I bought some delicious and delightful-looking macarons on Friday on my lunch break, sparking as always a food-related conversation between my colleagues and I. It started out innocent enough, as we reminisced about our favorite flavors and shops to buy them in, then spiraled out of control when we opened several famous websites and salivated over their respective holiday collections for a good 20 minutes. Oops. Once we were done dreaming of green tea and salted caramel, my office mate informed me of the new dessert that is apparently taking over Paris, and looking to dethrone the now classic and indispensable macaron: the chou*. Or the cream puff to you non Francophiles. I guess even Pierre Hermé has started making them, which is saying a lot.
I was intrigued. Really? A cream puff? A near tasteless pastry filled with pastry cream didn’t habe a chance again the light-yet-chewy macaron cookie and its devilishly decadent ganache, caramel, confiture, etc.
I was underestimating the ingeniosity of all the chefs out there. Why couldn’t a chou* be justed as diversified and deckes out as a macaron? And when was the last time I’d actually eaten a cream puff? Years ago, so who was I to judge? With the weekend approaching, I knew our trip to the cream puff shop would have to wait. I had no other choice but to make them myself to see how they’d stack up.
Yes, this was exactly the weekend food project I needed. Plus, cream puff dough is rumored to be finnicky and difficult to prepare. A challenge. I opened my Epicurious app as always and settled on a recipe that would satisfy my taste buds and literally overjoy my boyfriend: puffs filled with a light and airy lemon cream made from lemon curd. Yes, this was just what we needed.
I have to warn you, the combination of the lemon curd, the whipped cream and the pâte à chou* was aerobic, and required a fair dose of energetic stirring. My right arm is still hurting today. But it was sooo worth it. The puffs were airy, buttery and melted in my mouth. The lemon cream was nothing short of divine, even though I bought the wrong cream and ended up with a very runny result. The addition of whipped cream to lemon curd is genious, and made for a filling that didn’t sit heavy, and that begged to be eaten in large quantities as little choux should be.
*mon petit chou: literally my little cabbage, a French expression meaning something close to ‘my darling’
*choux: cream puff
*pâte à choux: cream puff dough
Lemon cream-filled cream puffs from Epicurious (Bon Appétit)
For the lemon cream (can be made 2 hours in advance)
1/2 C sugar
1 large egg
1/4 C fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 t grated lemon peel
Pinch of salt
3 T unsalted butter, diced
1 C chilled heavy whipping cream
Combine sugar, egg, lemon juice and zest and a pinch of salt in a small saucepan. Whisk well to blend, then add the butter and turn on the heat. This will be your lemon curd. Over medium-low heat, whisk constantly for about 5-7 minutes, until the mixture becomes thick and coats your spoon. Do not boil. Set aside and let cool, while you make your whipped cream.
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer (or in my case, elbow grease!), beat the cream until peaks form (it took me about 10 minutes by hand; I also added a tiny bit of sugar, but you’re not supposed to). Carefully fold the whipped cream into the curd, cover and let chill until ready to use.
For the puffs
3/4 C water
3/4 C whole milk (I used 1%, they were fine)
3/4 C unsalted butter
1/2 t salt
1 1/2 C sifted all-purpose flour
6 large eggs
It’s actually really fun to watch this dough come together, and then watch it evolve as you add the eggs;) Start by preheating your oven to 375° (careful! The original recipe said 425°, but judging by the comments, that was way too hot) and lining a baking sheet with parchment paper (I didn’t have any more, so foil it was… The puffs stuck a bit as they cooled, and so I had to fill some of them from the bottom;) try to use parchment paper!), and set aside.
Bring the water, milk, butter and salt to a boil in a large saucepan. Make sure you have your flour sifted and ready, and a spare bowl nearby, because it’s all gonna happen really fast now! Once the mixture boils, add the flour all at once and stir away! Don’t stop! Keep stirring! (a wooden spoon is suggested; I used one, but don’t know what would happen if you don’t!). You’ll see that all of a sudden, the dough will form and start to pull away from the sides of the pan. You’re not quite done. A minute or two later, you’ll see a film start to develop on the bottom of the pan. That’s it! (the entire process should only take about 5 minutes). Transfer to a bowl, and let cool for five minutes, stirring occasionally.
Once the dough has cooled slightly, incorporate the eggs, one by one, stirring well after each addition. You’ll see that the dough separates into chunks after each egg, and that after a minute or two of stirring, magically becomes solidified dough again. Yay! It should be smooth and shiny when you’re done.
Final step: fill your pastry bag and pipe golf-ball sized rounds onto your parchment paper. Stick them in the oven, and keep a good eye on them. I think mine ended up cooking for about 25 minutes. They should be a nice deep, golden brown. Once they’re done cooking, take them out of the oven to cool. After about 10 minutes, cut each puff in two. If there’s any undercooked dough inside, feel free to remove it. Spoon or pipe in your lemon cream, and enjoy!