March has started on a very wintery note here in Vancouver. Let me start by saying that Vancouver has mild winters - a heck of a lot of rain but hardly ever colder than 0 C. Snow on the mountains, yeah, sure! Snow in the city? No way. This year we've already had two giant snowfalls and a few days ago, we even had some flurries! What is this, Vancouver?! What're you doing? Get your shit together! I don't think we've ever had snow in February!
So I'm still in full-on winter mode here with my boots and big jackets and multiple layers and warm, wintery flavours. Caramelized nuts are my go-to winter flavours, along with cinnamon and maybe apples, and I absolutely love anything and everything with hazelnuts. Adding to the toasty flavour is the toasted meringue, which just completes the whole thing.
I love making homemade praline paste but it can be a strain on my food processor. So now that I have my awesome Vitamix, it's so much easier and faster! Since this batch of praline paste is so small, I added in the milk to help it blend up. If you're making a bigger batch, you can just blend it until the paste is smoooooth like peanut butter.
These are pretty decadently sweet cream puffs and it's a challenge to eat more than one without a big glass of milk - at least for me. Then again, my sweet tooth has almost disappeared now! I've been working around sweets for so long that I've just become immune to their allure now. But salty foods? Oh, I have no self control. Sit me down in front of a dozen of these cream puffs or a couple cubes of cheese and I'll go for the cheese without hesitation. Cheese always wins.
Caramelized Hazelnut and Toasted Marshmallow Cream Puffs
100 g hazelnuts
30 g granulated sugar
12 g water
Praline Pastry Cream
142 g whole milk
75 g praline paste
230 g heavy cream
50 g granulated sugar
22 g cornstarch
45 g egg yolks
45 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
Cookies for Choux
Recipe from Bouchon Bakery
180 g light brown sugar
150 g all-purpose flour
30 g almond flour
85 g unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
Pâte a Choux
Recipe from Bouchon Bakery
250 g water
125 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
2.5 g kosher salt
138 g all-purpose flour
250 to 275 g eggs
100 g egg whites
150 g granulated sugar
For the praline paste, preheat the oven to 300 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and roast the hazelnuts until a very light golden brown. Do not toast the nuts fully as they will continue to cook when caramelized. Rub the hazelnuts in between your hands or in a dish cloth to get the skins off. Turn the oven down to 200 F and keep the hazelnuts warm while you make the sugar syrup.
Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan set over medium heat. Bring to a boil, making sure the sugar has dissolved completely first, and boil for 1 minute. Add the warm hazelnuts and stir until they are evenly coated. They will turn a sandy white colour as the sugar crystallizes. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the sugar caramelizes all over the hazelnuts and there are no sandy white patches. Transfer the hazelnuts to a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet to cool completely.
Using a Vitamix or other high intensity blender, blend 80 g of the caramelized hazelnuts on high speed until it resembles corn meal, scraping down the sides often. Add the milk and blend on medium low speed for a minute or so. Set aside the left over 20 g of caramelized whole hazelnuts.
For the praline pastry cream, place the praline milk mixture and heavy cream in a saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring constantly.
Combine the sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl and whisk until combined. Add the egg yolks and whisk until slightly paler in colour.
When the milk mixture has started to steam and small bubbles appear on the sides of the saucepan, turn down the heat and slowly add 1/4 of the milk mixture to the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Add another 1/4 of the milk to the egg yolks, then another 1/4. Add this back to the saucepan and whisking vigourously, cook the pastry cream until thickened. Immediately take off the heat and add the butter, whisking until combined. Strain through a fine mesh sieve into a large bowl set over an ice bath. Cool to room temperature, then place a piece of plastic wrap on the surface and place in the fridge for 2 hours or overnight. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a large circular tip.
Make the cookies for the cream puff. Place the brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and use a fork to break up any lumps. Add the all-purpose flour and almond meal.
