Finally, I could not leave Germany behind without trying one of its legendary pastries. The country is famous for its konditoreis, bakeries that sell only pastries, not bread. The konditerei baked goods are sublimely light and often filled with a heavenly pastry cream.
I decided to make a cream puff, which puts pastry cream to its perfect use, between halves of a delicate pastry shell.
The shell is made from a pate à choux dough, the same as an eclair. This dough, when cooked, puffs up and becomes hollow in the middle, which makes it a perfect choice for pastries. Getting this magic to work requires a few simple tricks (add the flour all at once to a mixture of melted butter and water, mix in the eggs one at a time), but they are easy to do and the result is absolutely worth the technique.
The filling could not be simpler. Simply whip a batch of cream, and fold in powdered sugar and vanilla extract. Sometimes – often – simplicity is best.
Put the filling in the shell and it becomes impossible to eat one without a big, silly smile on your face.
Yield: About 15 servings
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon water
4 tablespoons butter
1 1/4 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour
1 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or lightly dust with flour), and set aside.
2. In a medium saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add butter and allow to melt, stirring to mix. Lower heat. Add flour, all at once, beating vigorously with a wooden spoon. Continue cooking over low heat, stirring constantly until dough pulls away cleanly from side of pan and forms a ball; do not overcook or dough will not puff when baked.
3. Remove from heat and add 1 egg; quickly work egg into mixture. Continue adding 1 egg at a time, working in each totally before adding another. If necessary, use a whisk to break up any lumps in the dough.
4. Using a tablespoon or a pastry bag, place small mounds of dough about 11/2 to 2 inches high on prepared baking sheet (make them all the same size so they bake evenly). Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown; do not open oven door during first 20 minutes of baking. Cool on a rack.
5. Whip cream in a medium bowl until stiff peaks form. Fold in powdered sugar and vanilla. Slice or cut the puffed buns in half, so there is a top and bottom. Spoon or pipe cream mixture into the bottom of each bun and replace the bun tops. Dust lightly with powdered sugar.
Per serving: 143 calories; 10 g fat; 6 g saturated fat; 79 mg cholesterol; 3 g protein; 10 g carbohydrate; 2 g sugar; no fiber; 26 mg sodium; 20 mg calcium
– Adapted from “Best of German Cooking,” by Edda Meyer-Berkhout
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