Wednesday, May 9, 2012

What to Do With Strawberries, Part II

I bought another large container of strawberries on Sunday, and it occurred to me that I had better do something with them quickly. Since they arrive from California, they're probably already a week old by the time they hit the stores, and tend to spoil very quickly. My kids have learned some new expletives after seeing me sort through yet another container of half-spoiled strawberries. I wish they grew more of them here! I mused about the strawberry situation yesterday, wanting to do something a little different. Strawberry Bavarian? Nah. Strawberry Cake? Nah. Strawberry Shortcake? Nah. Should have thought of strawberry daiquiris, but that didn't occur to me until just now. Dang.

Coincidentally, tonight was daughter's Sooner Strings Beginning Orchestra concert, down at the University of Oklahoma concert hall, and I was supposed to bring something for the reception afterward. I know, cream puffs! 

The beauty of cream puffs is that they are so easy to make. The batter (pate à choux) comes together quickly and isn't overly delicate or fussy. You can stuff the completed puffs with all kinds of good things. I could use the strawberries and make something kid-friendly at the same time!

There are recipes for cream puff pastry all over the place. All of them are straightforward. Here's one I used:

8 T butter (1 stick), cut into pieces
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1 cup all purpose flour
4 eggs

To start with, combine butter, salt, sugar, milk and water in a saucepan, and bring just to a boil over medium heat.

When it is just at a boil and the butter has melted, add the flour all at once.

Stir and cook briefly, about a minute, until mixture comes together and begins to leave a film on the pot.
Turn off the heat, and let the batter cool for a few minutes. Now, beat in the eggs, one at a time, until fully incorporated. This is a stiff batter, so it will take some elbow grease--just think of it as your exercise for the day. Congratulations, the batter is done! Preheat oven to 425F. Place parchment paper on two baking sheets--this will keep the puffs from sticking to the pans. You have two choices when making the puffs, well three. First, you can do what I did and use two tablespoons to drop 24ish dollops of cream puff batter on the parchment. Second, you can use a pastry bag with a large tip to pipe 2 1/2 inch dollops onto the parchment. I rarely do this because I hate cleaning out the stupid pastry bag. Third, and I do this one sometimes, is to stuff the cream puff batter into a gallon Ziplock bag, twist the top, and cut a hole in one end and use it to pipe the batter onto the parchment. Using the spoon method, I ended up with something that looked like this:
I brushed these with a simple egg wash (i.e. a beaten egg) because it makes the final cream puff darker and shinier. It's not strictly necessary though. Bake at 425F for 15 minutes. Turn down the heat to 400F and bake an additional 15 minutes. Since I was using two baking sheets, I had to use two different shelves in the oven. I switched the location of the baking sheets halfway through the baking so everything would cook evenly. When done, take them out of the oven and give them a poke with a knife to let the steam vent.
Put them on a cooling rack, and let them sit for at least 30 minutes until cool. If you aren't going to use them for a day or two, store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. If you fill them too early, they tend to get all soggy (yuck). 

Ok, folks, here's where I have to make a confession. Normally I would make some whipped cream, but these were going to have to sit out unrefrigerated for at least two hours, so that wasn't going to work unless you're into deflated whipped cream. Alternatively, I would make some vanilla pastry cream. Pastry cream isn't hard, but it takes time to make and it needs to be thoroughly chilled before using. I was running short on time, so I actually used instant vanilla pudding, figuring this was going to be for kids who wouldn't know the difference anyway. (I'm so ashamed...)
On the plus side, I got to use my brand new Cuisinart hand mixer given to me recently by a bunch of generous colleagues! (Thanks, guys!)  Once you have your filling, cut the cream puff in half, then spoon in some filling. Add some cleaned, cut strawberries.
Close it up, and voilà, you have a strawberry cream puff!
Now repeat 23 more times...

For those who are wondering, daughter's concert went great. Here's the serious photo:
And here's daughter mugging for the camera, a more normal photo where she's concerned:
Sadly, we never actually got to eat any of the cream puffs, as they were completely devoured by the time we got through the reception line. Oh well. Time to buy another container of strawberries! 

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