You all might not know that although I met Caroline in high school, I did not actually win her over until college. She will also readily admit that it was my cooking that kept her coming back to my house for dates. Back then, an important part of the plan was always trying to finish with a more and more elaborate dessert. It got to the point where I was spending so much time in the kitchen, I hardly ever got to see Caroline while she was eating the food I made. It was then that I decided when cooking for others is best when you can enjoy it with them, and the same goes for a Valentine’s Day dessert. If you have to spend all of dinner carefully tending those chocolate souffles or checking to see if the creme brulee is just right, it might not be worth it. That is why one of my favorite go to desserts for Valentine’s or date night other wise are homemade cream puffs. They still have the wow factor, can easy be made ahead of time, and are customizable for any particular occasion.
Filled cream puffs can be made hours in advance and the empty cream puff shells can be made a couple days ahead of time and frozen. Also the components that go into making the cream puffs and very versatile and can be used to make other types of desserts. I love learning recipes in which the skills I learn are easily applicable to other dishes.
You start by making the pâte à choux or choux paste. This can seem a very intimidating task at first, but is one of the easiest types of pastry doughs to make at home.
Start by melting the butter in the milk, sugar and salt in a large sauce pan.
Stir the entire time to make sure that everything incorporates.
Once the mixture begins to bubble you know it is time to add the flour.
Once you add the flour you have to make sure that you stir the entire time.
If you stop stiring it will change the texture of the pastry when you bake it.
As you stir the mixture will look really ugly. First time I did this, I was sure that it was wrong and was not going to work but just keep stir and everything will work out fine.
At a magic moment the dough will start to come together. Once it forms into a ball keep stiring until it becomes smooth and glossy.
Once the dough becomes glossy and smooth remove it from the pot and put it into a mixing bowl and continue to stir until it begins to cool to room temperature. Once it reaches room temperature mix in one egg at a time until it is smooth and well incorporated.
The final product should be rich and still thick so that you can easily form the puffs.
When I make the puffs I use a pastry bag but you could also put the dough into a Ziploc and cut the corner off.
Here I formed the dough into little pancakes. You could use the same dough to make eclair shapes or larger cream puff shapes.
Place them in a 400 degree oven and they will quickly puff up. Then reduce the heat to 350 degrees so that they cook through completely.
You can tell they are done when they are golden brown on top. Take them out of the oven and allow them to cool on the pan for a couple minutes and then transfer them over to a cooling rack.
Now these shapes are designed to be the top and bottom of a filled pastry. You can fill these with just about anything. You could make a simple whipped cream and put a big dollop between them. I filled mine with homemade whipped cream to which I added room temperature cream cheese. The cream cheese helps add body to the whipped cream and makes for a fantastic flavor. The final step is topping the little pastries. You can top them with chocolate, powdered sugar, caramel, more whipped cream, or whatever you can think up. These pastries are very easy blank slate, and allow you to be creative and make a unique dessert.
Pâte à choux:
1/2 cup flour
1/2 stick butter
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Cream cheese whipped cream:
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 oz of cream cheese
1/4 cup powdered sugar
In a large sauce pan combine sugar, salt, milk, and butter. Stir constantly over over medium heat until the mixture begins to bubble. Once the mixture is bubbling add all of the flour at once and continue to stir constantly. The mixture will look ugly but will begin to become smoother. Once it becomes smoother stir even faster until it is glossy and pulls together into one large even ball. Remove the dough and place it into a a mixing bowl. Continue to stir every couple minutes until it has returned to room temperature. Once it is at room temperature in an electric mixer add the eggs one at a time and mix until smooth and combined. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag. Pipe out small pancake shapes on lightly greased cookie sheet. Place into a 400 degree preheated oven. After 10 minutes reduce the heat to 350 and continue to bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown on top. Allow the pastry pastries to cool on the pan and then move them to a cooling rack
Allow the cream cheese to come to room temperature. If the cream cheese does not get warm enough it will not incorporate. Place the cream cheese and heavy cream in a bowl and beat at medium speed until it begin to thicken. Slowly add the powder sugar and then beat on high speed until it is thick and hold its shape.