We travelled to Minneapolis last weekend, wait no, the weekend before last weekend – whoops, a whole week seems to have somehow slipped stealthily by me. Tricky. At any rate, we flew in on Friday night for John’s sister Jeanne’s wedding the next day. After hellos, hugs, and the requisite twist donuts dipped in hot soy milk (a favorite Taiwanese breakfast), it was down to business: wedding business that is. Fruit to chop, dumplings to fry, cars to pack, cakes to pick up, dresses to put on, etc. I wound up on mad high-heeled dash across Minneapolis and St. Paul with John’s sister Emily and his niece Nia to pick up the not one, but two cakes (from two different bakeries), that had been ordered for the wedding. What can I say, this family knew I was coming.
First stop was a Mexican bakery to pick up a Tres Leches cake, soaked in sweet milk and with ample real whipped cream, this cake was easy to love. Second stop was a Taiwanese bakery for a mango cake – yellow layers, mango curd, mango, cream: the works. As if that wasn’t already enough, I foolishly got talked into taking back a few cream puffs just incase we needed something to snack on in between all the other snacking. Oooo-eeee, these were some creeeeeam puffs – soft, but not soggy outside and creamy madness inside. John and I, high-class that we are, ate them standing over the sink, carefully licking dripping cream from our fingers.
After eating my weight in cream puffs in Minneapolis and almost being sent home with a box of 6 as a souvenir (I forgot them, a blessing in disguise), guess what I decided to do last week? Make my own cream puffs, naturally. No wonder it’s been so long since I posted anything on Simmer – why cook dinner when you can just eat more cream puffs?
So, incase you too have an insatiable appetite for all things puffed and cream filled, I present you with my cream puff recipe.
Looks like a lot of steps, but in its essence, this is simple stuff. Pate Au Choux (pronounced “shoe”), despite its fancy French name, is easy-peasy. I adapted the Choux recipe from the Tartine Bakery Cookbook, a longtime favorite baking book, and the diplomat cream* is my own recipe. Diplomat cream (I have no idea where it got the name. Zero, zip, nada, none. I’ve looked all over the internet, so if you have any leads, I’d love to know.) is simply pastry cream, cooked and well-chilled (start early), folded together with whipped heavy cream. Some people add gelatin to the mix to make the cream more stable, but I prefer the lush texture of the cream without the addition of gelatin. Makes 24 small-ish puffs, enough to feed 8-12 people (maybe if you’re lucky.)
*I’ve been known to refer to this intermittently as “ambassador,” “minister,” and/or “napoleon” cream, something which my co-workers find infinitely amusing.
For the Diplomat Cream
1 ½ cups whole milk
1 vanilla bean
2 large egg yolks
6 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch
¾ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup heavy cream, very cold
Make the Pastry Cream: Place the milk in a small non-aluminum sauce pan over medium heat (aluminum pans make grey pastry cream.) Slice the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and, using a paring knife, scrape out the seeds into the milk. Add the empty pod to the milk as well. Bring the milk to a boil and then shut off the heat and allow the vanilla and milk to steep together at least 30 minutes or up to an hour. Meanwhile, combine the egg yolk, sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a small bowl and whisk well. After the milk has steeped, return the pan to the heat and bring back to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and working quickly, pour about ¼ of the hot milk into the egg yolk mixture. Whisk very well, and then add the warmed egg yolk mixture into the pan with the rest of the hot milk. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture becomes quite thick – this will take about 2 minutes or so. Keep the heat low and the mixture continuously moving to avoid burning the bottom. Once thick, immediately remove the mixture from the heat and add in the butter and vanilla extract and whisk well until the butter is fully melted and incorporated. There’s a fine balance here between over and under-cooking the pastry cream. Over cooked pastry cream has a grainy texture, where under cooked pastry cream is simply too thin to work with. Of course, you want perfectly cooked pastry cream, but in this case I would error on the side of over rather than under-cooked cream because you are going to fold it with whipped cream later and you want the final product to have enough structure to keep its form.
Strain the pastry cream through a fine mesh strainer into a small bowl. Cover the cream with a sheet of plastic wrap placed directly on the cream and poke a few small holes in the plastic to let heat escape. This will ensure the cream does not form a skin as it cools. Place the pastry cream in the refrigerator and chill until completely cold – about 2 hours or overnight.
For the Pate Au Choux
½ cup, 125g milk, non or low-fat is fine
½ cup, 125g water
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
½ cup, 115g unsalted butter
1 cup, 140g all purpose flour
5 large eggs
Powdered sugar for dusting
Make the Pate Au Choux: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and butter 2 baking sheets or line with parchment paper. Combine the milk, water, salt, sugar, and butter in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Cook until the butter is melted and the mixture comes to a boil. Add the flour all at once, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon. Continue stirring until the mixture is smooth and uniform and pulls away from the side of the pan – this will take about 1 to 3 minutes.
Transfer the mixture to a standing mixer and add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. You can also do this by hand with a wooden spoon, though it will take longer. As you add the eggs, the mixture will break apart and look a bit lumpy, but don’t worry, just keep mixing and it will come back together into a smooth and unified mass.
Once the eggs are incorporated, transfer the dough to a pastry bag fitted with a ½ inch plain tip (# 6 or 7). Pipe the dough into rounds onto the prepared sheet pans – each round should have a diameter about the width of 3 fingers. You are shooting for about 24 equally sized rounds.
Once piped, smooth the tops of the puffs using a wet fingers or a wet off-set spatula – little bumps in uncooked pate au choux are exaggerated after baking, so I try to make the puffs as smooth as possible.
Bake the Pate Au Choux: Bake for 10 minutes, until puffed and beginning to brown, then reduce the heat to 375 degrees and bake an additional 12-14 minutes until golden brown all over. Remove from the oven.
The puffs should be used as soon as they are cool enough to fill. You can also freeze them in a ziplock bag for up to 2 weeks – to re-crisp, simply place them directly from the freezer in a 450 degree oven for about 10 minutes and then cool before filling.
Make the Diplomat Cream: Once the pastry cream is chilled and you are ready to fill the cream puffs, whip the heavy cream until stiff peeks form and then carefully fold the whipped cream into the pastry cream a quarter cup at a time.
Filling and Assembly: Transfer the diplomat cream to a pastry bag fitted with a ¼ inch tip, either fluted or plain (I used a # 32). Using a skewer, poke a small hole in the side of each of the puffs. Insert the tip of the pastry bag into the prepared hole and pipe in the cream until the puff feels heavy and the cream just begins to ooze out of the opening. Repeat with the remaining puffs. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve immediately or drizzle with chocolate ganache (recipe follows.)
Basic Chocolate Ganache:
4 oz chopped bittersweet chocolate
½ cup heavy cream
Bring the cream to a boil in a small sauce pan then remove from the heat, add the chocolate, and mix until silky smooth. Use immediately!