I suppose it is tradition to go to the fair, stand in a very long line,
and eat a cream puff that nears the size of your head. But in all
honesty, I can’t say that I’ve ever done that. I didn’t grow up
attending the fair regularly, and even when I’ve gone a few times as an
adult I never really ate many fair foods, including our famous cream
puff. “Isn’t eating at the fair the point?” I’m sure you are asking
me. I can’t help it. I guess I’d rather make and eat my food at home.
This does include the cream puff – which is actually one of the simplest desserts you could make yourself. If you have even the slightest vapor of a baking pantry, you can make the mother dough pâte à choux, which is easily made with a mere 4 ingredients: water, butter, eggs, and flour. You can use the dough to make any number of cream puffy-type things of different names, fried beignets, towering croquembouche, profiteroles, and (my favorite) chocolate topped éclairs.
By far the easiest confection is the classic cream puff, which is simply filled with whipped cream and showered with a polite dusting of powdered sugar. By the time your oven has come up to temperature, you can have the choux pastry made and portioned out onto a baking sheet – and as they cool you can whip up some heavy cream with just a little sweetener. Fill the petite puffs just before you eat them, so you can preserve the crispness of the shell.
Cream Puffs (Marion Cunningham, the Fanny Farmer Cookbook)
yield 14 small puffs
1/2 c. water
4 T. butter (2 oz.)
1/2 c. flour
2 eggs, room temperature
(optional pinch of both sugar and salt, but they still taste great if you forget)
1 c. of heavy cream, and enough powdered sugar to sweeten to taste (about 2-4 T.)
Preheat oven to 375.
Bring the water and butter to a boil in a heavy, small saucepan. Once boiling, remove from heat and immediately stir in all of the flour, beating well with a wooden spoon until. Return the pan to moderate heat, and continue to beat and stir with the wooden spoon until the dough forms a ball and completely leaves the sides of the pan. Remove from the heat, and let stand for several minutes to cool slightly.
Beat in the eggs, one at a time with the wooden spoon, beating each until the egg is fully incorporated and the dough is smooth. (It may look like this won't happen at first, but just keep beating and the dough will magically come together.)
Drop the dough by rounded tablespoons (I used a small disher), on either an ungreased sheet pan or a parchment lined one. Bake for 25-30 minutes until puffed and golden brown. (Rotate the pan halfway through if your oven baked unevenly.) Cool completely before slicing open with a serrated knife, and filling generously with whipped cream.
(Need to know how to whip cream? Here you go...)
I took a number of my cookbooks to cross reference choux pastry. Remarkably, nearly all of them have the same ratio. Some are more enriched, calling for whole milk along with the water, but in the end I had to share Marion Cunningham’s classic rendition recorded in the Fanny Farmer cookbook, which she comprehensively updated and re-released in both the 1970’s and 1990’s. I was happy to find my copy on the library sale shelf this summer, and it seems so fitting, since we recently lost this gem of a lady
. Cunningham was famous for simple cooking, using ingredients that aren’t frightening or hard to find. These puffs are a fitting way not only to celebrate our Wisconsin State Fair, but also to commemorate a genius of a home cook, one who inspired countless women just like me, and will continue to inspire countless others.
These cream puffs may be a much more diminutive size than those you can find elsewhere this time of the year, but they are sure to satisfy just as much. And, the small size means you can pop three or four in your mouth with relative ease. Why not avoid the lines and give them a try?