An eggy batter that puffs into a crisp shell: Pâte à choux. It’s the base for cream puffs, eclairs, profiteroles, and even savories like gougères, little pop-in-your mouth cheese pastries. My first foray into the medium was a long time ago–6th grade, if I remember correctly. Cookbooks were my favorite reading material, and one day I decided that the cream puff swans illustrated in mom’s blue Joy of Cooking seemed like a reasonable thing to make for dessert. (I think that’s when my mom realized I had an extraordinary interest in cooking.)
Fast forward to my post-college years. I liked being a part of Oracle, and gave most of my waking hours. After a few years, I figured out how to escape at 5 every now and then. I can still sense the watchful eyes as I left the 16-story all window building “so early” and walked as quickly as possible to the parking garage. The guilt faded during the 20 minute drive, then vanished when I walked up the staircase at Draeger’s Menlo Park, and was greeted with, “Would you like white or red?” Yes, please!
Chef Gerald Hirigoyen, of Fringale at the time, was one of the dozens of chefs I met and worked with over the years. My handwritten notes annotate the hard copy recipe he handed out for “Chocolate Cream Puffs”: “alt. rock sugar on top, no filling”, “kitchen aid”, and “2/3/96” at the top of the page. 1996. Before we even dreamed about Google-ing recipes from food bloggers.
The set of 3-ring binders that store my ten-year collection of Draeger’s cooking school recipes, with all the scrawled notes, wine rings, and names of my fellow assistants, is my most treasured possession. Ten years of cooking, twenty years ago. Pieces of paper that bring me right back to that kitchen, that class, those people. That kitchen where I laughed with Julia Child at a book signing.
Make these puffs the next time you need a special treat for a group–it’s not every day people get to enjoy a cream puff! They will love you for it. The baked puffs keep and travel well (keep at room temperature in a dry climate like Montana (loosely covered with a towel, or in a tin with the lid ajar, or unsealed plastic bag), air-tight if you’re in a humid area). Load the chocolate whipped cream into the pastry bag, keep in fridge if dessert is more than an hour away, and fill the puffs just before serving. Or skip the chocolate cream and use plain whipped cream and a delicious jam like Root’s raspberry vanilla–serious YUM.) Another fun idea is to set up a cream puff station and let people fill their own: different ice cream flavors, plain whipped cream, chocolate cream, and/or chocolate sauce.
- 1 cup water
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup all-purpose flour (just a note: I've used oat flour with good success--a good recipe to try with gf oat or other gluten free flours since the puff is created with steam, not flour structure)
- 4 eggs
- 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (60 - 70% cacao), finely chopped
- 2 cups heavy cream
- Preheat oven to 400° F. Butter a large rimmed baking sheet, or use a Silpat liner.
- In a saucepan combine the water, butter, sugar, and salt and bring to a boil.
- As soon as it boils, remove pan from the heat and add the flour all at once. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, briskly beat in the flour. Return the saucepan to the heat and continue briskly beating for two minutes. Remove from the heat again and let cool a minute or two. Transfer the contents of the pan to a large bowl ("kitchen aid" if you have one). Add the eggs, one at a time, beating vigorously after each until smooth.
- Transfer dough to a pastry bag with a 1/2" diameter plain tip (or use a zip lock bag with corner snipped). Pipe 2" diameter mounds about 3" apart on the pan--aim for 12. Bake until puffs are golden brown, about 30 minutes. Transfer puffs to a rack and let cool completely.
- Melt the chocolate in small bowl set in a pan of barely simmering water--do not let the water get into the chocolate or it will seize. Remove from heat.
- Whip the cream until soft peaks just start to form. Pour the melted chocolate into the whipped cream and continue to whip for a minute, until everything is evenly combined. Transfer chocolate cream to a clean pastry bag with a 1/2" plain tip, or go the simple route and use a spoon to fill the cream puffs.