Though the arrival of our garden strawberries is still a few weeks away, it has proven difficult to resist the siren song of the plump, scarlet berries populating the market right now. Even our local farmers markets have been showcasing some early strawberries, a feat that seems almost miraculous, what with the rather unstable weather we’ve been experiencing lately. Or, more accurately, that we experience every year, though it has become very clear that, due to what I can only deem an effort of pure survival, I have apparently trained myself to forget every year. This is the only logical explanation for why I still live in a place where 70 degrees is considered a warm and balmy June day. But, let’s talk about something else
Specifically, let’s talk about strawberries, and how they seem to simply sing when matched with lemon. This is not the first time I have decided to nestle some strawberries inside a cloud of lemon cream, and it is clear that there is good reason for my path back to this companionable flavor pairing. The brightness of lemon brings out all the best notes of a sweet, dark berry, and the mellow smoothness of this particular lemon cream seems to make everything it touches transform into a soft, delicate dream. Though the lemon cream is certainly not lacking in richness, it manages to maintain a lightness that belies its hefty butter content.
It was that exact lightness that led me to this riff on strawberry shortcake that was a bit less dense than the usual (and perfectly delightful) offering of a buttery biscuit topped with slices of berries. When pastry is the topic at hand, you can’t get any lighter than a classic pâte à choux, and as soon as I envisioned a plate of airy cream puffs drizzled with tart lemon cream and piled high with ripe strawberries, there was no going back. Unless, of course, you count going back for seconds, which I most certainly did.
Strawberry Lemon Cream Puffs Recipe
Pâte à choux
Adapted from Joy of Cooking
½ cup water
½ cup milk
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
¼ teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Line a large baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper.
In a medium saucepan, combine water, milk, butter, and salt. Bring to a full boil over medium heat. Immediately add flour all at once and stir vigorously with a sturdy wooden spoon until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan. Reduce heat to low and continue to stir the mixture over the heat for about 1 minute. As the moisture in the mixture evaporates, a little bit of butter may begin to seep out, which is just fine.
Transfer the mixture to a bowl and allow to cool for 5 minutes. When the mixture has cooled a bit, beat in the eggs, one at a time, using a wooden spoon. Beat the dough vigorously in between each egg, making sure each egg is incorporated before adding another. The dough should end up looking quite smooth and shiny.
To form cream puffs, fill a pastry bag fitted with a plain, ½-inch tip with choux paste (alternately, you could fill a large Ziploc bag with choux paste, then clip off a corner of the bag with a petite, ½-inch cut). On the prepared baking sheet, pipe the choux paste into tight swirls about 2 ½ to 3 inches in diameter. I fit about 11 swirls on one large baking sheet, and had to bake two batches of cream puffs, with 5 swirls in the second batch.
Bake the puffs for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for an additional 20 to 25 minutes, until the puffs are golden brown and firm to the touch. Turn off the oven, turn each puff upside down, poke a small hole in the bottom of each puff (this will allow steam to escape and keep your puffs from becoming soggy), and allow the puffs to dry in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove the puffs from the oven, and allow to finish cooling on a wire rack.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, then repeat instructions to bake a second batch of cream puffs.
Makes 16 cream puffs.
Adapted from Tartine
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons (5 ounces) of freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 whole large eggs
1 large egg yolk
¾ cup (6 ounces) sugar
pinch of salt
½ cup (4 ounces or 1 stick) cool unsalted butter, cut into 1 tablespoon pieces
Bring about 2 inches of water to a simmer in a saucepan set over medium heat. In a non-reactive bowl that is able to rest securely in the rim of the saucepan without touching the water, combine lemon juice, whole eggs, egg yolk, sugar, and salt. Whisk the ingredients together. Do not allow the egg yolks and sugar sit together without being stirred constantly, as the sugar will react with the eggs and turn them granular. Place the bowl over the saucepan of simmering water and continue to whisk for around 10-12 minutes, until the mixture thickens considerably and reaches a temperature of 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove the bowl from above the water and allow the mixture to cool to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Stir from time to time to help the mixture cool and release its heat.
When the cream has reached 140 degrees, pour it into a blender, or leave it in the bowl if you will be using an immersion blender to mix the lemon cream. Add the butter to the lemon cream, 1 tablespoon at a time, blending the mixture continuously until each piece of butter is completely incorporated before you add the next one. The cream will be pale yellow and quite thick.
The lemon cream can be used immediately, or it can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator, tightly sealed, for up to 5 days. Makes about 2 cups of lemon cream.
3 pounds of strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 pint whipping cream
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Combine the whipping cream, sugar, and vanilla, and whip together until it forms soft peaks.
To assemble strawberry lemon cream puffs, slice off the top of a cream puff. On the bottom of a puff, drizzle on a bit of lemon cream. Pile strawberries on top of the cream, drizzle on a bit more cream, then top with a dollop of whipped cream. Place the top of the cream puff on the pile, and serve.
Makes 16 cream puffs.