Puff: the magic pastry

Easier to prepare than other confections, the filling is the fun bit of creating eclairs, profiteroles and their cousins.

pastry tits 88 (photo credit: )
pastry tits 88
(photo credit: )
Sure, the weather is getting warm, but who can resist a home-baked pastry? One of my favorites is cream puffs, not only for their delicious flavor and pleasing texture, but also because they are by far the easiest homemade pastry to prepare. Unlike other pastries, cream puff dough is briefly cooked on top of the stove. You don't even need a mixer or food processor. You can use either one if you like, but making this dough is so easy that I like to use a saucepan and a wooden spoon; no machines to clean afterwards, either. There's no need to pull out your rolling pin, nor to clear a space on the counter for rolling dough. Unlike other kinds of pastry, you don't have to worry that the dough might soften too much in the summer heat. You can use the same dough to make eclairs, but to give them their elongated form, you need a bit of skill with a pastry bag. Cream puffs taste the same and can be easily shaped with two spoons. Choosing the filling is the fun part. Fill them with ice cream and coat them with warm chocolate sauce, and you have profiteroles. Obviously, whipped cream makes a tasty filling too. But the time-honored French filling is a rich pudding that professional chefs call pastry cream, or creme patissiere. Make it in basic vanilla (flavored with a vanilla bean or pure vanilla extract - no substitutes, please!). Or use one of those wonderful, richly flavored kinds of dark chocolate that are now becoming more plentiful. Coffee is great, too, as is lemon or orange zest or your favorite liqueur. For a refreshing note, stir diced fresh fruit into the filling, if you intend to serve the cream puffs within a short time. If you want your filled pastries to keep longer, add the fruit to the plate as garnish at serving time instead. Another tasty way to include fruit is to use diced dried fruit or small fruit like raisins or dried cherries. Macerate them first for an hour or two in rum, cognac or fruit brandy, stir them into the pastry cream, and they will definitely add punch to your puffs! Combining whipped cream with pastry cream gives you the best of both worlds, as in the recipe for the scrumptious sultan's cream puffs, below. Some call this luscious type of mixture mousseline filling. SULTAN'S CREAM PUFFS In classic cuisine, desserts containing almonds, citrus fruits or other ingredients that were associated with the Middle East were sometimes called la sultane. These almond-topped cream puffs filled with a creamy chocolate-orange mousseline filling are rich enough to please any sultan! You can keep the baked puffs for one day in an airtight container, but they taste best on the day they are baked. Makes about 15 puffs 4 Cream Puff Dough (see next recipe) 4 2 Tbsp. sliced almonds 4 2 large navel oranges 4 1 cup milk 4 85 gr. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped 4 3 large egg yolks 4 1⁄4 cup sugar 4 1 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. cornstarch 4 1⁄2 cup whipping cream, well-chilled 4 Powdered sugar (for sprinkling) Position rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 200ºC. Lightly butter two baking sheets. Using two spoons or a pastry bag and a 1.25-cm plain tip, shape mounds of cream puff dough about 4 cm. in diameter, spacing them about 5 cm. apart on buttered baking sheets. Brush them with beaten egg reserved from making dough, gently pushing down any points. Sprinkle a few almond slices on each. Bake 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 175ºC. Continue baking about 15 minutes or until dough is puffed and browned; cracks that form during baking should also be brown. Using a serrated knife, carefully cut off top half of each puff; set aside as a "hat." Cool puffs on a rack. To make filling: Using a vegetable peeler, pare colored part of orange peel in long strips without including white pith. Heat milk and strips of orange zest in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat until bubbles form around edge of pan. Remove from heat. Cover and let stand 20 minutes. Strain milk into another heavy medium saucepan. Melt chocolate in a small bowl over nearly simmering water. Stir until smooth. Remove from above water. Whisk egg yolks in a medium bowl. Add sugar; whisk until blended. Lightly whisk in cornstarch. Bring milk to a boil. Gradually whisk hot milk into yolk mixture. Return to saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until mixture is very thick and just begins to bubble. Do not overcook or yolks will curdle. Remove from heat. Whisk in chocolate. Transfer to a bowl; dab with a small piece of butter to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until completely cool. Whisk chocolate mixture until smooth. In a chilled medium bowl, whip cream until stiff. Fold into chocolate mixture. A short time before serving, pipe filling into cream puffs using a pastry bag and medium star tip; or fill the puffs using a tablespoon. Set reserved "hats" on top at an angle to show filling. Sift powdered sugar over cream puffs. CREAM PUFF DOUGH Use to make Sultan's Cream Puffs; or bake them as above, fill them when completely cool with vanilla ice cream and serve them with warm chocolate sauce to make chocolate profiteroles. The dough is easiest to shape while warm but can be kept, covered or wrapped, 4 hours in the refrigerator. Makes enough dough for 15 to 20 cream puffs 4 1⁄2 cup plus 1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour 4 1⁄2 cup water 4 1⁄4 tsp. salt 4 1⁄4 cup unsalted butter, cut in pieces 4 3 large eggs Sift flour onto a piece of waxed paper. In a small heavy saucepan, combine water, salt and butter. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until butter melts. Bring to a boil; remove from heat. Immediately add flour all at once; stir quickly with a wooden spoon until mixture is smooth. Set pan over low heat; beat mixture about 30 seconds. Remove from heat; cool about 3 minutes. Add 1 egg; beat thoroughly into mixture. Add second egg; beat mixture until smooth. Beat third egg in a small bowl. Gradually beat 1 or 2 tablespoons of this egg into dough, adding enough so dough becomes very shiny and is soft enough so it just falls from the wooden spoon. Add a pinch of salt to remaining egg; beat until blended. Reserve as glaze. Refrigerate glaze until ready to use. Faye Levy is the author of the award-winning Chocolate Sensations, which was published in Hebrew as Shokolad! by R. Sirkis.