I distinctly remember the first time I tried a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. It was on Halloween night when I was three or four years old and trying to decide which candy should be the one I chose to eat that night. I was about to choose something foolish like a Jolly Rancher when my mom wisely stepped in and steered me towards the Peanut Butter Cup. (Since then, I’ve always looked to my mom for advice regarding dessert choices. She hasn’t failed me yet.) It was love at first bite. From that day, I have made it my mission to create as many variations of the chocolate peanut butter combination as possible.
I’ve had a peanut butter birthday cake with chocolate frosting, I’ve made chocolate-peanut butter sorbet with my dad, and I always make peanut butter stuffed chocolate cookies around the holidays.
My latest variation on the chocolate peanut butter combination is a chocolate peanut butter cream puff. A crisp pastry shell encapsulates a rich peanut butter pastry cream, which is then dipped in a dark chocolate ganache.
The cream puff is made with pâte à choux dough, also known as the most simplistic form of French pastry. This basic recipe can be adapted for crullers, profiteroles, cream puffs, gougeres, and eclairs. The basic recipe has been around for centuries, consistent with the tendency of the French to find something they like and stick to it no matter what. Just take a look at their cobblestone streets and ancient elevators and you’ll know what I mean.
To make the pâte à choux, you need just a few basic ingredients: eggs, flour, butter, milk, water, sugar, and salt.
The dough is cooked on the stovetop. First just the wet ingredients come to a boil, then the flour is sifted in and combined.
It will look like a gloopy mess, but keep stirring and cooking for a few more minutes, and a dough will begin to form.
Then, transfer the dough to a standing mixer and slowly add in the beaten eggs. Beat the dough until it is smooth and shiny.
Luckily, pâte à choux is a pretty forgiving dough, and getting it into the oven does not need to be a rushed process, like it is when making meringue or sponge cake.
Just add the dough to a plastic bag and snip a half inch opening, then pipe 1 1/2″ mounds onto a baking sheet. Smooth the tops with a spoon dipped in cold water so that they don’t have spikes once they’re baked.
While they cool, you can get started on the peanut butter pastry cream.
The pastry cream is another one of those classic French recipes, but this time it has the addition of creamy peanut butter.
Half and half, butter, salt, sugar, egg yolks, cornstarch, and peanut butter are slowly cooked and tempered until a thick custard forms.
Once all the pastries and the cream have set and cooled, you can begin the assembly. Using a pastry bag, the puffs are filled with the cream and then dipped in a simple chocolate ganache.
Try to let the glaze set a little before you serve them, but it may be difficult to stay away for that long. Enjoy!
Chocolate Peanut Butter Cream Puffs
Makes 24-28 cream puffs
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
2 large eggs plus 1 egg white (save the yolk for the pastry cream)
6 tablespoons water
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces
2 tablespoons milk
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, sifted (measure it, then sift it)
1. Beat eggs and egg white in a liquid measuring cup and set them aside. Preheat the oven to 425F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Bring water, butter, milk, sugar, and salt to boil in a small saucepan. Take the pan off the heat, then add the flour and stir until combined.
3. Return the saucepan to medium heat and cook the dough, stirring constantly until it is shiny and comes together into a ball. It should exude very small beads of butter onto the bottom of the saucepan. This will take about 3 minutes.
4. Transfer the dough to the bowl of a standing mixer and beat on high for 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
5. With the mixer running on medium, slowly add the beaten eggs until well incorporated, then increase the speed to high to beat for another 45 seconds until the dough is smooth and thick.
6. Transfer the dough to a plastic Ziploc bag, and cut a 1/2 inch hole in one corner. Holding the bag with both hands, carefully pipe mounds 1 1/2′ in diameter onto the baking sheets, spacing them about 1 inch apart. To level off the peaks, dip a metal spoon in cold water and gently tap the peaks until they meld into the rest of the pastry.
7. Bake the pastries at 425F for 15 minutes. Do not open the oven door, otherwise all of them will collapse.
8. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees and bake for another 4-5 minutes until golden brown and firm.
9. Remove the pans from the oven, and cut a 3/4″ slit in the sides of all the pastries to release steam, then turn off the oven and put the pastries back in the oven with the door ajar to let them dry out for 45 minutes. Remove them from the oven and let them cool on a wire rack while you make the pastry cream.
Peanut Butter Pastry Cream
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
2 cups half and half
1/2 cup sugar
pinch table salt
5 egg yolks
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into two pieces
1/2 cup salted, creamy, unsweetened peanut butter
1. Bring half and half, 6 tablespoons sugar, and salt to simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
2. Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks, cornstarch, and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar in a medium bowl until smooth.
3. Slowly whisk in 1 cup of the simmering half and half mixture into the egg yolks. This is called tempering, and brings up the temperature of the eggs so that they don’t scramble.
4. Slowly add the tempered egg mixture into the saucepan, whisking constantly. Cook over medium heat until thickened and bubbles burst on the surface, about 30 seconds.
5. Off heat, whisk in the butter until melted, then whisk in the peanut butter until smooth. Chill the pastry cream for at least 3 hours or up to 3 days in the fridge.
Chocolate Ganache Glaze
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
4-5 tablespoons half and half
1. Melt the chocolate and 4 tablespoons half and half in the microwave at low power until smooth. Add additional half and half as necessary to achieve desired consistency.
1. Transfer the pastry cream to a pastry bag fitted with a metal tip (any variety is fine.)
2. Pipe the pastry cream into the pastry through the side slit that was created earlier. Don’t worry about any imperfections, the glaze will cover them up.
3. Dip the tops of the cream puffs in the chocolate glaze. Let the glaze set for about 20 minutes, then serve.
Note: You will have some pastry cream left over, which will keep for up to 3 days in the fridge. You can spread it between sugar cookies, or use it to fill the bottom of a pre-baked pie crust and layer fresh fruit on top.