So this last week it was a friend’s birthday.
I like celebrating friends’ birthdays, even if it is by doing something little, and happily they were coming round to visit anyway (they’ve been in our pandemic bubble since forever, I think). So I quietly began scheming to try and make a little treat for after dinner that they might enjoy.
No chocolate this time around; noted. Nothing bitter. Fruit flavors, creamy things, boozy flavors: all good.
Somehow from there I hit on the idea: Let’s make cream puffs. I haven’t got a proper piping bag so we’ll need to build them using the “sandwich” method anyway; we can tuck some berries into them along with the filling. (For the curious, I’ll link the recipes I used at the end of this post.)
Once, a few years back, I took a class at a Toronto spot (now sadly closed, at least for a while) on making choux pastry. It’s not something one needs very often, but it’s an interesting thing to have tried at least once, because unlike most other doughs I’ve worked with you cook it before you bake it: heat your wet ingredients (minus any eggs involved of course), then dump in the flour and stir until your dough comes together, leaves a thin film on the pan, and/or (for the food scientists among us) comes to about 175 degrees F.
This part is a bit like making a roux, except of course we’re absolutely not trying to toast the flour – so one does need to stir fairly energetically.
Let it cool down a bit (so as not to cook the eggs prematurely), add the eggs one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next…and that’s it; you’re ready to fill up a piping bag (or a Ziploc-style bag with a corner snipped, in my case) with the resulting dough and go to town. This is pretty similar to the technique I used for the cheese puffs I made for New Years (though obviously in this case I’m not adding cheese to my dough before baking.)
Pipe your dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, and then bake for about 20 minutes or so. The dough won’t seem to do very much for quite a long time, but don’t panic; so far the steam has always eventually kicked in and fluffed up nicely. If the puffs seem hollow and have crisped on the outside, great; pop them back into the turned-off oven, leaving the door open a crack, and let them sit there for about half an hour before removing to cool.
Meanwhile (or in my case, the night before), make some pastry cream for the filling. In my case this was classic vanilla, from a scraped and steeped vanilla bean; on the evening of the visit I whipped some cream and folded it gently into the pastry cream base to make creme legere for a lighter, fluffier interior.
Once the puffs are cool, just slice and pipe in your filling. (A warning to anyone trying this with creme legere: the lightened pastry cream IS lovely and smooth and delicious and will also spill right out of that piping bag the moment you snip it and turn it upright. Fill cautiously; the tiniest bit of pressure goes a long way.)
In our case, we then topped the filling with a few mixed berries for a pop of flavor…et voila:
I think these went over pretty well – not too sweet, despite the looks (I think the lightened version of the pastry cream really helped here.) They disappeared with a quickness as well, which is always nice.
Anyone wishing to give this a try at home, here are those recipe links: