During the last summer before COVID we took a memorable trip to New York City. It was July, and it was hot. We pretended that we could keep up with the speedy New Yorkers, striding along the melting sidewalks, jogging in the full sun along the High Line, muscling into the Metropolitan Museum. It gave us plenty of excuses to seek out ice cream, or tall cool drinks. I have never enjoyed air conditioning more than I did that summer.
Near Washington Square, where we caught some nostalgic whiffs of pot wafting above the chess players and skate boarders among the folks fully occupying the park benches, we found a nearly empty restaurant in the afternoon lull between lunch and dinner. We sat at the polished wood bar, dangling our hot feet over the smooth black and white tile floor, drinking restorative Italian beer. It was dark and cool and almost quiet, with muffled clinks of silverware as tables were set for the dinner service, and distantly Frank Sinatra was singing. It was another era.
We met friends for dinner at a restaurant with poised apron-clad waiters, white table cloths and many, many courses. We saw other friends and so enjoyed their neighbor’s pot luck that we missed the Fourth of July fireworks. We went to the theatre. We went to museums. We ate bagels and street vendor hot dogs and New York pizza. On our last night I wore pearls. We strolled through the plaza at Lincoln Center, watching the people milling, and others sitting near the sparkling spray from the fountains while the sun set. We walked through the golden summer evening to a restaurant where we drank frou-frou cocktails and giddily eavesdropped on our closely-packed fellow diners. Dinner proceeded: moules frites for Mr. Sanders, steak frites for me. And then there were the profiteroles. Divine.
As it has been stinky hot here, there and everywhere this summer, I decided last weekend to heat up the kitchen yet again and spent an afternoon attempting to recreate the dessert experience we had had in New York City, back in the before times. I wasn’t going to attempt profiteroles, because I didn’t want to deal with melting ice cream. I thought cream puffs might scratch the itch. And yes, they were everything I had hoped for. I hope you enjoy them, too.
Cream Puffs and Éclairs This is a straight forward recipe; it is just methodical and time consuming. I didn’t need to go to the store, for once: flour, butter, salt and eggs. The basics for choux pastry. I baked 2 dozen cream puffs and froze half of them, which feels like money in the bank. On Thursday morning I still have a plate of 5 filled cream puffs sitting in the fridge; such tempting riches! There will be 4 remaining after my lunch.
I abandoned the King Arthur website’s filling and icing recipes after I baked the choux puffs. I have much better solutions. One of the best cooking secrets I have ever stumbled over is about whipped cream. I am pretty sure the Brits are onto this, because they have Bird’s Custard Powder. We, plucky Americans, have instant vanilla pudding mix. I took 1 cup of heavy cream and whipped it until it was stiff, and then added 1 tablespoon of instant vanilla pudding mix, and 2 teaspoons of powdered sugar. The result is richer than regular whipped cream, but it is lighter than pastry cream. From now on I will be using this lighter homemade-ish pastry cream. Vanilla pudding mix and whipped cream
The icing that the King Arthur site suggests I think is too sweet. The crisp, eggy pastry and the cool, creamy filling deserve a snappy, sophisticated dark chocolate shell. I melted 3 ounces of good bittersweet chocolate (Ghiradelli, thank you very much) with 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter, and a tablespoon-ish glug of cognac. (You can use bourbon.) This was enough chocolate icing for generously dripping over a dozen cream puffs. Here is my Instagram of pouring the chocolate.
Be careful out there. COVID is roaring back. Stay home and enjoy your own cream puffs, and wait for the weather to cool down.
“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life—and travel—leaves marks on you.”