Stick out your little finger and cinch in that waistline, cream puffs are coming.
Amid the pages and pages of recipes in Nana’s cookbook I sought something familiar. But with exotic names like champagne pastry and bachelor’s buttons, familiarity was a lost cause. Or so I thought, until my eyes settled on cream puffs.
Cream puffs. What an innocent and feel-good name for a dessert! It conjures images of prim little ladies proffering trays of golden balls elegantly sugar-dusted, their rosy cheeks pulled into indulgent smiles.
Cream puffs, I subsequently thought to myself, must be a harmless recipe. And sufficiently innocuous for my first attempt at recreating Jean’s menu.
My dad was less convinced. He recalled perfectly round puffs of pale pastry, heavily laden with a rich whipped cream filling.
‘Is that not a little ambitious?’ he asked. ‘A choux pastry?’
The recipe made no mention of choux. Nana was raised in Yarrambat in the Dandenong Ranges on the outskirts of Melbourne, and had probably never heard of the French pastry. A part of me loves the solid Anglicised versions of all Jean’s recipes. It tells you a lot about how insular, or unaware, Australian cooks generally were of international cuisines before the 1970s.
But back to the choux. Inwardly panicking, I tried to brush off Dad’s scepticism.
‘The directions seem easy enough,’ I paused. This was true, but I still scrambled to change the subject. ‘I won’t need to buy any of the ingredients.’
In fact, I would be surprised if you needed to go out of your way to buy the ingredients, either. Flour, butter, eggs, water and a pinch of salt for the puffs. Sugar free! What a novelty! However, the puffs are filled with sweet vanilla-laced whipped cream and dusted with drifts of icing sugar, negating any true virtuousness of the pastry.
Let’s not kid ourselves, though. These babies just ooze elegance. The quantities here make about 24 gossamer-light puffs. Once piped until brimming with cream and arranged on a platter… you would be proud to serve them to royalty.
As for the ease of recreation? Virtually fool-proof. The pastry is a dream to make. Just be aware that the puffs can look a little ramshackle. But practise makes perfect, as they say.
One last note: the frugally minded hostess in me calculated the cost of this fine dish. Between six and seven dollars for the lot. Bon appetit!
If you closely inspect the photos of the cookbook, you will notice that this recipe deviates slightly from Jean’s. This is because I use large eggs (700g), far larger than she would have had access to. I also converted her imperial measurements to metric. After making a few batches I settled on the following as the ideal quantities.
1 cup (114g, ¼ lb) plain flour, sifted
55 g (2 oz) unsalted butter
1 cup (½ pint) water
600 ml thickened cream
3 tsp vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)
6 tsp caster sugar
Icing sugar, to dust
Bring water, salt and butter to the boil in a medium saucepan. Once boiling, tip in the flour and stir with a wooden spoon until it forms dough and pulls away from the side of the pan in a thick smooth lump. Allow to cool.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 200oC (about 400oF). Line a flat tray with baking paper, or grease well.
Beat the eggs well and add gradually to the cooled pastry. Beat until smooth and glossy. Place in small rounds the size of a walnut on the baking tray. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Do not open the doors for the first 20 minutes. You will probably need to do cook the puffs in a few batches. Cool on a wire tray.
For the whipped cream, whip together the cream, vanilla and sugar until very thick.
When the puffs are cool, split and pipe with whipped cream, and dust with drifts of icing sugar.