When I think about my mother I think about cream puffs. Big, baby-head sized, glossy, golden cream puffs. All lined up on the kitchen counter, row upon row, like a Pate a choux platoon ready to march right into your dinner party.In my young mind, cream puffs translated into “adult” and “fancy.” It was the dessert my mother made when she would have her Sunday school class over for dinner or as a special treat when hosting the “club” girls for lunch. Cream puffs was clearly a dessert for “fancy” events.
Cream puffs should rightly have this special designation, they meet all of the criteria for a great entertaining dessert. They are easy to make, you can bake them ahead of time and perhaps the two most important criteria: they taste wonderful and are impressive when served.
Yes, definitely, a special occasion only dessert or, so I thought. Over a gentle interrogation – cleverly disguised as family reminiscing — I discover that my grandmother made cream puffs frequently. In fact, more than frequently, they were a utility player in the family dessert rotation.
Living on a farm my grandparents had an ample supply of fresh milk. My grandmother used some of that milk to make chocolate pudding — lots and lots of chocolate pudding — often making it up to three times a week. As delicious and decadent as chocolate pudding three times a week sounds, apparently big bowls of pudding weren’t enough to satisfy the multitudes (my grandparents had 14 children plus farm hands to feed). So, my grandmother turned to pudding filled cream puffs to mix it up a bit.
Which ever way you go — following my mother’s lead and making puffs as a special occasion dessert or taking a page from my grandmother’s cookbook and adding puffs as one of your go-to standards — you’ll be happy to add this pastry basic to your repertoire.
Cream Puff Recipe:
Makes 12 large cream puffs, 24 small puffs
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup water plus 1 teaspoon
7 Tablespoons unsalted butter cut into one tablespoon pieces
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
6 large eggs at room temperature
1 egg for egg wash
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Line two sheet pans with Silpat liners or parchment paper. Set aside.
Add milk, 1/2 cup water, butter, sugar and salt in a medium size saucepan on medium heat, stir frequently. Bring mixture to a full boil. Once boiling add in all of the flour. Stir with purpose, nonstop, until the flour is incorporated. Continue cooking and stirring, until dough forms into a ball and a skin forms on the bottom of the pan (approximately 30 seconds).
Scrape the pastry into a mixing bowl. While dough is still warm add one egg, mix with paddle attachment until egg is fully incorporated. Continue to add eggs one at a time, incorporating each egg before adding the next. Take care to not over mix the dough.
Using a kitchen tablespoon, drop dough by large spoonfuls onto baking sheets evenly spacing them (you should be able to fit six puff on one cookie sheet). For smaller puffs drop smaller mounds. Using your finger, gently tap down any pointy tips of the pastry mounds so they don’t burn when cooking.
Beat 1 egg with 1 teaspoon water. Using a pastry brush, brush dough with egg wash.
Bake cream puffs for 30 minutes until golden brown.
Remove puffs from trays and let cool on rack for at least 30 minutes.
When ready to serve cut off tops of puffs, remove any uncooked dough then fill puffs with your filling of choice: pudding, lemon curd, ice cream, fresh fruit salad or cooked fruit. Place lid back atop the puff, dust puff and serving plate with powdered sugar, enjoy.
Cream puffs can be stored in an airtight container for one to two days.
Cream Puff Tips:
Hand mixing is an option if you are particularly strong, a gluten for punishment or without electric power.
Do not mix the eggs in the dough in the saucepan! The heat from the saucepan will cook the eggs.