Guess who’s back in Minnesota?! This girl! Just in time for the infamous Minnesota sweltering hot August weather. Oh you thought it was basically the arctic up here? Wrong. Think sticky, humid, and buggy.
Of course the first thing I think about is what we’re going to eat when I’m home. I always get nostalgic and request family (and Minnesota) classics. Apparently my grandmother used to make cream puffs on the daily when my mom was younger. Becoming privy to this information just recently, I feel a little jipped. My grandmother almost always brings some sort of bar (if you’re not familiar, look up Minnesota food language) to the table. And you’re telling me she can make bomb dot com cream puffs?
As soon as I got off the plane, I had to test out the recipe! I made some minor…okay major changes to the filling because my mom said they used to use only instant vanilla pudding, and the original recipe uses shortening. I went the classic route with pastry and Chantilly creams filling the hollow pâte à choux.
If you’re not a serious baker, you might be completely confused by those last words of that paragraph. Pâte à choux is a classic French pastry dough; essentially it’s a paste of flour, butter, and eggs that is piped out and baked. Butter, a pinch of salt, and water are boiled together followed by an addition of flour. The mixture is then mixed rigorously over the heat to evaporate as much of the water as possible from the dough. That allows you to add as many eggs as possible! Which is very important.
The eggs provide the identifying structure of to pâte à choux dough—a hollowed out shell. During the baking process, the dough is baked at a high temperature to flash off water and cause a large amount of steam. That steam causes the dough to expand very quickly. The egg proteins complex with the gluten proteins in the flour and set the structure, firming up the outside. After the initial high baking temperature, the oven temperature is lowered so that the inside of the pâte à choux finishes baking while preventing the outside from crisping too much. Without eggs, say goodbye to the airy insides. In fact, if you don’t use enough eggs the dough will remain heavy and gluey. You should add as many eggs to your dough as possible!
Make these (amazing) cream puffs and picture the lakes of Minnesota when you do. Because you could picture the Eiffel tower, but this just feels more right!
Pâte à choux
Makes about 40 cream puffs, depending on the size
1 cup water
½ cup unsalted butter
A big pinch Kosher salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 eggs (I used extra-large eggs, so that will make a difference! This will also change depending on your humidity, flour, etc. You kind of have to play around with the dough until you know what it should look like!)
Egg wash (1 beaten egg with a splash of water)
Large-grain sugar (optional)
1. Preheat your oven to 425⁰F. Over medium heat in a large saucepan, melt the butter together into the water with the salt. Bring it to a boil, stirring to mix. Add the flour (not all in one big addition, if possible! That will cause lumps) and stir quickly to combine all of the ingredients. Continue to mix the paste over the heat for 2-3 minutes. If you see lumps in the dough, press them against the side of the saucepan to get rid of them.
2. After the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the pan, turn off of the heat and continue to stir. Once the dough as cooled down slightly, it’s time to add the eggs!
3. You have two options here. You can either use a mixer or your own arm. Depending on how tired your arm is from the first two steps, take your pick… Add the eggs to the paste one at a time. Stir the dough after each addition until it is fully incorporated. Once all of the eggs have been added, continue to stir the dough until it is smooth and glossy.
4. On a parchment-covered cookie sheet, pipe your choux dough into your shape/size of choice. You can also drop the dough by spoonful, but they won’t look as pretty! Dip your fingers into a cup of water and flatten the tops of the dough if you piped it. Brush the dough with egg wash, top with a sprinkling of large-grain sugar, and put in the oven.
5. Bake the choux for about 10 minutes, or until they have puffed up and expanded slightly. Reduce the baking temperature to 375⁰F and open the door of the oven just a little for about a minute to help lower the temperature.
6. Your choux is done baking when it turns a light golden brown, about 10-12 more minutes at the second temperature. Remove promptly and let cool before opening and filling.
⅓ cup + 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1 ½ cup milk
A pinch salt
¼ cornstarch (it’s so hard to measure accurately by volume, weight would be better! 30 g)
2 eggs (again, I used extra-large eggs)
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or extract
1. Combine half of the milk, half of the sugar, the butter, and salt into a medium saucepan. Melt the ingredients together over medium heat and bring to a boil.
2. Meanwhile, combine the remaining sugar with the cornstarch in a bowl. Add the rest of the milk, vanilla, and the eggs. Whisk to combine.
3. Once the milk mixture is boiling, temper the egg mixture by adding a few tablespoons to the egg mixture, continuously whisking. Add the egg mixture to the saucepan and whisk, heating over medium. Don’t leave it alone! The whole thing will start to get thick very quickly.
4. Once it becomes gelatinous, pour it out into a shallow container. Spread the pastry cream out to cool in the containter more quickly and prevent further cooking. If possible, create an ice bath to cool the pastry cream even more. Store in the fridge until ready for use.
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
¾ teaspoons vanilla extract
1. In a large bowl, beat the heavy cream until medium peaks form.
2. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla. Mix to combine.
3. Store in the fridge until ready for use.
1. Cut the tops of the cream puffs off with a serrated knife. The inside should be completely hollow. Keep the tops right next to bottoms.
2. Pipe the pastry cream into the cream puff bottoms or spoon it. Top the pastry cream with the Chantilly cream and top with the cream puff top.
3. Repeat with all of the cream puffs. Sprinkle all of the cream puffs with powdered sugar and enjoy!
PS: Rocky, my childhood pup, says hello! He wishes he could have some of these cream puffs…