Fit the mixer with the paddle attachment and mix on low to combine the dry ingredients. Add the butter and pulse the mixer on the lowest setting to begin incorporating and breaking up the butter. Increase the speed to low and mix for about 3 minutes, until the butter is broken up and completely incorporated into the dry mixture; the mixture will begin to come together in large crumbles but will not gather into one uniform mass.
Place two pieces of parchment paper on the work surface and divide the crumbles between the sheets. Using your hands bring the crumbles together to begin to form a dough; it will still be crumbly. Then top each potion of the dough with another piece of parchment paper and roll out to 1/4 inch thick. Transfer to the back of a sheet pan, stacking one on top of the other, and freeze for 5 to 10 minutes.
Working with one sheet at a time, continue rolling, freezing the dough again as it softens, until it is 1/16th inch thick. During this process, the dough will crack and gaps will form; parch them as needed with bits of dough. Do not worry if the edges are a bit rough; the cookie will be cut with a cutter.
Freeze until cold before cutting out cookies. The dough can be frozen for up to 1 month.
For the choux, prepare your sheet pan. Line a sheet pan with a silpat or parchment paper. Use a template underneath the silpat/parchment to help with spacing and consistent size. I used a 2.75 inch diameter template.
Alternatively, if you have a 2.75 inch (or similar diameter) demi sphere silicone mold, this is the perfect use for it. It will create consistently even and level cream puffs. For these cream puffs, I used my silicone mold and it produced near perfect cream puffs. For just $12, these silicone molds are worth the money even if you just use them for cream puffs. It makes a big difference.
Preheat the oven to 375 F.
Combine the water, butter, and salt in a medium saucepan, place over medium heat, and stir as the butter melts. Once the butter has melted, increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer, then remove the pan from the heat and, with a stiff heatproof or wooden spoon, stir in all of the flour. Continue to stir for about 2 minutes, or until the mixture has a paste-like consistency, then place over medium heat and stir rapidly for 1 to 2 minutes, until the dough pulls away from the sides of the pan and the bottom of the pan is clean; the dough should be glossy and smooth but not dry.
Immediately transfer the dough to the mixer bowl and mix on low for about 30 seconds to release some of the moisture. Slowly begin adding the eggs, about 50 grams at a time, beating until each addition is completely absorbed before adding the next one. Continue adding the eggs, reserving 25 grams, until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl when pulled with the paddle but then grabs back on again.
Increase the speed to medium and mix for 15 seconds to be sure all of the eggs are incorporated. Stop the mixer. When the paddle if lifted, the dough should form a bird's beak - it should hold its shape and turn down over itself but not break off. If the dough is too stiff, add the reserved egg.
Transfer the dough to a pastry bag and chill the dough until cold, about 20 minutes. Pipe the dough on the silpat or parchment using the templates.
If you are using a silicone mold, pipe the choux into the molds, level off the surface with a small offset spatula, and freeze until hard. Unmold onto a silpat or parchment.
Cut out a cookie that, when baked, will cover not just the top of the puff but the sides and bottom as well. Place a cookie on top of the choux and press down a tiny bit, just enough to secure it to the choux.
Put the choux in the oven and immediately lower the temperature to 350 F and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until golden brown. Lower the oven temperature to 325 F and bake for about 10 minutes, until the puffs are light and feel hollow. Break one open if necessary: the centre should appear completely cooked.
Set the pan on a cooking rack and cool completely before filling.
Make the swiss meringue immediately before filling the cream puffs. It will deflate if make too far ahead.
Combine the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer set over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Whisking constantly, bring the mixture to 60 C. Transfer to a stand mixer and whip on medium high speed for 5 to 8 minutes, until glossy stiff peaks are formed. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a large star tip.
To assemble, cut the cream puffs 3/4 of the way up. Pipe the pastry cream into the puffs to reach the rim. Pipe the meringue on top of the pastry cream. Using a handheld butane torch, gently toast the meringue. Place the top of the puff onto the meringue and gently press into place. Pipe a little dot of meringue on the top of the puff and place a few whole and halved hazelnuts on top.