomy saucepan over medium heat, combine your milk and vanilla and bring only to a simmer, not boiling! Remove from heat.
- Slowly add a little of the hot vanilla milk into the egg bowl, once the hot milk touches you MUST start whisking to avoid any scrambled eggs. You’ll only need to add half of the hot milk to the eggs, not all of it (I find it helpful to transfer your hot milk to a large liquid measuring cup so you can pour slowly while you whisk with the other hand rather than tilting a big, hot saucepan).
- Transfer the measuring cup milk and bowl of egg/milk mixture back to the saucepan over medium-low heat and whisk constantly but not too slowly, so there aren't scrambled eggs and not too fast to tire yourself out. You will be whisking for about 4-6 minutes depending on your stovetop heat consistency. You are looking for thickness to appear, you’ll feel it in the drag of your whisk. Turn off immediately when it shows as thick but a little loose.
- Remove from heat and to make sure it is silky smooth, run through a fine-mesh strainer. Whisk in the butter. Cover with plastic wrap directly touching the cream, no air space or cracks, and dry skin will form on top of your cream. Transfer to the fridge to cool.
- When everything has cooled completely, take a serrated knife and cut the tops off of the puffs. You can also use a paring knife and make a small cut to the bottom of the puff, once the knife is in, slowly and lightly rotate the knife to create a circle cut.
- Transfer pastry cream to a piping bag with a star tip and pipe a “generous” amount of pastry cream.
- Once puffs are all assembled, dust the tops with powdered sugar and go for it, treat yourself.