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Cream Puffs Filled with Decadence

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Cream Puffs Filled with Decadence

A Birthday Celebration Fit for Royalty

It is my birthday, and I have decided to treat myself to something truly special. Now that I am squarely in my 40s, I find it increasingly important to make this occasion a memorable one. You see, I was in the mood to play with sugar – something I haven’t had the chance to do in years, not since my days in the restaurant world.

The act of creating those ethereal wisps of golden caramel thrills me far more than the mere act of consuming them. To complement this sugary delight, I decided I needed something creamy and decadent to indulge in. And what better vessel for a rich, creamy filling than a classic French cream puff?

The Tale of Two Puffs

Just last week, I received the long-awaited sequel to Shirley O. Corriher’s wonderful book, BakeWise. Shirley writes about the science of baking with such a fun and lighthearted way that even those who aren’t total food chemistry geeks will enjoy it. I decided to give her pâte à choux (cream puff) recipe a try, as it was radically different from the one I had been using for years.

Shirley’s recipe called for the use of a baking stone and a pan of hot water to create steam – just like we use in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day to get that crisp, crackling thin crust on our breads. It made so much sense that it would do the same for the puffs! She also used bread flour instead of all-purpose, so the pâte à choux would have more structure and be able to puff up even more.

The theory was great, but the execution was anything but exciting. In the end, I ended up using my tried-and-true recipe, but this time substituting bread flour as Shirley had suggested. As you can see in the image, my original recipe on the left produced some beautifully puffed cream puffs, while Shirley’s method on the right resulted in puffs that expanded so much they lost their shape and then collapsed.

My Recipe Shirley’s Recipe
Perfectly puffed cream puffs Collapsed cream puffs

I think this failed experiment had more to do with my oven trapping too much steam, causing the puffs to get soggy and collapse. The baking stone also seemed to retain so much heat that, even when I dropped the temperature as instructed, the oven stayed too hot, and the pâte à choux got too dark.

Perfecting the Puff

Undeterred, I went back to my trusted recipe and made a few adjustments. The key, I found, was to cook the flour-butter-water mixture until it was very thick, almost the consistency of playdough, before adding the eggs. This helped the dough hold its shape when piped and resulted in those beautiful, towering puffs.

To fill these decadent cream puffs, I decided to go with three different flavors of pastry cream – vanilla, ground pralines, and a rich, smooth Nutella. The vanilla provided a classic, creamy base, the pralines added a lovely crunch, and the Nutella was pure, indulgent chocolate-hazelnut bliss.

Presenting the Masterpiece

I wanted to serve these cream puffs in a truly show-stopping way, so I decided to nestle them atop a delicate sugar “nest.” Creating these intricate spun sugar designs may look intimidating, but it’s actually quite fun and straightforward. With a little practice, you too can transform simple sugar into a work of edible art.

Once the puffs were filled and arranged on their sugary perch, I dusted them with powdered sugar and flicked them with cocoa powder to give the impression of little eggs nestled in a bird’s nest. The final product was not only a feast for the eyes but also an absolute delight for the taste buds.

With a cup of rich, aromatic coffee or a glass of port, this birthday dessert was the perfect way to celebrate another year around the sun. And who knows – maybe next year, I’ll try my hand at an even more elaborate sugar showpiece. After all, when it comes to special occasions, you can never have too much decadence.

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