What’s Mimsy Eating? Vanilla Cream Puffs!

I L-O-V-E cream puffs, and I’m a huge fan of Beard Papa’s cream puffs. The cream puffs are light, not too eggy, and not too sweet. On a side note, I think it’s kind of cool/cute how all the Beard Papa’s employees (that I’ve seen) that work in front of the store assembling the cream puffs are pretty Japanese ladies in dress shirts, aprons and chef hats. I like how they all say “Thank You” in Japanese. It almost feels like I’ve been transported to a little bakery chain in Japan. Hehehe

Sometimes though I don’t want to schlep out to Manhattan and shell out $1.75-$2.50 for a cream puff (price varies depending on the kind of filling you get). So what’s a girl to do but make her own cream puffs?

You’d think that making cream puffs would be a really complicated process but it’s surprisingly easy. Making the custard and the puffs takes 30 to 60 minutes tops. Anyone can do it!

After lots of trial and error – searching the web & cookbooks for cream puff and custard filling recipes and testing them out – I think I’ve found the recipes that come the closest to cream puffs I get at Beard Papa’s. I still try new puff and custard cream recipes whenever I stumble across one in a magazine etc. but these two recipes are the ones I keep coming back to time and again. You can tell by how stained the piece of paper is (ew. Time to re-copy the recipes onto a clean piece of paper) that I’ve used this recipe many times! I’m not exactly sure where I got the recipes from, it’s been so long, but I think I got the puff recipe from Martha Stewart and the custard filling recipe from allrecipes.com (or vice versa).

In my opinion, the only difference between the Beard Papa’s cream puffs and the homemade puffs is the homemade puffs are smaller: they’re bite-sized (or two-bites sized). The Beard Papa’s puffs are much bigger but I’ve found that if I try to make mine that big, the center of the puff never fully cooks and stays a little raw no matter how brown the outside gets. But I kind of like the smaller puffs; it’s less messy and you can just pop one into your mouth. With the Beard Papa’s puffs, you have to worry about biting into the puff and the cream oozing out.

The fact that I have almost nothing written down except for the ingredients should tell you how easy it is to make these cream puffs. But for those who need a bit more info, I’ll try to explain the recipe further in my own words 🙂

I suggest making the custard filling first. I think cream puffs are best when the filling is really cold but the puff shell is fresh from the oven. The contrast between the hot baked puff shell and cold custard cream is something that I really love.

For the custard:

2 cups milk
1/4 cup sugar
2 egg yolks + 1 whole egg
1/4 cup corn starch
1/3 cup sugar
1 Tb cold butter
1 tsp vanilla

1. Boil 2 cups of milk and 1/4 cup sugar in a pot over medium heat.
2. While waiting for the mixture in the pot to come to a boil, whisk together 2 egg yolks and 1 whole egg in a bowl.
3. In another bowl, mix 1/4 cup corn starch and 1/3 cup sugar. Combine this mixture with the egg mixture from Step 2.
4. When the milk/sugar mixture from Step 1 in the pot boils, slowly drizzle the combined egg mixture from Step 3 into the pot while whisking. As soon as the mixture thickens, remove the pot from the heat.
5. Off the heat, stir in 2 tablespoons of butter and 1 teaspoon of vanilla into the hot custard.
6. Strain the hot custard using a sieve into a storage container (Tupperware) to remove any egg that may have scrambled. Before placing a lid on the storage container, press a sheet of plastic wrap to the surface of the custard to prevent a “pudding skin” from forming. Put a lid on the container and refrigerate the pudding until cold.

The custard takes at least 3 hours to cool down in the fridge, so I don’t suggest making the puff shells until waiting at least that long. The puffs shells should be fresh from the oven, and the custard filling really cold, before you assemble them.

For the puff shells:

1/2 cup butter
1 cup water
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup flour
3 whole eggs

This recipe makes 20-25 puff shells.

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
2. Boil 1/2 cup butter and 1 cup of water in a pot over medium heat.
3. In a bowl, sift together 1/4 teaspoons salt and 1 cup flour. When the butter/water mix (from Step 2) boils, stir in the salt/flour mixture until a ball forms. Stop when the mixture’s texture resembles mashed potatoes and remove from heat. Don’t heat too long or else the mixture will begin to break down and start to look very greasy and thin.
4. As soon as the mixture forms a ball and has been taken off the heat, stir in 3 eggs. At first, it will seem as if the mixture will never come together but keep stirring! The mixture will eventually absorb the eggs and become a thick batter.
5. Using a tablespoon as your scooper, place the puff batter by the spoonful onto a baking sheet. Make sure there is at least 1 inch in between each puff because they will expand and puff up in the oven. (I like to turn the oven light on, sit in front of the oven, and watch as they bake and puff up before my eyes. I’ve made this recipe many times but it still looks like magic every time.)
6. Bake 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Place puffs on a cooling rack.
7. (Optional) When the puffs come out of the oven, poke a small hole into the side of each puff with a chopstick or toothpick to vent the steam. I like to do this because the trapped steam can sometimes make the interior of the puff soggy.

To fill the puffs, you can do one of two things…

If you have a piping bag, great! Poke a hole into the puff and fill that sucker up! If you don’t have a piping bag, you can make one with a Ziploc bag. Take a ziploc bag and fill it with about a tablespoon-full of cold custard. Take a pair of scissors and snip off a tiny corner of the bag. Squeeze the custard into the puff.

OR take a pair of kitchen scissors and cut off the top of a puff and fill the interior of the puff with a spoonful of cold custard.

As you can see from my pics, I like to over-fill my puffs. The puff is just the vessel for the cream!

If you want to make them pretty like the Beard Papa’s cream puffs, dust the outside with a bit of powdered sugar. I think they’re tasty enough already without the powdered sugar.

These puffs are best eaten on the day you make them. The puff shells don’t do so well past the first day. They either get really stale if kept out or they get soft if stored in the refrigerator. My family and I can only eat about 10-12 puffs at a sitting, so I like to halve the recipe for the puff shell recipe when I make them.