The reason for date night
The reason for married date night was about 25 inches tall and 22 pounds. It didn't take but a year to sign up.And we have those lemon loving in-laws to thank for that. For the in-laws, Friday date night was sacrosanct. None of their children were sure of where they went or what they did on Friday nights. Don't ask. Don't tell.
We adopted Friday-night-date-night after a short time into parenthood. Our humble beginnings were the best dates. We were not yet starving students, just merely starving. The impetus for those first Friday date nights came from the simple coincidence that it was payday and we splurged.
But when we moved to starving student status and had the growing princess to consider and one more unknown (princess-to-be turns out) on the way, we started a new tradition of date night at home after the child went to bed.
We cooked something affordable but decadent. And for years, Friday date night included a third wheel named James Garner. We were addicted to The Rockford Files and planned the entire food festival around the show. In the days before VCRs or DVRs, you watched in real time. Courses were timed for commercial breaks.
Our perch was the bed on the floor with the tiny black and white television at the edge of the mattress. The picnic seemed more real than not because our bedroom was actually a converted porch with a wall of windows that didn’t seal. It was more like a skinny freezing porch than a room, but we were young and hearty enough. The down side to Friday picnics in the winter was the fact that we’d have to wear hats, scarves and jackets. If it snowed (and it did snow in Buffalo a lot) with the wind howling, one of us would have to shovel out the snow drifts that blew in through the gaps. The glass at least, frosted on both sides giving us privacy, but the shades would have icicles hanging from it by morning.
Dessert was served halfway through the Rockford Files. Sometimes the thought of waiting for dessert made the main dish seem less important, so we established a little thing called eat-dessert-first. Who really cared? One might think that after eating an entire platter of dessert pastries, we would not want dinner. As long as there were food courses to consume, we would eat. We could probably have eaten dessert, the entrée and dessert again if there were anything left.
It was in that tiny little apartment with the one radiator, a two burner stove and the company of critters that we eventually gave names, that I made the first cream puffs that would become favorites over the years. The very first time I tackled them it was my biggest accomplishment in pastry making to date. The only hard part is that they take time to make. The puffs have to cool, the custard has to chill, and the chocolate tops must set. Other than that, it was easier than I had imagined. The first batch was magnificent.
We filled a platter with cream puffs filled with custard and topped with perfect chocolate. Before the days of artisanal chocolate and European butter, and my ability to pipe pastry (still a challenge), these were very rustic. But for two 19 year olds they were an accomplishment. They were a date night stand out – even more than James Garner. And after countless batches over the years, the very first cream puffs are still the most special.
Along with the princesses who eventually grew up and left home, Friday night is still devoted to date night. And we still make a platter of pastries, but at least we have a DVR to pause the action if we wish, for far longer than a commercial break.
Use your imagination.
Gluten Free Custard Filled Cream Puffs
Dough for cream puffs
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 stick unsalted butter cut up into 8 pieces
- teaspoon of sugar
- pinch of salt
- 1 cup gluten free flour or all purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum (omit if using regular flour)
- 3 large eggs
Vanilla Custard Filling
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup half/half
- Large (moist) vanilla bean scraped, or teaspoon pure vanilla
- 5 egg yolks
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar (a matter of taste)
- 1/4 (scant!) cup cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons butter cut into pieces
Chocolate Glaze or Ganache
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 8-9 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips (Scharffenberger is best)
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon light corn syrup
Directions - DoughPreheat oven to 375.
In a good size saucepan heat the milk, water, sugar, salt and butter. Bring to a light boil. While that heats up, mix the flour with the xanthan gum. As soon as it boils add the flour all at once and stir with a wooden spoon like crazy, and keep stirring until the dough comes together and is shiny. The bottom of the pan will develop a crust, but keep stirring over low heat for about a minute more.
Dump the ball of dough into a large bowl or stand mixer. Let it sit for no more than 5 minutes to cool slightly. Add the eggs while mixing on medium speed one at a time, incorporating the egg fully before adding another one. The dough will look like it is falling apart but by the time you finish it will look fine. Keep mixing for about another 30 seconds after the last egg is added until the dough comes together. It will look shiny and sticky, but won't form a ball.
If you can pipe, use a 1/2 inch tip and pipe the dough onto parchment or silpat covered baking sheets into little mounds for puffs. Depending on how big you want to make them, you can get anywhere from 4 to 6.
You can also use an ice cream scoop for the dough, or two spoons and form them into little round mounds.Immediately place in the oven until they are lightly brown. That should take about 25 minutes, but check after 15 minutes.
Remove them from the oven and slice a little slit into each one to let the steam escape and place it back in the oven which is now turned off, but still warm. Leave them in there for another 30 minutes to continue drying.
Remove and let the puff shells cool. Once cool, use a serrated knife and slice the tops off so that they can be filled. Remove any inner dough until you have a nice little cavity to fill with custard. Leave them out to dry a little while you prepare the custard.
You can keep them for a few days stored in a tin at room temperature (but not filled).
Directions – vanilla custardHeat up the milk and half/half until warm and add the vanilla and the beans. Turn the heat off and cover. Leave it for about 15 minutes to infuse the milk with vanilla.
Prepare two bowls, one slightly bigger than the other. In the larger one add some ice and set the smaller bowl on the ice. It should be large enough to hold the pastry cream mixture. Add to that bowl, a mesh strainer which you will use to push the cream through to eliminate any lumps.
Meantime, mix the sugar and cornstarch together and add the egg yolks and mix with a whisk until smooth. Add some of the hot vanilla milk to the sugar/egg mixture to temper the eggs and warm them up. Then add that to the warm vanilla milk and turn the heat up to medium. Keep whisking the mixture until it comes to a boil. Simmer at a low boil for a minute or two as the mixture thickens, and remove from the heat.
Immediately turn the custard into the mesh strainer and stir and push it through into the bowl that is sitting on the ice. Once all the pastry cream is in the bowl, stir to cool the mixture a bit. Remove the bowl from the ice and add the butter and whisk to incorporate as it melts. Then return the bowl to the ice and let it sit for about 15 minutes, stirring often until the pastry cream is chilled.
You can also chill the custard in the refrigerator with a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the custard, and then with a lid on the bowl. Wait until it is very chilled, at least a few hours or overnight.
Using a small spoon, fill each cream puff and place the top back on. Line them up on a wire rack on the baking sheet for the chocolate topping fun.
Directions - Chocolate Topping
Place the chocolate in a bowl and heat the cream in a small saucepan until it simmers to a low boil. Pour that over the chocolate and leave it alone for a minute. Then begin stirring until the cream and chocolate are totally smooth. Add the butter and the light corn syrup and stir until incorporated.
Let the mixture sit for a minute or two until warm but not hot. Using a spoon pour chocolate over each pastry. Let them set for a few minutes. Or if you are in a hurry, just refrigerate them until set.
Serve immediately or refrigerate. Best the same day. And just in case you have any leftovers (which you will not) store them in a tightly sealed container. Warning: they will get a bit soggy overnight.Bon appétit