I have had several requests from friends to make cream puffs but kept putting it off (for almost a year!). I procrastinated until I found one more reason to: being featured on the Julie & Julia movie website, quite a compliment to foodies like us. I thought that made perfect sense. Waiting is a good thing, I tell myself…
…until I realized that I have been without cream puffs in my life for such a long time, and it all went downhill from there. Sensible eating begone as I questioned why I kept popping one puff after another into my mouth, and at the same time not really thinking about it. Don’t you have those moments? I can’t even tell you how many I’ve eaten, because I don’t know. A few friends were lucky enough to sample these, and God bless them for saving me from making a complete a Puff-woMan of myself (get it, Pac-Man?).
My history with cream puffs go all the way to when I was a very young child of six or seven. My mother (‘Mama’), once an avid baker, had three specialties: brownies with sticky and nutty tops, fruit tarts and cream puffs. [For all these, she used recipes by Nora Daza, quite possibly the Julia Child of the Philippines.] My mom even got orders for her baked goodies at school. I have vivid memories of our dining room looking like an assembly line of baked goods. Like pets waiting for their treats, us siblings hounded the table for the bowl and spatula leftovers of brownie batter, custard for the tart and the cream for the puffs. I was Mama’s Little Helper: from pressing the tart dough onto the metal molds to evenly placing the fruit pieces on the tarts’ custard, but when it comes to the cream puffs it’s an All-Mom Turf. Nobody messes with my mom’s cream puffs. On weeknights when she baked them for the school, I would finish off my homework early so I watch her as she carefully shaped each little mound of paste with her orange mechanical pastry bag (like this one). The craft fascinated me. The next morning she would be dressed up for work early and already filling the baked puffs (that’s already been glazed with caramel) with cream by the time we woke up to shower and get into our uniforms. Then she would drive us to school and I would be at the backseat with the big responsibility of keeping the army of brownies, tarts, or puffs nested in paper cups on pans from sliding off during the drive. Sometimes I would be allowed to eat one. I can still remember everything like it was yesterday. Come to think of it, a lot of my childhood memories include food.
You’d think that I had been baking since I was young all the way to Gourmeted.com. I didn’t. I’m a late-blooming cook/baker, like Julia, and had no interest whatsoever in anything that has do with the kitchen until my late twenties (I’m turning 31 next week). I have always enjoyed eating, though. :-)
As an homage to my two worlds of the East and West, I made cream puffs ala Julia & Nora. Also, as an homage to my mother, Mother of Cream Puffs (hehe) – it’s my mom’s birthday today!
Happy birthday Mama!
Now onto the recipes…
Julia, in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, described choux pastry/paste or pâte à choux [pronounced paht ah SHOO, literally translates to "cabbage paste" as when made to the original method it resembles the vegetable] as a very, very thick white sauce into which eggs are beaten, which make the paste swell when cooked. It can be used for hors d’oeuvres when mixed with cheese, or for desserts as cream puffs when sweetened with sugar.
Julia Child’s Pâte à Choux
Adapted from the book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol 1 by Julia Child, Louisette Berthole, and Simone Beck
Ingredients (makes 36-40 small puffs)
- 100 grams unbleached all purpose flour, sifted
- 1 cup water
- 5 large eggs, divided (1 beaten in a small bowl, for egg wash)
- 3 oz or 6 tbsps butter, cut into pieces; plus extra for greasing the baking sheets
- 1 tsp salt
- pinch of nutmeg
- Extra butter to grease the baking sheets and 1 egg, beaten,
[Note: Julia suggested adding 1 tsp of sugar and reducing the salt to a pinch for dessert puffs. I opted to use salt as above to contrast with the sweetness of the cream filling.]
1. Boil water, butter and seasonings in a 1.5-quart heavy bottomed saucepan.
2. Remove from the heat and quickly mix the flour in one go. Stir vigorously and blend thoroughly. Continue to stir over med-high heat for 1 to 2 minutes, until the mixture separates from the sides of the pan forming one mass, and it begins to film the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat.
3. Create a well in the middle of the paste and break an egg into it. Stir for a few seconds until the egg is incorporated and continue to add the rest of the eggs in the same manner. The third and fourth eggs will be absorbed more slowly. Mix until smooth.
4. Preheat oven to 425°F with one rack placed on the upper third of the oven and another in the lower third. Prepare two baking sheets by rubbing butter on the baking surface.
5. To create small puffs: You can drop the paste on the baking sheet with a spoon or pipe with pastry bag (with 1/2-inch round tube opening) into mound about an inch in diameter and half an inch high, 2 inches apart. Dip a pastry brush into the egg wash and lightly tap each mound with the side of the brush. Avoid dripping down the puff and the sheet, because that prevents the puff from rising.
6. Place the sheets in the preheated oven, one on each rack, and bake for about 20 minutes, or until they puffs have doubled in size, become gold brown, and are firm and crusty to the touch. Take them out of the oven. Using a sharp knife, pierce the side of each puff to prevent the crusty outside from getting soggy. Return the baking sheets to the now turned off oven, with the door ajar, and leave for 10 minutes. Continue to cool the puffs on a cooling rack.
Freezing unfilled puffs: Wait for the puffs to completely cool before freezing. Just place in ziploc bags. Warm it up in a 425°F oven for 3 to 4 minutes to thaw and crisp before serving. When using a toaster oven for a few pieces, 400°F for a minute or two does the job as well.
Adapted from Let’s Cook with Nora by Nora Daza
- 1/3 cup sugar (you can increase to 1/2 cup if you like it really sweet)
- 1/3 cups all purpose flour, sifted
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 cups milk
- 2 eggs yolks from large eggs, placed in a bowl
- 1 tsp vanilla
1. Combine flour, salt and sugar in a sauce pan. Blend in milk and stir until most of the lumps have dissolved. Using a whisk helps.
2. Cook in medium heat, stirring until it boils. Boil for 10 minutes then remove from heat.
3. In a separate bowl, stir half the heated mixture into the egg yolks. Mix well before adding back to the saucepan. Stir until well blended.
4. Cook on low heat for 10 minutes or until the mixture coats teh back of a spoon.
5. Cook the mixture and add vanilla.
To fill the puff shells: You can slice the puffs horizontally in half and spoon the cream into each, or you can use a pastry bag to puncture and fill each shell.
Dust with confectioner’s sugar, dip in chocolate, add fruits if you like. It’s all up to you!
For those of you who have been put off by the thought of making cream puffs because they are hard to make, don’t be! They’re not. They’re very easy to make, just take it one instruction at a time. Hands-on time for the puffs was probably 15 minutes or 20 minutes tops. You’ll be a pro in no time. :) Enjoy the recipes. Please let me know if you try them.