Heavyweight among desserts is easy winner

January 03, 2001|By Bev Bennett | Bev Bennett,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

I don't know how cream puffs became associated with lightweight, as in "She's such a cream puff." This mixture of egg, flour and butter may look like a cloud, but it has a foundation of steel. How else could a cream puff hold ice cream, custards, sauces and more?

What's more, it's a mystery that some cooks think a cream puff is complicated and takes a lot of effort. Not so. If you can beat a cake batter, you can make a cream puff. You'll soon become so proficient that you'll look for exotic cream-puff variations.

That's easy. Start with the basic recipe and add flavorings just as you would if making a biscuit or muffin.

Toss in a handful of grated Parmesan cheese and a dash of hot sauce when you add the egg, and enjoy a delicious savory puff. Sprinkle cream-puff batter with curry powder, bake and use as a container for chicken salad.

And if you want to put your cream-puff efforts toward a luscious sweet, add cocoa powder and sugar to the batter. Chocolate Cream Puffs offer so many possibilities that it's hard to know where to start. Fill with pudding, fruit, ice cream, whipped cream, hot fudge sauce or a combination.

The following confection is packed with ice cream, banana slices and hot fudge sauce. It's no mere cream puff of a dessert.

Chocolate Cream Puffs

Makes 2 servings

1/4 cup water

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 teaspoons sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup flour

2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1 egg

1 cup good-quality vanilla ice cream

1 banana, sliced, or 1 cup commercially prepared cherries soaked in rum or cherry liqueur

Rich Chocolate Sauce (recipe follows) or 3/4 cup commercially prepared chocolate sauce

In medium pan, combine water, butter, sugar and salt. Bring to boil. Remove from heat. Quickly stir in flour and cocoa powder to form a paste. If necessary, return to low heat and beat constantly until dough forms a ball. Remove from heat and cool to lukewarm.

Spoon dough into bowl of electric mixer. Start beating at low speed. Add egg. (Dough will crumble, then become smooth and elastic.) Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Drop heaping tablespoons cream-puff dough 2 inches apart to form 2 large puffs. Bake at 400 degrees 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue baking 18 minutes longer or until puffs are firm and slightly browned. Remove from oven. Cool on wire rack.

To assemble, split puffs horizontally in half. Remove any raw centers. Place 1/2 cup vanilla ice cream in bottom of each puff. Add banana slices or few cherries and juice. Close with top of puff. Drizzle chocolate sauce over each puff.

Rich Chocolate Sauce

Makes about 3/4 cup

3 ounces good-quality bittersweet chocolate

1/4 cup light corn syrup

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

dash salt

2 tablespoons whipping cream or half-and-half

In small, heavy-bottomed pan, combine chocolate and corn syrup. Cook over lowest heat 5 minutes or until melted. Turn off heat. Stir in butter. When melted, add salt and cream.

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