Updated Tuesday, December 4th, 2007
Total Time: 1.5
Yield: 24 to 34 cream puffs, depending on size
The choux pastry that forms the shell for these custard-filled delights dates back several hundred years, and cream-filled puffs have been around at least since the days of Antoine Careme, the famous 18th-century French pastry chef. But here in America, many people associate cream puffs with dessert buffets of the 1950s and 1960s. (Choux pastry puffs were also commonly stuffed with savory fillings, such as chicken or egg salad.)
Preheat oven to 425° and set a rack to the middle position. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Put butter and water in a medium saucepan on high heat and bring to a simmer. Add flour and salt all at once and stir until mixture forms a smooth ball. Remove from heat. Transfer dough to a bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
Spoon or pipe balls of dough onto the prepared baking sheets. Transfer to the oven and cook until the puffs are nicely browned, 25 to 30 minutes (try not to open the oven door; look through the window instead). Reduce heat to 350° and bake an additional 20 minutes to dry the puffs out. Remove from oven and cut a small slit into the side of each puff to let the steam out. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Meanwhile, make the filling: In a medium bowl whisk together sugar, cornstarch, eggs, and salt. Put the milk and butter in a small pot over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat. Drizzle 1/2 cup of the hot milk mixture into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Repeat with an additional 1/2 cup hot milk. Pour this egg mixture back into the pot with the milk and increase heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring often, until mixture begins to bubble and thicken. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap pressed against the surface, and cool in the refrigerator at least 1 hour.
When ready to use, whip the cream with the vanilla until it forms firm peaks. Fold into the cold custard. Use a pastry bag fitted with a metal tip to fill each cream puff.
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