Pumpkin, Spice, and Everything Nice
It's been a sweet week in my busy little kitchen. My right arm has been stirring and stirring and stirring the likes of choux pastry and what seem like vats of pastry cream as I get underway developing sweet cream puff recipes for my latest book project, The French Cook: Eclairs and Cream Puffs (Gibbs Smith, Fall 2013).
Although several really tasty recipes were created this fun but exhausting week (including Blood Orange Pastry Cream Puffs with Ganache and Smoked Maple Salt tops), these "everything nice" spiced pumpkin puffs are my favorite yet. The filling is uncomplicated, requires no cooking, and, mercifully, limited stirring.
Creamy sweet marscapone, ginger, nutmeg, ginger, and a splash of Cognac recall the classic flavors of pumpkin pie with whipped cream on top. The pastry gets a colorful, pumpkin-flavored glow from the addition of pumpkin purée to classic choux pastry, and finely chopped pecans in the filling deliver an unexpected crunch surprise. On top? A fuss-free fluttery dusting of powdered sugar and cinnamon.
What's not to love? These would make a lovely, light ending to any meal and are sure to please. My most discerning neighborhood taste-testers declared them perfect. I hope you will feel the same way.
Pumpkin Pecan Spiced Cream Puffs
(Makes 22 - 24 "petite" cream puffs)
Begin by preparing the pastry.
Sweet Pumpkin Choux Pastry
Special Equipment Needed: 2 silicon baking sheets or parchment paper, 2 half-sheet baking pans, one 12” piping bag, #806 round pastry tip, pastry brush.
1 cup water
3/4 stick (3 ounces) unsalted, cold butter cut into 1/2”-cubes
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon canned pumpkin puree
1/2 cup bread flour
1/2 cup All-Purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
Generous pinch kosher or sea salt
4 room temperature large eggs (about 1 cup), beaten together
Egg wash: 1 egg, splash water and pinch kosher or sea salt, beaten together
Preheat the oven to 425F. Have everything measured and in place in before starting to actually prepare the choux. In a medium, sturdy sauce pan, melt the water and butter together over medium-high heat, stirring once or twice to help the butter melt. Whisk in the pumpkin purée until blended. Reduce the heat to medium. Sift together the bread flour, AP flour, sugar, and salt together over a medium bowl. Add the sifted dry ingredients all at once to the melted water and butter mixture, reserving the bowl nearby. Stir the mixture (roux) vigorously with a wooden spoon to bring the dough together, initially. Continue stirring, less vigorously, until the pastry starts to pull away from the sides of the pan and forms a uniform ball. This should take about 1 to 2 minutes.
Turn the pastry out into the reserved bowl. Allow to sit for about 1 minute, or until the pastry is cool enough to touch comfortably with your finger for at least 15 seconds. Add 1/2 of the beaten eggs (about 1/2 cup) to the pastry. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the pastry looks uniform and glossy, about 1 minute. Add half of the remaining egg mixture (about 1/4 cup) and continue to stir with a wooden spoon until the pastry is uniform and glossy (about 1 minute). Repeat with the remaining egg mixture.
While the pastry is still warm, pipe and bake the pastry using a 1/2"-round tip (#806) onto a silicon or parchment paper lined baking sheet. Pipe so that the choux puffs are all the same size, about 1 1/1" wide (round) and about 3/4" high. Brush the top of each pastry with a light coating of egg wash, being careful not to allow the wash to drip down the sides of the pastry.
Bake the choux puffs for 22 to 25 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown. Turn off the oven, open the door, and let the pastry stand for 5 minutes. Pierce the bottom of each choux gently with the tip of a knife. Allow to cool completely before filling. (Note: The pastry can be prepared ahead and baked several days before filling. Store in the freezer in plastic freezer bags for up to three weeks).
Creamy Spiced Pecan and Mascarpone Filling
1 cup mascarpone cheese (or substitute regular cream cheese), room temperature
1/2 cup cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon best-quality vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon Cognac or bourbon
3 tablespoons whipping cream
Pinch kosher or sea salt
1/4 cup finely chopped pecans
Whisk together all ingredients except the pecans in a medium bowl until smooth. Fold in the pecans and blend to combine. Reserve cold until ready to use (Note: The filling can be made a day ahead and refrigerated, covered. Sit out at room temperature for 30 minutes before filling the cream puffs).
Putting It Together - Assemblage
If you're not inclined to fuss with a pastry bag, simply cut each choux puff in half horizontally with a serrated knife. "Plop" a teaspoon of the filling on the bottom half of each puff and cap each with its respective top. Or, fit a clean pastry bag with a clean #806 round pastry bag, and fill the halved choux, piping about 1 teaspoon of the filling into the center of each, and capping each with their respective choux hoods.
Spiced Sugar Garnish
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Place the sugar and the cinnamon in a small sifter. Sprinkle generously over the top of the filled cream puffs. Serve immediately and watch 'em swoon. These are first-place delicious good.
* EDITORS NOTE: Cream puffs pictured on homepage are not from Holly's recipe. Photograph from Bon Appetit