I decided to make cream puffs because I have never made them before, and they happened to come up in conversation. My mom said she had a good, simple recipe so I decided to go for it. While she looked for the recipe in her cluttered, out-of-order recipe box, I decided to look up a recipe in some cookbooks.
The first place I like to look for recipes? Mastering the Art of French Cooking, of course! Why not see what Julia Child (along with Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck) has to say on the topic?
The great thing about Mastering the Art of French Cooking is that it tells you all kinds of stuff about what you can make with pâte à choux (cream puff paste). So on top of puffs for dessert or hors d’oeuvres, Julia (and Louisette and Simone) tell you how to use the basic recipe to make gnocchi and quenelles. I’ve never heard of quenelles before, but got to read up on them in the cookbook. As for gnocchi, I’m excited to try out the recipe sometime soon.
In any case, Julia’s recipe is only a little different from my mom’s: a few more ingredients (pepper, nutmeg, sugar), a bit less butter and flour, and four times more salt. Four times more salt!!
I considered doing a little bit of pick-and-choose with the ingredients to combine them into one, but instead decided to try both separately and see which one was better. So it became a bit of a battle, my mom vs Julia Child.
The main ingredients in puffs are: flour, water, butter and eggs. You boil the water with the butter in it until the butter is melted, add the flour, and mix. When that is combined, you add the eggs (Julia has you make a little well in the dough to put the egg into. This brought back memories of making mashed potato volcanoes with gravy lava).
Making puff shells is easy enough. You mix the dough up, scoop it out onto a cookie sheet, then bake. Julia recommends using a pastry bag to put the puffs on a cookie sheet (apparently they make the neatest puff), but I don’t have any right now and Julia says you can drop them onto a baking sheet with a spoon (my mom’s recipe says the same) so no pastry bag is really needed.
I decided with the first batch I wanted bite-sized puffs. This was the batch I made with Julia’s recipe. Julia also has you put a dab of egg glaze on top, which made for a nice shiny puff. Now, to keep a puff, well… puffy, you have to poke holes in the sides to let the steam vent out. I don’t know if something went wrong with the baking process or I just didn’t poke the holes fast enough, but most of these puffs failed to stay puffy.
My mother took one look at Julia’s puffs and said, “They have to be bigger.” So I made hers much larger. These puffs came out nicely! Again, I’m not sure if it was something in the process or if I was able to vent them fast enough, but they stayed nice and puffy (but were still not large for my mom, who wanted them so big they required two hands to hold).
Now to fill the puffs. I decided to go with two choices: vanilla pudding and whipped cream. I felt a little lazy so I just made your average instant vanilla pudding. My mom swears by a brand called Bird’s, but I’ve never heard of it nor used it, and it couldn’t be found at the market so I used what they had instead (Jello). I’d like to point out that I know how to make pudding from scratch and do so whenever I make pies that require pudding filling (ex: banana cream, chocolate cream).
As for the whipped cream…. I LOVE making whipped cream. It’s one of my favorite things. Random, but fun. Just get some whipping cream, vanilla extract and a bit of powdered sugar, and turn on the mixer. If I had a stand mixer, I’d use that, but I don’t (I’ve been asking for one for my birthday/Chanukah for years!!) and the handy-dandy hand mixer works just fine. Can you imagine making whipped cream with a whisk? That would take forever! And would hurt!
So here’s the verdict: Julia’s puffs are too salty. They failed to stay puffy (but that could be due to some error on my part). They had a nice texture, though, and I’d like to see how they’d turn out if I made them bigger. Mom’s puffs were not too salty! They were nice and puffy and stayed that way. However, they have a similar texture and taste to the Passover popovers that my mother makes (a very similar recipe) and I really don’t need to be reminded of those 8 days of no bread. All in all, I prefer my mom’s recipe, but would tweak it a bit with Julia’s (they’re very similar recipes anyway):
In a pan, bring 1 cup water, 6 Tbsp butter, ¼ tsp salt and a pinch of nutmeg to a boil.
When butter has melted, add ¾ cup flour (all at once) and mix with a wooden spoon until the dough leaves the side of the pan and begins to forms a ball at the middle.
Remove from heat and add 4 eggs, one at a time (into wells in the dough created by your spoon, if you’d like to do it as Julia says / pretend it is a volcano).
Drop by spoonful onto cookie sheet (you pick the size, I say go big: 2 inches in diameter).
Bake in a preheated 425 degree oven for about 20 minutes.
Poke a hole (or a small slit with a knife) into the side of the puff immediately after removing from the oven.
Cool on a rack.
After cooling, cut puff open and spoon filling in.
Drizzle with chocolate icing, if you’d like (I did that for a few) and enjoy!