Italian Cream Puffs (Bigne’ alla Crema)

I have developed a very new, and somewhat scary, compulsion for choux pastry lately…

I have spent more time that I wish to confess in the search for the perfect puff, the kind that is light as a feather and hollow inside, to accommodate gooey, slurpy fillings…

I have tried countless proportions of eggs to butter, flour to water and I just couldn’t not seem to settle..Until a few nights ago, when these perfectly risen, crackly buns emerged from my oven, perfuming the kitchen with their delicate vanilla scent…

Ingredients

(For the Custard)

500 ml of milk

4 egg yolks

4 tablespoons of white sugar

40 gr of cornstarch

Rind of 1 lemon

1 vanilla bean, split in half

Finely grated zest of half a lemon

1 handful of dark chocolate chips

(For the Puffs)

150 ml of water

40 gr of butter

Tip of a teaspoon of salt

90 gr of all-purpose flour

2 eggs, beaten

1/2 teaspoon of vanilla paste

1 teaspoon of icing sugar + more for serving

Cocoa powder for serving

Makes 8 medium-sized cream puffs or 12 small ones

(My recipe, inspired by many home-cooks before me who developed the same compulsion…)

How to

In a medium saucepan, heat up the milk to just before simmering. Turn the heat off, add the lemon rind and the split vanilla bean and allow to infuse for 10 minutes, then discard the rind and the vanilla bean.

(You can dry the vanilla bean and keep it in your sugar tin, for home-made vanilla sugar).

In a medium bowl, beat the yolks with sugar until pale and fluffy. You can do this by hand using a whisk or you can let your hand-held electric beaters do the work for you in 1 minute.

Add the cornstarch and mix it with a wooden spoon until combined.

Gently pour the milk into the egg mixture, whisking continuously until the two mixtures are homogeneous.

Pour the custard mix back into the saucepan, turn the heat back on on low and, always stirring, bring to gentle simmer.

Keep mixing with a wooden spoon for 3-4 minutes or until it turns thick and luscious.

This is a classic Italian custard.

Divide the custard  into two bowls while still hot.

Mix one with chocolate chips and let the residual heat melt them into the custard.

Finely grate some lemon zest and mix it through the other bowl.

Set aside.

While the custard is cooling, make the choux pastry for the Bigne’.

Place water, salt and butter in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer.

Turn the heat down, quickly add the flour and mix vigorously with a wooden spoon for 1-2 minutes or you have a smooth dough that easily comes away from the sides of the pan.

Turn off the heat.

Add 1 teaspoon of icing sugar (just to remind it it’s a dessert) and ½ teaspoon of vanilla paste (or seeds of 1/4 vanilla bean) and mix well.

Allow to cool for 5 minutes.

Add the egg mixture, a little at a time, being mindful to incorporate it well before you add more.

Keep beating  until you have a shiny, glossy paste that you can dollop with a spoon or pipe through a bag.

Heat your oven to 200 C.

Place a small metal bowl in the oven to heat up.

Line an oven tray with baking paper and dollop tablespoons of the mixture leaving 3 cm between them to allow room for rising.

Insert the tray into the oven, fill the metal bowl with cold water to create steam and close the oven door immediately after.

Bake for 10/12 minutes, then turn the temperature up to 220 C and bake for a further 5-8 minutes, or until the dough has puffed and has turned golden.

Take the tray out of the oven, pierce each puff with a skewer to allow the steam to escape so that they can dry inside.

Cool at room temperature and fill with the chocolate or lemon custard just before serving.

To fill them, slit the top with a serrated knife to create a flap. Lift the flap and spoon or pipe the custard in.

Dust the lemon custard ones with icing sugar and the chocolate ones with cocoa powder and serve straight away.

You can also fill them with vanilla ice-cream, enriched by dark cocoa and orange peel or simply with sweetened whipped cream.

Don’t worry about how to keep leftovers, there will be none…

Note

Cooked puffs will keep for up to 1 day in an air-tight container, although they will lose a bit of texture due to humidity.

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