A classic recipe of One of the most famous Italian pastry.
Adapted to cookbook Florentine (Hardie Grant Books)
Makes 12 cream puffs
For the pastry cream:
- 4 egg yolks
- 2/3 cup (120 grams) granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons (1 ounce or 30 grams) cornstarch
- 2 cups (500 milliliters) milk, warmed
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or half a vanilla pod, seeds scraped)
For the bignè:
- 1 cup (250 milliliters) water
- 1/3 cup (75 grams or 5 tablespoons) butter
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 cup (125 grams) flour
- 4 eggs
- vegetable oil, for frying
- confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
For the pastry cream:
Whisk the yolks and sugar together until pale and creamy.
Stir in the cornstarch.
Transfer to a saucepan and place over low heat.
Add the milk, little by little, stirring between each addition.
Add the vanilla.
Stir continuously with a whisk or wooden spoon until smooth and thick, about 10 minutes.
Look for a consistency like mayonnaise (it will firm up further when chilled). Do not let it boil.
Remove from the heat.
Cool the cream quickly by transferring to a mixing bowl (or something shallow like a baking dish) set over an ice water bath.
Cover with plastic wrap, making sure the plastic is on the surface of the pastry so it doesn’t develop a skin.
Once the cream is a bit cooler, chill in the refrigerator to cool completely before using.
For the bignè:
Combine water, butter, and sugar in a saucepan and bring to the boil.
Turn the heat down to medium-low and add the flour, stirring continuously until you see the mixture become very smooth and come away from the sides and bottom of the pan.
It should look like a smooth ball of dough. Remove from the heat.
Stir the eggs directly into the saucepan (or you can transfer this mixture to a stand mixer, then add the eggs) and whisk by hand or with electric beaters for several minutes, or until the mixture becomes smooth and sticky (you should see it go from looking lumpy like scrambled eggs to becoming very smooth, thick, and quite sticky). Let rest, covered, for 30 minutes.
When you are ready to cook the bignè, set a medium saucepan filled with enough vegetable oil so that they the bignè can float over low heat.
Test the temperature of the oil by dropping in a small bit of batter: It should should sizzle lightly around the edges with many tiny bubbles.
Scoop a heaped tablespoon of the batter, then use another tablespoon to help scrape the mixture into a ball or a blob and drop it carefully into hot oil.
Cook a few at a time, but not too many at once because these will puff up to double their size, at least!
Cook the bignè slowly over low heat, turning them occasionally, for about 10 minutes, or until they are golden and very puffed, turning the heat up every so slightly towards the end.
During frying they should split partially and begin growing further—this gives them their characteristic “bumpy” look. If they brown too quickly too early, the oil is too hot and you need to turn the heat down.
When done, leave to drain on kitchen paper and continue frying the rest of the batter. Let the bignè cool completely.
Make a small incision at the bottom of the bigne.
With a piping bag, pipe the chilled pastry cream into each bignè until full.
Dust with confectioners’ sugar before serving.
Naturally, these are best when made on the day, but if time is working against you, you can successfully make these bignè the night before and fill them the next day for serving.
The pastry cream keeps well for several days in the refrigerator.
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