August 4, 2013

Cream Puffs and Cookies for Cream Puffs

We have left the land of tarts, and entered a new chapter: pate a choux! In French, pate means pastry, and choux means cabbages, which is what some say the first buns made using this method looked like. Although nowadays, it can be used to make any number of sweet or savory pastries, including this week's recipe, cream puffs.

Thomas Keller's cream puffs follow most traditional recipes, with a few variations. The pastry is piped into molds to ensure uniformity, and is then frozen before baking. Also, a special cookie is placed on top before baking, which then melts to the top of the puff and creates a crisp texture. Check out this video from the Today Show where the chef demonstrates his technique:

Standard bake

I had all the ingredients in my pantry so I started when I got home from work. This recipe was very easy and quick to make. Although, I have not baked in a while, I'm pleased that I continue to use the techniques from the book such as weighing eggs. Doing so made the six additons of 50 grams of egg a breeze when making the dough. I piped the dough in the molds and froze as instructed. The cookies for the cream puffs was quick to make. The only issue I had was when I rolled out the dough it would break apart. After piecing together a few times I figured out I could roll out in a set of three instead of two having smaller batches. I froze them, then proceeded to make the pastry cream.  I made the small batch of pastry cream which I made many times before. No news to report on that. I covered it and let it cool. 

After the dough was frozen, I put a cookie on top of each cream puff and sprayed water on them before putting in the oven. I baked them for 10 extra minutes since the one I tested was till a moist. After they cooled, I piped the pastry cream in a three of the cream puffs. My family tasted them and enjoyed them very much. I like that they are small and crunchy. I will make these again.

standard bake and measure

I have made cream puffs before, although from a different recipe, so I was interested to see how these turned out.  I think I need more practice, they weren't as great as I expected.

Pastry cream: last time I used custard powder and it was too thick, so this time I used mostly flour and only some custard powder, and it was perfect.

Puffs: the choux pastry was easy to make, and I liked the fact that the eggs are added in the mixer, instead of by hand. That eliminates a lot of hard work. I didn't have the silicone molds recommended, so I used a mini muffin tin instead. I measured the cavities and they were about the same size.

Cookies: Only a few ingredients, came together easily, but difficult to roll out. I ended up just rolling out a bit at a time and cutting a few circles at a time, then doing the rest. I got a lot more rounds than the recipe indicated, but i figured I'd use them another time.

Assembly: It was difficult to unmold the frozen puffs from the muffin tins, but after warming the bottom with my hands they popped out. I placed the cookies on top and baked for 20 minutes. I think I lowered the temp of the oven too soon, because only a few of the puffs came out dry and hollow inside, the rest kind of sunk into themselves. Next time I will pay closer attention to the baking time and temp. After cooling, I piped the pastry cream into a few puffs, although I'm never sure if I fill them enough. Overall, the puffs were tasty, but the cookie on top makes them too sweet for me. The cookie and the pastry cream together makes this super decadent. I prefer to eat the warm puffs right out of the oven. I'll definitely try this again, if only to correct my past mistakes. 

metric measure and standard bake
piped by hand, no silicone mold

Pate a choux is one of my favorite things to make. I love piping them for puffs, eclairs and Paris Brest. I noticed the recipe called for a silicone mold to get the circular puff shape but since I didn't have one, I thought I'd give it a go just by piping drops of choux pastry and then using a little bit of water to pat down the points before freezing.

The cookie part was actually something I was excited to do because I've never made puffs with a crackle top before. They remind me of Dutch Crunch rolls which I love. I had trouble with the dough because it was incredibly crumbly. While the book states that it should be like that, it barely held together. I ended up mushing the dough back together, incorporated another tablespoon of butter and then re-rolled it again. I managed to get it into a thin sheet and cut rounds out, but they weren't as thin as I'd have liked. I know it's not intended to be an actual topping but rather just a very thin layer for a bit of texture.

I was really happy with how they baked. I thought they were beautiful and they were nice and hollow on the inside. The edges were smooth with the nice crackle on the top. I ate one warm, unfilled and it was so delicious. Amazing recipe!

Guest Baker: Mike

Our guest baker this week offers great step by step detail in his blog, which you can check out here:

Guest Baker: Marsha
Yield: 26 medium puffs, 3 large puffs (in anticipation of next week's recipe)
Special equipment: Wilton cake ball pans

I was really interested to see how the cookie-baked-onto-dough-ball innovation would turn out, and whether the extra step was worth the time.
I loved the idea of having perfectly round puffs of uniform size. I used two cake ball pans - the cavities were exactly the right size. To remove the puffs from the (lightly-buttered) non-flexible pans, I just pushed on one side of each frozen puff and it popped right out. Once out of the molds, the frozen dough balls looked very small, given that the recipe referred to them as "medium" sized. But the baked puffs more than doubled in size. The dough was also wetter than some pate a choux recipes I've made before - even without the provisional 25g of eggs, which I didn't add. I expect that wetter dough = more steam = more expansion. In any case, they were big and beautiful and light as air.

Conclusion: Another winning recipe that I would make again. The additional step of making the cookies to bake onto the puffs was worth the effort. The extra crispiness it gave to the puffs was an especially nice contrast to the delicious, creamy filling.

Guest Baker: Amy 

Oh. My. Gosh. These. Are. Amazing. Seriously. I have never had a cream puff that wasn't from the frozen section of the grocery store.  You know the ones that are rubbery and filled with vanilla pudding.  Eek.

Bouchon's cream puffs start off with making a brown sugar cookie that is rolled to 1/16 of an inch, frozen, and cut in 1.5 inch circles.  However, after receiving a heads up from Jenn about the dough being very crumbly I decided to warm the dough with my hands, immediately roll to 1/16 of and inch, cut the disc, and then freeze the disc.  It worked perfectly.

Now the pate a choux made me nervous.  TK said to make the batter and pipe into silicone molds.  I owned zero molds.  So I bought one off of Amazon for ten bucks but it only had 15 cavities.  So I just piped the rest in larger and smaller diameters than the mold to make the bodies for next week's Miss Daisy.  Then I baked till a deep golden brown.  They were crunchy and beautiful.  I see no need in using a mold.  As a matter of fact I don't think the pate a choux appreciated being frozen, because the ones I immediately baked were more uniform and frankly prettier.  I used a 1/2 inch tip and made the larger ones a 1.5 inch diameter and the smaller ones. a 1 inch diameter. I baked the larger for 40 minutes and the smaller for 30 minutes.  I didn't lower the temp of the oven per the instructions.  I baked at 375 degrees the entire time.  The ones in the photo on the left are piped and the ones on the right are molded.

I piped in my favorite pastry cream (David Lebovitz) from the top instead of the bottom.  Then I dipped the tops in a bittersweet sauce (also David Lebovitz) to offset the sweet pastry cream.  Hands down my favorite recipe thus far from Bouchon.  They were crispy and sweet and wonderful.  However, this morning when I woke up they were soft and rubbery.  I popped them in the oven for 5 minutes prior to filling and they were crisp and perfect again.  2 thumbs up :)

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