Sunday, July 20, 2014

Cream Puff Love

Homemade Cream Puffs

This weekend Jerry and I are celebrating our wedding anniversary. I planned to make homemade cream puffs, Jerry's favorite, for breakfast on the day, but he beat me to it by making Belgian waffles topped with our homegrown and local wild berries. I decided to wait and make the cream puffs for dessert. To be honest, I prefer that. I'm not a morning person, and cream puffs are a rather labor-intensive undertaking.

Jerry's homemade waffles

I was introduced to these luscious cream puffs by the sisters of the Latterday Saints Garner Ward Relief Society. A sister who attended the Ward before I did made these often for weddings, showers, and other Relief Society events. Even though she'd moved away her cream puffs were so popular she would make trays and trays and bring them back for weddings upon request. I wish I could remember her name. I was given the recipe by another sister, but the original author's name isn't on my copy. I've revised the recipe a bit over the years anyway.

My grandmother's cookbook

I didn't like the ingredients in the original filling. It tasted great, but was made primarily of whipped topping and instant vanilla pudding. This mixture holds up well, but it's full of hydrogenated oils and artificial flavors and stuff that's really bad for you. Whipped cream would taste good if you were filling them the minute before you serve them, but would turn runny within the hour if you wanted to make them ahead. I thought a cooked custard recipe would taste good and stand up well if I wanted to make the cream puffs ahead.

I turned to the Household Searchlight, my grandmother's wedding cookbook, first published in 1931. I have her "enlarged" edition of 1941. This book has a recipe for pretty much anything you can imagine, including fiddlehead ferns, dandelion greens, several kinds of pig's feet, and even creamed brains! So, no matter what you have to work with, you can create a great family meal! I chose the Cornstarch Pudding, an Americanized version of Panna Cotta, thickened with cornstarch instead of gelatin. Gelatin is probably a lot healthier, but I didn't have any and I didn't feel like going to the store. The resulting pastries are creamy and light, without any artificial ingredients. They've become a family tradition, and I hope you love them as we do.

Cream Puffs
Makes 10-12 Large Puffs

1 cup water
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup all purpose flour
4 eggs
dash salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On the stovetop, heat water and butter to a rolling boil. Stir in flour all at once. Stir vigorously over low heat about 1 minute or until the mixture forms a ball. Remove from heat. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until the dough is no longer glossy or shiny. I use an immersion blender with a wire whisk attachment for this step. Drop dough by large spoonfuls 3 inches apart onto an ungreased baking sheet. I use a silicone liner on my baking sheets to prevent the dough from sticking. At this point you can shape the cream puffs if desired. I just did round ones this time, but for Valentine's Day I often make them heart-shaped.

The cream puffs before baking.

The dough will just about tripe in size while it bakes, so don't put these any closer together than I show here. Bake for 35 minutes and check the puffs. They are finished when they are big and puffed and the tops are golden brown. When the puffs are finished, turn off the oven, crack the door, and let them cool completely before removing them from the oven. While you wait for them to cool you can make the cream filling.

The puffs after baking
When the puffs are completely cool, remove them and cut each one in half. Pull the doughy centers out to make a hollow for the cream filling. The dough in the center is soft and eggy, a lot like French Toast. I set aside and save the centers and give them to the children topped with maple syrup as a breakfast or snack. Fill each puff with cream.

The soft dough inside is removed.

Cream Filling

2 cups milk
4 TBSP. cornstarch
4 TBSP. sugar (I use coconut sugar or Monk Fruit sweetener)
4 TBSP. cold water
1 TSP. pure vanilla extract
dash salt

Heat the milk on the stove over medium-low heat. Combine the cornstarch with the salt and water and stir together until the cornstarch is dissolved and has no lumps. Do this anytime you add cornstarch to a recipe to prevent clumps. 

Mix cornstarch and water before you add it to the recipe to prevent clumps.

Pour the cornstarch mixture into the hot milk and stir to combine. Add the sugar. Whisk the mixture over medium-high heat until it is thick and smooth. Stir in the vanilla. 

Stir the filling until it is the thickness of pudding.

At this point you could add two squares of chocolate and melt them into the filling if you wanted to make chocolate-flavored filling. If you only wanted to serve pudding, without the cream puffs, you would pour the mixture into 8 wet molds and chill until the pudding was set. Then you would take them out of the molds to serve. This goes a long way toward explaining our obesity epidemic; each serving of this 1930s pudding would be about 1/4 cup, a lot less than today's serving size! 

For the cream puffs, allow the mixture to cool to a safe handling temperature, stirring occasionally to prevent a skin forming on top. Spoon the filling into each puff, replace the top, and frost with chocolate glaze.

Chocolate Glaze

1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 TSP. vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar
About a cup hot water

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in cocoa powder, vanilla, and powdered sugar. Add the hot water a tablespoon or two at a time until the mixture is the consistency you want. It should be thinner than cake frosting, but not so thin it runs all over when you drizzle it over the puffs. With a large soup spoon pour a little of the glaze over each puff. As you are working the glaze with thicken up, so keep the pan over very low heat and stir often. Refrigerate the cream puffs until it's time to serve them.

The finished cream puffs

The cream puffs are delicate and don't keep a very long time. I remember it was a challenge to keep these fresh when we served them for wedding receptions because we had hundreds and didn't have enough refrigerator space. The Garner Ward always put out an amazing spread for wedding receptions and we had food everywhere! We would bring these out for the dessert buffet a few at a time and then replenish them  as the first ones were eaten. If we set them all out at once the last ones taken would get soggy. Only make as much of these as you think you'll serve at once; they aren't as good the next day. Since cream puffs take a long time to make and don't last, they are a very special and anticipated celebratory food for our family.

Besides the cream puffs, we have another special treat for supper. Jerry put a dry rub on some pork ribs last night and let them sit in the fridge until this afternoon. Now he and our teen are smoking them for supper. Unfortunately, it started raining about halfway through the process, so they've set up a tarp as a homemade tent over the smoker. I hope they aren't rained out; there's not much as good as babyback ribs smoked all day!

A delicious cream puff

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