when Chez Panisse calls…


gluten-free cream puffs, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

The other day, the Chef and I were driving toward his restaurant, ready for another day at the office (as he would say). It was the day after Thanksgiving, the day of feasting and overeating, so you would think we would be sated on food talk. Oh no. Not us.

He had printed off that week’s menu from Chez Panisse, and he was reading it to me as I drove. As is true for most chefs, I’m sure, my Chef is obsessed with other people’s menus. He stops at the front window of any restaurant we pass, even the ones we know are mediocre, and studies the specials and lists of entrees. We look up our favorite restaurants online and see what they are serving. The Chef would never copy a dish directly, but this studying does inspire some fabulous ideas of his own. (It’s much like me reading novels and MFK Fisher and other people’s blogs.) It’s an essential part of what we do. We never work alone.

So there it was, the day after Thanksgiving, and he is reading me one inspired dish after dessert after meal. Neither one of us has ever been to Chez Panisse, but both of us have always wanted to go. (Oh, perhaps the honeymoon?) As soon as I came to know the world of good food, I knew of Alice Waters and her endeavors. Of course, as soon as I started reading David Lebovitz’s wonderful, snarky blog (and then met him!), I knew that I wanted to go where he used to be the pastry even more. The Chef? It is one of his biggest dreams, to eat within that home.

He read fish dishes and local vegetables and inspired choices, all of which sounded fantastic. But I don’t remember them, because I heard something that made my gut twinge open. Meyer lemon cream puffs.

“Meyer lemon cream puffs?” I said, as we slowed to a stop light.

“Yep,” he said, intending to go on.

I didn’t hear anything else after that. Inside my head, I just heard, Meyer lemon cream puffs. Meyer lemon cream puffs.

The Chef saw my face and laughed. He knows me well now. He knows when some idea has taken hold.

I love Meyer lemons. Last year, I invented a Meyer lemon sorbet, which I have made many times since. I made simple syrups with Meyer lemons, lemon meringue pie with Meyer lemons, and sprayed their juices over meats and salads. When they were gone, I missed them. But now, it’s Meyer lemon season again. I’m in heaven.

Now, I have never made cream puffs before. I have only eaten them on special occasions. They always seemed like confections that only master bakers could make, even before I could eat gluten.

But in a continuing series of explorations in yes since I was diagnosed with celiac, I knew that I could not go the rest of my life without making cream puffs. Paradoxically, because they would be gluten-free, I did not feel any compulsion for these to be any good. No one expects that much of gluten-free baked goods anyway, right?

Last night, the Chef looked over my shoulder as I stirred a påte a choux, or a warm pastry dough, to form into puff pastry [oops! that should read cream puffs. thanks, lee]. Just the phrase påte a choux would have intimidated me before my celiac diagnosis. But now, I just know it’s water, butter, a bit of sugar, and salt, plus gluten-free flours, heated in a pot. That’s it. He helped me to know when it was done, how to cook the flour a bit more. And when I had finished the pastry dough with the eggs, he helped me shape the pastry into little dollops and slip them on the silpat. And then we watched them rise in the oven, hot puffs rising golden and warm, like little pockets of hot air amidst the cold.

And with the meyer-lemon ricotta, slipped between the cooled pastries? There they were — Meyer lemon cream puffs. I’m sure they were not nearly as good as the ones they served at Chez Panisse. But you know what? They were good. I could eat them, and I made them. That’s a damned fine feeling.

GLUTEN-FREE CREAM PUFFS WITH MEYER LEMON RICOTTA FILLING, adapted from Rebecca Reilly’s Gluten-Free Baking

½ cup water
1/2 stick unsalted butter
2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
¼ cup white rice flour
1/8 cup sweet rice flour
1/8 cup tapioca flour
2 large eggs (or perhaps 3; see notes)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg yolk mixed with 2 tablespoons milk

Preheat the oven to 400°.

Spoon the water, butter, sugar, and salt into a medium-sized pot. Bring the mixture to a boil. As soon as the butter is melted, add the gluten-free flours. Stir and stir until the ingredients are incorporated together. A crust will immediately develop on the bottom of the pan. Don’t worry — this is what is supposed to happen. That crust is a sign you are on the right track. When the mixture is complete, and has become a ball of dough, keep stirring and cooking for a minute, so that you can cook the flours in the ball of dough. Set the pot aside.

Move the ball of dough to a stand mixer. (I’m sure this will work if you mix it by hand, but we have a KitchenAid.) With the mixer running, drop one egg into the pastry dough and let it run until the egg has become incorporated. Drop the next egg into the dough, and continue to mix until the second egg has incorporated. (If it still doesn’t look right, add a little of the third egg.) Add the vanilla and stir.

The dough will be soft, but not runny. Ideally, you would spoon the dough into a pastry bag and push out little cream puff shapes on the baking sheet. However, two spoons will also do. Take a spoonful in one spoon, then scoop under it with the other spoon, shaping and molding, back and forth between the spoons until you have formed a soft, rounded shape. Drop it carefully onto the baking sheet. (Ideally, you’d use a silpat here. If you don’t own one, be sure to butter that baking sheet.)

Mix the remaining egg and milk together, beating lightly. Carefully, brush this over the tops of the cream puff dough.

Put the baking sheet into the oven and bake the puffs for twenty to twenty-five minutes. You will know they are done when they have puffed up and out, and the tops will be golden brown. Also, you should be able to tap the bottom of one and hear a hollow sound. Pull them out of the oven and set them aside to cool.

Fill with your favorite filling. For the Meyer lemon filling, see the ancillary recipe below.

