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Cream Puffs with Almond Praline Filling

Cream Puffs with Almond Praline Filling

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Makes 3 to 4 dozen, depending upon size.
By Dennis W. Viau; an original creation.

These praline cream puffs are complicated, with many steps, but the result is worth the effort. Pâte à choux is an easy pastry dough to make. The cream filling, flavored with almond praline, is what gives these cream puffs their rich and exotic flavor.

Ingredients:

For the Almond Praline:
4 ounces (113g) almonds
½ cup (125g) granulated sugar
¼ cup (60ml) water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
For the Pâte à Choux dough:
1 cup (237ml) water
4 ounces (113g) butter
1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch (1/8 teaspoon) salt
1 cup sifted (4½ ounces/128g) all-purpose or bread flour
4 large eggs (USDA graded large eggs are about 2 ounces (57g), weighed in the shell)
1 egg to make an egg wash
For the Cream Filling:
The almond praline from above
2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
¼ cup (60ml) water
1½ cups (355ml) half-and-half or whole milk
5 large egg yolks (save the egg whites for making Cat’s Tongues cookies; the recipe is on this web site)
1/3 cup (66g) granulated sugar
1½ tablespoons corn starch
3 tablespoons butter (unsalted okay); chilled and cut into pieces
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup (237ml) heavy cream; chilled

Directions:

To make the Almond Praline:

Heat the oven to 350°F (177°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (wax paper will not suffice) and arrange the almonds on the baking sheet. Bake 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Heat the sugar, water, lemon juice, and salt in a medium saucepan until the water comes to a boil and the sugar dissolves. Reduce the heat to medium-low and watch the pan, without stirring, until the water evaporates and the sugar syrup starts to change to a golden color. A good instant-read digital thermometer is useful at this point. When the sugar reaches the hard crack stage (310°F/154°C), remove from the heat and pour over the roasted almonds. Be careful; it’s hot. Set aside to cool. Let the pan cool and then it can be filled with water and allowed to soak to dissolve the sugar residue.

When the almond praline cools, the sugar should be hard and easy to break with the hands. If it is a little soft and sticky (the soft crack stage), it can still be used. Break or cut the praline into chunks and place it in a food processor fitted with a chopping blade. If the sugar is sticky, powdered sugar can be used to dust the praline, helping prevent it from sticking to the blades. Chop to a fairly fine texture, like bread crumbs. Add the vegetable oil and process into a paste. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and set aside.

To Make the Custard for the Cream Filling:

Put the ¼ cup of water in a small bowl and sprinkle the unflavored gelatin over the top. Set aside. Select two saucepans, one slightly smaller than the other, such that one can be placed inside the other to make a double boiler. Heat the half-and-half (or milk) in the smaller pan until it just comes to a simmer and remove from the heat. While the milk is heating, combine the egg yolks, sugar, gelatin, and corn starch in a bowl, whisking together until thoroughly mixed. Whisking constantly, pour about a third of the hot milk into the egg mixture and combine well. This is called tempering the eggs and helps prevent them from cooking into a scrambled egg mess. Then pour the tempered eggs into the milk pan and thoroughly combine with the whisk.

Heat water (about 1 cup/237ml) in the larger pan until it comes to a boil. There should be just enough water to allow the bottom of the smaller pan to come into contact with the water when placed inside. Place the smaller pan in the large one, return the water to a boil, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Stirring constantly, cook the custard mixture in the double-boiler for 8 minutes. It will begin the thicken when the temperature rises enough to set the corn starch. Continue cooking. At the end of 8 minutes it will have a thick consistency. Add the chilled butter (cut into small pieces), and vanilla. Combine thoroughly.

Pour the custard into a bowl. Press a piece of plastic wrap, or trimmed parchment paper onto the surface of the custard and refrigerate 45 minutes to 1 hour.

To make the Choux Pastry:

If the butter is cold, cut it into small pieces to help it melt more easily and quickly. Heat the water, butter, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan until the butter melts and the mixture comes to a rolling boil. Remove from the heat and quickly stir in the flour until it is incorporated. Return to the heat and reduce the heat to medium-low. Stirring constantly, cook the flour mixture until it forms a ball and leaves a coating on the bottom of the pan, 2 to 3 minutes. The dough should be shiny when done. Remove from the heat.

Transfer to a mixing bowl (or to a stand mixer fitted with the mixing blade) and beat with the mixer for several seconds to help cool the dough a little. Then add one egg and mix well until all the egg is completely incorporated. Add the second egg and do the same. Scrape the sides of the bowl at least one time. The mixture will remain crumbly until the fourth egg is added. The mixture will come together into a moist dough that is soft enough to hold a shape when piped onto a baking sheet. To test, lift the mixer blade from the dough. The dough should slowly fall away, leaving a point hanging from the blade.

Heat the oven to 400°F (200°C).

Transfer the dough to a piping bag fitted with a 3/8 inch (1cm) plain point. (I use a plastic coupling without a point.) Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and pipe circular mounds, about 1½ inches (4cm) wide, on the baking sheet, leaving space between them to allow for expansion. Mix 1 egg with a tablespoon of water to make an egg wash. Brush each puff, pushing down any point on the top, with the egg wash.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes until browned. Remove from the oven and pierce each puff with a small knife to create a vent for steam. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F (163°C) and bake the puffs for an additional 25 to 30 minutes. Turn the oven off and leave the door ajar, allowing the puffs the cool in the oven until completely cooled. They can be stored in air-tight containers a day or two until needed.

To make the Praline Cream:

Place the chilled heavy cream in a mixer bowl and beat until frothy using a mixer fitted with a wire whisk. Increase the speed of the mixer and continue beating until the cream forms soft peaks.

Add the praline to the cooled custard and blend well to remove any lumps that might block the piping tube. Add the whipped cream to the custard mixture and carefully fold together so as not to break down the loft of the whipped cream. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a small (¼ inch/6mm/#32) star tip.

Cut each pastry puff in half, separating the top from bottom. Pipe cream filling onto the bottom half, filling to the edge. Pipe a small amount of cream into the top and then press it onto the filled bottom. Arrange puffs on a baking sheet or tray that will fit in your refrigerator. Continue until all the pastries are filled.

Keep chilled until ready to serve. This cream filling is made with butter and gelatin. When it becomes warm the cream will soften and wilt; therefore, keep leftovers refrigerated until ready to serve.