Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Cream Puffs, Embellished

You know how there are certain foods that taste so good that you think "There's no way that this could be improved. . . none, whatsoever. . . definitely. . . but. . . what if. . . "

For me, that one item is the cream puff.  Like little pillows of contentment, they represent the perfect comfort dessert.  (Aside from the fact that all dessert, really, can be considered comfort dessert.) There's nothing quite like taking a bite into that first slightly crisply, crackly outer layer and sinking your teeth into the smooth rich sea of pastry cream.  (The best filling invented by God or man.)

For my husband, that's where it ends.  There is no improving the cream puff.  Any alteration may as well be considered sacrilege.  And while it's hard for me to disagree, (like I said, they're just about perfect) there are only so many times I can eat the same thing, without getting, well, a little bored.  There, I said it.  So here's a fun little way to spice it up (figuratively.)

Cream Puffs, from the Bouchon Bakery Cookbook

The cream puff creation is a bit of a chore, but the saving grace is that the pate a choux and almond cookies can be made up to a month in advance and frozen until needed.


(Sorry for the lack of numbers, but there's that pesky little thing known as copyright law. . .but seriously, the cookbook is worth buying for this recipe alone)

Pate a Choux


  • Spray both parts of a silicone cake pop mold with PAM for baking.  Set aside.
  • Bring water, butter, sugar, and salt to a boil over medium heat. Stir in the flour until the mixture becomes a paste-like consistency.  Continue to stir vigorously until the paste forms into a ball and pulls cleanly from the sides and bottoms of the pan.
  • Transfer to a stand mixer and beat on high speed until steam ceases to rise from the dough. Add eggs one at a time until fully incorporated. 
  • Fill a pastry bag with the mixture.  Snip the tip off of the bag.  Fill each half sphere of the silicone cake pop mold to the top. 
  • Cover tightly with plastic wrap and freeze until desired, maximum of one month.

Almond Cookies

This is the secret ingredient that makes these puffs awesome.  Baked on top of the cream puff, it adds the requisite crunch to create the perfect textural combo.

Light brown sugar, sifted
All purpose flour
Almond flour, sifted
Cold, unsalted butter
  • Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl, fitted to a stand mixer.
  • Using the paddle attachment, mix in the butter until just combined
  • At low speed, mix for 5 minutes -- the mixture should cake together against the wall of the bowl. (It is imperative to mix an adequate time.  If the mixture is not holding together on its own, it hasn't been mixed for long enough.)
  • Turn the mixture out onto a board and roll as thin as possible without breaking. Since the mixture is delicate, you will likely have to patch the dough as necessary.
  • Cut out 1.5 in round circles and place on parchment covered cookie sheet.  
  • Freeze until use (up to one month.)

 For this piece, we need a batch of white modeling chocolate.  Instructions on how to make modeling chocolate can be found here. Make it a couple days in advance and set aside, well wrapped at room temperature.

When ready to bake the cream puffs:

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  • Remove the frozen puffs from the molds and place, flat side down, on a lined cookie tray.  Top with one almond cookie per puff.
  • Spray the puffs generously with water.
  • Place in oven and immediately turn temperature down to 350 degrees.
  • Bake for 20 minutes.  Rotate pan.
  • Bake for an additional 10 minutes.
  • Turn down oven temperature to 325 degrees and bake for an additional 5 minutes.
  • The puffs should be golden brown and feel hollow.

Faux Pastry Cream

So, this is my preferred (read: shortcut) way of making pastry cream.  Much easier, much quicker, and to my unrefined tongue, lighter and tastier as well.  

Small Box of Vanilla Instant Pudding
1 cup Heavy Cream
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
 2 Tbsp Sugar

  • Whip heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla extract at high speed until stiff peaks form.
  • Make vanilla instant pudding per box instructions.
  • Fold whipped cream into pudding until desired consistency and taste is reached (I like a 1:1 ratio of each.)
  • Fill a pastry bag fitted with a tip (any tip will do -- you just want the metal end, so that you can poke into the cream puff with it.)
  • Refrigerate until needed (but not more than a day or two, at the most)

Finishing Touches
  • Poke a hole into the bottom of each cream puff with the metal tip of the pastry bag that you just filled.  
  • Pipe filling into the cream puff until it gets heavy. You will feel it, trust me.  The more filling you want, the heavier you let the puff get.  The worst that will happen is that it will leak a little if overfilled. 
  • Once filled, set the puffs aside. 

 Now comes the decoration.  Since Christmas is swiftly approaching, let's go with that theme and make a holiday wreath. 
  • Take your modeling chocolate and color half with red food coloring and half with green food coloring.  Use candy or gel colors.
  • Roll out the green modeling chocolate into a sheet and use a cookie cutter to cut multiple leaves.  Vein the sides and edges.  Then shape the leaves on a rolling pin or other curved surface so they have a natural shape them.  
  • Roll multiple small balls from the red modeling chocolate.
  • Set aside.

  • Pick a serving dish which is approximately the desired diameter of the wreath.  
  • Place the cream puffs in a circle, so that the edge of the cream puff is just about at the edge of the platter. (I did this on a cake round, which isn't quite as pretty, but was necessary in order to transport the final product . . . on a plane.  As long as the distance from your kitchen to the serving station numbers in the double digits in miles, you should be fine putting this on just a platter.  The pastry cream at the bottom of the puff actually acts a little like a suction agent, and adds stability.) 

  • After the first ring is done, form another circle of puffs, directly inside the first circle.
  • Then form a third ring of puffs, nestled on top of the two original rings.  You can further stabilize the puffs by "gluing" the sides together with caramelized sugar or melted chocolate, but I find that leaving them as is makes it easier to break them apart when serving.

  • Now, fill a pastry bag with white candy melts and microwave at 15-20 second intervals until the chocolate has completely melted. 

  •  Drizzle the chocolate over the wreath, and top with the prepared leaves and berries. Sprinkle with pearl luster dust.

And there you have it, an (edible) holiday wreath! It makes a really dish if you're going to a a potluck also -- people just love food that looks like something other than food (and I'm no exception to that rule.)  So, despite my husband's belief than a cream puff is best in it's natural state, I think that this take makes a pretty wonderful dish even better -- after all, we eat first with our eyes, no? Consider it cream puffs, evolved!

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