I once told my young niece I’d teach her how to make cream puffs on the condition that she memorize the recipe. She wasn’t sure she could do it, but I was positive she could. There are many variations to the pate a choux pastry, but the basic recipe is simple enough to memorize -- one cup, one stick, one cup, one cup each of four ingredients -- that’s it. A pinch of salt and a bit of sugar can be added if you are living large. And yes, the same recipe makes cream puff shells or chocolate eclair shells. The only other thing you need for the cream puffs is a can of whipped cream with which to fill them -- she loved that part. And, of course, she has the recipe memorized.
Peaches and cream
Peaches are good, of course, but cut ’em up and let them soak in a bowl of cream and they’re better than good --they’re gone. My recipe is simple: Put four or five scoops of real ice cream in a bowl --it has to be real ice cream, not the cheap stuff. Add a half teaspoon of nutmeg, a teaspoon of vanilla and 1/2 cup sugar. Stir until the ice cream is melted. Slice peaches and add to bowl. Cover and refrigerate.
For the pastry (pâte à choux):
1 cup water
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1 cup flour
1 cup (about 4) eggs
For the vanilla pastry cream:
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
5 egg yolks
2 Tbsps. flour
4 Tbsps. cornstarch
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsps. butter
For the chocolate glaze:
1/4 cup heavy cream
4 oz. dark chocolate
1 Tbsp. butter
For the pastry: Preheat the oven to 425 F and line a large baking sheet with baking paper.
Put the water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the butter and stir until melted. Stir in flour --dough will tend to form a ball. Add eggs, a little at a time, stirring well after each addition. The dough is glossy and smooth.
Using a scoop or large spoon, make eight piles of dough on the cookie sheet. Wet your fingers and form the dough into four-inch long tubes, evenly spaced. Or use a pastry bag with a large, plain tip and pipe out eight 4-inch lengths of dough.
Bake for about 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375 F and bake for about 25 minutes more, until golden brown.
Cool completely on a wire rack at room temperature.
For the pastry cream:
In a medium saucepan, bring the two cups of milk to a boil over medium heat, then remove from heat.
In a mixing bowl, whisk the sugar and egg yolks together until white and fluffy. Add the flour and cornstarch and mix thoroughly until combined and smooth.
Whisk in about one-third cup of the hot milk into the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly as you pour it in. Whisk in the remaining hot mixture, then pour it back into the saucepan and cook again over medium-high heat, whisking constantly until the mixture thickens and begins to boil.
Stir in the vanilla and butter and allow to cool.
For the chocolate glaze:
Put the cream, chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl over boiling water, and stir to combine as the chocolate melts.
To assemble: Fill a pastry bag with the pastry cream and use a medium tip to pipe the filling into the eclairs from one end. Do not overfill. You also can cut the eclairs almost in half and spoon the cream into the middle of them.
Dip the top of the eclairs into the still warm chocolate glaze, then set on a sheet pan and chill in the fridge for about an hour to set the glaze.
Makes five dozen
2 cups butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
2 Tbsps. water
4 tsps. vanilla extract
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups chopped pecans
Additional powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 300 F. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add water and vanilla and mix well. Gradually add flour and fold in pecans.
Roll dough into one-inch balls. Place on ungreased baking sheets and flatten with fingers.
Bake 20-25 minutes or until bottom edges are golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. When cool, dust with confectioners’ sugar.
Be sure to use a heavy Dutch oven and a candy thermometer, and make pralines on a day when the weather is dry -- humidity can make them grainy.
2 cups pecan halves and pieces
3 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup butter
2 Tbsps. light corn syrup
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 F. Bake pecans in a single layer in a shallow pan eight to 10 minutes or until toasted and fragrant, stirring halfway through. Cool completely. Don’t eliminate this step -- it makes a big difference in taste.
Make the caramel: Bring brown sugar, whipping cream, butter and corn syrup to a boil in a heavy Dutch oven over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil, stirring occasionally, six to eight minutes or until a candy thermometer registers 236 F, or the soft ball stage. Remove sugar mixture from heat.
Let sugar mixture stand until candy thermometer reaches 150 F, about 20 minutes. Stir in vanilla and pecans using a wooden spoon; stir constantly one to two minutes or just until mixture begins to lose its gloss. Quickly drop by heaping tablespoonfuls onto wax paper; let stand until firm.