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A Puffer's Guide

December 29, 1991|ABBY MANDEL

Once you have tried your hand at mixing, baking and freezing cream puffs, you'll find that you've mastered a great food solution for party-giving. It's not such a mysterious process; in fact, it's surprisingly easy. Here are some basics for success the first time around:

* Use a heavy saucepan for the stove-top cooking of the dough; this prevents any scorching during the last minutes of cooking.

* A food processor makes very fast work of mixing the eggs, one by one, into the thick flour mixture that is cooked stove top. A standard-size food processor will handle these recipes; read the instruction manual for smaller food processors. Lacking a food processor, you'll need a wooden spoon and a strong arm.

* Prepare the baking sheet to prevent difficulty in removing the puffs. Grease the sheet generously, then sprinkle the surface lightly with water. Invert the baking sheet over the sink, and shake off any excess water.

* To shape the batter on the prepared baking sheet, put the desired amount of dough onto a spoon and slide it onto the sheet with your finger, leaving about 1 1/2 inches between each puff. When the mounds have little peaks or jagged edges, moisten your fingers with water and smooth them into neat rounds. If you have a pastry bag, piping the dough onto the baking sheet is a quick alternative.

* Brush the glaze onto the puffs with a feather brush or very soft brush. Alternately, lightly dab glaze on with your fingers. No glaze should drip between bottom of rounds and baking sheet; these drips prevent puffs from rising evenly and completely.

* Once the cream puffs are baked, turn off the oven and open the oven door for one minute. Leave them in the oven for 15 minutes with the door slightly ajar, letting them crisp up. Remove from the pans and let them cool completely on racks.

* Unless the weather is very humid, baked cream puffs can be made a day ahead, placed in a paper bag and held at room temperature.

* To freeze puffs, place in single layer on a baking sheet and freeze until solid. Transfer from baking sheet to an airtight plastic food bag and return to the freezer. To reheat, place frozen puffs in single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 300 degrees until hot, about 10 to 12 minutes. Puffs can be served warm as hors d'oeuvre or room temperature as dessert fare.

* To fill puffs, use a serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion to split cooled puffs, leaving tops as attractive as possible.

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