I don’t remember the exact time or place I first tasted a cream puff but I do remember it was with my Mom. Traveling two hours to the “city” to shop was a pleasured experience, finding a local bakery was an added treat. Many years later I would share the same wonderful experience with my daughter, at Alon’s Bakery in Atlanta where we would split a pastry and sip on a cappuccino.
In between these two wonderful memories I found myself catering with a very dear friend. We always had a dessert table at our events and miniature cream puffs were frequently on the menu – they never disappointed!
Cream puffs seem intimidating to make, but it’s really just a serious of steps. Mixing the dough with a stand mixer is easiest but I have done this entirely by hand. You can make the pastry cream and the puff shells a day or two ahead; refrigerate the cream and store the puff shells in a sealed container. If you want to crisp the puff shells up before filling, just pop them back in the oven at 350 for about 6-8 minutes. You can also use the puff shells for a savory appetizer; just omit the sugar in the dough.
Pâte à Choux….Cream Puff Dough
1 cup water
½ cup butter
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
In a heavy saucepan combine the water, butter and salt over low heat until the butter melts. Raise the heat to medium. As soon as the liquid begins to boil add the flour and stir until the batter comes together and is smooth.
Transfer the batter to a stand mixer and beat on medium until the batter is smooth and velvety. Allow the batter to cool slightly, to a lukewarm temperature. On medium low speed, add the eggs one at a time beating well after each.
Line baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat liners. Drop batter into rounds about 1-1/2” – 2” each, leaving about 2” between each pastry. The dough will be slightly sticky.
Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for 30 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 5 minutes.
Check for doneness by removing one pastry shell from the oven, if it holds its shape they’re finished baking. (I’ve never had one fall, so no fears!) Remove pans and carefully slit each pastry with a sharp knife to allow the steam to escape. This prevents them from becoming soggy while they cool.
2 cups milk
2 eggs, room temperature
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup flour
1 tablespoon butter, room temperature
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pour the milk in a heavy saucepan or in the top of a double boiler; heat until milk is scalded, just below boiling. While milk is heating, whisk the eggs and sugar together in a medium size bowl. Add the flour, butter, salt, and whisk until well blended.
Stir a small amount of the hot milk into the egg mixture, then slowly add the mixture back into the hot milk, stirring frequently. Cook until pastry cream has thickened and coats the back of a spoon.
Remove from heat and allow to cool before adding the vanilla. Chill the custard until you’re ready to fill the cream puffs.
When you’re ready to assemble, use a serrated knife and gently cut a small piece off the top.
With a teaspoon or a pastry bag fill the puff shells with the pastry cream. Place the top back on the cream puff and chill in a covered container until ready to serve.