It is quite possible that there is only one other pastry that runs slightly ahead of this custard filled cream puff in my favorites list. It might be the giant Snowflake Half Moon Cookie, but only by a half moon. These cream puffs are the kind of treat that makes me feel like I won the pastry lottery. When I was a kid, after Friday Sabbath services there would be the Oneg. The Oneg translates to big social celebration with pastry and cookies, sort of. It is the social hour after services where you can commune with others and gossip about who was wearing what fashion faux pas. Ok. Sort of. I made it my mission to be one of the first into the Synagogue social hall. I could see the itty-bitty cream puffs and eclairs from miles away, sitting on little white paper doilies. I didn’t exactly clean them out, but it came close, I think.
Years later, very pregnant, very poor, and without a car, living in our 18th floor walk-up, I craved that cream puff. I had a Fanny Farmer cookbook , flour, butter, milk and eggs. How hard could it be? Turns out, it was easy – the hard part was the stirring-like-crazy while nine months pregnant. Let’s just say it was a lot like trying to tie my shoes.
Our Friday night beginning-of-the-weekend celebration always included something gooey for dessert and an episode of The Rockford Files in real time on a tiny B&W television. Seriously – the old days.
The cream puff recipe was easier than I ever expected. It just took time because you had to make the puffs, let them cool – make the pastry cream (really, vanilla pudding-ish), let it cool - and some melted gooey chocolate for the topping. And the best part was that the recipe made a zillion of them.
At the bakery, I could have only purchased a single cream puff for all the free cash I had. A recipe that made a dozen was like winning the lottery if the payoff was pastry. We were young – we could eat a million calories, and never suffer heartburn. So we ate all 12 of them in one sitting. Hey – no snickering! We were 19-years-old.
I’ve recreated them gluten-free. These are my best rendition yet and believe me, there have been some interesting (read: baking wrecks) editions through the years! It took longer to write the recipe out than it did to make them. Honestly – the instructions are long winded, but the process isn’t so bad. Just make sure to take that Advil before you start stirring.
Canteen Custard Filled Cream Puffs, Gluten Free
- 130 grams gluten free flour (40 grams gluten free oat flour plus 34 grams brown rice flour plus 15 grams white rice flour plus 30 grams almond flour plus 11 grams potato starch)
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- pinch kosher salt
- scant 1/3 cup of unsalted butter
- 1 cup of whole milk
- 4 large whole eggs, room temperature (important)
- 2 cups whole milk (no low fat stuff here)
- 1/3 cup of superfine sugar
- 6 large egg yolks
- 2 tablespoons corn starch, sifted
- 1 teaspoon vanilla (or one vanilla bean)
- 1 teaspoon liquor (your choice – I used amaretto)
- 2 tablespoons butter
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line one baking sheet with parchment.
Weigh out flours and mix with sugar and salt, whisk to mix, and set aside.
If the eggs are cold, place in a large glass measuring cup or bowl with warm (not hot) water to come to room temperature – about 2 minutes. Don’t use cold eggs!
Then crack them into a small bowl and set aside.
In a medium tall, heavy-bottom saucepan heat the milk and butter until it comes to a low boil. With a wooden spoon, add the flour mixtures all at once and stir like crazy. Keep stirring until your arm feels like it is going to fall off. The mixture will go from ohoh to phew – (ok-it’s-working) pretty quickly. It will smooth out into a smooshy ball and start to cook – there will be a filmy layer on the bottom. That’s ok, just don’t let it burn – turn down the heat.
Cook for about a minute or two until it all comes together and the spoon leaves an impression in the dough when pressed. The color will (or should) still be boring beige. Keep stirring though your arm feels numb by now.
Remove from the burner and set somewhere to cool for just two minutes. Shake out those arms because you will need them again.
Mix in one egg at a time (vigorously) until fully incorporated (no egg smear) and keep doing that until the eggs are used up. Make sure that last one is really incorporated and give it one more stir.
Using a scoop or a large eating tablespoon plop little domes as neatly as possible on the prepared baking sheet. Twirl like you are eating spaghetti to finish the dome. You want to make the plop of the dough go up as much as possible, not out.
Space about 1.5 inches apart and you should get about 9 blobs on the baking sheet depending on how large you make them. The size you make is totally up to you. They will grow just slightly as they bake so give them a bit of room to expand.
Right before tossing the plops of dough in the oven, using your fingers, rain a little water on them and baking sheet – just a few raindrops – don’t drown them – and place in the oven.
Time for about 13 minutes. When the timer goes off don’t open the oven! Just pop the temperature down to 350 and continue baking for about 25 minutes more or until they are almost just too brown. That’s when you know they are done.
If you’ve made more than nine puffs, keep watching because they will finish sooner. You are going for a toasty brown, but not burned look. Remove from the oven and place each cream puff-to-be on a baking rack to cool. Poke a hole with a toothpick to let the steam escape while cooling. I do it on the top where it will be covered with chocolate later. Cool thoroughly.
Pastry Cream Directions
Bring the milk (or the infused milk – see notes) to a small simmer.
Meantime crack the eggs into another saucepan and add the sugar and cornstarch. Whisk to combine completely.
When the milk has simmered, scoop about a 1/2 cup of the very hot milk and while whisking add it to the egg mixture to temper the yolks. Pour the remaining milk in while whisking and put back on medium heat. Keep stirring until it starts to bubble.
Cook (and stir) for about two-three more minutes. Adjust the burner heat so it doesn’t burn. If you’re really worried about the mixture scorching – use a double boiler.
Once thick, remove from heat and add the flavorings (if using vanilla extract rather than a bean). Leave for about five minutes off heat and then stir in the butter (thank you, Dorie Greenspan). Cool. Cover and refrigerate to chill.
Heat 1 cup of heavy cream until warm, but not boiling. When hot, pour over about 8 oz. of chocolate chips – I like to use a mixture of semisweet and bittersweet. Stir until the chocolate is melted.
Add in a touch of coffee from your morning pot (thanks, Ina Garten) and a splash of vanilla. Stir in a tablespoon of room temperature butter.
Let sit until somewhat cool but still pourable.
Slice off a cream puff top using a serrated knife. The top should look like a little hat or lid. Pull out any stray dough strings.
Fill with cold pastry cream and top it up so the little lid sits above the shell. Pour a little bit of the chocolate over the top.
You can serve immediately or store in the refrigerator – fully assembled it will keep for an hour or so.
- This recipe works best by weighing the flours. Seriously – get a kitchen scale – there are some inexpensive ones out there.
- You can infuse the milk with a deeper vanilla flavor by slicing a bean, removing the seeds and placing both in the milk which you’ve heated to barely warm. Cover and let it sit about 20 minutes. Leave the seeds and remove the pods when you reheat the milk to make the pastry cream.
- You can chill the pastry cream rapidly by placing the bowl in a container filled with ice. Keep stirring and in about 20-30 minutes it should be chilled.
- You can freeze some of the cream puffs (not filled). Place them in a double zip lock bag in your freezer and use them soon. Thaw in the refrigerator and then reheat in the oven (briefly) to crisp.
- You can bake the puffs one day and fill the next. Stored overnight in a container, they get a little bit soft. But be sure to re-crisp them in a 350 oven for about 5-8 minutes. Let them cool and fill.
There you have it! Canteen Cream Puffs – If you want me, I’ll be in the kitchen making some more.