Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

This is a little seasonal twist on the traditional pastries. The filling is eggnog-flavoured pastry cream, lightened with a bit of whipped cream. If you wish, you can dip the tops into caramel or chocolate glaze, but even plain and unadorned the cream puffs taste great. They are easy enough to be put together on a short notice if needed, but also can be made in advance (all the components) and only assembled the day you plan to serve them.

Makes about 3 dozen

For the pâte à choux:

  • ½ cup whole milk
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 stick (4 ounces/ 115g) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
  • ¼ teaspoon sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 5 large eggs, at room temperature

For the eggnog pastry cream filling:

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • ½ vanilla bean, cut lengthwise
  • 4 tbsp cornstarch, sifted
  • ½ cup + 2 tbsp granulated sugar
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 4 tbsp (2 oz/ 55g) unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1-tablespoon portions
  • 1 ½ tbsp dark rum
  • ¼ tsp pure rum extract (optional)
  • ½ cup whipping cream, chilled well

Make the pâte à choux, form and bake the cream puffs:

Please, follow these detailed instructions to make the pâte à choux, only instead of éclairs pipe the round mounds about 1 ½ inch in diameter.

The cream puff shells can be baked 3 days in advance and kept in the fridge. To recrisp them, place the shells on a cooling rack set over the baking sheet and put into a preheated oven (400F) for a few minutes. Cool completely on the rack before filling.

Make the eggnog pastry cream:

The pastry cream can be done up to 2 days in advance and kept refrigerated, but do not add the whipped cream until ready to fill the puffs.

In a small saucepan, bring the milk and vanilla bean (scrape the seeds into the milk) to the boil over the medium heat. Off the heat, cover and let steep for an hour.

Prepare an ice bath.

Return the vanilla-infused milk to the medium heat. Reheat the milk once again to the boiling point. In the meantime, combine the sugar, cornstarch, salt, nutmeg, and the egg yolks in a medium bowl and whisk together.
Once the milk has reached the boil, temper the eggs by whisking a couple spoonfuls of the hot milk into the egg mixture. Continue whisking and slowly pour the rest of the milk into the tempered egg mixture.

Pour the egg-milk mixture back into the saucepan and place the pan over the medium heat. Whisk vigorously and continuously until the mixture returns to a boil. Keep whisking energetically for 1 to 2 more minutes (still over medium heat). The pastry cream should be thick and the cornstarch taste should be all gone. Strain the pastry cream into a small bowl set into the ice-water bath to stop the cooking process.

Continue stirring the mixture at this point so it remains smooth. Once the cream has reached the temperature of 140F remove it from the ice-water bath and stir in the butter, one tablespoon at a time. Stir in the rum and rum extract, if using. Return to the ice-water bath to cool completely, stirring often. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly over the surface of the cream and refrigerate up to 2 days.

When you are ready to fill the shells, pour the whipping cream into a small chilled bowl and whip with the chilled beaters until medium-firm peaks form. With a silicone spatula, gently fold about ¼ of the whipped cream into the cold pastry cream, and then fold in the remaining whipped cream.

Transfer the pastry cream into a piping bag fitted with Bismarck tip. Insert the tip into the hole made earlier during the baking and squeeze the bag. You should feel when the puff shell is full – it will get heavy and expand. Repeat with the rest of the puffs.

Refrigerate until ready to serve, but do serve the same day you filled them.