How-to: Save Failed Cream Puffs

After helping Johnny make cream puffs the other week, I wanted some for myself. And Easter grocery savings got me into gear to make a batch this weekend.

Problem was… our oven doesn’t work. Whatever, I say! If my mom can make Portuguese egg tarts in our toaster oven, I can make cream puffs… dammit!

My favorite choux pastry (or pâte à choux) recipe comes from the Joy of Baking site. It’s easy, simple and you can’t go wrong — unless you put the wrong amount of butter, as Johnny and I found out.

1. Melt the butter and water in a heavy saucepan until it comes to a rolling boil. 2. Remove from heat (and turn it off — if using an electric stove). Add the sifted flour, sugar and salt. 3. Mix it up over the residual heat (if you are not using a gas stove). 4. Mix with wooden spoon or heat-proof spatula until if forms into a ball.

choux pastry ball

5. Beat with mixer to release the steam. 6. Add slightly beaten eggs and mix until batter forms a thick paste. See photo below for an idea.

Choux batter

7. Add a tad  Frangelico (not in the recipe, but I like to do so!). 8. You are ready to put ‘er in the oven. Continue following those directions at the Joy of Baking.

Since we don’t have an operational oven, I resorted to using our small toaster oven. I sectioned off some parchment paper, plopped down as many puffs as I could with a spoon and glazed them with an egg wash. Not bad looking right? Well, just wait til you see what happened to them…

Choux batter about to go into the oven

Turns out, the little toaster oven is very prone to losing heat. The door on the toaster oven isn’t very tight; there is no seal around the door to prevent hot air from escaping. I found out… that the tighter seal on an oven is what makes a cream puff… well, puff. Sadly, my choux pastry turned into choux cookies.

In an effort to save the remaining batter, I took out the takoyaki cast iron mold. A family friend of ours recently came from Taiwan and brought us “nai yuo bing,” or roughly translated, “custard cakes.” Sometimes they are also called “wheel cakes” due to their round shape.

I heated up the takoyaki mold and poured in some batter. Perhaps I could turn the failed cream puffs into a “nai yuo yaki” puff. “Nai yuo” means custard in Chinese. “Yaki” means grilled in Japanese…

My first tries weren’t great. But after a few tries, I got them looking fairly decent.  It was difficult getting the custard to stay within the batter. I found it best to pour in the batter halfway, covering the sides with that batter and letting it cook for a bit. Then as the batter cooks on the sides, add the custard into the somewhat crater that’s been created. Let it cook a bit more and cover it with batter. Let it cook a bit more before trying to swivel it onto the other side.

custard yaki puff balls

Yaki Custard Cream Puff Balls

Uh, yeah, I have new found respect and admiration for those takoyaki masters. Perhaps next time, I will attempt making takoyaki… That sure does sound good.

Oh, here is a comparison shot of a first attempt and latter attempt. Notice the roundness in the latter attempt? Yep, I was quite proud.

They are delicious, by the way… messed up or not.

If you are interested… here is the custard recipe I followed:

1/3 cup granulated white sugar
1 tbs all-purpose flour
1 tbs cornstarch
pinch of salt
1.5 cups low-fat 2% milk
1 slightly beaten egg yolk
1 vanilla bean

1. In a heavy saucepan, put in the flour, cornstarch, salt and half the sugar.

2. Pour the milk into the saucepan as it sits over a medium heat setting. Cut the vanilla bean in half and scrape the specks into the mixture as well.

Milk mixture for vanilla custard

3. Constantly mix and scrape the bottom/sides as the mixture heats up. The constant mixing and scraping prevents the mixture from burning (which it will do if you let it sit there without moving it around).

4. After the mixture has thickened (probably about the consistency of a paste, or if it gets to a point where it won’t thicken anymore), remove from heat.

5. Quickly take the remaining sugar and mix it in with the slightly beaten egg yolk — use a good size mixing bowl for this. Add some of the heated milk mixture to the egg yolk/sugar to temper it. With a whisk, continuously mix the egg yolk/sugar as you pour the remaining milk mixture into the bowl. It helps if you put a wet cloth on the bottom of the mixing bowl to keep it from moving around as you whisk.

6. When the milk mixture has been completely incorporated into the egg yolk/sugar, pour it back into the saucepan and place it back onto the heat.

7. Constantly mix and scrape the mixture until it has thickened a bit more. Be careful not to overheat the mixture as it may turn into scrambled eggs. Keep the heat at a lower setting if you are weary of this happening.

8. Once the mixture has thickened (run your finger across the spatula, if the mixture stays put and doesn’t run down the spatula, it’s most likely done), take it off the heat and put it in a container. Use plastic wrap and place directly on top of the custard (to keep it from forming a skin). Put it in the fridge and let it chill for a couple of hours before using.

9. If you’d like, mix it in with whipped cream — this is usually what I do. You could also add Frangelico (I add a tad of this into the whipped cream before I mix it in…). Or Kahlua. Feel free to mix it up.

The above recipe is a variation of this French custard filling.


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