As a kid, I rarely chose actual cake for my birthday – it was always ice cream cake or a croquembouche – a massive tower of cream-filled puffs, held together by chocolate or spun sugar. As I grew up, I leaned more and more toward the croquembouche, and nowadays I’d choose a cream-filled choux pastry any day of the week. Last year, my nephew followed suit, asking for both – a pile of cream puffs on top of a cake. Brilliant.
Choux pastry isn’t that difficult to master – all you need is a pan and a wooden spoon. The butter, water and flour are cooked together over medium heat until the dough pulls away from the sides of the pan. At this point eggs are beaten in, one at a time – they act as the leavening agent, making the puffs puff.
The batter is then dropped by the spoonful onto a prepared sheet, or spooned into a ziplock bag, the corner snipped off, and the batter piped in small mounds onto your baking sheet. This is my favourite method – the bag can then be discarded, no cleanup required.
They bake up golden and crackly; to keep them from deflating, poke the sharp tip of a knife or a bamboo skewer into their sides to allow steam to escape.
Once completely cooled, the puffs can be cut open and filled with your choice of fillings; sweetened whipped cream, ice cream, or custard. If you like (and who wouldn’t?), douse them in ganache, chocolate sauce or salted caramel.
1 cup water
1/2 cup butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
whipped cream or ice cream, for serving
chocolate sauce, for dousing
Preheat the oven to 400F.
In a medium saucepan, bring the water, butter and salt to a boil; remove from heat and stir in the flour, stirring vigorously until the dough comes together and cleans the side of the pan.
Transfer to a bowl and beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Set aside for about 10 minutes and then drop spoonfuls of batter onto a parchment-lined baking sheet; bake for 20-30 minutes (depending on the size of the spoonfuls) until puffed and golden. Immediately poke a hole in the side of each one with the tip of a sharp knife or a bamboo skewer. Cool completely before filling.
Makes 1-2 dozen cream puffs.