By Kim Ode
When it comes to serving dessert, it's hard to top the voluptuousness of a cream puff frothy with whipped cream and raspberries.
Dusted with confectioners' sugar, a cream puff provides a lovely ending without last-minute frazzle on your part.
Cream puffs are made from a classic dough called pate a choux. "Choux" is French for cabbages, which is what the puffs resemble.
The dough requires just four main ingredients: water, butter, flour and eggs — and a little muscle. Heat is the key to successful puffs, so the process actually moves quite quickly, mixing together warm ingredients which go into a hot oven, where the steam performs its magic.
There are several tips to ensure a lofty puff: Warming the eggs in a bowl of hot water from the tap makes them easier to stir into the dough and also keeps the dough warm. Using a pizza stone beneath your baking sheet boosts the heat under the pastries, helping them puff.
For such a delicate result, cream puffs actually require strong biceps. Once you add the flour to the boiling water and butter, you need to start stirring vigorously to quickly incorporate the flour and avoid any lumps.
Stir fast and stir constantly for 1 to 2 minutes. The dough needs to dry as much as possible so it then will absorb as much egg as possible. Eggs are the only leavening ingredient in cream puffs, so the more egg, the more puff.
The technique is to press the batter against the sides, then stir into a ball, over and over until it feels drier and pulls away cleanly from the sides. Keep the dough moving in the pan so it doesn't scorch.
Now you want to add as much egg as possible, without adding so much that the dough gets soft. Start with three eggs, then do this test: Place a small spoonful on a plate. The dough should be supple enough to hold its shape, but not be pasty. If it still seems stiff, add an extra egg white; if it seems quite soft, move on to shaping the puffs.
Make sure to leave at 2 inches between the dollops of dough to allow for expansion. One more tip: Just before you place the pan in the oven, spritz each puff with water (I use a plant spritzer). This will keep them moist longer so they'll puff as much as possible before beginning to firm up.
Once they're in the oven, don't open the oven door to peek. A rush of cold air might make them collapse. The puffs can be made several hours in advance of serving.
Don't fill your puffs until you're ready to serve them. There are a range of options: ice cream, custard or sweetened whipped cream folded together with fresh fruit.
Prep: 40 minutes
Cook: 50 minutes
Makes: 8 large puffs, more if smaller
Note: You also can fill puffs with your favorite ice cream or custard. Once completely cooled, extra puffs may be frozen in freezer bags for up to one month.
4 eggs, room temperature
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, cut in small pieces
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon each: salt, sugar
1/8 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour, preferably bread flour, but all-purpose will work
1 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar, plus more for dusting
1/2 cup fresh raspberries
1 Heat oven to 450 degrees. Place a baking or pizza stone on the lowest rack, if you have one. Warm eggs in a bowl of hot tap water. Combine butter, water, salt and sugar in a saucepan; heat to a boil. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla. Add flour, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon to quickly form a ball.
Return the pan to medium heat; cook, stirring and pressing the dough against the side of the pan and gathering it up into a ball, 1-2 minutes. Place dough in a mixing bowl.
2 Lightly beat 3 of the warmed eggs in a bowl. Separate the fourth egg, placing the white in a small dish; beat lightly. (Save or discard the yolk.) Gradually mix the beaten eggs into the dough in three increments with a mixer, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more. Increase speed to medium; beat until eggs are thoroughly incorporated.
Test the dough by placing a spoonful on a plate. It should be supple enough to hold its shape, but not pasty. If it's still stiff, beat in the egg white. Place large spoonfuls of dough 2 inches apart on a parchment-lined or greased baking sheet. Lightly spray each puff once with water.
3 Place baking sheet directly on pizza stone or on bottom rack. Reduce oven temperature to 425 degrees. Bake 25 minutes. Do not open the oven door, or the puffs may collapse. Remove pan from oven; pierce each puff with a small knife to allow steam to escape. Reduce heat to 350 degrees; bake 20 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool.
4 For filling, whip cream with 1 tablespoon of the confectioners' sugar until it holds soft peaks. Reserve a few whole raspberries for garnish; lightly crush the rest with a fork. Fold into the cream. Cut puffs in half horizontally with a serrated knife; fill bottom half with cream. Replace top. Sift remaining confectioners' sugar over; garnish with remaining raspberries.
Per puff: 261 calories, 67% of calories from fat, 20 g fat, 11 g saturated fat, 162 mg cholesterol, 16 g carbohydrates, 6 g protein, 193 mg sodium, 1 g fiber.