In the midst of a whirlwind of happy events - my mom coming for a few days, putting on a recital with friends, and a visit from my thirteen-year-old cousin - these three-part, airy puffs, accoutered with vanilla bean pastry cream and a butterscotch sauce that’s a kissing cousin to ganache, the sort of delicacy I would never make if not for someone else prescribing it (sense a theme here?), somehow got made. They got eaten, too, but the logistics of that are less of a mystery.
When I make desserts, I gravitate toward heartiness: fruit-heaped pies, moist dense cakes, chewy cookies. Profiteroles? Those belong to glass cases in bakeries, or plated at a restaurant. In fact, I have to admit choux pastry has failed to attract me in the past. It’s struck me as more air than dough. Profiteroles have left my tastebuds unsatisfied and eclairs have disappointed me, with the exception of a cellophane-wrapped pastry I bought in a Kyoto convenience store two years ago, resting unassumingly on the shelf, serene in the knowledge that it would be, unequivocally, the best eclair I’d ever had the privilege to eat. I’m remembering now, at that same convenience store, the o-nigiri - seaweed-wrapped triangles of sticky rice; green tea cookies ‘n’ cream Haagen Dasz; and little bottles of potent plum wine. If I lived in Japan, I would spend a lot more of my time at convenience stores.
Nonetheless, these profiteroles give that Kyoto eclair a run for its money. The choux pastry, cooked on the stovetop before a pass through the oven, is light and fresh. The vanilla bean cream, which tastes like the richest, thickest pudding and is soul-mated with berries, is essentially a room-temperature french vanilla ice cream, pale yellow from a raft of egg yolks and stabilized with cornstarch. And the butterscotch sauce, which no doubt will give you less drama than it did me, takes the whole thing over the top.
Profiteroles with Vanilla Bean Cream and Butterscotch Sauce
Adapted from Ratio
~Yield: About 20 profiteroles~
8 ounces (1 cup) water
4 ounces (1/2 cup/1 stick) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 ounces (1 scant cup) flour
8 ounces (4 large) eggs
Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream
~Yield: About 2 1/2 cups~
8 ounces plus 3 ounces milk
8 ounces cream
1 vanilla bean, split down its length, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 ounces sugar (about 1/2 cup)
4 ounces (8 large) egg yolks
6 tablespoons cornstarch
2 ounces (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
Butterscotch Sauce - click through for recipe
Note: The choux pastry can be baked immediately once it’s cooked on the stovetop, or refrigerated for up to a day before baking.
Preheat oven to 425. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, tin foil, or silicone liners.
In a medium saucepan over high heat, bring the water, butter, sugar, and salt to a simmer. Turn down the heat to medium, add the flour, and stir rapidly. As you stir, the dough will pull away from the sides of the pot. Continue stirring for another minute or two to continue cooking the flour and cook off some of the moisture. Take the pot off the heat and let it cool slightly, a few minutes - it should still be warm to hot. Stir in the eggs rapidly, one at a time. It will take a few seconds of vigorous stirring for each egg to be incorporated - it’s a great upper-body workout. You can also use a standing mixer or electric mixer: transfer the dough to a bowl and mix in the eggs one at time.
Spoon golf-ball-sized portions of the dough onto the baking sheets. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn oven down to 350 and bake for 10 to 20 minutes longer. Taste or cut into one to judge its doneness: it should be airy inside and not too moist.
Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream
Note: This was the first time I used a vanilla bean in cooking. It’s delicious, but I don’t think using the bean rather than extract is necessary. Vanilla extract should work fine and is definitely more economical. You’ll need three mixing bowls for this recipe, two large and one small to medium, as well as a saucepan.
In a medium saucepan, combine the 8 ounces of milk, the cream, and the vanilla bean or extract and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and let the bean steep for 15 minutes. With a dull knife, scrape the seeds from the pod into the warm milk and cream. Discard the pod.
In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar and the egg yolks for about 30 seconds, until smooth.
Fill the second large bowl with a half-and-half mixture of ice and water.
In the smaller bowl, stir together the cornstarch and the three ounces of milk until the cornstarch is dissolved. This may take a fair amount of stirring and scraping and remind you of making oobleck in elementary school.
Over medium heat, bring the milk-cream mixture back to just a simmer, then pour it slowly into the egg yolks and sugar while whisking continuously. Incorporating the warm milk slowly keeps the egg yolks from being cooked. Pour the whole thing back in the saucepan and add the cornstarch-milk mixture. Continue stirring over medium heat until the mixture becomes very thick. (Ratio recommends “until it just hits a boil.” My pastry cream never boiled; once it became alarmingly thick, I took it off the heat.) As the mixture thickens, you may notice it becoming increasingly lumpy from the cornstarch action. Never fear; the next step will magically smooth it out.
Sink the base of the saucepan into the water-ice bath and continue stirring until the pastry cream has cooled slightly but is still warm enough to melt the butter. Add the butter, stir until it’s completely incorporated, and watch the texture become velvety. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap against the surface of the cream, and refrigerate until ready to use.
To assemble: Slice each profiterole in half. Place a dollop of pastry cream on the bottom half and sandwich with the top half. Spoon butterscotch sauce over the top. Indulge.
Kat of The Bobwhites was our August 2012 Daring Baker hostess who inspired us to have fun in creating pate a choux shapes, filled with crème patisserie or Chantilly cream. We were encouraged to create swans or any shape we wanted and to go crazy with filling flavors allowing our creativity to go wild!