I finally faced my fear of pastry

The monthly baking challenge at The Daring Kitchen is always announced on the first of the month. The date for participants to post about the challenge is always the 27th of the month, which gives you plenty of time to make the recipe. Or, if you are me, it gives you plenty of time to think about the recipe, be intimidated and decide to put it off until later about four times, until finally it’s the 26th and you realize that you must make the recipe right now or miss doing this month’s challenge all together. And you’ve aways wanted to make cream puffs, so it would be a shame to miss it all together.

Because the August challenge? It’s a filled pate a choux, and that is precisely what a cream puff is.

I’m so glad I didn’t let this challenge entirely intimidate me, because I discovered that pate a choux really isn’t very hard to make. It takes some time and attention and a lot of work from your mixing arm, but it comes together pretty easily. And it’s well worth the trouble.

The recipe we were given included instructions for turning your vanilla creme and pate a choux into adorable little swans. That required a pair of sheet pans, though, and one of my sheet pans appears to have run away. I’d imagine it’s lounging somewhere on a beach in the Keys by now, or it might be trying to get a job on an Alaskan fishing boat. Wherever it is, it left me in a little bit of a lurch yesterday, as I now seem to be down to one sheet pan. So I had to choose between making swan heads or swan bodies. I don’t think swan heads hold much cream filling, so I opted just to make the bodies. Which, without the heads, are really just cream puffs. That’s a scientific fact.

But there is nothing at all wrong with just cream puffs. A cream puff is a beautiful thing.

Vanilla Creme
1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
1⁄2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 large egg yolks, well beaten
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup heavy whipping cream

In a medium saucepan combine gelatin, flour and sugar. Mix very well.

Add milk and egg yolks and turn heat to medium-low. Stir almost constantly until mixture is thick enough to cover the back of your spatula or spoon. This should take about 10 minutes. Once thick, immediately dump into a bowl, staring the mixture if you are concerned about lumps of cooked egg.

Add the vanilla, and mix in well. Cover the surface to prevent a skin from forming and chill for about 45 minutes. You do not want the mixture to set, just to continue thickening.

(Now is a good time to begin your choux paste.)

In a large bowl, beat cream until light peaks form. Carefully fold the vanilla mixture into the whipped cream until the mixture is well-blended and fairly smooth.

Refrigerate mixture if not using immediately.

The vanilla creme recipe makes considerably more filling than I needed for the cream puffs. I piped it directly into the puffs, though. You might use more of it if you cut them in half, plopped on some filling and gave it a top-o-the-puff chapeau.

Pate a choux
1⁄2 cup butter
1 cup water
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs

Line a baking sheets with a silicone mat or parchment paper, or grease pans well. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a small saucepot, combine butter, water and salt. Heat over until butter melts, then remove from stove. Add flour all at once and beat, beat, beat the mixture until the dough pulls away from the sides of the pot. Add one egg, and beat until well combined. Add remaining eggs individually, beating vigorously after each addition. Resulting mixture should be somewhat glossy, very smooth, and somewhat thick.

Using a 1⁄4-inch tip on a pastry bag, pipe out about 12 puffs. Bake about 30 minutes, until golden and puffy. Remove the pastries to a cooling rack, and let cool completely before filling.

For more information about how to make pate a choux and what to do with it once you’ve made it, check out these thoroughly excellent sources:

Kat of The Bobwhites was our August 2012 Daring Baker hostess who inspired us to have fun in creating pate a choux shapes, filled with crème patisserie or Chantilly cream. We were encouraged to create swans or any shape we wanted and to go crazy with filling flavors allowing our creativity to go wild!

10 thoughts on “I finally faced my fear of pastry”

  1. Your Pate a Choux is perfect! I wouldn’t be able to guess you are a novice cream puff maker 🙂 Hats off to you for overcoming your fear and doing such a great job on the challenge. Thanks for stopping by my blog and for your lovely comment.

  2. Oh I am so glad you overcame your fear. The puff look just perfect, and I so hope your other sheet tray is not in the Keys for I fear a storm may take it further away. You are correct there is nothing wrong with just puffs. Glad you enjoyed them!

  3. Hooray for conquering your fear! And I’d agree… swans without their heads seem to make beautiful and delicious looking cream puffs!! Great job!

  4. I love the idea of cheese puffs. I saw some, maybe even on that site, and was thisclose to trying that but decided attempting the pate a choux as it was presented would be hard enough. I spent a good 3 weeks tripping out before I attempted mine as well, so you were not alone in the land of initimidation!

  5. You’re right, pate a choux definitely sounds scary is totally not! Your headless swans look pretty delicious 🙂 If you haven’t tried gougeres yet, you definitely should – they are SO GOOD!!

  6. Well, I’m still terrified of pastry, but I’ll certainly come over and taste-test any time!

    By the way, I think we have very different definitions of “isn’t very hard to make.” 🙂

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