Sometimes when the weather is dark, grim and wet you look out the window and hope to see some sunshine and a fluffy cloud or two amongst the heavy grey clouds. This type of day could be a hot chocolate and cookie day, or hot cider and doughnut kind of day…but in my mind I want a dessert that will make me feel like that puffy cloud I want.
We need flour, butter… and now everyone rolls their eyes… Well yea you always need flour and butter for everything… I mean it makes the world go round! Okay seriously lets talk hot dough, steamy, buttery, and shiny dough. Lets talk cream puffs, a pate a choux dough filled with thick vanilla cream and covered in melted chocolate.
Did the hot dough and choux part worry you? Granted its not your usual cold butter type of deal, but have no fear, its not intimating and its so easy when you finish you will think, wow, why have I not made this before; its actually my go to easy dessert when I know people are coming over. Start to finish will be under an hour and you will have puffy shells starring at you waiting to be filled.
The center of this dough is the fat content, butter and if that wasn’t enough… we need some eggs too.
Water and butter dance together to a boil and flour jumps in to combine everything, its perfect even though it sounds a bit odd, just trust me.
We let the dough cook, almost like its taking a steam and letting out some sweat. Let it cool and add the eggs, one at a time, be gentle. The eggs are what puffs and creates the light texture in this recipe. It will look weird at first but I promise the dough comes together beautifully and quickly.
In the end you get a shiny, perfect ball of dough that you can pipe or spoon onto a baking sheet and watch the puffy clouds form in minutes.
The recipe looks long but bare with me, its quick and easy, just go with it. I mean look at how puffy they look, I can’t resist, nor can you, I can feel it.
To make it short and sweet it goes like this, water and butter boil, dump flour, dump salt, mix, heat, mix…transfer, add eggs one at a time till shiny..and you’re done. The recipe is the long detailed version, just as easy, but steps are explained to avoid puff fails like this one, which sadly occur.
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 eggs at room temperature
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup vanilla custard/pudding
- dark or milk chocolate
- Place rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 425F (220 C) degrees. Line one baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside, no need to line if using a non-stick sheet.
- In a medium pot combine water and butter and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Once the mixture is melted and starts to boil reduce the heat to low and dump the flour and salt all at once. Immediately start stirring with a wooden spoon until the mixture forms a ball and falls away from the sides and bottom of the pot. The dough will be shiny. Keep the dough on low heat for an additional 3-5 minutes while stirring. The key to Choux pastry is that the dough needs to be cooked enough to rise, in this step the moisture is heated away so that the dough can suck in the eggs later.
- After the dough has cooked transfer it to a large bowl and allow it to cool a bit. When the dough feels lukewarm to the touch use a wooden spoon to beat in the eggs one at a time, at first it will look as if it has separated but it will come together as you continue to mix, once this happens, mix in the next egg. The dough will be thick and glossy and just stiff enough to hold its shape if spooned.
- At this stage you have two options, you can use a pastry bag and pipe out the dough to 1-2 inches wide, an inch tall and about 2 inches apart, or you can be like me and just use a soup spoon to drop them onto the baking sheet, sliding them off with your finger and shaping them into a cone shape. These puffs need space to well puff! Some like them flat and some like them pointy, it’s really up to you. I prefer pointy so when I pour the melted chocolate on them, it’s like a dessert volcano coming down the sides.
- Bake for 10-12 minutes, this is when the high temperature and the warm dough work together to rise up. Do not open the oven to check on them as this can deflate your puffs. Reduce the temperature to 350F (176C) *Remember the convection comment from below and take that into consideration* Bake for another 12-15 minutes or until the puffs are a golden light brown. At this point if you prefer a puff that is dry in the center, stick each of them with a toothpick so that the centers are cooked and dried out. Others prefer them slightly moist inside, but not wet, if they are wet (cut one open to see if unsure) then leave them in the oven for another 2-3 minutes.
- Remove these light and cloudy puffs and let them cool completely before filling. You can fill these with anything from ice cream, fresh whipped cream, pastry cream or my favorite vanilla cream.
- You can do this the easy way or the old fashioned way. With a whisk, electric mixer, or stand mixer beat the cold cream until just thick, not runny like eggs and not too thick that it resembles whipped butter. If you’ve gone too far with the beating, just add some cold cream and slowly whisk by hand to get the texture back. You can stop now if you want only the whipped cream, but why stop… make it rich! Once the whipped cream is made slowly whisk in the vanilla custard/pudding (store bought or any homemade recipe). This part is all about taste, if you want the cream to be loose and full of vanilla flavor add more, if you prefer a thick and cream, use less. Pipe or spoon into cream puffs, you can make this cream ahead of time and keep it in the refrigerator until you are ready to fill.
- Chop the chocolate into small pieces. Place the chocolate into a fully dry heatproof bowl, such as pryex, and place over a pot with 2 inches of water. Use the lowest heat setting as to not burn the chocolate. Place the chocolate pieces into the bowl and mix while the chocolate is melting. Make sure no water is present in the bowl, or on spoon, as any amount of water can seize the chocolate. In the process of mixing you will see that the chocolate will become a liquid pourable form, take a small spoon and pour on the cream puffs. When complete, remove the bowl and pot from the heat (watch out the glass bowl will be hot)
- Cream puffs are best eaten the day of, yet you can always keep the shells separately refrigerated overnight and heat them up in the oven for 3-5 minutes at 350F degrees to get the crispiness back before piping and serving.
- Makes 10-12 cream puffs.
- Note if working with a electric convection fan oven these puffs need to rise from the bottom and the fan will interrupt this, to keep them puffy and tall place them on the bottom rack and reduce the temperature 25F or else you will have puffs that look like someone sat on them (see delightful image of my first attempt in an electrical oven, epic de-puffed puffs).