I had a revelation this week: pastry cream is basically pudding, with perhaps an egg yolk or two more. Both start off with a milk/sugar base, thickened over the stove top using some combination of cornstarch/flour/egg yolks then flavored with vanilla, chocolate or any other flavor of choice. This recipe, in my opinion, can pass for both.
There’s a story behind these plates: we got them for free from our last CB2 purchase. I’m assuming because no one else would buy them. There are like 4 of them, all rectangular appetizer plates with quirky stick figure/food illustrations. This is the first time I busted them out. Somehow the bite taken out of the cream puff worked perfectly with this ugly little dude. I was inspired to bake these delectable cream puffs after purchasing Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan. There’s so much goodness in this book. I was surprised at how much Moroccan cuisine permeated French food culture (as interpreted by Greenspan). The result is a multitude of really promising mezze/hors d’oeuvres, salads and other veg-centric dishes. The cream puff is made from a standard pate a choux recipe (minus one egg) – serving only as a vehicle for my silky smooth chocolate emulsion. Once I made and chilled the pastry cream, I started it eating it by the spoonful. I couldn’t help myself. That’s when I realized pastry cream is barely different from the more conventional pudding. Not the type of puddings that are thickened by just cornstarch, rather the ones that are thickened (and thus made more rich) by egg yolks. It’s great as a stand alone dessert. I piped these into the cream puffs using a pastry bag fitted with a long tip.
Now I couldn’t just leave well enough alone. It’s not enough to use great quality chocolate and a recipe from a James Beard award winning chef. I had to add a thing or two. In my case it was some instant coffee and vanilla. I added half a teaspoon of each. Next time though, I might try 1 tsp each and see if it accentuates or overwhelms the chocolate flavor. To be continued!
I’ll share one more thing with you: some of them I filled with jaggery (gur), or sap from date palm trees. If you’re South Asian you’ve no doubt seen this sweetener in steamed rice sweets. Or if you’re Muslim, with your pre-dawn Ramadan meal. Think of maple syrup, but thicker and slightly bitter. The flavor is sweet yet complex and pairs surprisingly well with cream puffs! I’ve been adding it to my morning oatmeal for a wonderful change up.
Recipe adapted from Dorie Greenspan.
- 2 cups milk
- 4 large egg yolks
- 6 tbsps granulated sugar
- 3 tbsp cornstarch, sifted
- pinch of salt
- 7 oz bittersweet choc melted (I used 4 oz bittersweet choc and 3 oz semi sweet)
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp instant coffee granules
- 2 1/2 tbsps unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, at room temperature
- Warm the milk in small sauce pan until it’s scalding (you see bubbles around the edges).
- In a medium saucepan, whisk together egg yolks, sugar, sifted cornstarch, and salt until it’s blended together. While whisking continuously, drizzle in 1/4 cup of the milk (to raise the temperature of the egg yolks). Then, in a steady stream, add the remaining milk and whisk continuously. Multitasking folks. A flat whisk is great in ensuring you get all the bits around the edges. Bring to a boil and whisk for 1-2 minutes more, until thickened (it should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon).
- Stir in the melted chocolate, coffee granules and vanilla. Whisk until combined. Let stand for 5 minutes. Then add butter and stir until the mixture is smooth. At this point, I like to push the custard through a strainer to make sure it’s uniform consistency. This is optional. Pour into a bowl, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve (at least 20 minutes).