It all starts with an email from a DCF reader named Claudette Dy. Having just bought my book, she expresses surprise at the essay where I describe why cream puffs are one of the desserts I don’t like. “I know what you mean because most of the ones in the market are pretty awful,” goes her email. “I’d like to send you some of the ones I do. I think they’re a whole lot better than the ones sold commercially.”
After some back and forth emails that illustrate Claudette’s quirky sense of humor – “I figure the cream puffs you’ve tasted are the cardboard-tasting things that are pretending to be choux with glue” – I’m finally looking at the cream puffs that might change my mind. I admire women with spunk.
I won’t get into why I dislike cream puffs since I’ve mentioned it before plus it’s in my book. In my family, I’m the odd man out since the two most important men in my life – my dad and my Bin – are absolutely mad for this particular pastry. Claudette’s cream puffs (gosh, that’s got a nice ring to it) are straightforward in appearance. Not much you can change about their look unless you’re the folks at Beard Papa.
Choux is cabbage in French and the French name for cream puff (pastry) is pâte à choux (pronounced pat a shoo). The sweet’s shape derives from the transformation that happens when the dough is piped and then baked: the subsequent heat makes the pastry puff, revealing a middle to fill with one’s fancies. Claudette’s cream puffs do look like little cabbages, the detail of her piping tip leaving imprinted trails on the baked dough.
On the rare occasions that I encounter a cream puff, I have this obscene urge to rip apart the two halves to get a glimpse of the middle. My Bin tells me it’s rude, says that cream puffs are meant to be eaten like a burger: hold with both hands and bite down. So I do. My teeth crash through the chocolate coating, sink into the choux pastry, and then I stop chewing.
The custard cosseted in between the shells practically sings of the cream it’s made with, velvet lightness caressing the tongue balanced by a delicate dance of sweetness and fragrance. Sugar is a whisper while specks of vanilla sparkle, blackness on tufts of white. Two types: the one with the smooth top is vanilla, the other with chocolate sprinkles carries a cache of coffee cream. My cream puff connoisseur, my Bin, marvels at these confections. There is but one complaint however: the chocolate glaze atop is too hard, it’s a roadblock to the wonders waiting within.
Classically trained in French pastry, Claudette offers a selection of other things aside from cream puffs at her family’s restaurant in Malate called EAT. True to what seems to be her gregarious nature – “I basically wing it and bake what I feel like doing” – current temptations include the ChocNut Queso de Bola Cheesecake (from my book), and cupcakes both regular (i.e. red velvet, etc) and drunken (with alcohol).
In our last email exchange, I tell Claudette how I feel about her cream puffs and thank her for her attempt. “Too bad about my not changing your mind,” she replies good-naturedly, “but I figured I had nothing to lose. I totally share your views on buko salad, though (yet another dessert I don’t like). My mom loves it so we have it every Christmas.”
Cream Puffs by Claudette Dy
Available at EAT Café
Mezzanine Level of V Hotel
1766 M. Adriatico St.
(02) 328 5553 local 104.