While the Jell-O mold was a big crowd-pleaser for its sheer mid-century insanity, it was another dish that got my chiffon all in a tizzy. Cream Puffs, my dear friend… cream puffs! Is there any dessert more perfect? A flaky, tender puffball filled with glorious flavored creams. So light, so airy, so magical.
I had never attempted such a feat – I always thought that cream puffs (and puff pastry or pâte à choux, in general) was out of my league! Every puffy dessert I’ve ever had has been seriously impressive and I always imagined a seasoned pâtissier in a tall white pastry hat slaving away in a hot industrial kitchen, doing magical things with pastry bags and other specialized gadgetry. Good lord, was I mistaken!
I used Julia Child’s recipe because I trust her and the instructions are always really clear and precise. When I’m learning a new recipe, I rely heavily on accurate measurements and strong descriptions (or better yet, photos) of the process – that way I’ll know if I’m really fucking something up or if I’m on track. Ms. Child totally understood this concept and hasn’t steered me wrong yet!
Cream puffs are actually a pretty manageable task! There are about 4,752 steps (and thus, about that many photographs in this post), but none of the steps are all that hard. Seriously, without stopping to photograph every little move during this recipe, you could probably bang it out in about half an hour!
And now… cream puffs!
First I made the pâte à choux by starting out with the backbone of just about every Julia Child recipe – butter. About 6 tbsp, to be precise.
And a few spices (1/2 tsp salt, pinch of nutmeg, 1 tsp sugar)…
Boiled the butter and spices in 1 cup of water until the butter melted.
Once the butter melted, I removed the pan from the heat and immediately poured in 3/4 cup flour.
This part is important – you have to beat the flour in vigorously and efficiently with a wooden spoon. This incorporates the flour and ensures a smooth paste – nothing worse than lumpy, grainy cream puffs! After a couple o’ seconds of this, all the flour was mixed in, so I returned the pan to the burner (over med-high heat) and beat the mixture for another minute or so until it left the sides of the pan and formed a mass. No time for a piccie – just take my word for it!
After that, it was time for eggy things! Removed the pan from the heat again, made a well in the middle with the back of my spoon and cracked an egg in there. Working quickly, I mixed each of 4 room temperature eggs into the dough, making sure that each egg was fully incorporated before adding another.
And eventually, it looked like this!
Then… piping. I was nervous about this part since I’m a complete pastry bag novice. Initially, I had planned on buying a beautiful french pastry bag and a set of tips, but then, despite the wild allure of Sur La Table, reality set in and I realized I might not even like piping – why drop $30-$40 on something I’m not even sure I’ll use again!? So, I compromised. I still went to Sur La Table (because I can’t resist), but I only spent $3 on a plastic coupler set and a 1/2 inch Ateco metal tip. Got those little treats home and attached them to a Ziploc freezer bag…
Completely effective! Lined 2 baking sheets with parchment paper (dotting the underside of each corner with a bit of choux paste to keep the paper from curling up). Then I began piping the puffs in 1 inch diameter, spaced 2 inches apart. And shock of shocks… I loved it! After the initial awkwardness of positioning the bag and getting a sturdy grip/control over the piping, I realized this part can be really fun! Now I’m constantly searching for excuses to pipe things.
I didn’t quite understand how to flip the ends of each puff to make the tip lie flat against the tops, so each of my puffs had a little tail!
No worries though, just patted down each one with a finger dipped lightly in an egg wash! Ms. Child warns not to let too much egg drip down the sides of each – it’ll prevent the puff from puffing to the best of its ability!
So there I had 2 baking sheets of lovely pre-cream puffs and minimal cleanup… Woot woot! Time for the oven!
Popped both sheets into a preheated 425-degree oven. Julia suggests 20 minutes, but since my oven seems to run a little hot and I was dark baking sheets, I reduced the time to about 17-18 minutes. Thankfully this was enough time, because it’s totally bad news to peek in on them during baking – they’ll depuff and make you cry!
Once the time was up, I removed them from the oven and quickly pierced the side of each puff with a knife to allow the steam to escape. Then set them back in the turned off oven, with the door ajar, for 10 minutes. Then onto the rack they went!
While my adorable little puffs cooled, I got to work on the cream filling. I used Julia Child’s crème Saint-Honoré, which was delicious, but in the future I think I’ll try it with a thicker, more Bavarian-type cream! Started out with 5 eggs yolks…
And 1 cup sugar.
I gradually beat the sugar into the egg yolks and continued beating for a few minutes until it was pale yellow and “formed the ribbon”, which basically means that when you lift your whisk, the mixture drips backs into the bowl and leaves a slowly dissolving ribbon on the surface.
Then I beat in 1/2 cup of flour.
Gradually added 2 cups of boiling milk and mixed it up.
Then I transferred it to a clean saucepan over med-high heat, stirring with a whisk, making sure the bottoms and sides of the pan didn’t scorch.
Brought it to a boil, then turned the heat down to med-low and stirred it for another 2-3 minutes to cook the flour and thicken the custard!
Removed it from the heat and beat in 1 tbsp of butter.
The result? Smooth & creamy!
Then, you can stir in different flavorings!
I opted to make half vanilla (about 1 tbsp vanilla extract) and, what turned out to be the sleeper favorite, rum (2 tsp vanilla and 3 tbsp dark rum)!
At this point, it’s just a regular custard – it’s the addition of 8 beaten egg whites & 2 tbsp sugar that makes it a crème Saint-Honoré! I’m not really sure why it’s necessary to add egg whites, but I thought I’d just give it a shot anyway! This made the cream a little thinner and lighter, which, as I mentioned, was delicious, but I generally like a thicker cream filling in my cream puffs!
I plowed ahead anyway and beat the egg whites & sugar to a firm peak. Stirred a big spoonful into each custard and then folded in the rest.
The baked puffs were cool by now, so I filled up my makeshift pastry bag and began piping the cream into each of my 40 puffs!
Also… this is my 200th post! Say what?!
Recipe adapted from Julia Child…