When it comes to serving dessert, it's hard to top the voluptuousness of a cream puff with whipped cream and raspberries. Dusted with powdered sugar or drizzled with your favorite chocolate topping, a cream puff provides a lovely ending without last-minute frazzle on your part.
Cream puffs are made from a classic dough called pâte a choux. Choux is a French word 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 that 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 makes them easier to stir into the dough and keeps the dough as warm as possible. Using a pizza stone beneath your baking sheet boosts the heat, 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 one to two 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 of the pan, 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.
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.
Makes 8 large puffs, more if smaller.
1 cup water
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in small pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour (preferably bread flour; can use all-purpose)
For the Filling:
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1/2 cup fresh raspberries
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. If you have a baking or pizza stone, place that on the lowest rack.
2. Warm eggs in a bowl of hot tap water.
3. In medium saucepan, combine water, butter, salt, and sugar, and bring to a full boil. Remove from heat, add vanilla, then add flour all at once, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon to quickly form a ball.
4. Return the pan to medium heat and continue stirring, pressing the dough against the side of the pan and gathering it up into a ball. This dries out the dough so that it can better absorb the eggs. Stir constantly, not letting the dough scorch, for 1 to 2 minutes. Place dough in bowl of stand mixer and set aside.
5. In small bowl, lightly beat three of the warmed eggs. Separate the fourth egg, placing the white in a small dish and beating lightly. Save or discard the yolk.
6. With the mixer on low, gradually add the beaten eggs in three increments, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more. Increase mixer speed to medium until eggs are thoroughly incorporated. Stop mixer and 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. If it looks very soft, proceed to shaping the puffs.
7. On a baking sheet covered with parchment paper or coated with cooking spray, place large spoonfuls of dough at least 2 inches apart. You should end up with about 8 dollops for large puffs. Using a plant spritzer, lightly spray each puff once with water. This will keep them moist longer so they'll puff as much as possible before firming up.
8. 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. After 25 minutes, remove pan from oven and pierce each puff with a small knife to allow any steam to escape and to help the puffs bake dry. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for 15 minutes more. Remove to a wire rack to cool.
9. To make the filling: Just before serving, whip cream with 1 tablespoon powdered sugar until it holds a soft peak. Reserving a few whole raspberries for garnish, lightly crush the rest with a fork, then fold into the whipped cream. Cut puffs in half horizontally with a serrated knife, fill bottom half with cream and replace top. Sift with powdered sugar and garnish with remaining raspberries.
Note: The filling is for 4 puffs - 2 each for a romantic dessert. You can also fill puffs with your favorite flavor of ice cream or custard. Once completely cooled, extra cream puffs may be frozen in freezer bags for up to one month.