As you are all aware, I live in a small town and the options on trying new things are super slim if non existent. So, I’ll go ahead and admit, I have never had a cream puff before! Crazy, right?! I mean, maybe, and that’s a strong maybe, I could find some in a grocery store, being who knows how long since they were made, but what’s the fun in that?
I was actually watching a baking competition show where everyone had to make their own version of cream puffs and I was sitting there, just like any avid football fan would during the Super Bowl, coaching these people in my raised voice as if they could hear me and I had never eaten a cream puff let alone made one!
So…..I got this brilliant idea to make cream puffs from scratch, which includes the pate au choux (the dough), and the custard pastry filling.
So, here we go, my experience with cream puffs. And let me tell you, the first try at pate au choux, (which I was screaming at the TV that it ‘was not that hard to do’, actually turns out it wasn’t that easy either!)
Pate Au Choux
1 C Water
1/2 C Butter (I used salted and it was delish!)
1 tbsp Sugar
1 C All Purpose Flour
4 Large Eggs
Pastry Bag or Freezer Bag
It’s the time to learn and maybe even redo the pate au choux, depending on how well your first batch comes out. I had to do mine twice!
Preheat your oven to 400. In a 3 quart saucepan, pour the cup of water and add the butter and sugar. Bring this to a boil on high heat.
Add the flour all at once and begin stirring with a stiff wooden spoon. And I do mean STIR. You stir that bad boy like your life depends on it! Stir this until it begins to make a ball of dough and the dough is pulling away from the sides of the pan. What you’re doing, and what I learned on the second batch,is that you’re basically making a roux. So the purpose of this stirring this flour until your arm falls off is to make a dough and cook the flour.
Now that you’re done stirring and making this dough nice and smooth, you take it off the heat, turn off your burner, and you set it aside to let it cool. It is super important to let this cool because we’re going to add eggs, and if you add eggs to hot dough (and this dough is hot) you’re going to have chunky scrambled eggs and you’ll have to start over. Luckily, this didn’t happen to me because I knew this already, but let’s say this for the sake of some of my ‘new cooks’ who might be starting adventures into chef-hood.
So, here’s my eggs. You notice.. I have a ton of them. FOUR EGGS ONLY! Now let me tell you the funny part. I was an idiot, in a funk trying to make cream puffs and I had it in my mind that I needed four cups of flour. So I messed up from the get go, therefore, rather than throw it away and start over, I decided I’m going to make FOUR TIMES the pate au choux cause.. cream puffs! Who doesn’t like them? (As if I know.. because I’ve never had them).
Since your flour should be cooled, you’re going to put the eggs in one at a time, and this is important. You’re going to go stir the tar out of the dough. So drop an egg in and stir, stir, stir until that egg is fully incorporated. Then add the next egg, and stir, stir, stir. You’re going to repeat this for all four eggs until they have been fully incorporated into the dough and the dough is nice and satiny.
So, if everything has gone well for your pate au choux, it should be like very soft dough. Almost like cookie dough.
Next, we’re going to line our baking sheets with parchment paper or baking mats, whichever you have on hand. You can also simply butter your baking sheets if you prefer. Next, scoop your pate au choux dough into a pastry bag or a freezer bag because we’re going to pipe these puppies onto the baking sheets. I also found that using parchment paper, no matter how I tried to mold it to the pan or cut it to fit, it kept curling. Next time I might just butter the sheets as I don’t have the baking mats because the paper kept moving while I was piping. I piped little mounds, about 1 inch in diameter and an inch high, so it came out looking like little snowman poo piles. (Snowman poo is a name for cookies I make which I’ll bring up in the future!) If you don’t like the little curly cues on top, dip your finger in water and smooth them out to be more spherical. These don’t spread but just a fraction from their ‘puffing up’ so don’t be worried about spacing them out too much. Once you’re done piping, place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Now, this is key. I use my convection oven on bake and 20 minutes later, they were on the verge of burning, so please, be certain to check them a time or two before your timer goes off.
Once they’re nicely browned, puffed up and sound hollow when you tap gently on them, they’re perfect! Remove them from the oven and let them cool. Once cool, poke a hole in the bottom if you want to fill them or cut just the tops off so you can spoon or pipe your filling on it and make a little cream puff sandwich.
Aren’t they so beautiful! I was so proud of them, since my first batch came out awful, that I ran down the hallway to go fetch my girlfriend and I burst through the door. “Come look at my puff pastries! They’re so beautiful!” This is three hours after I started mind you, so I might have been a little loopy, but I was completely a proud baker in that moment!
Now that I’m done basking in the glow of my beautiful cream puff pastries, let’s move on the the pastry cream. Now, let me tell you, I haven’t had much pastry cream in my life, and I certainly hadn’t made any, but this stuff was so delicious, I thought about making a big bowl of it to just eat!
Pastry Cream Custard
2/3 C Sugar
2 tbsp All Purpose Flour
2 tbsp Cornstarch
Dash of Salt
2 Cups of Cream
2 tbsp Unsalted Butter, Softened (I used salted)
2 tsp Watkins All Natural Pure Vanilla Extract
In a saucepan, combine the sugar, flour, cornstarch and salt. Don’t turn on the heat just yet! Next, in a bowl, combine the cream and eggs and whisk them together. Add the cream and eggs mixture to the sugar mixture in the saucepan and heat it on medium heat, whisking out the lumps. It’s important to not leave this cream until it’s done and off the fire, otherwise, you’re going to burn it! Continuously whisk this for about 10 minutes until it’s nice and thick and creamy and coats the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat.
Now we’re just going to stir the butter and vanilla into the custard, stirring it gently until the butter is melted and both the butter and vanilla are incorporated. Set the custard aside to cool to room temperature before using it to fill your cream puffs. I put a little plastic wrap over mine, careful that the pan wasn’t so hot that the plastic would fuse into some strange cooking Picasso. This prevents a skin from forming on this pastry cream/custard.
Finally! It’s time to put this delicious pastry cream into the puffs. Since I poked a hole in the bottom of my puffs, I’m going to fill mine. I start by putting the pastry cream into a pastry bag without a tip and then I simply inserted the corner of the pastry bag into the hole in the cream puff and I filled them slowly. Why slowly you ask? You don’t want a pastry cream explosion in your face when it overfills and starts to come back out the way it went in, and secondly, you don’t want to destroy this delicious, hollow little pastry puff by exploding it from the inside.
And voila! The cream puffs are done and ready to eat. I’m not certain, but I assume if you wanted a flavor to this pastry cream, you could do lemon or raspberry extract or you can even possibly add chocolate, but don’t take my word for it since I haven’t tried it. But if you like to experiment and you’re confident and comfortable in the kitchen, the sky is the limit really on what you can fill these cream puffs with!