Keeping with the cookbook club plan, I decided to make profiteroles last weekend. Profiteroles are nothing more than cream puffs. I just like the slightly fancier name. :)
This was not a particularly difficult undertaking, but it did take several hours to make the cream puffs. Also, the mastery of a few (simple) techniques is necessary to make it a smooth and enjoyable process. It was definitely worth all of the trouble. I ended up with beautiful puffs full of a satiny, not-too-sweet vanilla cream.
Before even thinking about the pastry, pastry cream must be made. Pastry cream can be used in a variety of confections including eclairs, napoleons, and cream pies. I'm sorry to say it's also delicious on it's own, and I couldn't keep my fingers out of it.
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped
pinch of salt
3 large egg yolks
3 Tbsp plus 1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Bring the milk, 1/4 cup sugar, vanilla seeds, and salt to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat, whisking to disperse seeds.
Whisk egg yolks and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a medium bowl. Whisk in cornstarch, 1 Tablespoon at a time.
Ladle 1/2 cup hot-milk mixture into yolk mixture, whisking. Add remaining milk mixture, 1/2 cup at a time. This process is called tempering and is very important. If you simply add the eggs to the warm liquid they will curdle, and you will have to start over. By slowly adding the warm liquid to the eggs and whisking constantly you will end up with a smooth mixture with no lumps.
Pour mixture into pan, and heat over medium-high, whisking constantly, until mixture comes to a full boil and is thick enough to hold its shape when lifted with a spoon, about 2 minutes.
Stir in butter and vanilla extract. Remove from heat and pour mixture into a bowl; place plastic wrap directly on surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until cold, at least two hours (or up to two days).
I, being me, forgot to make sure I had enough cornstarch before I was halfway through the recipe. Rookie mistake! I had approximately 2 Tbsp of cornstarch, and I used all-purpose flour to make up the rest. It's the starch that's important so this will work, but it's much easier to deal with cornstarch and it produces a much silkier texture. Just the same, if you end up in a similar predicament you can use all-purpose flour, but you must take extra care with the whisking.
Let me repeat one thing: pastry cream is delicious on its own! Make this while others are around, or you may find yourself licking the bowl. Consider yourself warned!
So, now you have the pastry cream, and it's time to work on the actual profiteroles! This is where the fun really begins because cream puffs are made of pate a choux. Pate a choux refers to a type of dough that is cooked on the stove. When baked, it puffs up and creates a little pocket inside which is ideal for filling with cream, chocolate, or any number of other yummy, gooey things. It's a lot of fun to work with and isn't to make as it at first appears.
1 cup water
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 tsp granulated sugar
1/2 tsp table salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 to 5 large eggs
1 large egg
1 Tbsp water
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 recipe pastry cream (see above)
confectioners' sugar (optional)
*Note the breaks between the ingredients. The first set will be be used for the pate a choux. The remaining ingredients will be used for the rest of the recipe.
Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with nonstick baking mats (such as Silpat).
Combine the water, butter, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, and immediately remove from heat.
Using a wooden spoon, stir in the flour.
When flour is combined, return to heat. Dry the mixture by stirring constantly over heat until it pulls away from the sides and a film forms on the bottom of the pan, about 4 minutes, maybe a little less. (At this stage it reminds me of homemade playdough.)
Transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed, about 2 minutes, until slightly cooled.
Add eggs, one at a time, on medium speed, letting each one incorporate completely before adding the next. Test the batter by touching it with a flexible spatula or your finger, then lifting. It should form a string. If the string does not form, lightly beat the last egg and add it, a teaspoon at a time, until the batter is smooth and shiny. If you have added all the egg and the batter still doesn't form a string, add water, 1 teaspoon at a time, until it does.
Fill a pastry bag fitted with a plain round 3/4-inch tip with pate a choux, and pipe 1 1/2 inch rounds onto baking sheets.
**NOTE: I hate using pastry bags. They are such a pain to clean, and I don't really use them often enough for it to matter if I keep one around. Instead, I use a gallon ziplock bag. Just snip off the corner and fit the coupler and pastry tip on the end just as you would with a pastry bag. Then when you're finished just toss the ziplock in the trash. Be sure to save the coupler and pastry tip!
Beat together egg and the water; use your fingertips to rub egg wash over entire surface, being careful not to let it drip onto the baking sheet, and flatten tips.
Cover one sheet with lightly oiled plastic wrap, and place in refrigerator. Bake the other sheet 15 minutes; reduce the oven heat to 350 degrees F. Bake about 20 minutes more, or until puffs are golden brown.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Return oven heat to 400 degrees F, and repeat process for remaining batch.
Whip heavy cream to medium peaks in a small bowl. Stir pastry cream to soften. Add whipped cream to pastry cream in two batches, folding to combine after each.
Fill a pastry bag (or ziplock!) fitted with a coupler and plain round tip. Insert tip into the underside of each cream puff, and fill. (I found that when I filled the pastries from the bottom they leaked a little so after a few puffs I began filling them from the side. It creates a slightly more rugged look, but they are easier to manage, and they still look great!)
Store any leftover (ha!) cream puffs in the refrigerator.
Voila! Homemade profiteroles! I just loved making these, and I was very pleased with the finished result. I served them with brunch, and they looked lovely piled on a cake stand in the center of the table. And they taste so good!