Cream puff aka profiteroles have been on my to do list for a while. Actually ever since James sent me the table of ratios for different types of doughs from Michael Ruhlman's book "Ratio". I didn't even know how to pronounce "pate au choux" ... not sure I do now. But I know how to make it! After two batches of cream puffs based on two different recipes and two batches of pastry cream in less than a week I can confidently say cream puffs are my new favorite thing to make.
Pate au choux is a light pastry dough used to make not only cream puffs but also eclairs, croquembouches, beignets, gougeres, etc. According to its history on Wikipedia, the pastry was invented in 1540 by a chef of the Medici family, shortly after they all fled Florence. The name came much later, in the 18th century, when a patissier by the name Avice invented the Choux Buns and the name of the dough became pate au choux because the buns resembled little cabbages - choux in French. They really look like miniature cabbage heads, don't they?
The first recipe (let's call it Recipe A) came form Brown Eyed Baker's fantastic tutorial:
Pate Au Choux
2 large eggs + 1 large egg white (1/2 C eggs)
5 Tbs unsalted butter
2 Tbs milk
6 Tbs water
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 C flour, sifted
The second recipe (Recipe B) comes from Michael Ruhlman's ratio approach:
Ratio Pate Au Choix
1/2 C butter
1 C water + milk
1 C eggs (3 large, ~5 medium eggs)
1/2 C flour, sifted
1 Tbs sugar
pinch of salt
The process of making the pastry is soooo simple. Heat butter, milk, water, sugar, and salt in a pan over medium heat, stirring until the butter is melted the mix starts to bubble. Take off the heat and immediately add the flour, stirring briskly, until a paste is formed. Return to low heat and stir until the batter is glossy and easily separates from the sides. Take off the heat, stir briskly to cool a bit. Then slowly pour in the eggs while stirring until smooth. The batter will be sticky, but thick. To make the puffs, transfer the batter to a pastry bag with a plane tip and pipe 1 to 1 1/2 inch mounds on a wax-paper lined baking sheet. Bake for 15 min @ 415F + 8 min @ 375F. Then turn off the oven, crack open the door and let the puffs cool in the oven. More detailed instructions can be found here.
Now, for the comparison. The two recipes actually had very different ratios of ingredients. The first recipe was 1:1:5/8:1 of liquid:egg:butter:flour, so almost 1:1:1:1. Michael Rulman advocates a very different ratio - 1:2:2:1, so the batter has a lot more egg and butter. In the end however, I was surprised at how similar the batters looked. They had almost the same consistency with B being sweeter and just a bit more runny and unable to hold height when piped. The baking results however were quite different. The puffs from Recipe A held their shape pretty well, puffed a bit but not too much and at the end of the baking were quite sturdy. The puffs from Recipe B puffed up like little balloons and even some of them merged together. They became huge! But at the end of the baking they were still quite moist and some of them collapsed as soon as they were out of the oven. Meh. I personally prefer the first batter though I would increase the sugar to 1 Tbs next time. Ruhlman's ratio works but it the result was not all that satisfying.
Now for the filling:
2 C whole milk
1/2 C sugar, divided
3 Tbs corn starch
2 Tbs unsalted butter
Additional for chocolate pastry cream:
3 Tbs cocoa
2 oz quality semi-sweet chocolate
Again, for more elaborate instructions check out Brown Eyed Baker's tutorial. Here is my brief summary: beat yolks + 2 Tbs sugar; add corn startch and beat until mixed well; heat milk + 6 Tbs sugar until boiling; over low heat add the yolk mixture to the milk in a thin stream while stirring well and keep stirring until the mix thickens and begins to bubble; take it off the heat and stir in the butter. For chocolate pastry cream, add the cocoa to the yolk-starch mix and add the chocolate with the butter at the end. Straining the cream is not a bad idea, because there are always lumps. Then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Honestly, I don't know what cocaine tastes like but I can imagine it tastes like pastry cream. This stuff is so tasty it can be addictive. I am adding pastry cream to the list of foods I love, love, love, right next to Thai yellow curry, Monica's lasagna, James's risotto and the 9-grain bagels at Bentley's, among other things.
To finish thinks off, I recommend leaving the puffs uncovered overnight (to dry them even further) and the pastry cream in the fridge also overnight (to thicken and cool). Make little holes on the sides of the puffs and pipe the cream in, slowly and gently so that the cream doesn't come out squirting from the side. Eat as soon as possible - the longer they sit the soggier they get. Cream puffs week is over.