Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Cream Puffs with Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream and Strawberries

There are few things in the baking realm that scare me. Bread? Hah. Been there done that. Cakes? Hah! I was making perfect sponges by age 5. Pies? Hah, ha! Grandma's recipe for pie crust hasn't let me down yet. 

Last year, I conquered my fear of souffles (they are actually super easy, but just take some time), using Martha's recipe. I've even made several kinds now. Though Mr. S still prefers the lemon ones.

Upping the ante, I took on a pastry that strikes fear into the hearts of many. 

The cream puff. *cue scary music*

You actually cook the dough on the stove, y'all. Not kidding. Then bake it. Weird, huh?

Start off with butter, water, sugar and salt.

Bring it to a boil...

Then take it off the heat, add flour and stir it up.

Once you've got a dough ball, put the pot back on the heat and cook it until the ball looks shiny. Stir the whole time. It's only about 3 minutes, you can make it!

If you can't tell, it's shinier. You probably had to be there.

Then you plop the dough ball into a medium sized bowl. Whack it around with the wooden spoon to cool it down.

It takes a few minutes. You want to make sure that it won't cook the eggs when you add them. Cooked eggs = scrambled puffs. Not exactly what we're going for. 

Add the eggs one at a time. 

At some point during each egg incorporation, the dough gets all weird. It sorta separates into smaller blobs that get coated with egg goo and look rather disgusting -

Just keep beating, and it will get mixed in.

After you add the third egg, get a little bowl and whisk up the fourth one. You'll probably need to add half of it. Just don't let the dough get loose. Loose dough (like a loose screw) causes problems.

Look at that lovely dough. It's basically the consistency of very thick pastry cream. Kinda looks like it too. 

Put it in a piping bag (or gallon ziploc) and cut off the tip. Just a little snip, you can always make it bigger later if it's too small.

Pipe little tiny mounds on a lined baking sheet. Touch your middle finger to your thumb. Make them about that size.

To smoosh the pointy tops down, wet your fingers and then smooth the point. It's a lot less sticky that way.

Take a egg yolk and use it to brush the tops of the mounds. This makes the puffs shiny and pretty.

Put them in the oven and PUFF! Up they go!

Once they are out of the oven (and you've tasted one to make sure they are ok), cut them in half with a serrated knife. If the insides are too mooshy, you can either pull the mooshy bit out, or put the halved puffs back in the oven for a few minutes to crisp up. 

While the puffs were in the oven, you should have started your vanilla bean whipped cream.

Scrape the bean, and toss it all into the cream. You can toss the scraped outside bits in too. Just remember to pull them out.

Let the beans sit in the cream while the puffs cook. Infusing all that vanilla-y goodness. Mmmm.

Once the puffs are out of the oven and halved, go ahead and whip it. After you remove the big bean bits.

Add some sugar, until it tastes right. 

Then slice and dice up your strawberries and assemble as follows (we're going right to left, deal with it) -

First the strawberry dice, then the whipped cream, then the pretty strawberry slice. Add a little whipped cream in the top if you like. 

You're done!

Now you just have to keep your hands off them.... or, rather, his hands off them.

Cream Puffs with Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream and Strawberries
Makes 2 dozen
Adapted from Food Network

 1 c. water
6 tbsp butter
1 tsp sugar
 1/4 tsp fine salt
1 c. flour
4 eggs
1 egg yolk

1 cup diced strawberries, 24 thin slices
1 c. heavy whipping cream
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 of a vanilla bean

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a medium saucepan, bring butter, water, salt, and sugar to a boil. Remove from heat and add flour to pot. Mix with a wooden spoon to form a dough. Return pot to heat and stir frantically until dough becomes slightly shiny (3 minutes). Remove from heat and plop dough into a medium bowl.

Beat the dough in the bowl with a wooden spoon until cooler - 2 to 3 minutes. Add 3 eggs, one at a time, mixing after each until fully incorporated. Crack the fourth egg into a bowl and scramble it with a fork. Add half of it and mix. If dough still seems too thick, add the rest. But typically 1/2 is enough. 

Transfer the dough into a piping bag or gallon ziploc. Snip the tip and pipe small mounds onto a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet. Make them 2 inches apart or so. You'll probably need 2 baking sheets. 

Wet your fingertips with water. Using your wet fingers, smooth the tops of the mounds down. Then, use a pastry brush to wash the tops of the mounds with the egg yolk. 

Put the puffs into the oven for 15 minutes at 400 degrees. After the 15 minutes, reduce heat to 350 and cook for 30-45 minutes, or until golden. 

While puffs are cooking, scrape vanilla bean and add to whipping cream. Let sit in the refrigerator until puffs are done. 

When the puffs are out of the oven, use a serrated knife to cut in half. If the middles are gooey, you can scoop out the gooey bits or return the halves to the oven to crisp them up. 

Once you've got good puffs, whip up the cream with a hand mixer (or whisk if you have the upper body strength). Add sugar, 1 tbsp at a time, until sweet enough for you. Dice and slice those strawberries. 

Assemble the puffs - diced berries in the bottom, add a layer of cream, top with a berry slice. Add more cream in the top if desired. Sandwich the puff. Move on to the next. 

They are best served immediately, but will keep in the fridge for several hours. Or if you ask Mr. S, they are perfectly fine as a leftover breakfast food....

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