Thursday, June 14, 2012

Cream Puffs

Cream puffs have been declared the Wisconsin State dessert. I remember them figuring prominantly at the State Fair as something to get all over you while dust from the midway blew everywhere and you tried to stay upwind from the stock barns. They started serving puffs in 1924. Of course, the State Fair puffs are dinner plate sized. They sell over 300,000 each year now.

Choux pastry is cooked rather than kept cool during the mixing process. It´s quite a handy thing to know how to make because it´s the basis for éclairs, profiteroles, and can be used for savory dishes as well, and I don´t find it difficult to make.  There are several recipes that come up, but I used Delia. Her baking instructions differ from most in that she raises the temperature for the last part of baking, rather than lowering it. Delia´s recipe made 12 puffs, of which I froze 8 for a week before defrosting and filling. They were fine.

The whipped cream with sugar and vanilla filling is called ¨Chantilly Cream¨.  I don´t add as much sugar as most recipes call for, I find the cream itself rich enough, and I don´t generally use the dusting of powdered sugar either. I did drizzle some dark chocolate ganache over a batch for a barbecue last weekend (they were a big hit) but forgot to get pictures before they all disappeared. A really good summer dessert that could feature fresh or macerated fruit.  Consult the link to Delia for photos to go along with the instructions.
1. Choux pastry is the lightest, crispiest, airiest pastry, which can be used to make profiteroles, éclairs or savoury gougères. It puffs up in the oven until it is eventually set by the heat. The airiness, in fact, is caused because choux has a high water content, which is turned into steam during baking and this forces the pastry shell outwards and gives it volume. What is really good about choux is that it doesn't call for any particular pastry skills, like lightness of hand or careful rolling. I never pipe choux because I am convinced that a freshly baked golden profiterole looks so much crustier if it is spooned, rather than piped, on to a baking sheet.

2. To make about 30 choux buns you will need 2½ oz (60 g) of strong plain flour, which, with its higher gluten content, gives crisper results than ordinary soft, plain flour. As you are going to need to 'shoot' it quickly into the water and melted butter, fold a sheet of silicon paper (baking parchment) to make a crease and then open it up again. Sift the flour straight on to the square of paper and add a teaspoon of caster sugar if you are making sweet choux, otherwise use a seasoning of salt and pepper.

3. Next, put 5 fl oz (150 ml) of cold water in a medium-sized saucepan together with 2 oz (50 g) of butter, cut into small pieces, then place the saucepan over a moderate heat and stir with a wooden spoon. As soon as the butter has melted and the mixture comes up to the boil, turn off the heat immediately, as too much boiling will evaporate some of the water.

4. Then tip the flour in – all in one go – with one hand, while you beat the mixture vigorously with the other. You can do this with a wooden spoon, though an electric hand whisk will save you lots of energy.

5. Beat until you have a smooth ball of paste that has left the sides of the saucepan clean – this will probably take less than a minute.

6. Next beat 2 large eggs well, then beat them into the mixture – a little at a time, mixing each addition in thoroughly before adding the next.

7. Beat until you have a smooth glossy paste. At this stage, lightly grease a baking sheet then hold it under cold running water for a few seconds, and tap it sharply to get rid of excess moisture. This will help create a steamier atmosphere, which, in turn, helps the pastry to rise.

8. To make the choux buns, place teaspoons of the mixture on the baking sheet, leaving 1 inch (2.5 cm) between them, then bake on a high shelf in a pre-heated oven – gas mark 6, 400°F (200°C) – for 10 minutes. After that, increase the heat to gas mark 7, 425°F (220°C), and bake for a further 15-20 minutes until the buns are crisp, light and a rich golden colour.

9. Pierce the side of each one to let out the steam, then cool them on a wire rack.


  1. Oh they look do good and bring back memories of the days when profiteroles were my standard dinner party dessert. I had to make vast quantities for my greedy and appreciative friends! Choux pastry is easier to make that most people imagine, so you get a lot of kudos for a modest effort in the kitchen.

    I didn't sweeten the filling cream (whipped double), but provided plenty of chocolate sauce made by melting half milk and half plain chocolate with evaporated milk to make a pouring consistency.

    I found that if I needed large quantities of profiteroles it was best to make two batches of choux pastry as you've described rather than doubling ingredients.

  2. They were certainly a big hit at the barbecue. I like the fact that they´re not as heavy as some desserts. Interesting tip about making 2 batches instead of doubling quantities. Thank you!