Today is all about pate a choux and pastry cream.
Pate a choux, or choux pastry, is a light pastry dough. It contains butter, water, flour and eggs. Pastry cream is created with milk or cream, egg yolks, sugar and vanilla. Since the high moisture content creates steam in the pate a choux when baking and causes the dough to puff up, you can fill it with the pastry cream and create cream puffs, eclairs, croquembouches and much more.
Now that we know what it is, I’d like to share my first experience making cream puffs with you. I have
to say I felt intimidated about creating this masterful dessert. Still, I had to face my fear and at least attempt to create some – hopefully – tasty cream puffs.
I tend to rely on Pinterest to find my recipes and I found one quickly.
I read the directions and measured the ingredients for the dough. It consisted of water, skim milk (I used 1%), unsalted butter, a large pinch of salt, flour and eggs. I followed the directions and preheated the oven while preparing baking sheets for the dough. I then proceeded to place the water, milk, butter and salt into a sauce pan and let it come to a boil. Once it came to a boil, I added the flour and mixed the ingredients until the mixture pulled away from the sides of the sauce pan and dried out a bit.
From there, I transferred the mixture into a stand mixer to add the eggs.
I think it’s a good thing I watch the Food Network as much as I do. I remember watching the Next Great Baker Kids version when they were making pate a choux. The youngster made a comment about letting the dough cool before adding the eggs otherwise you would have scrambled eggs. I suppose it makes sense that the eggs would scramble in hot dough, but the directions did not recommend a cooling time.
Good thing I chose to listen to the 8-year-old.
As my pastry dough was cooling I started the pastry cream. I measured all the elements of the pastry cream, milk, vanilla, salt, cornstarch, sugar, egg and unsalted butter. Then I followed the directions and mixed the milk, vanilla and salt in a heavy sauce pan brining the mixture to a near boil (just before a rolling boil). After combining the cornstarch and sugar in a separate bowl, I added the eggs to the mixture. The milk was ready and I slowly added the heated milk to the egg mixture (the directions said to use a stand mixer but I did it by hand with a whisk). Adding the heated milk slowly tempers the eggs so they don’t scramble.
Now that I had all elements combined, I poured it back into the pan and cooked the mixture over medium heat until the custard was thick (just about to boil). At this point I stirred the mixture to see if it was ready. It looked like scrambled eggs! I was so discouraged because I had followed the directions exactly as they were written.
What did I do wrong?
I am more of a visual learner so I decided to look up a pastry cream recipe on YouTube. I didn’t want to end up with scrambled eggs again. Let’s be clear, the directions I was following said to remove the mixture from the heat and to pass it through a fine mesh sieve into a large mixing bowl. I didn’t have a fine sieve and I was thrown by the scrambled eggs I saw in the pan. This may have worked and taken care of the lumps and bumps in the cream but I didn’t want to chance it.
I started over and followed the video. The recipe was pretty much the same. The only difference was that the author talked about continuously stirring the mixture once it was poured back into the pan and cooked over medium heat. This is how I could have avoided the dreaded scrambled eggs.
Voila! I made pastry cream. I am thankful I know myself well enough to find a video so I could follow along.
While the cream was now in a bowl cooling, the pastry dough was cool enough for me to add the eggs. After mixing the eggs one at a time, the pastry dough was ready to be piped on the baking sheet and puffed in the oven. I filled a pastry bag with the dough and piped table spoon rounds about one inch apart covering the baking sheet.
I learned a couple of things while doing this. If you pipe flat rounds of dough they will not puff and if you leave a point at the top that will burn. Then next pan I piped I made sure to stack the dough (make a little mountain) and not leave a point at the top of the piped dough.
I then baked them for 20 minutes. The instructions said to bake for 20-25 minutes. I tend to start with the minimum amount of time when baking and add more if needed. I have had many baked goods burn because I baked them for the maximum amount of time.
As I waited impatiently for the pastry to come out of the oven, I started working on the chocolate ganache. This would be the topper to my cream puffs. I heated heavy cream in a pan until it came to a boil and then poured it over the chocolate I had in a separate bowl. I allowed the two to rest for about five minutes before mixing them together.
All of a sudden I hear “bee bee beep bee bee beep!” It was the oven. My pastry was done!
I opened the oven to the wafting smell of what looked like perfectly golden brown puffs. I allowed the cute little puffs of pastry to cool before
I filled them with the smooth and creamy pastry cream and then topping them with the glossy chocolate ganache.
I did it! I danced around the house singing “I made pate a choux, I made pate a choux!” My poor husband and puppy had to hear my terrible singing for the next half hour. I think for the hubby, the consolation to my horrible singing was that he got to try my creation. I will let him give you his thoughts on how it tasted.
Now I turn it over to my Hubby for his review. Be honest, honey!!!!
REVIEW OF CREAM PUFFS by John Robert Cole
Christine, my wife, has an absolute passion for baking tasty treats. This is lucky for me since I have an absolute passion for eating tasty treats. She is a well known figure at the Coast Guard Base in Alameda, California where she is often seen walking around with her little green wagon.
“Hey, it’s The Cookie Lady,” someone shots. Soon she is overcome by a sea of dark blue as people of all ranks and pay grades swarm around her for a cookie or two (or three or four).
She has definitely earned the title because she’s a darned good cookie maker. Needless to say, it came as a bit of a surprise when she told me she wanted to make cream puffs.
“Cream puffs?” I said. “You’ve never made cream puffs in your entire life.”
That didn’t matter. She had her eyes set on expanding her baking domain and nothing I said would stop her.
As I wasted some time in my office upstairs, Christine worked diligently in the kitchen. As she noted above, her first go-around didn’t meet her expectation. Her second batch, however, was flawless. Soon she called to me, “Hubby, wanna try a cream puff?”
“Uh, sure,” I said. I didn’t know whether I’d like it or not. What if it was terrible? Do I tell her the truth and hurt her feelings or do I fib to save some tears?
She handed me a chocolate covered pastry. I could see in her eyes that she really wanted me to like it.
I opened my big mouth and popped the little guy in.
Holy cow! The cream puff was AWESOME! Sure, she’s my wife and all, but good heavens, the puff was terrific. The bake on the pate a choux was flawless, a light golden brown color that looked like it stepped right off a Food Network magazine cover. The cream was perfectly smooth, too. It had just the right amount of sugar – not too sweet and not too bland.
After I had a few more, I realized that Christine was more than just The Cookie Lady. She was the Pastry Lady!
If I were to rate her cream puffs on a scale of one to ten, I’d give it a nine. Why a nine? Because they are too addicting!
Nice work, Christine. Well done!