Don't just enjoy the scent of your Christmas tree, use its needles to make a pastry cream filling for impressive holiday cream puffs.
For the cream puffs
- 1 stick of butter (or four ounces)
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup of water
- 1 cup flour
- 4 eggs
For the pine pastry cream
- 2 cups whole milk
- 3 eight-inch pieces of pine, spruce, or fir branch
- zest of one orange
- ¾ cup of sugar
- ¼ cup of corn starch
- 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
- 4 egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon butter
Before starting on the cream puffs, you’ll want to infuse the milk for the pastry cream filling. In a medium-sized saucepan, gently heat the milk over medium-low heat until just simmering. Cut the branch into pieces and add to the milk, along with the orange zest. Remove from the heat and cool. You can do this in advance or even overnight, by storing the milk in the fridge as it steeps. The longer the steeping time, the stronger the flavor you’ll get from the tree.
In another medium-sized pot, heat the butter, sugar, salt, and water. Stir to incorporate the ingredients while bringing the liquid to a gentle boil. Turn the heat down to low and stir in the flour. Stir until the dough has formed and clings together in a ball. Remove the pot from the heat and let cool for a couple of minutes. Crack the eggs into a bowl while you wait.
One at a time, add the eggs into the dough and stir until incorporated. It will take a little work. The dough will separate into pieces with each egg addition and look like you’re doing something wrong. But just keep stirring and the dough will come back together. I find it helps to cradle the pot in one arm and stir with the other to prevent the pot from moving around.
After you have mixed the last egg into the dough, use a spatula to transfer it into a pastry bag or gallon-sized storage bag with a corner cut off and a large plain piping tip attached. Or you could try using a small cookie or ice cream scooper instead of piping.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Form the dough into one-inch rounds on the sheets, using about a tablespoon or so for each puff. Continue to form the puffs with the dough, spacing them about two inches apart on the baking sheet. If you're piping, wet your finger and smooth out any pointy tips on the tops of the puff. Otherwise, they will burn. Then place the sheets in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden on top and bottom. Remove from the oven and let cool.
While the puffs bake, make the pastry cream. In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, corn starch, and salt. Strain the milk to remove the pine branches and orange zest then wipe any pine needles out of the pot. Return the milk to the pot along with the sugar mixture and butter. Heat over medium-low heat until simmering, whisking often to prevent burning or lumps. Cook for about ten minutes, until it thickens to the consistency of pudding. Transfer to the fridge to cool to room temperature.
When the puffs and cream are both cool it’s time to fill. You can either make a small hole in the bottom of each puff and pipe the filling into each one. Or just slice each puff in half across the middle and spoon the filling onto each bottom. Put the tops on top of the cream and gently press down to adhere to the cream.
Serve the puffs chilled and sprinkled with powdered sugar. They can be stored in the fridge for up to three days. But there's no way they'll last that long.
Read carefully through the recipe before you begin. Although it looks like a lot of steps, just break it down into small chunks.
No needles? No problem. Steep a vanilla bean or two in the cream for a classic flavor.
- Category: Holidays
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: French
Keywords: cream, eggs, cream puffs, pastry, choux, pine