Cream Puffs are still somewhat of a sore subject for me. I've had more failures than I can count- a couple of them very public disasters (I apologize now to my high school french class and that party I made them for...I tried!).
But as I fearlessly faced my yellow cake demons a couple of weeks ago- and macarons a couple of weeks before that- I now begin to face these Cream puff demons that continually haunt my pastry loving memory.
So here goes.
#1: My grandmother taught me how to make Cream Puffs. Hers (of course) always turn out perfectly, so naturally she was the one I turned to in this debacle. Her ways she did teach me, because with Cream Puffs there is no try. "Do or Do Not" she said, you must "Unlearn what you have learned".
I think the hardest part for me was letting the puffs cook long enough- about an hour for regular sized cream puffs (so that they are crisp enough to stay all puffed up and beautiful). As we set the timer my disbelief (and concern that the dough would burn) colored my words, "I don't, I don't believe it." She simply replied, "That is why you fail."
It did take a few more failures on my own to finally get them right, but I finally mastered the puff shell. Thank you Gram!
*Any similarities in the above story to a certain Jedi Master and his student are purely coincidental.*
#2 Now we talk Fillings. While I may have finally gotten the shell right, the filling was a whole other mess. To learn how to make a Creme Patisserie I turned to our favorite ambassador for French cooking: Julia Child.
I rented a copy of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" from the local library and got to work. I followed her instructions but soon learned that I should have added less flour since this was to be a lighter cream puff filling rather than a thicker fruit tart filling. So I added a little whipped cream to the pastry cream to lighten it up a little.
Cream Puffs with Almond Cream Patisserie Ice Cream Filling
For the Filling:
1 recipe Creme Patisserie via Mastering the Art of French Cooking*
1 cup whipping cream, whipped until the consistency of shaving cream
For the Cream Puff Shells from the recipe my Gram uses:
1/2 cup butter
1 cup water
1 cup all-purpose flour
*I chose not to list Julia's recipe here as an encouragement to go either rent a copy from the library or buy this book for yourself- the recipes are great! In preparing this I used 2 teaspoons vanilla and 1/4 teaspoon almond extract for the flavoring choice.
1) Fold the whipped cream into the Creme Patisserie gently. Pour into your ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer's instructions. Once frozen, remove to another container and store in the freezer while you make the Cream Puff Shells.
2) Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. In a medium pan over medium heat, add the butter and water. Let cook until butter melts and the mixture just begins to boil. Add flour all at once and mix with a wooden spoon until the dough forms a ball in the pan.
3) Remove from heat and, using an electric mixer, add eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition. Scoop dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for about 15 minutes until the dough is puffed and golden. Decrease temperature to 300 degrees and continue cooking for another hour minutes until they are dry on the inside. Let cool. Fill with desired filling (like the ice cream we made, whipped cream, a prepared boxed pudding mix, store bought ice cream. anything).
If you want to make these in advance, freeze unfilled shells. Once ready to use, let them thaw out on a plate and then fill with desired filling. Once filled, they should be served soon-- puffs will eventually begin to lose their crispness if they sit around too long.