I’m not sure what else to say about them. They look fancy and of course I love, love, love the creamy custard inside. They can be fancied up even more with drizzles of chocolate or the addition of fruit. They can be made as mini pop-able bites or as large puffs that require a fork to eat.
Though they look fancy, they are not that hard. Most of the work actually takes place on the stove top rather than in the oven. And you can make a bazillion of them if you want and freeze them for later.
The pastry cream inside is basically a homemade vanilla pudding; many people fake it by just making a boxed vanilla pudding mixed with some whipped cream. Either way, the final puff will be wonderful.
Cream Puffs and Pastry Cream
For the pastry cream:
- 2 cups half-and-half
- 6 tablespoons white sugar
- 1/2 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise and seeds scraped and reserved OR 1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- pinch salt
- 5 large egg yolks
- 2 tablespoons white sugar
- 3 tablespoons corn starch
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
For the puffs:
- 2 large eggs
- 1 large egg white
- 6 tablespoons water
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons white sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup (2.5 ounces) all-purpose flour
- Make the pastry cream first by adding half-and-half, 6 tablespoons sugar, vanilla (bean AND seeds or extract), and salt to a medium size pot. Heat on medium-high until simmering, stirring occasionally.
- Meanwhile, in a separate small bowl, whisk the egg yolks, 2 tablespoons sugar, and cornstarch together until smooth.
- Once the half-and-half mixture is simmering, temper the egg yolk mixture by slowly whisking about 1 cup of the simmering mixture into the egg yolks. Then slowly whisk the egg yolk mixture back into the rest of the half-and-half mixture. (The purpose of tempering is to slowly heat the eggs to prevent scrambling them.) Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook the now combined mixture , whisking constantly, until the pastry cream is thickened and a few bubbles burst on the surface, about 30 seconds.
- Off the heat, remove the vanilla bean and whisk in the butter completely. Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl and press plastic wrap directly on the surface. Refrigerate until cold and set, about three hours.
- Make the cream puffs by first adjusting oven racks to the middle position and preheating to 425 degrees. Grease a large baking sheet and line it with parchment paper. Prepare a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch plain tip.
- Beat the eggs and egg white in a very small bowl. Set aside.
- Bring the water, butter, milk, sugar, and salt to a boil in a small pot over medium heat.
- Once boiling, remove from the heat and stir in the flour all at once until incorporated. Turn the heat down to low and return the pot to the burner to cook and stir with a smearing motion until mixture looks like shiny wet sand, about 3 minutes (175-180 degrees on an instant-read thermometer).
- Immediately transfer the hot mixture to a food processor. Let the mixture sit for a minute or two to cool down just slightly. With the machine running, add the beaten eggs and egg white through the feed tube in a steady stream and process until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and process again until a smooth, thick, sticky paste forms, about 30 seconds more.
- Transfer the dough to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch plain tip. Pipe mounds of dough onto the prepared baking sheet in 1 and 1/2 inch mounds, spacing about 1 inch apart. Use a wet finger to even out the shapes and smooth the top of the mounds. (The recipe says you should get 24 puffs, but I only got 17, so size will vary. Whatever size you make them, as much as possible, try to make the mounds all the same size so they will bake evenly. You may have to adjust the time a bit depending on size.)
- Bake for 15 minutes at 425 degrees. Without opening the oven door, turn the heat down to 375 degrees and bake for an additional 8-10 minutes, until fairly firm and golden brown.
- Remove the baking sheet from the oven and quickly cut a 3/4 inch slit into the side of each pastry with a small knife to release the steam. Return the pan of pastries to the oven, turn the oven off, and prop the oven door open slightly. Let the pastries dry until the center is just moist (not wet) and the surface is crisp, about 45 minutes. Transfer the pastries to a wire rack and cool completely.
- When pastry cream is chilled and puffs are cooled, transfer pastry cream into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-1/2 inch plain tip. Fill each puff with pastry cream through the slits you cut earlier to release steam. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.
- Store unfilled cream puffs at room temperature in a zipper top bag for 1 day or in the freezer for 1 month.
Source: The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book (I have learned a lot from the cook books and other information put out by America’s Test Kitchen. They do many, many trials of a recipe, varying the ingredients and methods until they hit upon what they deem the “best” recipe for any given item. I highly recommend.)