Friday, September 16, 2011
Peaches 'n Cream Puffs
Peach season is rapidly heading for a finish, so it’s definitely the time to enjoy every last bite. This is a simple cream puff recipe made more fun by layering in some luscious peaches and drizzling with a thin caramel syrup that’s been nicely spiked with a pinch of cinnamon. Just a little dressing up of the cream puffs you may have coveted as you passed by the windows of your local bakery.
Cream puffs are made from a classic pastry dough, pâte à choux. This is the same dough that forms the base for profiteroles, which are filled with ice cream rather than whipped cream, and éclair, oblong shapes filled with pastry cream. Once these are piped and in the oven, I always anticipate the experience of opening the oven door and finding the thick dense dough transformed into all these light beautiful billowy puffs. In some cultures the dough is fried to create churros and one type of beignets.
For this dessert, I bathe the peaches in a light mixture of honey and lemon to flavor and keep them from browning. The cream is whipped with either a dash of vanilla or a nip of brandy or rum. Once the puffs are baked, this dessert is very quick to assemble and even quicker to devour.
Enjoy these last waning days of summer while you can. Celebrate the end of another gorgeous season with a platter of these elegant little gems.
- Pâte à choux is not difficult to make. It just requires that you try not to hurry the process. What makes it all work are a few simple techniques: 1) Once you add the flour to the simmering water and butter, make sure you stir constantly and cook the dough for a couple of minutes so there is a steam rising and a film appears on the bottom of the pan. This cooks out the taste of the flour. 2) Take the dough off the heat and beat it in a mixer on medium speed or with a wooden spoon until there is no longer any trace of steam rising. This helps to dry out the dough in preparation for incorporating the eggs. 3) Add the eggs 1 at a time and mix thoroughly before adding the next. The dough will look lumpy at first but will smooth out beautifully. Scrape down the bowl after each addition. 4) The pâte à choux is ready when it is smooth and shiny and falls from a spoon in gloppy sheets. 5) Always use an egg wash to ensure even, pretty browning. 6) The test for baked pâte à choux is when the pastry feels very light and sounds hollow when tapped.
- I use a serrated knife to slice the cream puffs.
- Baked pâte à choux are best eaten the same day but you can also freeze them in an airtight container. Thaw and crisp in a 350 degree oven for about 8 – 10 minutes.
- As always with caramel, give it your undivided attention. It will turn on you in a second! Try to take it to a medium dark amber color to avoid it being too sweet. Take it off the heat the moment it just begins to reach the right color, swirl the pan very gently until it darkens a bit more from the residual heat. Then quickly set the pan down and add the hot water to stop the cooking. And remember, whenever you add an ingredient to hot caramel, it’s going to bubble and splatter viciously. Just stand back and let it unwind. Adding a hot liquid helps to cut down on the reaction. Adding cold ingredients to hot caramel will likely cause it to seize on you. To fix a seized caramel, place it on low heat and whisk gently until dissolved, being careful not to splash any on your hands.
- You will probably have leftover caramel syrup, which will keep stored in a glass container at room temperature for a couple of weeks. Spoon it over your favorite ice cream.
Peaches 'n Cream Puffs
Makes about 1 dozen small profiteroles; serves 6
1/2 C water
2 oz (1/2 stick) butter, cut into small pieces
1/8 t salt
1/2 C flour
2 t water
tiny pinch of salt
Cinnamon Caramel Syrup
1 C sugar
1/4 C water + 1/2 C very hot water
1/4 t cinnamon
1/2 t vanilla
1 t fresh lemon juice
salt, to taste
4 medium or 3 large ripe peaches
2 T mild honey
1 T water
1/2 t fresh lemon juice, to taste
3/4 C heavy cream
2 t sugar
1/2 t vanilla (or brandy or rum)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Bring the water, butter and salt to a boil. Reduce heat and add flour all at once. Cook and stir the mixture with a wooden spoon until it’s smooth, pulls away from the sides of pan and leaves a noticeable film on the bottom of the pan. This will take a couple of minutes.
Pour the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat with a paddle for a few minutes until there is no longer any steam rising from the dough. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the bowl. The dough will go from looking lumpy to very smooth. Continue to add the second egg and beat until you have the same results. While the dough is mixing, prepare the egg wash by whisking the egg, water and just a few grains of salt.
Line a baking sheet with a silpat or parchment. Place the pâte à choux into a pastry bag fitted with 1/2" plain tip. Pipe a dozen 1 1/2" mounds. Wet your index finger with cold water and smooth the tops of each piece of piped dough. Brush each piece lightly with egg wash.
Bake until golden brown and puffed, about 22 to 24 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely.
For the caramel, place 1/4 C water and 1 C sugar in a saucepan on medium high heat. Cook the sugar mixture just until it begins to turn a medium dark amber color. Watch it closely. Once the sugar starts to color it accelerates very quickly and will darken to a burnt and bitter stage very fast. If it's not coloring evenly, gently swirl the pan just a bit to circulate the darker areas. As it begins to approach the right color, take it off the heat and swirl the pan gently. Keep it off the heat and let it continue to darken a bit more. It will have a slight reddish cast. Once it looks like the right color, set the pan down, stand back and add the 1/2 C of hot water. It will bubble up vigorously and splatter, so be careful. When it settles down, return it to the medium heat and let it come to a boil to dissolve any seized bits of caramel, stir carefully without splashing. Remove from heat and pour into a bowl. Stir in the vanilla, cinnamon and lemon juice. Let it cool several minutes and then add salt to taste. Set aside to cool completely.
For the peaches, place the honey and water in a saucepan and warm over low heat until dissolved and blended. Remove from heat and add the lemon juice to taste. Cool. Slice about half the peaches and cut the remaining into a small dice. Toss all the peaches with the syrup to coat each piece. Set aside.
When ready to assemble, whip the heavy cream with the sugar and vanilla (or the brandy or rum) until it holds a very soft peak.
Slice the puffs in half. Dollop some whipped cream on the bottom half. Top with diced peaches. Place the other half of the puff on top and drizzle with Cinnamon Caramel. Add some sliced peaches to garnish the plate. Serve immediately.