Cream puff swans
On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
Seven swans-a-swimming, six geese-a-laying
Happy New Year! Here’s hoping 2015 brings plenty of laughter, time with old and new friends, sunny days for adventuring, and lots of chocolate. I’ll do what I can to help with that last one.
Instead of balking at the idea of cream puffs on this day of resolutions and new leaves, think of it this way: these swans are mostly made of air. Eclairs puff to impressive heights because of their airy, light interiors, and whipped cream gains its volume from all of the air whipped into it. The ganache, well, we’ll call that medicinal chocolate.
To be perfectly honest, I really struggled with these swans. My first attempt did not exactly live up to my expectations, with floppy necks, sagging wings, and a heavy filling. As I made the second batch, with the entire family and assorted friends in the kitchen, as usual, we all referred to the project as the “devil swans.” Once the devils came out of the oven all puffy and shiny and bright gold, though, I lost the pessimism and decided that maybe they would turn out all right. And they did, and I have to admit that I do find my little herd quite pretty. But next time I’m sticking with good old round cream puffs.
Science tidbit: pâte à choux, the dough used for these cream puffs as well as eclairs, profiteroles, and beignets, has a well-deserved reputation for an open, air-filled interior and a crisp shell. The dough contains no explicit leavener like baking powder or yeast, instead the lift comes from all the moisture in the dough, which vaporizes and expands in the hot oven to create the familiar structure.
- ½ c. milk
- ½ c. water
- ½ c. (1 stick) butter, cut into 6 pieces
- 1 t. + 1 T. sugar
- ½ t. salt
- 1 c. flour
- 4-5 eggs
- 2 c. heavy cream, divided
- 4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
- Pinch kosher salt
- 1 t. vanilla
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Butter two baking sheets. Prepare a piping bag with a ½-inch opening, and have a ¼-inch piping tip ready.
- Heat the milk, water, butter, 1 teaspoon sugar, and salt over medium heat, stirring occasionally until it boils. Reduce the heat to low, add the flour, and stir vigorously until the dough pulls away from the side of the pot and leaves a film on the side and bottom, about 2 minutes.
- Transfer the dough to the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed for 2 minutes to cool the dough, then add four eggs one at a time. Touch the dough with a dry finger and pull up slowly. If the dough forms a string, it is ready. If not, add the last egg.
- Place ¾ of the dough in the prepared piping bag and pipe swan bodies onto the first greased baking sheet. Holding the bag straight up and down, pipe a 2-inch round, then pull the bag forward to elongate it slightly. Bake the swan bodies for 18-22 minutes, until they are deep golden brown and firm to the touch.
- When you have piped all of the swan bodies, insert the tip into the piping bag and fill it with the rest of the dough. Pipe swan necks on the second greased baking sheet, making an “S” or 2 shape. It is important to keep these fairly thin so that they stay crisp. Bake the swan necks for 10-12 minutes, until they are deep golden brown and firm to the touch.
- Use a thin spatula to remove the swan bodies and necks from the pans. Let cool completely.
- Make the ganache: heat ¼ cup heavy cream until steaming. Pour the hot cream over the chopped chocolate and let sit five minutes. Add the pinch of kosher salt, stir gently until fully combined, and let cool to room temperature. If the ganache becomes too hard to spread, place it in a bowl of hot water or microwave it for 10 seconds and stir until smooth.
- Make the whipped cream: combine 1 ¾ cup heavy cream, 1 tablespoon sugar, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer with the whisk attachment. Beat on low speed until bubbly, about 1 minute. Increase to medium speed and beat until the cream holds a peak.
- Cut the swan bodies horizontally to give you a top and a bottom. Cut the top in half vertically to create the wings. Spread the bottom with a thin layer of ganache, top with a dollop of whipped cream, press the neck into the cream, and attach the wings at a jaunty angle.
- To make basic cream puffs: pipe all of the dough in 1-inch rounds and bake for 8-10 minutes. Fill a piping back with a small tip with whipped cream. When the cream puffs are cool, insert the tip into the middle of the puff and squeeze the bag to fill. Top with ganache, if desired.
Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit, science from Michael Ruhlman.