I’m kind of on a French kick at the moment–or French inspired anyway. I have plans to face several of my cooking fears, for example I am terrible at poached eggs and hollandaise (or berenaise, or you name the naise). But today, it’s the cream puff. Choux paste (or pate a choux) plus a custardy cream plus a chocolate glaze. Or berries. Or chestnut cream. And on and on…
This pastry is the basis for many lovely things such as eclairs, french crullers, profiteroles, croquembouches, beignets (although the recipe I use for beignets is not traditional) and so much more. The big difference between beignets and choux pastry is beignets are deep fried and choux pastry is baked–or rather steamed–in the oven. Healthier, no? No. Because you then stuff it with cream and drench it in chocolate.
If you google it there are many recipes out there for ‘basic choux paste’ or ‘how to make the perfect choux paste’ and guess what? they’re all quite similar. This is what I did for about 30 cream puffs.
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tbsp extra fine granulated sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, cubed
1 cup flour (I used bread flour, but you don’t have to)
1 cup eggs, loosely beaten (I used 4 large eggs)
I plan on sharing my mistakes with you so that you won’t mess up as I totally did! My first mistake was not reading the recipe all the way through before I started. Doh! Second mistake: Although I had all my ingredients prepped I did not have all my equipment to hand and this hurt me when it came time for the cream filling. I was also cooking Ruth Reichl’s hashbrowns at the same time (I truly was!). So get out all your trusty appliances beforehand.
1. Begin by heating up the milk, water, sugar, salt and butter.
2. As soon as it boils, take it off the heat and add in the flour. I sifted the flour in and made a mess all over my stove. But it was fine.
Stir the flour in until well mixed and you have something that resembles a giant ball of buttery play dough.
3. Whisk in the eggs, a little at a time, until you have a soft batter with wet sheen to it. Or add this to your Kitchen Aid and use a paddle attachment to combine the egg in stages. Using a hand whisk worked for me and bonus, I didn’t have to clean a Kitchen Aid.
Keep an eye on the batter. I may have added just a drop too much egg. Yes, this is a soft wet batter but it needs to hold its shape once it’s been piped onto the baking tray. Here’s mine.
4. Preheat the oven to 350 and pipe the batter onto the baking trays covered with baking parchment. They can be close together. The trick to these pastry puffs is to steam them in the oven. So do not open the oven door to check on them! (You will do this at the very end when they are nearly cooked.) Spy on them through your oven window around the 20 minute mark and see if they’ve puffed up. Mine did not the first time and I took them out too soon.
Here’s a sad little picture of my fail.
5. Once they look like they’ve puffed up, crack the oven slightly and let them dry out and the tops crisp a little. When I let mine cook a little longer they turned out alright. (For eclairs, just pipe out a long tube shape and cook about 5 minutes longer.)
Here’s my success!
6. Now you can create whatever you like. Make a cream filling, glaze them, fill them with whipped cream and strawberries, or nutella. They were very good with nutella, but what isn’t?
I decided to try the cream filling.
Ingredients for pastry cream
For first phase:
1 cup milk
1/4 cup cream
1/4 cup extra fine sugar
vanilla bean (ideally) or vanilla extract (shhh!)
For second phase:
3 large egg yolks
2 tbsp extra fine sugar
3 tbsp cornstarch
If you’re going to go all the way and make the cream filling, you will need: a medium or large-sized pot, a large bowl and an electric mixer.
1. Bring the milk, cream and sugar and vanilla bean (or add tsp of vanilla extract at the end) to boil.
2. With an electric mixer, whisk the egg yolks and the 2 tbsp extra fine sugar and then whisk in the cornstarch Do not leave the milk boiling for a long time while you do this! It will burn on the bottom of the pan. This should all be a quick process.
3. Ladle some of the boiling milk to the eggs and keep whisking to combine and bring the eggs up to temperature. Needless to say, you do not want to have scrambled eggs. You want a hot eggy liquid.
4. Pour the egg mixture into the pot of hot milk. Bring to boil again and whisk quickly until it turns into a thick but runny liquid. (If not using a vanilla bean, add the vanilla extract at this stage). It should look like this.
5. Chill on ice or put in the fridge to thicken up more. You can flavor with a liqueur as well.
6. When the cream is cooled down and nice and thick, pipe it into the pastries.
I did not use a recipe, I just mixed in nice cocoa powder with powdered sugar, a little melted butter and a drop of vanilla. Or you can melt nice chocolate, mix it with heavy cream and leave to cool and thicken.
Glaze your pastries and enjoy!