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Fair favorite cream puffs are a breeze to make yourself Kazmier: Follow easy directions and hey presto! Cream puffs.

The Wisconsin State Fair concluded this past Sunday after almost two weeks of carnival rides, competitions and, more importantly, cream puffs. For those of you who wait all year long to enjoy one of these tasty pastries at the fairgrounds, or sadly may have missed your opportunity and went to a bakery instead, I have an idea for you; make your own at home. They are not as intimidating as they seem.

I went to my first Wisconsin State Fair with my cousins roughly 30 years ago. We looked at animal and craft exhibits, but I will never forget their excitement as they planned the best time to get their cream puffs. The line was long but moved quickly, and yes, it was worth the wait.

As it turns out, cream puffs have been made and sold by the Wisconsin Baker's Association since 1924 at a rate of more than 350,000 a year. They even have their navigational tab on the fair's website, and according to OnMilwaukee.com, keep 220 employees busy 24 hours a day, seven days a week, during the fair.

What is a cream puff anyway? The pastry part of the treat is choux pastry, or pte choux, and then, of course, there is lightly sweetened whipped cream and a light dusting of powdered sugar.

Choux pastry starts by stirring all-purpose flour into a mixture of boiling water and butter, so the starch granules swell and absorb the liquid providing structure to the dough. After the mixture cools slightly, using a mixer, eggs are added one at a time and do double duty by serving as an emulsifier and leavening agent. The dough, on the parchment-lined baking sheets, is baked in a 425-degree oven for 15 minutes, before reducing the oven to 350 degrees to finish.

The science geek in me wants to understand how, and why, choux pastry goes in the oven as a thick pasty dough, but comes out at least two or three times its original size, crisp on the outside and hollow on the inside.

As it turns out, steam forms as the pastry bakes, but the strong gluten structure formed by beating the dough stretches to hold the steam, forcing the mixture to expand, or puff, resulting in a soft hollow center.

After baking, it is essential to make a small slit in the top of each puff to allow

excess steam to escape, to ensure the puffs do not become soggy.

As for the filling, use regular sweetened whipped cream, but only if they will be eaten immediately, as whipped cream is prone to "weeping" or separating, resulting in a soggy mess. To make mine a bit ahead of time, I added a mixture of powdered gelatin and a little water, heated ever so slightly until dissolved, to my whipped cream. The result looked, tasted and felt like traditional whipped cream, but didn't separate even after several days in my refrigerator.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention, choux pastry can also be used for other desserts as well.

Profiteroles are similar to cream puffs, but instead of being filled with whipped cream, profiteroles are filled with ice cream and then topped most often with chocolate syrup. I once made mini puffs and then added small scoops of three different types of ice cream and served all three on one plate topped with warm hot fudge. Very fancy.

It might surprise you to learn by shaping unbaked choux dough into thin 5-inch logs you have the shell of an clair. Fill baked pastry with homemade custard, or extra thick packaged pudding mix, and top with chocolate ganache and these treats will look like you bought them in a bakery.

I will never forget watching a Martha Stewart holiday special where she made one of the most impressive desserts I have ever seen; the croquembouche. This masterpiece consists of small choux pastry balls, often filled with custard, dipped in caramel as a sort of glue, before being piled high into a cone shape. Commonly used as a centerpiece dessert, Martha Stewart completed hers by making a garland of sugar threads and wrapping it around the cone.

If you are planning a luncheon or baby shower, consider serving chicken salad in swans made of choux pastry. I know, it sounds crazy, but it's not difficult; prepare puffs as you would for cream puffs, but save a little extra dough and pipe it in the shape of a long "S" -- this will be the swan's neck. When your puffs baked and cooled, slice them in half, reserving the tops. Fill the bottoms with chicken salad, or whatever else you'd like, securing the necks in the filling. Now, cut the reserved tops in half, these will serve as the swan's wings, so place them along the outside of the cavity, but with cut sides facing inward. The scale is important, so keep this in mind when making the necks, which will bake much faster than the puffs.

Have I tempted you yet? I hope so. The ingredients are simple, and the results are amazing, so whether you fill your choux pastry with whipped cream, ice cream, custard, or maybe even chicken salad, be sure you try to make this pastry. Trust me, your family and friends will be impressed, and if you are one of those people who can't wait for your next cream puff from the Wisconsin State Fair, this might satisfy your craving without having to cross the state line.

* Penny Kazmier, a wife and mother of four from South Barrington, won the 2011 Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge.
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Publication:Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Date:Aug 15, 2018
Words:940
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