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Cream Puff Paste (Pate A Choux)

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup water
1/2 cup sweet, unsalted butter, cut up in pieces
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 eggs
1 egg beaten with a drop or two of water to make an egg wash or glaze

Put water, butter or salt in a large heavy saucepan and bring to
a boil. Remove from heat (butter should be completely melted) and
add the flour all in one fell swoop. Mix as quickly as possible
with a sturdy wooden spoon. This mixture is known as a "panade".
Return the saucepan to the stove over the lowest possible heat.
Continue to stir with the wooden spoon while the panade dries out.
This will take about 5 minutes, and a thin crust will form on the
bottom of the pan. This is supposed to happen, so don't worry about
it, and don't try to scrape it up and incorporate it into the dough,
or you will have plaster chips in your pastries. The dough should
be soft, but when you pinch it between thumb and forefinger it
should not stick to your hand. Dump the panade into a bowl, and
let it cool for at least 5 minutes. Then add the eggs, one at a
time, beating well after each addition. The mixture should be smooth
and creamy looking before you add the next egg. After all 4 eggs
have been beaten in, the dough will be shiny and satiny yellow,
thick and heavy. Butter and flour a cookie sheet. Fill a pastry
bag with the dough. If you don't have a pastry bag, you can use a
tablespoon to drop dollops of dough onto the cookie sheet for
eclairs and/or cream puffs, but you really must have a pastry bag
in order to make a cream puff ring.

For cream puffs, Squeeze out balls about the size of ping pong or
golf balls.

For eclairs, squeeze out oblongs at 3 to 4 inches long. If you are
using the recipe given above, you should end up with 14 to 16
pastries. Don't succumb to the temptation to make fewer and larger
ones, for they won't cook properly if you do. Brush the tops of
the pastries with beaten egg, using the bristles of the brush to
gently push down and flatten out the little curlicues left by the
pastry bag as you lifted it off. Finally, drag the tines of a dinner
fork down the length of each eclair. The resulting stripes will
make for a more attractive and professional looking product.

For a cream puff ring, first mark a 10" circle on the surface of
the buttered and floured cookie sheet. Then, using a pastry gab,
squeeze out a 1" wide "halo" of cream puff paste right on top of
the circle you've outlined. Squeeze another 1" wide ring of dough
adjacent to - and touching - the first. Squeeze a third ring directly
over the "crack" between the other two. Brush the whole thing with
beaten egg, and sprinkle a handful of thinly sliced almonds all
over the top of the ring. Let the cream puffs, eclairs, or cream
puff ring sit and "dry" for no less than 15 and no more than 25
minutes before baking. The oven should be preheated to 375F for
cream puffs and/or eclairs, and to 400F for a cream puff ring. Bake
the former at 375F for about 30 minutes, or until they have puffed
up nicely and turned golden brown. Bake the latter at 400F for
about 45 minutes, or until it is well puffed and golden brown.
Then, turn the oven off, open the door, and leave it halfway open
for an hour. If it won't stay ajar by itself, prop it open by
wedging something in there. This is to allow steam to escape and
to let the pastries cool slowly and "dry" as they cool so that they
won't collapse or become soft and soggy. After an hour has passed,
remove the pastries from the oven. They are now ready to be filled.

To fill individual pastries: Cut cream puffs and eclairs in half
(from side to side, not from top to bottom). Fill with whatever
filling you desire. Replace lids. Glaze with icing or pour sauce
on top. Serve. It is wise not to fill pastries to far in advance
of the serving time. The closer the preparation time is to the
serving time, the smaller the likelihood that the pastries will
begin to soften or get soggy.

To fill a cream ring: Use a slicing knife with a long serrated
blade to cut the top off a cream puff ring. Fill the bottom with
praline cream (or coffee cream, or chocolate cream) filling. Fill
a pastry bag with sweetened whipped cream. use a nozzle with a
zigzag edge (like pinking shears) to squeeze out a layer of fancy
puff-balls of whipped cream all over the layer of praline cream
filling. Finally, replace the lid and dust the top with 10X powdered
confectioners' sugar. Keep the cream puff ring in a cool dry place
until serving time.


PRALINE FILLING

1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup almonds

Make the vanilla custard cream.

Place the sugar and nuts in a heavy saucepan and place over medium
heat. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon. It will take a while
for the sugar to melt because there is no water or other liquid in
the pot. Keep on stirring! As soon as the sugar melts, it will turn
into caramel.

Immediately remove from heat and pour the caramel onto an oiled
marble slab (if you have one) or onto an oiled cookie sheet (if
you don't). Allow it to cool. When the candy has cooled, it will
be hard and brittle. Break it into pieces, place the pieces in
your blender or food processor, and grind them up into powder. Fold
the praline powder into the vanilla custard cream.



Chocolate Icing

3 ounces bitter (unsweetened) chocolate
3 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
3/4 cup heavy cream
enough water to thin icing to desired consistency (1 or 2 Tbsp)

Melt the chocolate in the cream over low heat, stirring with a
wooden spoon. Bring to a boil. cool to lukewarm. Add water as
desired. Spoon over eclair or cream puffs.


NOTE: This is a glaze for eclairs or sauce for cream puffs. If
you pour the icing while it is still hot, it will run off the
surface of the eclairs or cream puffs instead of sticking. It should
be warm when you pour it. For a sweeter icing, increase the amount
of semi-sweet chocolate and decrease the amount of bitter chocolate.

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