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Christmas Cream Puffs with Vanilla & Cranberry

Last weekend I was in a bit of a cooking (and eating…) daze, all the time. We had our parents visiting for lunch on Saturday, which means we were prepping well into Friday night (or Saturday morning, if you like). I love to host guests for a festive, pre-christmas get-together, well before the actual Holiday craze (see for example our “Friendsmas” from two years ago). It’s the best opportunity to celebrate in peace and quiet (which, at least to me it feels like that) gets more and more difficult with approaching the end of the year… So we spoilt our guests. The menu was…

something rather classic and old-school – which to me equals goodness. First, we made graved salmon and toast. For this, you need to brine a large, fresh side of a (preferably) wild and caught with a fishing rod salmon for up to two days in a salty and sugary brine, spiced with lots of nice herbs and spices to your heart’s content. This will infuse the salmon side with flavor, and the salt will render the meat more cured, preservable and give it this incomparable graved lax appeal. In other words, it was delicious and festive and slightly decadent, perfect for a pre-christmas feast! And then we made a celery root consommé with “flädli”, which you might better know as pancake noodles (haha). Main was braised cheeks of veal with parsley potato mash (that we made before here – obviously good things are on repeat in this house), caramelized baby carrots and romanesco “christmas trees”. And dessert was, well, this lush composition of a choux pastry filled with a very smooth vanilla crème patissière and a dollop of home made cranberry sauce at the bottom. If that doesn’t make you dribble, I don’t know what ever will.

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Christmas Cream Puffs with Vanilla & Cranberry
Yields: about 12 larger Pastries

Note: I got the idea from this from Style Sweet, however I assembled the Puffs with my own version of cranberry compote, vanilla cream and choux pastry, from either recipes that I made dozens of time before (for the puffs) or trusted. Always a go-to for me is the cookbook from Elisabeth Fülscher. Everything should be kept very simple, so I made sure not to add too many flavors.

For the Cream Puffs:
Recipe adapted from Style Sweet

Ingredients:
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 to 5 large eggs

Directions:
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.  Line baking sheets with parchment and set aside. Place the butter, water, and salt in a medium saucepan,  Over medium heat, melt the butter and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in all of the flour with a wooden spoon until completely mixed in – taking care to mix in any flour stuck in the corners. It will resemble mashed potatoes at this point. Return the saucepan to the heat and cook the flour. Continue to stir for about 3 to 5 minutes, or until all of the dough pulls from the sides of that pan and forms a ball in the center. Transfer the dough to the bowl of an electric mixer. With the paddle attachment, cool the dough by mixing it on low to until it is just warm to the touch. Begin adding the eggs, one at a time. Be sure that each egg is thoroughly mixed in before adding in the next.  You may only need 4 eggs, so be careful not to go too quickly. Or even 4.5!  Continue mixing and adding in the eggs until the batter forms a “V” when pulled up out of the bowl with a spatula.  Similarly, if you lift the paddle attachment, a tongue of batter should form on the end. The dough (or batter) should soft but not runny.  It should be pipe-able, but still be able to hold it shape. Not sure if you added enough eggs? Try piping a small amount! Place the batter in a large piping bag and chill in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes. Snip the end off of the piping bag and pipe large mounds of batter – about 2-inches in diameter (if using a reusable canvas bag, fit it with a plain round tip). Use a slightly dampened pastry brush or clean finger to gently press down any peaks that may form. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the choux paste “puffs”. After the outside begins to set, drop the oven temperature down to 350 and continue to bake until the puffs are golden on the outside and dry on the inside (about 30 minutes total for this size). Turn the oven off and crack the door. Allow the puffs to continue to dry out in the oven for another 15 minutes or so.

For the Vanilla Crème Pâtissière:
Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart

Ingredients:
1 cup milk
3 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tbsp.corn flour
1 vanille, extracted

Directions:
In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a boil over medium heat. Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks and sugar together in a small bowl. Add flour, and mix until smooth and free of lumps. Thin egg-yolk mixture with approximately 1/4 cup of warm milk. When remaining milk begins to boil, add it to egg-yolk mixture, and stir well. Return to saucepan, and place over high heat. Cook, whisking constantly, until pastry cream thickens and boils, about 1 minute. (Turning the pan as you whisk helps to easily reach all areas of pan.) Reduce heat to medium, and cook, whisking constantly, until cream becomes shiny and easier to stir, about 2 minutes more. Pour into a bowl, and stir in vanilla. Place plastic wrap directly on surface of pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming, and allow to cool. Note: You might want to add some whipped cream before stuffing the shells – I sure like to do so.

For the Cranberry Compote:
2 cups fresh cranberries, washed and picked over
1 organic orange, juice and zest
1/2 cup unsweetened cranberry juice
3 tbsp. brown sugar

Directions: 
In a small saucepan, melt the sugar without stirring until caramelized. Deglaze with the lemon and cranberry juice. Add the cranberries and orange zest. Cook for a while until the cranberries have started to fall apart and the juices are reduced and turn thicker, almost jelly-like. Fill into a bowl and let cool.

For the assembly of the Cream Puffs:
To assemble, take a shell and carefully cut off the tip of the pastry. The good thing about choux pastries is that they puff up nicely and so there is an automatic “hole” that you can now fill with whatever you like. Add a dollop of the cranberry compote to the bottom of the shell. Fill the vanilla crème patissière into a piping bag. Pipe the cream inside the puff and slightly on top, too. Put the tip of the shell back on top and decorate with a sugared cranberry (that, by the way, are good with everything) (note: we actually “secured” the cranberry there with just one drop of melted white chocolate). Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve immediately.

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