If you enjoy hearing the following: “OMIGOSH, you MADE these YOURSELF?” and delight in getting rave reviews for your culinary expertise, you NEED to add cream puffs (or eclairs, if you prefer) to your repertoire! Contrary to popular belief, cream puffs themselves are NOT hard to make. There are a few tricks to make them turn out perfect every time, but you do not have to be Martha Stewart to turn out a cream puff that will wow your guests!
My Grandma Simon started this tradition, and my mom carried it on. I started making them when the kids were little and ALWAYS make them for our Christmas Eve feast and any other time when the begging just gets too intense! While we call them “cream” puffs, I do not fill them with whipped cream, although you can if you like. I fill mine with pudding. And we have two camps in our family: the Lemon Camp and the Vanilla Camp, and so I make two fillings in the endless effort to please everyone! I can’t pick a camp, personally. I love them equally. The chocolate frosting recipe that has also been handed down from generations is probably what makes these eclairs/cream puffs ALWAYS a hit. It is the BEST chocolate frosting I have found, or ever tasted for that matter. So there are three parts to making this delectable dessert, and let’s get started.
1 cup water
1 stick butter (never use whipped butter or a butter substitute)
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup flour
4 eggs – large or extra large, NEVER jumbo
You won’t believe how simple this is. In a medium saucepan, boil water and salt. When it reaches a boil, turn off the heat and add 1 cup of flour, all at once. Stir to combine. Place this “blob” of batter into the bowl of your mixer. Mixing on low, add the eggs, ONE at a time, mixing after each addition until thoroughly combined. Beat it briefly at a higher speed, until it breaks into strands as you mix it. That is ALL there is to it.
Drop by large spoonfuls (about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of batter) onto a non-stick baking sheet, or better yet, a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. They don’t have to be tidy — just round little blobs of batter.
If you have a double oven, set one to 425 and one to 350. (If you don’t, you will just turn your oven up and down during the baking process.) Bake puffs at 425 for first 10 minutes. Check them to see if they are getting puffy and golden. When they are, switch them to the 350 degree oven (or turn your oven down). Bake for another 20 to 25 minutes. You need to watch them carefully, as ovens vary. When they are puffed up, golden and “hollow”, take them out and let them cool on a rack. After they have cooled, make a slit about 3/4 the way through each cream puff with a serrated knife.
These are the key things to remember, and I discovered these the hard way:
NEVER made a double batch. It doesn’t work. Make several individual
NEVER use butter or margarine that is whipped or comes in a tub. TALK about
a disaster! That resulted in flat, hockey-puck-like “things” that have no
name, and absolutely no use!
NEVER use jumbo eggs! The batter gets too runny. Large to extra large is the
CREAM PUFF FILLING
THIS is the really easy part! Buy Jello vanilla and/or lemon pudding mix (not instant) and follow box directions. Make puddings ahead so they are completely cooled off for filling the puffs. I have made my puddings from scratch, and came to the conclusion that it makes absolutely no difference in the quality of the finished product! Spoon pudding into bottom of puff and replace tops. Be generous with the filling! What we are going for here is a cream puff that is so full of filling and so lavishly frosted that it is impossible to eat without making a mess.
This, in my humble opinion, is THE chocolate frosting which makes all others seem like poor impostors! It is actually from the chocolate fudge recipe that used to be on the Hershey’s cocoa can. My Mom, Grandma Alice, discovered that if you cook it not QUITE as long as you do the THE best chocolate fudge, you will get fantastic frosting. The key to this is, obviously, learning to recognize the magic moment in time that separates frosting from fudge, and fudge from concrete. SO, suck it up, and give this a try. It is well worth every knuckle-cracking, stomach-wrenching, hand-wringing moment! Of course, I exaggerate. Somewhat. A little. But give it a try, and no hate-mail please! It is well worth the effort!
3 cups white sugar
2/3 cup Hershey’s Cocoa
1 tsp salt
1-1/2 cup milk
1/2 stick butter
1 tsp vanilla
You CAN double this recipe without any adverse effects, and if you are making several batches of cream puff shells, you will want to do that. Each batch makes about 12 cream puffs, and one batch of frosting will do about 20. Since I usually make these for special occasions, I typically make at least 40 cream puffs and no, I never have any left over!
Combine the sugar, cocoa, salt and milk in a medium to large sauce pan. Bring to a slow boil over medium heat. DO NOT STIR WHILE IT IS COOKING. It will become “sugared” and grainy, instead of smooth and satiny. You may take a spoon around the edges to bring it all together, but no SERIOUS stirring is allowed!!
Now comes the somewhat tricky part. Start testing it after it has been gently boiling and is beginning to thicken. Drop small amounts into a little bowl of cold water. It is ready when it sets up quickly, in a soft/medium ball. If it becomes brittle in the water, you have officially BLOWN it. If it dissipates in a cloud, it is not nearly ready. “Perfect” is when it sort of piles up on its own, into a soft blob of chocolate heaven!
When this magic moment arrives, take the pan off the stove and put it in a cold water bath to cool. Add the butter and vanilla and stir briefly to combine. When it is slightly cool, you can start stirring! Stir the frosting until it changes from shiny to dull and begins to thicken. If it starts to become fudgy and difficult to stir, scream for someone to help and have them add small amounts of cream until the consistency seems perfect for spreading.
It is my experience that you want to err on the side of cooking it just a TAD too long, certainly not too little. If you don’t cook it enough, you could stir until pigs fly, and it will refuse to set up. So have the cream handy, and you will be able to get it to the perfect consistency for spreading. This frosting doesn’t run, and dries to a shiny, velvet sheen.
Frost the filled cream puffs with generous amounts of frosting.
See? That wasn’t so HARD, was it? OKAY, maybe a little time-consuming, but you can make the puffs and the puddings the day before and finish filling and frosting them the following day if you wish. Store in the fridge until ready to serve. Sit back and get ready to say things like “Oh, it really isn’t that hard”, and “Of course I made them myself”, and “I found the recipe on Bonnie’s Blog on Food and Grog”.