Makes about ten cream puffs.

MEYER LEMON RICOTTA

12 ounces fresh ricotta cheese
juice of three Meyer lemons
zest of three Meyer lemons
½ cup sugar

Combine all the ingredients together. When they have mixed well, put the ricotta mixture into a fine-mesh sieve and set it over a bowl. Let the ricotta sit in the refrigerator overnight. By the next morning, all the water will have drained from the ricotta, leaving a firm, lemony ricotta. Spoon this mixture into the cream puffs to make Meyer lemon cream puffs.

17 comments on “when Chez Panisse calls…

  1. Kelly

    OMG! Shauna this time you trumped me! ;) I just made creampuffs last weekend and had them in line to post about next week! Too crazy weird! ahahahah So funny.

  2. Travis

    they sell cream puffs everywhere in japan. they are strangely called ‘choux cream’, like shoe cream. Yes the puns are endless.

  3. lee

    “I stirred a påte a choux, or a warm pastry dough, to form into puff pastry.”

    These do sound amazing but I wanted to point out that puff pastry is very different from pate a choux! (I know you probably know this but I wouldn’t want anyone else to be confused!)

  4. Anonymous

    Oh wow! These may need to go on my need-to-make list. Pastries were the one thing I worried about never getting to eat again when I recieved my Celiac diagnosis. These look delicious and do-able.

  5. Suzanne

    Boy, Shauna, I hate to bake, and it’s never been my thing. Since being GF it’s an even worse situation. However, these seem so incredible that I absolutely must try to make them.

    As for Chez Panisse, I guess being old has some perks. I was blessed enough to dine there in the mid-70s — and often!

  6. Anonymous

    Ummm, YUM!

    Got me thinking, cream puff shells would taste great with canoli filling.

    May have to try these!! thanks for the inspration,

    SM

  7. Shauna

    Kelly,

    Oh dear! I didn’t mean to trump you. Then again, you posted that chicken noodle soup before I did. Great celiac minds think alike from across the country, eh?

    Travis,

    I love the idea of calling them choux cream. I’m going to have to call them that from now on!

    David,

    Why did you let that evil twin out? However, when he’s snarky, he does write really well, so you might want to keep him around.

    Lee,

    Thank you for catching that. As you can see, I put the correct term in brackets. It’s so easy to make mistakes with this, and I know that I’m not perfect. (Actually, the Chef caught that too, when I read it to him!)

    Loner,

    I do hope they work out for you. It’s such a feeling of accomplishment when you make something you never expected you could make.

    Shannon,

    Oh, they are certainly do-able. And like you, I never thought I would be making pastries. Now, the sky’s the limit!

    Suzanne,

    My dear, you lived my dream. Chez Panisse in the 70s? Sigh. As for the baking, you’re going to have to get over that obstacle. It’s a joy to make something that tastes as good as these cream puffs.

    SM,

    I’m sure these cream puffs would taste fantastic with canoli filling. In fact, my head is spinning with all the possibilities of fillings for these. Do try!

  8. Anonymous

    you are downright bouyant!

    you know, the meyer leomn cream puffs that you can eat are by definition better than the ones that will make you sick. since you can’t eat them! not to be tediously existentialist about it but, you know.

    Elodie

  9. Heather

    They sound delicious and do-able. Thank you, I loved cream puffs once — but please enlighten my Aussie ignorance and tell me how many grams in a stick of butter? Or ounces — we can convert.

  10. Rachel

    Hi! I just started reading your blog recently. I have tried several of your recipes and loved them. Thank you for the great ideas and for making it so fun to read about and try new gluten free food!

    I would love to try the cream puffs, but I’m not much of a baker. Maybe I missed something, but I have a question about the recipe…when do you use the 1 egg yolk mixed with 2 tablespoos of milk (listed as the last ingredient)?

  11. Shauna

    Anonymous,

    Oh yes, I agree. However, the imagined ideal of cream puffs often entices people to think that those will be better than the gluten-free ones. (Not to be all Platonic about it!)

    Heather,

    Oh goodness, I am terrible at all those conversions. There are eight tablespoons, or half a cup, in a stick of butter. Does that help?

    Rachel,

    Thank you, my dear. I left that part out, and so I’m going to put it in the piece right now. But basically, you use the egg and milk to do a wash on the cream puff dough before you bake it.

    Give it a try. Baking really isn’t as hard as it seems.

  12. Heather Shumway

    You mention canolis? Have you discovered a successful recipe for making canoli shells? I love your blog, it makes living gluten free much more enjoyable!

  13. Ellemay

    I love these with a lemon curd filling. Earliest memory of cream puffs is at my aunts house is Brisbane, Australia, biting to one filled with a custard so cold, my teeth went numb and there was pain. Sooo yummy though.

    Also excellent with any type of delicate custard cream and dipped into chocolate. Towers of them make the best birthday cakes.

    Oh and a stick of butter is 112–113 grams for those of us downunder

  14. silvermine

    Go the the Chez Panisse cafe for lunch. You don’t need to dress up or be fussy. (I mean, be clean and don’t have holes in your knees or anything!). But go!! It’s… amazing.

    Oh goodness. I haven’t been there in a few years. Must make excuse to drive to Berkeley without kids…

  15. Anonymous

    For all of you who say you aren’t a baker…Then cream puffs are the place to start! I can’t bake a loaf of bread to save my life but I used to make some of the best cream puffs in MN…Now I will learn to make the best GF ‘shoe’ cream! :D TRY!! nothing to lose everything to gain