By Jason Shriner, The Aubergine Chef
Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, but instead of rushing out and buying chocolates and flowers for your better half why not simply spend more time with them? Since my significant other and I work together we see each other almost all day everyday, but we don’t actually spend time together. Sound familiar?
This Valentine’s Day make the commitment to slow down and enjoy each other’s company. Many couples find that cooking and baking together relieves stress and allows them to connect on a different level. So turn off the TV, play some fun music, and put on your aprons!
Making cream puffs and eclairs is a great activity to do together because there are several different components that you can break up between one another. Plus these treats are easier to make than most people think so don’t hesitate to try it!
The key to making cream puffs and éclairs is using your oven correctly. The oven must be very hot (about 425 degrees Fahrenheit) for the first half of the baking to encourage all the rising. Also avoid opening the oven before the halfway point; otherwise, the cold air will rush in and cause your pastry shells to collapse.
At the halfway point open your oven to check that your puffs have risen to their full height and are starting to color. If they are, reduce the heat to about 375 degrees Fahrenheit and allow them to finish baking. The lower temperature will finish cooking the inside of the pastry without causing excessive browning.
By the way, the dough used to make cream puffs and éclairs is called pate a choux, which translates to cabbage paste. Rumor has it that the name arose from what the finished cream puffs resemble. Traditionally, Europeans prefer to use a pastry cream custard filling, but I find it a little heavy. Folding in medium-stiff peak whipped cream can create diplomat cream that is lighter in consistency and stretches your filling further.
To help answer questions you may still have, watch my new video on my site showing you step by step how to make cream puffs and éclairs.
Pate a Choux
Makes about 50 cream puffs or 30 éclairs.
1 stick unsalted butter
½ tablespoon sugar
½ cup water
½ cup whole milk
1 cup bread flour
4 whole eggs
Egg wash: 1 whole egg + 1 tablespoon water whisked together
- Combine butter, salt, sugar, and liquid in pot and bring to boil.
- Reduce heat to medium-high, add flour, and mix carefully and continuously with wooden spoon until mixture balls up, you see no flecks of flour, and skin forms on the bottom of pot. Then cook another 1 to 3 minutes.
- Remove from heat and use electric mixer to mix on low speed until steam lifts.
- Add eggs one at a time, making sure each egg is completely incorporated before adding another egg. After adding all the eggs, scrape bowl sides. Then mix dough on medium speed until it becomes a paste.
- Place dough into a piping bag and pipe desired shapes on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. See below.
- Egg wash dough. Bake at 425 degrees F about 18 to 22 minutes until puffs reach maximum volume and just start to color. Then lower temperature to 350 to 375 degrees F until dough is dry on inside, about 8 to 15 minutes. To check: Remove one cream puff from oven and slice open. Inside will be soft, not doughy.
- To fill: Once pastry shells are cool use sharp knife to poke hole into bottom of shells, twisting it to create a round opening. For éclairs, poke hole every inch along pastry.
- Put filling into piping bag with 801 tip and place tip inside hole of pastry. Fill pastry until it feels heavy. Wipe off excess cream.
- To finish, dip pastry in ganache, or dust with powdered sugar.
Cream puffs: Use an 808 piping tip or a bag cut with a hole about one-quarter inch wide. Hold the bag about half an inch from the pan and start squeezing. Once you have a nice sized ball, stop piping. Then twist off quickly using the tip of the bag to make a smooth top. Egg wash before baking.
Eclairs: Use an 808 piping tip or a bag cut with a hole about one-quarter inch wide. Hold the bag about half an inch from the pan and pipe a diagonal line about five inches in length. When reaching the end, stop piping and move the tip back the way you came, scraping against the dough, to make a clean break from the éclair. Optional: Use a fork dipped in water to lightly graze the top, barely creating an imprint. This helps control how the éclairs puff up, especially at larger sizes. Egg wash before baking.
Milk Chocolate Ganache for Dipping
6 ounces milk chocolate chips
6 ounces heavy cream
- Bring heavy cream to boil. Remove from heat.
- Pour in chocolate chips. Stir until chocolate melts completely.
- After dipping, place pastries in refrigerator to allow ganache to set up.
Pastry Cream and Diplomat Cream
6 tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups + 2 tablespoons whole milk
2 whole eggs
½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ cup sifted powdered sugar
2 cups heavy cream
Optional: 4 ounces chocolate chips
- Combine cornstarch, ¼ cup sugar, and eggs in medium bowl. Whisk together well.
- Place milk and remaining sugar in pot. Bring to boil.
- To temper cornstarch mixture, slowly add the hot milk while constantly whisking. Then place cornstarch mixture back into pot.
- Bring cornstarch mixture to boil over medium to medium-high heat while whisking constantly. Once mixture fully thickens, cook and whisk an additional 1 to 3 minutes to eliminate starchy flavor.
- Remove from heat. Stir in butter and vanilla extract (and chocolate chips if using).
- Pour into bowl and cover with plastic wrap that touches cream’s surface to prevent skin from forming. Place in refrigerator until cool.
- After pastry cream is cool, whip powdered sugar and heavy cream together to make whipped cream.
- Carefully stir (fold) about one-third of whipped cream into pastry cream. Repeat until whipped cream is completely used.
Jason Shriner owns the baking and pastry blog The Aubergine Chef, which contains free videos and recipes. He also teaches baking classes at the Manassas Park Community Center. Visit his blog at www.TheAubergineChef.com.