Food Friday: A Deft Hand


While Rudy Giuliani is publicly speculating about what inflammatory phrase should be the lasting embarrassment on his grave stone, I have decided upon more humble legacy. I do not wield any governmental influence, which considering my art major background, is a good thing. I do not advise the powerful. I try my best not to lie. I am earnest and true blue. And for one night, I was a deft hand at cream puffs.

Mr. Friday threw down the culinary gauntlet last weekend. He had invited a work colleague to dinner on Saturday. And this business associate is the amiable sort of person who can be trusted to bring along the right bottle of wine for the occasion. The occasion being Beef Wellington. This fancy puff pastry-wrapped entrée was something new (and mid-twentieth century) for Mr. Friday, so how was I to counter it? Baked Alaska? Cherries Jubilee? Floating Island? Nope. Cream puffs.

Cream puffs are light and whimsical, sweet and gooey. I’m sure at 110 Eaton Place they would be eaten with a knife and fork, but at our dining table, after the plating of the Beef Wellington, and the clouds of piped Duchess potatoes, and the spears of asparagus, we would eat the cream puffs with our fingers. I have never tasted anything more delightful, I typed modestly.

Mr. Friday followed Gordon Ramsay’s recipe. It involved multiple trips to the grocery store, and a lot of mushroom chopping. I made a Duchess potato mixture before I got to the fancy bits of dessert.

I researched cream puffs with dogged art major determination. My initial go-to was Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery cookbook. Oh, my goodness! If I ever manage to successfully complete a recipe from this book, I will be a bone fide rocket scientist. Outwardly, the ingredient list for the choux dough seems simple enough. Then come the super sneaky precise measurements:
water – 250 grams or 1 cup + 1 1/2 tablespoons
unsalted butter – 125 grams or 4.4 ounces
salt – 2.5 grams or 3/4 + 1/8 teaspoon
all-purpose flour – 138 grams or 1 cup
eggs – 250 to 275 grams or 1 cup to 1 cup + 1 1/2 tablespoons

We do have an electronic scale, and we have an eighth of a teaspoon measuring spoon, so why am I shying away from this recipe? I guess so much precision is intimidating. Ideally, someday, I would like to be the person who can remember the ingredients and their measurements and the time and temperature for baking a dish. I really don’t want to be figuring out the science fair project every damn time. (This is the Cream Puffs recipe from Bouchon Bakery, page 160.)

Instead, while not exactly improvising, I turned from Thomas Keller to Julia Child, another cook and baker who was handy with desserts. She could wing it.

Julia Child’s Cream Puff Paste Recipe:

(Pâte à Choux)

1 cup water
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pinch salt
1 teaspoon sugar
optional: pinch of nutmeg
1 cup all purpose flour
4 extra large eggs

Preheat oven to 425° F and line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Fit a large pastry bag with the largest tip or you skip the bag and use 2 spoons to form puffs.

Heat water, butter, sugar, nutmeg, and salt over medium heat. Once the butter is melted add flour all at once, and beat with a wooden spoon until it comes together and forms a dough.

Now cook stir constantly over low heat for 2 minutes. The dough will start to coat the bottom of pan. Dump this hot dough into a food processor (I used the KitchenAid) with a dough hook and add eggs, one by one, and mix until eggs are incorporated and mixture is thick and shiny.

Forming Puffs

Spoon the mixture into the pastry bag. On the sheet pan pipe out 1 1/2 inch high mounds, makes about 30. Bake 20 minutes, or until lightly brown and doubled in size, and hollow when tapped, turn off oven.

Immediately poke a paring knife in the side of each puff to allow steam to escape; this will help them to not collapse.

Return to tuned off oven and leave the door ajar for 10 minutes.
Cool on rack.

Then I deviated from Julia Child, and decided to follow one of her colleagues, Jacques Pépin for his Crème Pâtissière recipe, from which I wandered afield, yet again.

2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk

Step 1
I used the KitchenAid – a;; that whisking can be exhausting! Whisk together sugar, egg yolks, and vanilla in a medium bowl until mixture is pale yellow and “makes ribbons,” 3 to 4 minutes. Add flour; whisk until smooth.

Step 2
Bring milk to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium, about 3 minutes. Gradually add milk to egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Return mixture to saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium, whisking constantly, about 3 minutes. Boil mixture, whisking constantly, 1 minute. Transfer mixture to a medium bowl; press plastic wrap directly onto surface. Let cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. Mixture can be chilled, covered, for up to 3 days.

This is my addition – I was worried that the crème was a little too thick. After cooling it in the fridge for a couple of hours, I whipped up 1 cup of heavy cream with 1 teaspoon of sugar to make a delightfully light bowl of fluffy whipped cream. I folded the cream into the Crème Pâtissière, and combined them until they were one big bowl of deliciousness.

I sliced the cream puffs open, and piped the crème mixture onto the bottom half, and masterfully topped it with the crisp little pastry caps.

After the Beef Wellington feast, we all scarfed down two cream puffs each, finished the wine, and then packed our friend off into the night with a paper bag with four more cream puffs for his healthy breakfast, and then we stashed the rest of the cream puffs in the freezer. Periodically I have been testing them this week. The pastry has stayed crisp and crunchy. The crème delightful and oh, so French.

Cream puffs will become the third of my signature desserts: flourless chocolate cake, Boston cream pie and cream puffs. I am going to switch out the custard filling we have used for centuries in the Boston cream pie for this new (for me) crème pat. I can’t wait until our next birthday celebration! And now that I have tackled the choux, can eclairs and profiteroles be far behind?

“Fancy cream puffs so soon after breakfast. The very idea made one shudder. All the same, two minutes later Jose and Laura were licking their fingers with that absorbed inward look that comes only from whipped cream.”
Katherine Mansfield

Take that, Rudy!

About Jean Sanders

Letters to Editor

  1. Richard Skinner says

    At long last, someone has found the perfect way in which to deal with the faux insanity of Mr. Giuliani. No law suits. No billboards. No
    call-in radio harangue. No, what was needed was an art major armed to the teeth – quite literally- with a cream puff.

    Back in 2014, the New York Times film critic, A.O. Scott made the point:

    Much as I respect the efforts of economists and social scientists to explain the world and the intermittent efforts of politicians to change it, I trust artists and writers more. Not necessarily to be righteous or infallible, or even consistent or coherent; not to instruct or advocate, but rather, through the integrity and discipline they bring to making something new, to tell the truth.

    And who would challenge the maker of a cream puff?

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