Ben and I have been training our basics, and this past weekend we both decided to make cream puffs, or “choux” in French. Of course Ben chose the most complicated recipe, and I choose a simple classic. I remember first getting cream puffs from Asian bakeries, especially Chinese ones. They always had the craquelin on top (the cookie crumble), which made them extra tasty, and the vanilla pastry cream was always cold and rich. I don’t know why, but I always enjoyed really cold pastry cream. It brings my back to an eclair I ate as a child in Little Italy during our trip to New York City. After that, I also relished eclairs – which is actually what we’re going to be trying to make this coming weekend. Both are made using the same dough, called “pate a choux” in French.
I wanted to replicated the same type of crispy vanilla cream puffs I had in my youth, which is why I chose to keep it simple with the vanilla pastry cream. By keeping the recipe simple, I was also able to focus on making very good cream puffs. I wasn’t distracted by a multiple step process. To make these, I chose another recipe by Philippe Conticini. I enjoyed his brioche feuilletee so much, that I wanted to try another one of his recipes.
The recipe didn’t disappoint. In fact, it was spectacular! The choux were extremely light, and crispy. The craquelin added a nice sugary crunch on top. I think they were honestly the best choux I’ve tasted. I was surprised I had such fabulous results. Compared to the recipe that Benoit used for his choux, these were so much tastier! For the filling, I used a recipe for vanilla pastry cream that I made using a Michalak recipe, which sealed the deal. There were plenty to share, too.
The key to making the pate a choux was to dry out the batter really well in the pan after you add the flour. You need to do this over a medium heat so the water evaporates away. After if it becomes a little too dry, you can add a tiny bit of milk or egg to make the batter the right consistency, which you can check by running your finger through the batter. If the gap closes slowly, it is ready! Also, it’s important to cook them until they’re nice and golden, and to not open the oven, otherwise they’ll deflate!
Here is the recipe I used, in French, for the pate a choux and craquelin.