When my sister was in junior high she got on a jag of making eclairs. It was then that I discovered that I don't like pate a choux. I would lick the chocolate off the top (my favorite part), suck out the custard, then, to her dismay, throw away the body of the eclair. To me it tasted like egg-flavored cardboard and it's only purpose was to be a vehicle to carry the custard and chocolate to my lips.
Last summer I attended David Lebovitz's ice cream class. One of the items that he served us was tiny little cream puffs filled with roasted banana ice cream. I put aside my previous prejudice against the pastry, figuring that if David Lebovitz made it, it was obviously going to be good. I took one bite, letting the flavor linger on my tongue and realized something about my sister's cooking. Her pastry making was every bit as good as David's. The pastry still tasted like eggy cardboard. I guess I just am a freak of nature, not equipped with taste buds capable of appreciating pate a choux pastry.
Curiously, when I got a new cookbook, the recipe that called to me to be made first was the lemon cream puffs. I think it was the lovely picture with the cream puffs drizzled in cream, sprinkled with raspberries. And raspberries + lemon = an outstanding flavor combination. Plus, I've never made cream puffs.
So I tried them. The directions made quite large puffs. I was thinking they'd be dainty, but they were a bit on the portly side. The custard was not challenging. The cream was a dream, drenched with lemon flavor. Everyone loved them. Except me. I licked off the cream and sucked out the custard. The pastry tasted like....well, you know.
If you're a fan of cream puffs and lemon, you'll adore these. If you're like me, have fun making them, and graciously serve them to friends, but hold back some of that custard and cream in a bowl for yourself. Then eat it with angel food cake or shortbread. Whatever makes you happy. Because life is too short to eat things you don't enjoy.
Lemon Cream Puffs
- adapted from Savoring Desserts from Williams-Sonoma
1/2 cup (4 oz/125 g) unsalted butter
1 cup (8 fl oz/250 ml) water
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (5 oz/155 g) all-purpose flour
Filling and Topping:
2 cups (16 fl oz/500 ml) milk
2/3 cup (5 oz/155 g) sugar
3 egg yolks
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1 cup (8 fl oz/ 250 ml) heavy cream
1- Preheat the oven to 400 deg. F. (200 deg. C) Butter 2 large baking sheet. Dust the baking sheets with flour and tap out the excess. Position the oven racks to divide the oven into thirds.
2- In a saucepan over medium-low heat, warm the butter, water, and salt until the butter melts and the mixture reaches a boil. Remove from the heat. Add the flour all at once and stir with a wooden spoon until completely incorporated.
3- Return the saucepan to the stove over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly and turning the dough often, until the dough begins to leave a thin film on the bottom of the saucepan, about 3 minutes. (This ensures crisp puffs.) Transfer the dough to a large bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Continue to beat until the mixture is smooth and shiny.
4- Drop the dough by rounded spoonfuls onto the prepared baking sheets, forming 6 mounds spaced about about 3 inches apart on each sheet. Pat the tops to give them a round shape.
5- Bake until golden brown, 40-45 minutes. Turn off the oven and remove the puffs. With a small knife make a hole in the side of each puff to allow steam to escape. Return the puffs to the oven for 10 minutes to dry.
6- Using a serrated knife, cut the puffs part way through in half horizontally. Do not cut into 2 separate pieces. Open like a book and scoop out and discard the soft dough inside. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.
7 - For the filling, stir together the milk and sugar in a saucepan over low heat until the sugar dissolves and the milk is steaming, 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.
8 - In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and flour until pale yellow. Slowly add the warm milk mixture in a thin stream, whisking constantly. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and place over low heat. Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes to a boil and begins to thicken, about 2 minutes. Then cook for 1 minute, remove from the heat, and strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Let cool slightly. Stir in the vanilla and lemon zest. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it against the surface to prevent a skin from forming, and chill well.
9- In a chilled bowl, using chilled beaters, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Cover with plastic wrap and chill until needed.
10- Just before serving, using about half of the custard in all, place a spoonful inside each cream puff. Arrange the puffs in a mound on a large serving platter. Using a rubber spatula, fold the whipped cream into the remaining lemon custard just until no white streaks remain. Spoon the mixture over the cream puffs. Scatter the berries over the top. Serve immediately.
Note: You can make the cream puffs ahead and freeze them for up to 2 weeks. After Step 6, place the cooled puffs in a plastic bag and place in a freezer. To crisp the frozen puffs, place them in a 350 deg. F/180 deg. C oven for 5 -10 minutes before proceeding.