Basic Cream Puffs and Profiteroles (can be frozen)

1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup water
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 large eggs, at room temperature

Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.

Bring the milk, water, butter and salt to the boil in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan. When the mixture is boiling rapidly, add the flour all at once, reduce the heat to medium and, without a second’s hesitation, start stirring the mixture like mad with a wooden spoon. The dough will come together very quickly and a slight crust will form on the bottom of the pan, but you have to keep stirring vigorously another 2 to 3 minutes to dry the dough. At the end of this time, the dough will be very smooth.

Turn the dough into the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or, if you’ve still got some elbow grease left, you can continue by hand. One by one, add the eggs to the dough, beating until each egg is thoroughly incorporated. Don’t be discouraged if, as soon as you add the first egg, your dough separates. Keep working and by the time you add the third egg it will start coming together again. When all the eggs are incorporated, the dough will be thick and shiny and, when you lift some of it up it will fall back into the bowl in a ribbon. The dough will still be warm–it’s supposed to be –and now is the time to use it.

Using about 1 tablespoon of dough for each puff, drop the dough from the spoon onto the lined baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches of space between each mound of dough.

Slide the baking sheets into the oven, bake for 15 minutes, then rotate the sheets from top to bottom and front to back. Continue baking until the puffs are golden and firm, another 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer the cream puffs to a cooling rack.

Makes about 24 large or 50 small puffs.

from Dorie Greenspan, who comments:

Because the basic dough for cream puffs is sugarless, you can fill it with just about anything. On the sweet side, pastry cream is classic, whipped cream is easy and good, and ice cream turns the puffs into profiteroles. On the savory side, the sky’s the limit. Think soft herb-flecked goat cheese, tuna, crab or egg salad, or, best of all starting Friday, turkey mixed with chunky cranberry sauce, turkey salad, turkey hash or even turkey stuffing with gravy. Thanksgiving’s leftovers never looked so classy.

No matter what you’re going to fill the puffs with, it’s best to allow the puffs to cool to room temperature before cutting them. Then use a small sharp knife to nick the midpoints of the puffs and then slice the puffs in half with a gentle sawing motion. Alternatively, you can cut the top third off the puff. Spoon the filling into the bottom of the puff and top with the cap.

If you’re filling the puffs with something that should be served hot, either heat the filling before you put it into the puffs (my first choice), or fill the puffs and heat them in a 350 degree oven.

For Profiteroles, fill the puffs with ice cream and drizzle them with chocolate sauce. Profiteroles are best when the puffs are at room temperature, the ice cream is cold and the chocolate sauce is hot, however, if you want to get a jump on preparing them, you can fill the puffs, freeze them and pull them out of the freezer a few minutes before you’re ready to serve.

Spooned-out, unbaked cream puff dough can be frozen and baked just when you need it, so having fresh puffs at the ready is a cinch. You can spoon out the dough and either bake it immediately or freeze it. To freeze, spoon the dough in mounds onto parchment-lined baking sheets and slide the sheets into the freezer. When the dough is completely frozen, remove the balls from the baking sheets and wrap them airtight. They can be kept in the freezer for up to 2 months and don’t need to be defrosted before baking.