{aka cream puff} pâte à choux with crème pâtissière

by Chen

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Made them for my bestie’s birthday.

I was and am still struggling to get my hands on this recipe, though it is as fundamental as croissant in French pastry. Speaking of croissant, one needs to work with the same piece of laminated dough, repeatedly and consistently. Cream puff is another story that consists of so many miscellaneous components.

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The filling — crème pâtissière/pastry cream — is NOT our everyday whipped cream. It is eggy and custard-like and must be cooked. You will have to make this ahead because it needs to be chilled overnight to achieve the desired consistency. When it’s ready, it can be served as pudding as well.

The shell — pâte à choux/choux pastry/puff — is a roux-based pastry. Roux is just a fancy name of a cooked mixture of butter, flour, and liquid, which is also the base for most white/creamy sauces. To transform the roux into choux, add eggs; they do not only make the mixture suitable for piping but also yield rich flavor and beautiful color. If the shell is sweetened, then piping in circular motion gives round puffs while finger shapes are éclairs. If the shell is meant to be savory and with cheese, it is gougère.

What’s the point of getting stuck in the kitchen when cream puffs are always available in-store? The shell is significantly more eggy than the store-bought ones, and the sweetness of the filling is under control. Plus, “homemade” is a special treat for the special ones on the special day.

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cream puff
Adapted from The Art of French Baking
Makes about 18

Part I: crème pâtissière, the pastry cream
2 1/2 cups milk
vanilla bean seeds from 1/2 pod or 1/2 tbsp vanilla bean paste
scant 1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
3 egg yolks

Whisk together the flour, sugar, egg, and yolks together in a large bowl until smooth. Combine the milk and vanilla in a non-reactive sauce pan and gentle heat until simmering. Remove from the heat. Whisk the milk into the flour mixture, a little at a time, then pour the whole thing back to the sauce pan. Return the pan to the heat and cook and whisk frequently. Once the mixture comes to a boil, turn off the heat. It should be pudding-like. Transfer the custard to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap directly touching the surface. Chill overnight.

Note: You may strain the custard before chilling, but I find it unnecessary if I keep whisking while cooking.

Part II: pâte à choux, the puff
1/2 cup water
7 tbsp butter
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup AP flour
4 eggs, beaten

Preheat the oven to 400F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine the water, butter, sugar, and salt in a sauce pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from the heat and dump in all the flour. Stir with a wooden spoon until the dough starts to pull away from the side of the pan. Return the pan to low heat and continue to knead the dough with the spoon until it is golden and shinning. Turn off the heat.

Transfer the dough into the mixing bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Beat on medium-low speed until warm to touch. Slowly add the beaten eggs and mix until the batter is smooth. Pour the batter into gallon-sized ziploc bag and snip off an angle. Pipe egg-sized rounds on the prepared baking sheet, leaving 2 inches in between. Bake in the 400F oven for 20 minutes until golden brown. Cool on the rack.

To assemble:
Once the puffs are cooled, fill a pastry bag fitted with plain round tip with pastry cream. You can insert the tip into the puff and squeeze in the filling until it oozes out. Alternatively, split the puff horizontally (but not all the way through) and fill the “sandwich”. Dust with powdered sugar. If not serving immediately, keep them in the refrigerator.

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