Kat of The Bobwhites was our August 2012 Daring Baker hostess who inspired us to have fun in creating pâté à choux shapes, filled with crème patisserie or Chantilly cream. We were encouraged to create swans or any shape we wanted and to go crazy with filling flavors allowing our creativity to go wild!
Challenges like this are the reason I joined the Daring Bakers: ridiculous, whimsical, finicky, cream-filled pastries. I LOVE IT!
Seriously though, why NOT make cream puff swans? They are super tasty and anyone who sees them will be very impressed. They won’t be able to help it.
To make cream puff swans, you first have to mix up a batch of choux pastry, or pâté à choux. I’ve made it a few times before, and it is a pretty unique technique: heat butter and water until the butter melts, add flour to make a paste, then beat in a couple of eggs to make a smooth, silky batter. It puffs up in the oven and becomes crispy on the outside and soft and airy on the inside, perfect for housing a creamy filling.
I filled my swans with chocolate ganache and blueberries underneath a vanilla cream, and I gave a bunch of them to a friend as a thank-you for looking after our cat while we were away for a few days.
After dropping off the swans, I got a note from her saying that her husband especially enjoyed the blueberries because they were like the swan’s internal organs, making them more anatomically correct. I had to laugh – not *quite* what I was going for, but whatever floats your boat, right?! Rest assured that there is nothing internal organ-like about the way the swans taste. The choux pastry is crunchy, the vanilla cream is… creamy, the ganache is rich, and the blueberries provide a burst of freshness. Fun to make, fun to eat, and actually a nice light summer dessert (by “light”, I’m definitely not referring to the calorie content ).
What follows is the challenge recipe cut in half, which resulted in fifteen swans (the stated yield of 36 swans seemed a little bit much). I ran out of cream on the fourteenth swan, but if I had been a wee bit more conservative when I was filling them, then it would have been the perfect amount.
The original challenge recipe includes several filling variations, all of which sound delicious, so be sure to check it out at the Daring Kitchen – and while you’re there, definitely check out the amazing cream puffs (swans and otherwise!) that the rest of the Daring Bakers have created this month. Thanks Kat for such a fun challenge – one of my favorites so far.
Cream Puff Swans with Vanilla Cream, Chocolate Ganache and Blueberries
Vanilla Cream and Pâté à Choux recipes adapted from “Good Housekeeping Illustrated Guide to Cooking”, 1980 edition. Makes 14 – 15 swans.
The “flow” for this recipe goes like this:
- Make the vanilla cream custard base. Let it sit to thicken.
- Make the chocolate ganache. Let it chill.
- While the above two components are sitting/chilling, make and bake the pâté à choux.
- Finish the vanilla cream while the pâté à choux puffs are cooling.
- Fill and assemble the swans.
- Celebrate the fabulousness of what you have just created by eating a swan.
In a small saucepan, combine well with a whisk:
1 1/2 tsp unflavoured gelatin
1/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp all purpose flour
1/2 cup milk
2 egg yolks, beaten
When fully combined, place the saucepan over medium-low heat and cook, stirring constantly with a spatula, until the mixture is just thick enough to coat the back of the spatula (mine got a little over cooked, but straining it in the next step fixed it).
Strain the mixture through a sieve into a medium bowl (this will remove any cooked bits of egg and ensure that the final product is smooth and creamy). Stir in:
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the custard and let it cool for about 45 minutes while you make the rest of the swan components.
You want the custard just to thicken, not to set – but if it does, beat it with a whisk then place the bowl in some warm water to warm it up and continue whisking to loosen it a little bit.
When you are ready to fill the swans, finish the vanilla cream by whipping to firm peaks:
3/4 cup whipping cream
Fold about a third of the cream into the custard to lighten it, then gently fold in the rest of the cream.
In a small bowl, place:
2 oz unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
1 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt
In a small saucepan, heat over medium heat:
1/4 cup milk or cream
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring and swirling the pan to dissolve the sugar.
As soon as the mixture boils and the sugar is dissolved, pour it over the chocolate. Let it sit for a few minutes, then stir to melt the chocolate and combine the mixture completely (mine was a little bit grainy for whatever reason).
Chill in the fridge, uncovered, until completely cool. If the cooled ganache is too runny, whip it with a whisk until it thickens.
Pâté à Choux
Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Line 2 baking sheets with silicon mats or parchment paper.
In a small saucepan, combine:
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup water
1/8 tsp salt
Heat over medium heat until the butter melts (the water might start to boil, which is fine too).
Add all at once:
1/2 cup all purpose flour
Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes together in a pasty dough that pulls away from the sides of the pan, leaving a slight film behind. Return the pan to the (turned off) element and continue stirring, just to dry the dough out a little bit.
One at a time, add:
Beat well after each egg. It will look all curdled and lumpy at first, but keep beating and the result should be a smooth, silky-looking batter.
Reserve about a 1/2 cup of the pâté à choux and place the rest in a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip (a large plain tip is fine too). For the bodies, pipe 15 tear-drop shapes, about 1 1/2″ to 2″ inches long. Bake the bodies for about 18 minutes, until puffed and golden (mine could have used a few minutes longer – they lost their crunch after being filled). Remove from the baking sheet and cool completely on a rack.
Place the reserved 1/2 cup pâté à choux in a piping bag with a plain 1/4″ tip (I just used a paper cone) and pipe at least 15 (or the same number as the tear drops) necks in the shape of an “s” or “2″. Pipe a little bump of choux paste at one end for the head, and if you want to get really finicky, use a toothpick to draw out a tiny bit of the paste into a beak. Bake the necks for about 7 – 12 minutes, until golden brown (watch them closely – being thinner, they are prone to going from golden brown to burnt pretty quickly). Remove from the baking sheet and cool completely on a rack.
Assembling the Swans
Trim the pointy bit off the end of each tear drop cream puff. The pointed end of the tear drop is the tail of the swan; the rounded end is the breast of the swan. Use a serrated knife to slice each tear drop in half horizontally. Cut the top pieces in half vertically along the long axis to make the wings.
Spread the bottom of each body with about 1 tsp of the chilled ganache and top it with 3 blueberries.
Place the finished vanilla cream in a piping bag with a large star tip and pipe it over the ganache and blueberries.
Position a neck piece at the rounded end of the cream-covered body and pipe a little dollop of cream to secure it.
Place the wings on either side of the body, overlapping the wing tips slightly at the tail end of the swan.
Dust the swans lightly with icing sugar and place them on a plate.
Chill briefly before serving. These are best eaten soon after assembly, otherwise the choux pastry can lose its crunch.