This past weekend, I was invited to a dinner party and offered to bring dessert. What to bake? I just love small bites so I decided upon a medley of bite-sized desserts consisting of pumpkin tartlets, rainbow (tricolored) cookies, chocolate banana bread mini cupcakes, and mini cream puffs. When the kids were young, cream puffs were always a favorite. As a matter of fact that was the last time I made them. As tempting as the other desserts were, the mocha cream-filled cream puffs were a big hit even though it wasn’t as puffy as I would have liked. No one cared. Who can resist this light airy cream-laden delight?
Pâte à choux is the pastry dough used to make pastries we are quite familiar with such as profiteroles (cream puffs), éclairs, and French crullers. Cream puffs became all the rage with the fist-sized cream puffs sold by the popular Japanese cream-puff chain, Beard Papa’s. At their stores, you pick out a plain or flavored cream puff shell and you wait as it is freshly filled with your choice of cream filling such as the perennial vanilla custard, strawberry, chocolate, or unique flavors like green tea or dulce de leche. After my first endeavor to bake these cream puffs, I tried another recipe the second time around and what a difference in the result. They came out puffy, crusty, and big! There were several tips that I learned to achieve this. First make sure your oven is hot (400°- 425°) when you place it in and avoid opening the oven door to take a peek. They are sensitive to draft. In the last few minutes of baking, make a slit to release the steam just before turning off the oven and leave them for a few minutes. This final process dries the inside of the puffs to prevent them from collapsing.
For those of us who prefer savory over sweet, cream puffs are quite versatile with all sorts of fillings. There are recipes for curry chicken, sun dried tomato in cream cheese, Gorgonzola and rosemary, salmon with dill, and the list of fillings go on. Cheese added to the choux dough, gougeres, brings another layer of complexity in combination with a savory filling. There are lots of creative ideas for cream puffs, especially as appetizers. Often the most scrumptious is the most simple – a scoop of your favorite ice cream right into the center – an elegant ice cream sandwich!
Bite-Size desserts by Carole Bloom
The New York Times Dessert Cookbook edited by Florence Fabricant*
Gale Gand’s Just a Bite by Gale Gand and Julia Moskin
Best-Loved Desserts: More than 250 Scrumptious Recipes by Good Housekeeping*
Tastefully Small Dessert Canapés by Kim Hendrickson
Cake Boy by Eric Lanlard
The Art of French Baking by Ginette Mathiot*
Small Batch Baking by Debby Maugans
*Includes recipes for Cream Puffs