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Cream Puffs and Eclairs

Mary Anne here. A few Fridays ago, while making my visiting nurse rounds, I learned that in honor of St. Joseph’s feast day (March 19th), cream puffs or “Zeppoli,” as they’re known in the Italian community, are one of several traditions commemorating the day. A patient’s wife prepared these treats and during our visit, she honored me with my own personal stash! The pastries were warm from the oven; cold creamy custard was perched on the flaky tops and then sprinkled with powdered sugar. YUM. As luck would have it, Mariel had just posted our video for preparing the pastry, so I snapped some photos of my patient’s guilty goodies and wrote my recipe from catering days of yore.

The filling is sinfully simple and the results will send you straight to heaven. Add the chocolate glaze and call them Eclairs. Happy Spring!

Cream Puffs and Eclairs Makes 24 puffs

Note: You will need a flour sifter for the confectioner’s sugar. Ingredients for the Custard: 1½ cups milk (I have used lo-fat at times) – stock ½ cup sugar – stock 4 level Tablespoons flour – stock dash of salt – stock 2 egg yolks – stock 1 Teaspoon vanilla extract – stock Topping: ¼ cup confectioner’s sugar – stock Chocolate Glaze for Eclairs: 3 ozs. semi or bittersweet chocolate – stock 4 Tablespoons butter – stock Ingredients for Pâte à Choux (makes 24 puffs): 1 cup all-purpose flour – from stock 4 ounces unsalted butter, sliced – from stock 1 cup water -from stock ¼ teaspoon salt – from stock 4 large eggs, lightly beaten – from stock 1 large egg whisked with 1 Tablespoon water for egg wash – from stock Grand Total Assuming Well-Stocked Pantry: $0! Directions for the Custard: 1. Scald the milk in a small saucepan. Set aside. 2. In the top of a double boiler set over simmering water, combine all the remaining custard ingredients except the vanilla and confectioner’s sugar. Stir the mixture well until the color is light. Gradually add the hot milk, stirring constantly until well blended. 3. Continue cooking, stirring constantly until mixture is close to boiling. (There will be tiny bubbles forming at the sides of the pan just before it begins to boil in earnest.) Remove the custard pan from the hot water pot. Add the vanilla and stir constantly until mixture cools, about 15 minutes. 4. Prepare a bowl of ice water, and place the pot of custard into a separate bowl and then on top of the ice water bath. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or over night. The custard needs to be completely cold and thickened cold before using. Directions for Pâte à Choux (for a step-by-step video primer, click here): 1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Butter a large jelly roll pan. 2. In a 2 quart saucepan, bring the water and butter slices to a boil. 3. Over high heat, add all of the flour, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon. Keep stirring until the flour is thoroughly incorporated. (This takes less than a minute.) The butter/flour mixture will pull away from the sides of the saucepan, creating a rough looking ball. 4. Turn off the flame; add the beaten eggs, a little bit at a time, again stirring vigorously until each addition is completely mixed in. The dough will be soft. 5. Drop the batter by heaping Tablespoons onto the prepared jelly-roll pan, about 2 inches apart. Using a pastry brush, stroke the tops with a light coat of the egg wash. 6. Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes until puffed and golden. 7. Cool on wire racks (if you’re saving for later use, store in a sealed bag either at room temperature for up to 2 days or in the freezer for up to 2 weeks). 8. Assemble the cream puffs by filling the bottom half of each pastry with a generous dollop of custard. I like to scoop out a bit of the bottom puff to create a little custard cradle. Replace the top of the puff and using the flour sifter, sprinkle the confectioner’s sugar over the tops. 9. If preparing Eclairs, skip the confectioner’s sugar part of the directions. Place the filled pastries on a plate lined with waxed paper. Melt the butter and chocolate, stirring constantly until smooth if cooking on the stovetop. Drizzle the chocolate over the tops of the Eclairs.