This past Saturday, my little sister had her baby shower. The decor was stunningly rustic and the food was all home-made, plentiful and delicious. It was a fun-filled day with lots of laughter, presents, and games. The party was pulled off almost entirely by her two life-long friends. My contribution, although meager, took a lot of practice and an early morning start.
I love cream puffs filled with pastry cream, and I decided to make this for the baby shower. This custard-filled pastry looks simple but it was one of my trickiest baking projects. Working with choux pastry, or pâte à choux, to make the delicate shells took a couple of tries.
Getting the puff of the shells to remain puffy was my challenge. Many times I had the shells completely deflate on me as I remove them from the oven. The kids and I would eat the deflated shells and I would start all over, using different temperatures.
There are plenty of blogs that offer helpful techniques to overcome deflated shells. For example, baking at a certain temperature for some time then readjusting the temperature. I tried many different temperatures and cook times until I finally found the combination that worked for me. I think variations in ovens and outside temperature may have affected the rise of my shells. The lesson learned is don't be discouraged. Find the temperature and bake time that will work for you and keep a watchful eye to readjust if necessary. However, if you fail and get deflated pastries, remember it's purely cosmetics. You can fill the shells (they are still hollow!) and eat the rejected ones (story of how I will get fat).
Pastry Cream Recipe (makes 2 cups)
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk, heavy cream, or a mix
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- In a medium saucepan, warm the milk until you just begin to see steam. You do not want the milk boiling.
- In a stand mixer with either a paddle or whisk attachment, mix together the sugar, flour and salt.
- Add the egg yolks and vanilla extract into the dry ingredients and mix until you get a crumbly paste.
- While the stand mixer is on, slowly pour a small stream of the warm milk into the eggs.
- Once all the milk is added to the eggs, pour everything back into the sauce pan.
- Stir constantly until you get a pudding-like consistency.
- Set a strainer on top of a bowl and stir the pastry cream to push it through the strainer. This will remove any cooked eggs, ensuring your pastry cream is smooth. I highly recommend not to skip this part. Lumpy pastry cream is not only aesthetically unappealing but it's harder to pipe into the pastry shells.
- Place a plastic wrap right on top of the surface of the pastry cream to prevent it forming a skin and refrigerate until completely cooled before piping.
Cream Puff Shells (makes 16 large puffs)
- 1 cup water
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- Large pinch salt
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 large eggs
- Preheat oven to 425 F.
- In a sauce pan on medium high heat, add the water, butter, salt and sugar. Stir until the butter is melted and everything comes to a boil.
- Add the flour and stir continuously until the dough pulls away from the sides of the pan.
- Transfer the dough to a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. Allow the dough to cool for 5 minutes.
- Add the eggs one at a time, making sure to incorporate the eggs fully into the dough after each addition.
- Lined two baking trays with either parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
- Pipe or spoon golf-ball size mounds onto the baking trays.
- Place the trays in the middle racks and the racks below it.
- Once the trays are in the oven, adjust the baking temperature to 450 F. The "rising" heat helps to quickly inflate the dough.
- Bake at 450 for 10 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 350 F. Bake for 15 minutes. Lowering the temperature helps set in place the puffiness and slowly dry out the inside.
- At the end of the 15 minute mark, quickly open the oven and poke a small hole in each puff using a tooth pick. This will allow the steam to escape and continue to dry out the inside. Bake for another 5 minutes until the outside is a golden brown.
- At the end of the 5 minute mark, turn off the oven and leave the oven door ajar until the puffs completely cooled.
- Once cooled, fill with pastry cream or whipped cream. You can fill the shells in two ways. You can poke a hole at the bottom of each shell and pipe in the cream from the bottom. You can also cut the shell in half and pipe the cream in the center.