Disclaimer: the vanilla that I use in the recipe below was sent to me by Heilala vanilla in exchange for trying it out and writing about it. The thoughts, opinions, and awesome sugary goodness photos below are my own.
2016 cream puffs for New Year’s Eve! You can make them!
Believe me, if I can make them, you can make them. Have you noticed how all of my recipe titles start with the word “easy”? That is not a coincidence. That is because I run screaming from hard recipes that require things like double boiling or using any kind of thermometer.
This recipe is thermometer-free, btw.
This is one I picked up a while ago, actually, because I wanted to make these little beauties after I saw them being served at Walt Disney World:
Cream puff swans are one of those weird recipes that look like you’re a master pastry chef, but they’re actually so easy that Eva can help me make them. To be fair, I cheat a little with mine because I figured out a way to cut corners and make the swans even easier than their already-easy original recipe, so if you wanted to get super fancy and professional you should find a “real” recipe on Pinterest. But if you want them to be delicious and not have anyone notice that you cheated while also saving yourself a little effort, my recipe will make swans and New Year’s Eve numbers and people’s names for their birthdays and all that.
1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
1 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 cup flour
4 large eggs
Preheat the oven to 425º. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Heat butter, water, salt and sugar until boiling. Take the pot off the heat, add the flour and stir quickly until all the flour is incorporated. Put the pot back on medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, for another minute. It will look weird but it will start to get kind of fluffy while you heat it so just keep stirring.
Put the hot dough in your mixer and beat at medium speed for a minute until the dough is cooler. Add the eggs and beat for two more minutes. Put the dough in a pastry bag with a standard 1/2 round tip. (You can also put the dough in a gallon-size Ziploc and snip off a corner to use that as a pastry bag, but the puffs won’t turn out quite so pretty.)
First, make your swan bodies by making two leaf-shapes on the parchment paper and filling them in with dough. The leaf shapes are going to be the bottom of the swan and the wings, so make them as big as you want the swans (I usually do about three inches by four inches) and make sure the shape is totally filled with dough. For every two leaf-shapes, make a little S shaped swan head and try to pull the dough away quickly at the end to make a little beak. I’d recommend you make an extra swan head or two since these tend to burn a bit, but maybe your oven is nicer than mine.
If you’re not making swans or you don’t want to only make swans, pipe out your shapes, letters, numbers, or little ball-shaped blobs to make standard puffs. I usually make mine by doing two pieces of piped dough right next to each other and then another two right on top, if that makes sense, so that the shape/letter/number has a clear line down the center to define it and it’s easier to cut in half later. Seriously, though, it’s pretty hard to mess this up. Just know that the smaller they are, the faster they’ll cook.
Bake 15 minutes at 425º then reduce the heat to 375º and bake until puffed up and golden brown on top. Depending on the size of your shapes, this could be anywhere from 10-20 minutes and you definitely don’t want to burn them but opening the oven too much will make them flatter so use your judgement. Let cool on the baking sheet completely before filling so your whipped cream filling doesn’t melt all over the place!
Whipped cream filling:
Using your electric mixer with the whisk attachment, whip a cup of whipping cream and a cup of powdered sugar together until stiff peaks form. While mixing, add a teaspoon of vanilla for flavor. I used Heilala vanilla paste for this one, which is the same as scraping a vanilla pod but much easier, cheaper, and lasts longer. The result was delicious and I think the fact that you can see the little bits of vanilla bean in the cream makes it even yummier.
Once your shaped puffs are cool, carefully slice them in half using a serrated knife and fill them with your whipped cream filling. You can pull the pastry bag out and pipe your filling in so it looks all neat and pretty, but I’ve found the dolloping-with-a-spoon method to be just fine because I like a whole lot of whipped cream in my cream puffs.
To make the swan, you’re going to put a whole lot of filling on top of one of the leaf-shapes and then cut the other leaf-shape in half and use that for the wings, sticking the head out front before sprinkling the whole thing with powdered sugar. The cheating part about this is that traditionally the swan is just one big puffy puff that gets sliced in half and filled with cream, instead of a sort of puff sandwich like the one you see here, but personally I really like the puff dough and I think the little squiggles from making the leaf shape look nice. Plus, it makes the swan heartier and easier to move when you’re plating it on top of the chocolate ganache (see my secret “recipe” for ganache below).
Like I mentioned, shapes just get cut in half and filled. Easy peasy.
If you’d like, you can also top them with chocolate ganache. I’m not leaving a recipe here because I’m too lazy to make my own ganache these days, so I’m going to let you in on my little secret…
Store bought frosting. Microwave it for 20 seconds at a time until it’s all liquidy and then use a pastry brush to brush it on top of your cream puffs. Top with a sprinkle of powdered sugar if you want. Easy and delicious.
Your call on using chocolate, though. Kyle prefers chocolate-covered cream puffs while I like just a sprinkle of powdered sugar, so we compromise.
Personally, I really like the simple combination of sugar, butter, and vanilla. It’s everything good about baking.
And there you have it! A New Year’s Eve dessert that anyone can make. Fair warning – these are really filling so don’t make a hundred or anything. The four of us couldn’t even finish this tray (though we tried…good times…).
Oh, second fair warning: if you make swans for your kids, they might not eat them. This is particularly true if you’re trying out a competing desert. I thought I’d whip up a box mix of chocolate cupcakes to use the rest of the melted store-bought frosting (dipping the tops makes them shiny and pretty) and then I used some white frosting to practice writing the year on top in case we wanted to do that for our New Year’s Eve party.
It turns out that I suck at writing with icing (the three above were the only legible results out of twenty-four), so the cupcakes will not be making a repeat performance, but they did manage to knock the swans out of the water as far as the kids were concerned. C’est la vie! More swans for Mama…