Sunday, April 29, 2012

Cream Puffs

They say things skip a generation. Diabetes, twins, blue eyes and oddly enough the love for cooking (at least on the maternal side). Some of these are urban legends, people's way of rationalizing seemingly absurd circumstances. Some are rooted in genetic fact. Others are simply based on my observations about my family.
My grandmother is an amazing cook. On Christmas she single handedly makes cardamom bread, a lemon loaf, Irish soda bread, roasted cornish game hens, (my grandpa contributes pasta and bolognese sauce), and cream puffs.
Her mother used to bring the cream puffs and when she died, my grandma took over the very important task: making the food that everyone looks forward to no matter their age or how full they are. Like I said, it skipped a generation, and my mother believes that a nice home cooked meal means the chefs at al di la will cook it for us and then afterwards we'll walk home and talk about it.
She actively despises cooking, even though she does it very well with recipes she's comfortable with. However, we would never stand in the kitchen side by side, baking to our hearts' content and bonding in the process, the sweet image of a mother and her daughter. Rather, my father and I are the ones who have always baked together and now my grandmother and I have found yet another pastime that we both enjoy.
My family doesn't have many heirlooms, but the skill of cooking has been passed down from generation to generation, whether or not it was accepted and utilized. So my cream puffs were inspired by the first baker in my family, who stood at an oven overlooking the mountains of Recoaro Terme, Italy, making custard and chocolate just so that one day I might also (or maybe they just wanted to eat the cream puffs).
I began by making the pastry. I first boiled 1 cup of water with 6 tbs butter and then added the liquid to 1 cup flour, a dash of salt and 1 tsp sugar. I stirred the mixture with a whisk until the dry and wet ingredients were incorporated into little balls.
Then I proceed to add 4 eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix this until the dough is homogenous and smooth. I greased a cookie tin and spooned on 12 mounds of dough. They don't rise too much so don't worry about them sticking together, but evenly spaced is best.
The oven was set to 400 F and they baked at that temperature for 15 minutes. Then I decreased the temperature to 350 and baked for 30 minutes. The insides will never become like the outsides, so don't worry if they're mushy since the next step is to take them out of the oven, cut off the tops and spoon out the insides completely. Put them back in the oven for 3-5 minutes so they're nice and crisp.
I let these cool in the fridge for an hour or two and in the meantime I made the custard and chocolate sauce. To make the custard, heat 2 1/2 cups of milk until there are tiny bubbles around the rim. In a separate bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup sugar and 5 egg yolks and finally 2/3 cup flour. Add the milk to this and whisk together.
Then return all the mixture to the pot and continuously stir for about 5 minutes or until it has thickened into a custard like form (this is its final consistency, it won't get thicker while it chills). Finish the custard by adding 2 tbs butter and 1 tbs vanilla extract (after the flame has been turned off). Stir until the butter melts and then put this is the fridge for 2 hours or the freezer for 1 (which is what I did).
The chocolate should be made as close as you can to when you're loading the puffs with cream. I used 1 ounce (1 square) of baker's chocolate and 1 tbs butter. I melted the chocolate and butter together and then added 2 tbs water and 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar. Continue stirring over the flame until it becomes smooth.
Then I added a few tablespoons of cream to each puff and closed the lids on them (adding cream to the lids as well so they stuck) and then drizzled chocolate on the tops. We ate them with raspberries and after all those years of helping my grandma assemble cream puffs for the entire family, I felt initiated: I have made cream puffs on my own.

1 comment: