Chocolate Cream Filled Puffs

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Pastries seem so difficult.  When I think of making pastries, I think of croissants and folding endlessly.  Or I think about working with puff pastry which is my culinary enemy.  Cream puffs are not so.  Cream puffs are easy.  They are my friend.  There's no folding in butter.  The only butter you work with is melted.  The dough is done entirely with a saucepan and a spoon. They come together quickly and almost effortlessly.  The most difficult part is cutting off the tops of the cooked puffs.

One of my absolutely favorite pastries is an eclair.  I know that these are chocolate cream filled and do not have frosting, but I like to think of these as mini eclairs.  Sometimes the richness of the frosting on an eclair is overwhelming for me.  I remember as a child not finishing eclairs that my mother bought for me as a special Valentine treat.  They tempted me and I was indulged, but they always won.  These chocolate cream puffs are a smaller taste of an elegant pastry.  And I plan on making them for my little valentines.  They are so easy!

After making these a few times, I found it easiest to perforate a small section and lightly lift the tops off.  This exposes the soft inside that should be scooped out.  The puff is like a piece of delicate French toast.  Just gently pinch out the excess soft dough.  The puff on the left has not had the soft dough removed but the one on the right has.

Chocolate Cream Filled Puffs
chocolate cream filling {recipe follows}
1 c water
1/2 c butter
1/4 tsp salt
1 c all purpose flour
4 eggs
1 tbsp powder sugar
1 teaspoon cocoa powder

Prepare the chocolate cream filling according to the recipe and chill for at least two hours.
Preheat oven to 400F.

Put water, butter and salt in medium saucepan; stir continuously until the mixture begins to get foamy.  Bring to a full boil.  Dump flour into boiling water.  Stirring quickly, reduce heat to low and continue to cook for 1 minute until dough forms a ball.  Remove from heat.  Add eggs, one at a time and whisking after each one to form a smooth dough.

Drop dough by tablespoonsful onto lightly greased cookie sheet, making 16~18 puffs.  Bake in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes until golden.  Let cool slightly before slicing tops off horizontally and set aside.  Remove soft dough from inside of puffs.  Cool puffs and tops completely before filling.

Fill each puff with chilled chocolate cream, about 3 tablespoons, and replace top of puff.  Combine 1 tablespoon of powdered sugar and 1 teaspoon of cocoa powder.  Dust tops of puffs with sweetened cocoa.  Keep chilled until serving.

Chocolate Cream Filling
3 egg yolks
1 1/4 c sugar
1/3 c unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 c cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
3 c whole milk
2 Tbsp butter
2 tsp vanilla

Place egg yolks in a small bowl; blend together to break up yolks.  Set aside.  In a saucepan whisk together sugar, cocoa, cornstarch and salt.  Add milk and whisk to blend smoothly.  Heat over medium heat, whisking slowly but continuously, until mixture bubbles {you should notice the mixture thickening considerably and steaming as it reaches this point}.  Continue to whisk slowly and let mixture continue to cook, bubbling, for 1 minute.

Remove from heat and add a small amount, about 1/4 cup of chocolate mixture, to eggs.  Stir well to temper.  Add eggs to chocolate mixture in saucepan. Whisk til smooth.  Return to medium heat and continue to cook for about 30 seconds, until mixture begins to bubble again.  Remove from heat immediately.  Stir in butter and vanilla, until smooth.

Transfer filling to a bowl.  Cover chocolate filling with parchment paper, touching the surface to keep from forming a film as it cools.  Chill in the refrigerator at least two hours before using.

Tips and Tricks~
*Crack eggs and empty into a bowl to have ready for the recipe.  When instructed to add one at a time, just tilt the bowl of eggs so one yolk comes out.  Most of the egg white will stay with its yolk.  It just does.  You don't want to crack eggs directly into the batter though.  If you drop a piece of shell, that ruins your puffs.
*Use of a cookie dough scoop {looks like a small ice cream scoop} to put batter on foil lined cookie sheet makes this job quick, easy and less messy than using a spoon to divide batter
*If you want larger puffs, use a traditional ice cream scoop and make about 8~10.  Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden.
*While cooking the chocolate filling, watch carefully as the bubbling is not easily noticed unless you are looking for it.
*These make an elegant but easy dessert for a dinner party or reception.  Make the puffs and filling ahead of time, up to two days.  Earlier in the day before serving, assemble and keep refrigerated.  Dust with sweetened cocoa just before serving.
*If you need to save time or are intimidated by making the chocolate filling, just use a boxed pudding mix.  It works just very well.

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