Mike woke up to these little beauties on Christmas morning.
Christmas morning I woke up at 3:43. It was a loud thud from above, and no not Santa, lol…just the neighbors making merry. Try as I might, I couldn’t fall back asleep for the life of me, and instead of waking Mike up with my incessant tossing and turning, I decided to get up and make pastries. Doesn’t everyone do this when they can’t sleep, lol? Ok, so it’s a little weird…but I had promised Mike cream puffs for Christmas and I was planning to make them later that morning anyway.
And really, nothing tastes better than a cup of coffee with a homemade French pastry in the pre-dawn hours. ;)
A Note on the Custard Filling: You can make the filling the day ahead if you want, but be sure to whip the cream and fold it into the custard right before you want to fill the pastries. You might have a little bit of filling left over (it’s fantastic eaten on its own), but I’ve found that this amount of filling is just about perfect in that there’s enough to fill all the pastries without having a ton left over.
A Note on the Choux Pastries: Don’t worry if you’ve never made choux before, it’s really not as complicated as it looks. The batter is very versatile; the puffs don’t have to be filled with something sweet, they are just as delicious and perfect for a luncheon if you fill them with any number of savory fillings (mushrooms sautéed with garlic and butter and mushrooms in cream are favorite fillings of mine). Or you can mix about 1 cup of grated cheese (such as Gruyère) into the batter and you have gougères. (If you go with a savory option, omit the sugar and increase the salt to 3/4 teaspoon.) And if you’re a fan of French Cruller Doughnuts (they’re my favorite!), you might be interested to know that this is actually the same batter that’s used to make them.
Scooping/Piping/Spooning the Choux Batter: I used a 1 1/2 tablespoon ice cream scoop to measure out the batter, but you can just as easily use a pastry bag to pipe it into small circles (about the size of a half-dollar), or use two spoons to spoon it onto the baking sheets.
Cream Puffs (Profiteroles)
Makes 25 to 30 cream puffs
1 large egg
4 large egg yolks
3 cups milk (I used 2%)
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream
Choux Batter [adapted slightly from Julia Child’s recipe for Puff Shells (Choux) in Mastering the Art of French Cooking; published by Alfred A. Knopf]:
1 cup water
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 large eggs
1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water (for eggwash)
2/3 cup (4 oz) good quality semisweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1-2 tablespoons milk (any kind you like)
For the Custard Filling: Whisk together the egg and egg yolks in a medium bowl and set aside. Whisk together the milk, sugar, flour, and salt in a medium saucepan; bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and very slowly ladle the hot milk mixture into the egg mixture while whisking, adding just a drop at a time at first. Transfer the custard back to the saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat; boil 2 minutes, whisking constantly. Turn heat off and whisk in the butter and vanilla. Strain the custard through a fine mesh sieve to remove any lumps. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the custard (to prevent a skin from forming). Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate to chill.
Before filling the pastries, beat the custard until smooth with a handheld electric mixer. In a separate bowl, whip the cream to stiff peaks. Gently fold the whipped cream into the custard, adding 1/3 of the cream at a time. Pipe this mixture into the center of each pastry (see below for more detailed instructions on filling the pastries).
For the Choux Batter: Preheat oven to 400F and line 3 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
Bring the water, butter, sugar, and salt up to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Remove from heat, pour in all the flour, and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon to blend thoroughly. Put the saucepan back on the heat and continue to stir until the mixture thickens and forms a ball, and starts to film on the bottom of the pan, about 1 to 2 minutes. Turn the heat off and let the dough cool slightly, about 3 to 5 minutes, then make a well in the center of the dough, break an egg into it, and beat vigorously until the egg is absorbed; continue this way until all 5 eggs are incorporated.
While the dough is still warm, use a 1 1/2 tablespoon ice cream scoop to scoop out it out onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches between each pastry. Lightly dip a pastry brush into the eggwash and very gently flatten each puff, being careful not to let the eggwash drip down the puff onto the baking sheet (this will prevent the puffs from rising).
Bake for 20 minutes (rotating the pans once halfway through), then turn heat down to 350F and bake until the puffs are golden brown and firm to the touch, about 5 to 15 minutes more, checking them every few minutes.
Remove the puffs from the oven and immediately pierce the side of each with a sharp paring knife (so the steam can escape). Turn off the oven, put the pastries back into the turned-off oven, and let them sit in there for 10 minutes with the door ajar. After this, transfer them to a wire rack to finish cooling.
To Fill the Puffs: Fit a pastry bag with a basic small-medium tip (I like to use a 3/16-inch tip); fill the bag with the custard filling. Once the puffs are completely cooled, insert the tip of the pastry bag into the puff through the slit that you cut to let the steam vent; gently squeeze the custard into the puff and continue this way until all the puffs are filled.
For the Chocolate Topping: Melt the chocolate and butter together in a microwave or double boiler, then stir in enough milk to make it smooth. Spoon over the filled pastries and let the chocolate set before serving.