When my mother was a child, she liked to make sugar cookies at Christmas. When I was a child, she would make cream puffs. Yes, they were CREAM PUFFS. We didn't use no high-falutin' names like profiteroles. We called them cream puffs (although I'm surprised we didn't call them St. Joseph's pastries). When she felt the occasion called for it, she would pull down her old, tattered copy of the Fannie Famer cookbook and get cracking. Her baking skills only went as far as the mixing and baking of the choux pastry though. When it came time to fill them, she relied on her good friends at Jello-O and My-T-Fine. (I learned to make pastry cream on my own as a teenager and never understood why something so simple had to be replaced with pudding mix.)
Grandma's cream puffs always came out pretty good considering she was prone to kitchen disasters. Somehow I never quite got the hang of it. My attempts were either dense or else so delicate that they would rip apart when you removed them from the sheet. For a long time I gave up.
Yesterday I stayed home from work to supervise a delivery and installation of a new home office unit from California Closets. When I'm stuck at home for big chunks of time, my natural inclination is always to bake. I particuarly like to bake things I don't do often, or have never tried because I don't feel I challenge myself enough in the kitchen anymore. When I was younger I was up for just about any challenge, but after a few disasters here and there, I lost the confidence. I decided that this time I would make cream puffs.
I used Julia Child's (from Baking with Julia) choux recipe for the pastry. I figured if anyone was going to help me get the puffs right, it would be Julia.
I began my work, following every bit of advice I had. The dough was the perfect consistency. While they were baking, they gave off the most fantastic smell. I could smell the eggs and it reminded me of custard and yorkshire pudding.
When they came out of the oven, I was so pleased with myself. They had browned and puffed beautifully without being too delicate. They were not very prettily or uniformly shaped, but that was not to be avoided. My pastry bag set does not include a tip that's good for piping choux pastry. My tips are all either too narrow or decorative. I had to use a spoon and it's hard to get nice, round, even puffs with a spoon. Still, I don't think they looked too bad.
My pastry cream was a variation on a brandy cream I have in my favorite dessert cookbook, Gooey Desserts by Elaine Corn. I used rum in mine because I had no brandy and I don't always like the flavor of brandy in my desserts. To fill my puffs I was a good girl and used the piping bag. I didn't always "aim" it well. Some of my puffs received more filling than others.
Once they were filled, I dipped them in a rich, chocolate ganache.
This is one of the best and most beautiful desserts I have made in a while I think. Doing these felt like a real accomplishment.
Julia's Choux Pastry
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup water
7 Tbl butter, cut into 7 pieces
1 Tbl sugar
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
5-6 large eggs, room temperature
Heat oven to 400 degrees.
In a saucepan bring milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to a strong boil, stirring until butter is melted. Stir in flour all at once and keep stirring until it is all incorporated. Cook until the dough forms a ball and there is a crust on the bottom of the pot.
Remove pan from heat and put the dough into a bowl. Beat in the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously. Do not add the next egg until one egg is absorbed. The dough will become easier to stir as more eggs are added. After 5 eggs, check the consistency. If the spoon pulls up some of the dough and peaks when lifted, the dough is ready. If this doesn't happen, add the sixth egg.
Drop spoonfuls of dough (or pipe quarter-sized bits from a pastry bag fitted with a round, plain 1/2" tip) onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet, one inch apart. Bake for 20 minutes, switching wracks halfway through baking. Reduce oven temp to 350 degrees and bake another 5 minutes or until golden.
Rum Pastry Cream
1 3/4 cup milk
4 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
6 Tbl butter, cut into pieces
2 Tbl brandy
In a heavy saucepan warm the milk. Put a fine mesh strainer over a bowl that is sitting in a larger bowl of ice water.
Beat the yolks, sugar, and flour together until smooth and ribbony. Dont' panic when you first start beating it and it looks grainy. It will smooth out. Whisk in the hot milk slowly and then return it to the saucepan.
Cook over medium heating stirring constantly for about 6-8 minutes. The custard will become thick and tight. Strain it into the chilled bowl and add the butter in small pieces and add the rum, stirring until cooled.
Place a sheet of plastic wrap over custard and chill until cooled completely.
1 cup heavy cream
8oz Semisweet chocolate broken into pieces
Heat milk to a simmer. Put chocolate pieces in a bowl and pour milk over them. Stir until chocolate is melted and blended in.
Cool until the consistency is still liquid, but thick enough to not drip all over everything.
Using a pastry bag fitted with a narrow, plain tip, squeeze some of the custard into the side of each puff. Dip filled puffs in ganache.