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Cream Puffs

Bigne

Mary Ann Esposito

Bigne are cream puffs and go by other names as well including zeppole and sfinge. They are popular at holiday time and for the feast of St. Joseph on March 19. They require simple ingredients, flour, eggs, butter, water, salt and flavoring. The trick is to get DRY cream puffs; the answer to this is to use more egg whites, which have drying properties in place of whole eggs, which can leave the interior of cream puffs “wet.” My friend and food scientist Shirley Corriher swears by using bread flour which has greater gluten strength than all purpose.

Makes 8 large or 16 small

Ingredients

FOR THE PUFFS
1 cup water
1/2 cup sweet butter cut into bits
1 tablespoon superfine sugar
Pinch salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup bread flour
2  to 3 large eggs
2 large egg whites

FOR THE FILLING
3 cups milk
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons cornstarch or potato starch
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup whipping cream, whipped

CHOCOLATE SAUCE
5 ounces good quality semisweet or milk chocolate, cut into bits
1 cup heavy cream

Directions

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

FOR THE PUFFS
Butter and flour two baking sheets and set aside. Or line the sheets with parchment paper.

Pour the water into a 1 quart saucepan; add the butter, sugar and salt and bring to a rolling boil. Add the vanilla.  Remove  the pan from the heat and stir in the flour all at once and mix until it forms a ball.

Return the pot to the stove and over medium heat, “dry’ the paste by stirring it in one direction to remove as much water from the paste as possible; this will allow the eggs to be absorbed better and produce a light puff. When the paste is really dry looking, remove it from the heat. Allow it to cool for a few minutes then transfer the paste to a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Beat the paste for a few minutes until it is warm, not hot, otherwise it may cook the eggs. Through the feed tube add 1 egg and process the mixture until it is well blended. Add the second egg and process again. Add 1 egg white and process, then the second egg white. Do not add the third egg if the mixture does not hold up in a mass when scooped with a spoon. You may not need the third egg depending on the size eggs you started with.

To do this process by hand, use a wooden spoon to add the eggs and whites individually as explained above.
 
The paste should look shiny and should be smooth and thick and be able to fall from the spoon in a heavy mass.

Spoon the paste into a pastry bag with or without a plain tip. Do not fill the bag too full or the paste will ooze out the top; only fill the bag 3/4 full. Twist the bag and pipe out 1 1/2 inch rounds onto the baking sheets. For miniature puffs, pipe 1/4 inch rounds, spacing them apart. Smooth the tops of each puff by dipping your finger in water and rounding the tops.

Two spoons can be used instead of a pastry bag to make the puffs.

Bake them on the middle rack for 12 to 15 minutes or until they are puffed and beginning to brown. Lower the heat to 300°F and continue baking for 20-30 minutes or until the puffs are golden brown and dry. Do not remove them until they are browned and dry otherwise they will collapse. I leave the puffs in the oven after shutting it off with the door ajar.

Make a small slit in each puff to allow steam to escape.

Cool on cooling racks to allow for good air circulation. Puffs can be wrapped individually and frozen for up to 1 month.

FOR THE FILLING
Heat the milk to just under the boil in a 2 quart saucepan.

Combine the sugar, flour, cornstarch, and salt in a bowl and stir into the  milk. Stir in the eggs and whisk until the mixture thickens. Remove from the heat and stir in the almond extract and butter. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, cover and chill.

When ready to serve, beat the cream in a separate bowl and fold into the pastry cream until smooth.

Fit a pastry bag with a plain tip and fill the bag  3/4 full with the pastry cream. Puncture the side of each cream puff with the pastry tip and fill.

Place the cream puffs on a footed serving dish, sprinkle with confectioner's sugar and serve immediately.

Variations:
Split the cream puffs horizontally with a serrated knife, fill them with softened ice cream; place them on a baking dish and freeze until the ice cream is firm. Serve with strawberry sauce or chocolate sauce.

FOR THE CHOCOLATE SAUCE
Fill a saucepan half full with water and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat.

Place the chocolate in a heat proof bowl and sit the bowl in the pan of water. Do not allow any water to get on the chocolate or it will seize up and turn grainy. Stir occasionally until the chocolate is melted and smooth.

Remove the bowl from the pan. Drain off the water from the pan, return the pan to the stovetop and pour in the heavy cream. Stir in the chocolate. Stir the mixture over medium heat until the sauce is well blended.  Serve warm drizzled over the ice cream filled cream puffs.

This recipe is featured on show 2413 - Bigne!

item recipe is featured in Episode 2413 of Season 24.

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