Peanut Butter Cream Puffs

Ryan’s birthday falls three days before Halloween, so for most of his life the celebration of his birth has been overshadowed by costumes and candy-collecting.  Not that he’s complaining, but I wanted to make sure I made something for him to celebrate his quarter-century birthday that had nothing to do with Halloween.  Ryan has had a few ongoing suggestions for the blog that I’ve shrugged off – bread pudding, baklava, and cream puffs to name a few.  Nothing on that list really riled me, but when his birthday came around I decided to surprise him with something he’s been nagging me to make for years – cream puffs.  But not just any cream puffs, birthday peanut butter cream puffs for my peanut butter fanatic of a fiance!

Whenever there’s a platter of various pastries, I never reach for the cream puffs or eclairs.  Something to do with that generic cream filling from sub-par bakeries that I’ve always found to be too sweet and not appealing.  But ever since I made my own pastry cream for the Fresh Fruit Tart with Vanilla Pastry Cream, I discovered pastry cream can be incredibly delicious when done right.  And it’s even more right when you add half a cup of peanut butter, in fact it’s AMAZING.  These cream puffs really exceeded my (and Ryan’s) expectations – the peanut butter isn’t overwhelming but adds a nice depth of flavor that obviously goes well with the chocolate ganache drizzle.  Cream puffs involve making a pâte à choux dough which sounds really scary and intimidating, but came together easily by following good recipe instructions.  I love the texture of the slightly crunchy shells with the smooth, cold cream and they far exceeded any dessert tray cream puffs I’ve had thus far.

Ryan really enjoyed these too.  His birthday was last Sunday and involved a delicious brunch and the entire day uninterrupted on the couch watching football, with cream puffs as a snack for the afternoon game.  He doesn’t like to make a big deal of his birthday, and we’re not doing gifts this year to help save for the wedding, but I still wanted to make sure I made him something different and special that he would love.  It’s not so bad to be engaged to a girl with a baking blog, and I’m pretty sure he especially appreciated it on his birthday.  Below is a shot from our engagement photos done by our friend Rob this summer, and is probably one of my favorite pictures of Ryan, so I thought this would be a good post to share.  Here’s to many more birthday treats together – Happy 25th Babe!

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Peanut Butter Cream Puffs

Recipe adapted from Annie's Eats

Yield: 20 small cream puffs

Ingredients:

for the pastry cream:
2 cups half-and-half
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
5 large egg yolks
3 tbsp cornstarch
4 tbsp cold, unsalted butter cut into 4 pieces
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract

for the pâte à choux dough:
2 large eggs + 1 large egg white
5 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces
2 tbsp whole milk
6 tbsp water
1-1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup all purpose flour

for the chocolate glaze:
3 tbsp half-and-half
2 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup confectioners' sugar

Directions:

for the pastry cream:
- Combine the half-and-half, 6 tbsp sugar, and salt in a saucepan and heat until simmering, stirring occasionally.
- Meanwhile, combine the egg yolks and remaining 2 tbsp of sugar in a medium bowl for about 15 seconds. Whisk in the cornstarch until thick, about 30 seconds.
- When the half-and-half mixture has reached a simmer, slowly add it to the egg yolk mixture to temper, whisking constantly. Return the mixture to the saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat, until a few bubbles burst on the surface and the mixture is thickened.
- Remove from heat and mix in the butter, peanut butter, and vanilla. Strain the pastry cream through a fine mesh sieve set over a medium bowl. Press plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming and place in the fridge to set - at least 3 hours and up to 2 days.

for the pâte à choux dough:
- Whisk the eggs and egg white in a liquid measuring cup and set aside.
- Combine the butter, milk, water, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring once or twice. When the mixture reaches a full boil, remove from the heat and stir in the flour until it's incorporated. Return the saucepan to low heat and cook, stirring constantly with a spatula, using a smearing motion until the mixture is shiny, looks wet, and tiny beads of fat form on the bottom of the pan.
- Transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and run on low speed for 30 seconds to cool the dough. With the machine running, gradually add the reserved eggs in a steady stream. Once added, scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix until a smooth, thick, sticky paste forms.
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Fill a pastry bag filled with a large round tip with the pâte à choux dough. Pipe the paste into 1-1/2" mounds on the prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 1-1/4" apart. Use the back of a teaspoon dipped in water to even out the shape and smooth the surfaces of the mounds.
- Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven to 375 degrees and continue to bake until golden brown, about 8-10 minutes longer. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and use a paring knife to cut a small slit into the side of each puff to release the steam. Return the sheet to the oven, turn the oven off, and prop the oven door open with the handle of a wooden spoon. Leave the puffs in the oven for 45 minutes, or until the centers are just moist and the puffs are crisp. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
- To fill the puffs, use the tip of a paring knife to cut a large slit in the side of the puff. Fill a pastry bag with the pastry cream and pipe cream into the side of each puff, until it starts to ooze back out. Repeat to fill all the puffs.

for the chocolate glaze:
- Place the half-and-half and chocolate in a medium microwave-safe bowl, cover, and microwave for 20 seconds at a time, until the mixture just begins to steam. Whisk together thoroughly, add the confectioners' sugar, and whisk until completely smooth.
- Use a spoon to drizzle the chocolate glaze over the cream puffs and return to the wire rack until the glaze has set completely. Serve within several hours.