Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cream Puffs with Vanilla Pastry Cream and Chocolate Ganache

Do not be intimidated!  I am here to tell you that making your own cream puffs is not only do-able, but more simple than you can imagine.  Not quite as simple as picking up the frozen box from Costco, but more delicious and certainly more impressive.  Additionally, in this post you receive additional ideas for each component of these little treats.

Included here is the recipe for the light and airy, cream puff pastry (not only can you fill this with sweet things like pastry cream, pudding, whipped cream etc., you can also put chicken, egg or tuna salad for a savory use as well!), the rich and creamy, pastry cream (as featured in a post on September 7th), and finally, an insanely easy preparation for a velvety chocolate ganache topping (I dare you to not feel fancy using chocolate ganache!  Another item whose use is not limited to topping cream puffs--try it on top of brownies and cake or use the hardened ganache as the center of homemade truffles). 

Cream Puffs

Cream Puff Pastry  (Choux Pastry)
(adapted from Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything")
1 cup water
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter
pinch salt
1 cup (about 4 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Combine water, butter and salt in a medium sauce pan: turn the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.  Cook, stirring, until the butter melts (almost immediately).  Add flour in all at once and cook, stirring constantly, until dough holds together in a ball (1-2 minutes).  Remove from heat (also transfer dough to a bowl if you can't use beaters in your pan).

Add the eggs one at a time, beating hard after each addition (can be done by hand but much easier with an electric mixer).  Stop beating when mixture is glossy.

Pipe mounds of cream puff pastry onto a lightly greased baking sheet or use two spoons to form mounds of desired size (pastry will puff up to about 3 times its size, for mini cream puffs, make mounds about 1-2 teaspoons, for bigger servings, 1-2 tablespoons).

Use fingers dipped in water to smooth out the mounds, if desired.

Bake for 20-40 minutes, depending on size of cream puffs.  When done, they will be very puffy, golden brown and hollow sounding when tapped.  Prick each with a skewer to let steam escape and allow to cool to room temperature.

Use a pastry tube to pipe filling into each cream puff or simply cut off top, spoon in filling and replace the cap. 

If desired, top with chocolate ganache.

Pastry Cream Filling
(can also fill cream puffs with sweetened whipped cream or prepared pudding of your choice--use a cook and serve or packaged pudding cups for the quickest fix!)

2 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar, divided
pinch salt
3 tablespoons corn starch
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a medium sauce-pan, combine milk, 1/4 cup of sugar and salt.  Bring milk to a simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently. 

While milk is coming to a simmer, combine remaining sugar and egg yolks in a medium bowl.  Stir in corn starch, one tablespoon at a time, until fully incorporated and mixture is thick and lemon-colored. 

Slowly add a ladle-full of steaming milk to egg mixture, stirring constantly, to help temper the egg mixture (brings up the temperature of the egg mixture slowly so you don't get scrambled egg yolks).  Continue to add remaining milk, slowly and stirring constantly.  When all of milk is added, return entire mixture to the sauce-pan and stirring constantly, bring to a boil over medium heat.  Allow to boil (still stirring) for 1-2 minutes or until mixture is thick.  Remove from heat.  Stir in vanilla. 

Pour pastry cream into a shallow dish and place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface to keep from forming a skin on the top.  Allow to fully chill in the fridge.

You can also use pastry cream recipe for cream pies and other pastries!

Chocolate Ganache
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup good quality chocolate chips or bar chocolate chopped into small pieces

In a small, microwave-safe, bowl, heat heavy cream until it comes to simmer (about 30 seconds-1 minute--watch very closely so it doesn't boil over!).  Remove from microwave and stir in chocolate.  Stir constantly until chocolate is fully melted and mixture becomes thick and shiny.  Immediately spoon (or dip the cream puffs upside down into the ganache) on top of pastries.  You can also use it to top cakes and brownies!

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