Dolce Italiano | W.W. Norton & Company, 2007 | Makes 16 to 18 sfinci|
At Babbo, we like to celebrate the Feast of San Giuseppe, or Saint Joseph’s Day, which falls on March 19. Mario Batali, chef and owner of Babbo, invites his friends to visit the restaurant and have a sip of his homemade nocino, a digestive liqueur made from green walnuts, accompanied by one of my cream-filled sfinci. To complement the nocino, I make my pastry cream with aromatic toasted walnuts.
Saint Joseph was the father of Jesus Christ, and he is the patron saint of both families and pastry cooks (one of several patron saints of my profession), so sweets abound on his feast day. If you want the puffs to remain as crisp as possible, fill them as soon as they have cooled and serve them right away. You may also fill them and keep them refrigerated until serving; the puffs will soften from the moisture in the cream and take on a comforting tenderness.—Gina DePalma
Active time: 1 hour, 15 minutes | Total time: 3 hours, 45 minutes .
Saint Joseph’s Day Cream Puffs Recipe
- 2 1/4 cups whole milk
- 1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1/2 vanilla bean
- 1/2 cup walnut pieces, toasted, cooled, and finely chopped
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1 large egg
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2 teaspoons nocino or 1 tablespoon dark rum
- 1/2 cup water
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 4 large eggs, cold (taken straight from the refrigerator)
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
1. Place the milk and 1/4 cup sugar in a medium saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the 1/2 vanilla bean with the blunt side of a small knife and add them to the pan along with the bean. Add the walnuts and place the pan over low heat. Heat the milk to a boil, whisking occasionally, then remove the pan from the heat and allow the walnuts to infuse the milk for about 20 minutes.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks, egg, and the remaining 3 tablespoons sugar together. Add the salt and flour and whisk until smooth.
3. Return the saucepan to low heat and bring the walnut milk just to the scalding point. Slowly whisk some of the hot walnut milk into the yolk mixture, then return the mixture to the pan, whisking to combine the tempered yolks with the rest of the walnut milk. Continue to whisk constantly over low heat until the pastry cream becomes thick and mounds slightly, holding its shape for a moment or two, 1 to 2 minutes.
4. Remove from the heat and immediately whisk in the butter and nocino or rum. Strain the pastry cream through a chinois or fine-meshed sieve to remove any lumps of cooked egg. Place it in a bowl, cover by pressing a piece of plastic wrap onto the surface, and chill for at least 2 hours. You can make the pastry cream the night before, if you wish, storing it in an airtight container with plastic wrap pressed on the surface.
5. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C) and position a rack in the center. Lightly grease a large baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray or butter or line it with parchment paper.
6. Place the water, butter, salt, and 1 tablespoon of the sugar in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a full boil over medium heat, then remove the pan from the heat and dump in the flour all at once. Stir the mixture quickly with a heatproof spatula to form a thick paste-like dough. Return the saucepan to medium heat and cook the dough for 2 minutes, constantly spreading it and regathering it over the surface of the pan.
7. Transfer the dough to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.
8. Beat on medium speed to release some of the heat. When the steam dissipates, beat the cold eggs into the dough, one at a time; do not add another egg until the previous one has been completely beaten into the dough. When the last egg has been added, add the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar and the vanilla extract and baking powder.
9. Continue beating on medium speed until the dough becomes glossy and thick, about 1 1/2 minutes. Scrape the dough into a piping bag fitted with a large round tip. Pipe 1 1/2-inch mounded circles onto the lined baking sheet, spacing them 1 inch apart. Or spoon the dough onto the baking sheet with a soup spoon to make rounded 1 1/2-inch mounds.
10. Bake the sfinci until nicely golden brown, puffed, and crispy, 17 to 20 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet halfway through the cooking time to ensure even browning.
11. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and quickly prick each puff on the side to release the steam and prevent it from becoming soggy. Allow the puffs to cool completely on the baking sheet.
12. Whip the heavy cream on high speed until stiff peaks form. Beat the walnut pastry cream by hand or with an electric mixer until smooth and shiny, about 30 seconds. Gently fold the whipped cream into the pastry cream.
13. Using a sharp knife, cut each cream puff in half horizontally and carefully remove the tops. Fill each puff with a generous amount of pastry cream and replace the tops. Sift confectioners’ sugar over the sfinci before serving.
Saint Joseph’s day cream puffs recipe © 2007 by Gina DePalma. Photo © 2007 Gentl & Hyers. All rights reserved.