Sunday, May 16, 2010

Coconut Cream Puffs with Chocolate Caramel Espresso Sauce

Although my wife is not too fond of most western desserts, she does have an affinity for cream puffs. This, frankly, makes little sense to me since she doesn't care for whipped cream, chocolate, or most breads. She does like plain white bread and thinks it's marvelous how slices of store bought sandwich bread can be pressed down into little balls about a twentieth of their original size. She was thrilled when we were in San Francisco and came across a branch of Beard Papa, a cream puff franchise that apparently started in Japan. Of course, when you think of cream puffs, you naturally think of Japan, right?

In any case, I was trying to think of something my wife would like for dessert and I thought, "cream puffs." The puffs themselves are extremely easy to make, and I thought I could tweak the fillings to please my wife. Instead of doing a traditional pastry cream, I decided to use coconut milk.There's another change I'll add to the recipe the next time I make it, but since this one was for a teachers' meeting, I decided to be conservative.

The puffs are a little different from traditional choux paste. They use milk instead of water, resulting in a softer puff more like the ones made by the Japanese franchise. Other than that, the process for making them is the same.

The pastry cream is simply a traditional pastry cream made with coconut milk rather than regular milk. It would make a marvelous filling for a banana cream pie (or a coconut cream pie for those who prefer -- I don't like dessicated coconut in anything).

The chocolate caramel espresso sauce is simply gilding the lily. It's a simple caramel sauce made with a little espresso and some dark chocolate. I'm not sure the cream puffs needed it, but it was there for those who wanted it. For a dessert that can be easily made beforehand and assembled at the last minute, this comes across as quite elegant. More importantly, it is delicious.

Coconut Pastry Cream

1 can (1 3/4 cups) of coconut milk, I prefer Chaokoh brand
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar, divided
4 TBS cornstarch
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

Whisk together 1/4 cup of the coconut milk, 1/4 cup of sugar, cornstarch, and egg yolks in a bowl. Set aside.

Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add with the pod to the remaining 1 1/2 cups coconut milk in a medium pan. Stir in the other 1/4 cup of sugar and bring to a simmer over medium heat.

Whisk the hot coconut milk mixture and add about a quarter to the egg mixture to temper, whisking constantly. Add the tempered mixture to the sauce pan, still whisking constantly, and cook over medium heat until the pastry cream simmers and thickens. Next, remove the pan from heat, remove the vanilla pod, and whisk until the cream is smooth.

Transfer the pastry cream to a container and press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface to prevent a “skin” from forming. Chill until cold and ready to use, at least four hours. The pastry cream can be kept for several days.

The puff recipe I found here at Epicurious.

Chocolate Espresso Caramel Sauce

3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
2 TBS strong espresso
1 ounce dark chocolate, melted
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 TBS unsalted butter

In a small saucepan, heat the sugar and water to a lively simmer over medium heat. It will take a while for the sugar to color; be patient. Once it starts coloring, watch carefully. Allow the sugar to become a walnut brown.

Add the espresso and melted chocolate to the caramelized sugar. The mixture will bubble up dramatically before settling down. Stir in whipping cream and whisk until smooth. Whisk in butter and allow to cool. Spoon over the filled cream puffs or on the side.

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