To ensure that the success of my last batch of gougères was not a fluke, I decided to put the pâte à choux ratio to the test one more time. By this time I was tired of cheese and black pepper and decided to skip the savory in favor of the sweet. Using the same pâte à choux ratio as I used for the gougères (sans the cheese and spices), I set to work making cream puffs.
The pâte à choux came together with cookbook-style consistency; a small ice cream scoop formed perfectly uniform mounds of dough; and the oven worked its magic—the golf-ball-sized puffs doubled in size and emerged sporting a golden brown hue. The ratio had not failed; with each successful batch of pastries, the ratio’s reputation as reliable became more and more secure.
Once the puffs cooled, I pierced a small hole in the bottoms and used a pastry bag to fill them with sweetened whipped cream. Rick Rodgers, author of Kaffehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague, recommends using powdered sugar instead of granulated sugar to sweeten the whipped cream. Powdered sugar, he writes, contains a small amount of cornstarch, which helps the whipped cream maintain its texture and not wilt. This is especially helpful for cream puffs, which might not be eaten immediately.
Cream puffs in themselves are lovely little surprises—delicate pastry encasing a trove of sweet whipped cream—but I think the biggest surprise for me was discovering once again how cooking is inextricably linked to ratios. Talk of ratios in the kitchen might sound too mathematical or scientific for some, even anti-creative. But I think it’s just the opposite: a ratio allows me to expect consistency in the fundamentals, and grounded in those fundamentals, I can be as creative as I can imagine.
Ratio for pâte à choux: 2 parts water : 1 part butter : 1 part flour : 2 parts egg.
The ratio is from Michael Ruhlman’s book Ratio, p 45.
8 oz. water (1 cup)
4 oz. unsalted butter (1 stick)
4 oz. flour (1 scant cup)
8 oz. eggs (4 large eggs or 1 cup beaten raw eggs)
2 teaspoons sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar, plus more for garnish
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Make the Cream Puffs
- Prepare. Preheat oven to 425°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Mis en place: measure all ingredients and line them up so
they’re within reach and ready when you need them.
- Make the Dough. Heat the water, butter and sugar in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon and bring the mixture to a boil. As soon as it boils and the butter has melted, add the flour. Stir like mad to incorporate the flour into the liquid. The dough will move from gelatinous goop to a shiny, cohesive ball that forms around the spoon as you stir. Continue stirring for 60 more seconds. This will cook the flour and remove its raw taste.
- Stir in the eggs. Spoon the dough ball into a clean bowl and let cool for two minutes. While the dough is still warm, heartily stir the eggs in one at a time. The dough will not accept the egg at first and look curdled, like spätzle. Continue stirring and eventually the egg will incorporate thoroughly into the dough. Add the other eggs one at a time, making sure each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next egg. Alternatively, you can use an electric hand mixer or stand mixer with paddle attachment to beat in the eggs one at a time. Use a low speed to avoid beating extra air into the batter.
- Shape or pipe. Using two teaspoons or a small ice-cream scoop, place small mounds of dough about 1 inch apart on the baking sheets. My small ice cream scoop (7/8 oz. capacity) yielded 20 puffs. Alternatively, you can pipe with dough onto the baking sheet. Just make sure you pipe a mound and not a flat disk.
- Bake. Bake the puffs at 425°F for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375°F and bake for 10-20 more minutes, until puffs have risen and are golden brown. Meanwhile, place the bowl and beater or whisk for making the whipped cream in the freezer or fridge to chill.
- Make whipped cream. While the puffs are cooling, make the whipped cream. Combine whipping cream, vanilla and powdered sugar in chilled bowl and beat until stiff peaks are reached. If you are using a stand mixer, watch the whipped cream closely so you don’t overbeat it. Place the whipped cream in a pastry bag with a round pastry tip. Poke a hole in the bottom of each cream puff with the pastry tip and fill with whipped cream. Alternatively, slice the cream puffs in half crosswise, fill with whipped cream and replace the top. Dust cream puffs with powdered sugar and serve.