The other day my mom asked me not to go to the movies until after Christmas. She’s worried about the North Koreans. Thanks for that, Kim Jong-un.
My sweet mom’s irrational fears tend toward the hilarious. The more she worries, the more the rest of the family laughs.
There was that time back in 2005, when a candy manufacturer recalled some small gummy candies because babies were choking on them. My brother, a fan of all gummy candies, got an urgent phone call. Just my mom calling to make sure he wasn’t suffocating on any candies. Mohan was in his thirties.
Last year, scaffolding fell on a New York City sidewalk and injured some pedestrians. I came back to my desk after a meeting at work to find a frantic message from my mother. First she needed to make sure that I wasn’t the injured party. And second she needed to alert me to the dangers of falling scaffolding, so that I could watch out going forward.
There are a million stories like those. She loves us. I get it. And really, I don’t mind. Sometimes her irrational fears even bring the family closer together. Remember Y2K? Mom thought that there was a chance that the world might erupt into chaos when the clock struck midnight on the first day of the year 2000.
My brother called me at college that December. He patiently explained that my mom wanted us home safe in the suburbs for New Year’s. She worried that a party would be far too dangerous. And at least we’d all be together if the world went to hell. I had recently turned 21. It would have been my first legal New Year’s champagne. But Mohan convinced me that respecting mom’s concerns was the right thing to do.
So we did. We went home. We made a nice dinner and watched the ball drop on TV as a family. Nothing happened, not even to computers. And we were together. It was actually cozy and lovely and would never have happened if not for our little nervous nelly.
I was just remembering that New Year’s Eve fondly. What are you doing this year? This week I made something that you could serve as a delicious, hand-held party dessert for New Year’s Eve. These cream puffs sparkle with a coat of crunchy caramel. Perfect for a low-key family gathering, or something bigger. Just don’t forget to turn off the burner after melting the sugar, and make sure they’re completely cool before serving, and chew carefully. My poor mom is probably already stressed.
Crème Brûlée Cream Puffs
Makes about 18 large puffs
I made an orange-scented mascarpone cream. It’s super rich and delicious. Vanilla cream folded with plain whipped cream would also be lovely and a slightly less rich. Trust your heart.
3 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons corn starch
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest (or one vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped)
1 1/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup mascarpone*
1 cup cold heavy cream
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup (3 3/8 ounces) all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup water
1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. To prepare the puffs, bring the butter, sugar, salt, and water to a simmer over medium heat in a medium saucepan, stirring with a wooden spoon to encourage the butter to melt. As soon as it comes to a boil, add the flour, stirring constantly, until the dough forms a ball and pulls away from the sides of the pan, about 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring the dough occasionally. (You don’t want the eggs to scramble in the next step.)
2. With a wooden spoon, add the eggs, one at a time, stirring vigorously between each addition. The dough will break apart and slide around in the pot before it comes back together. Drop the dough in 2 tablespoons scoops about 3 inches apart on the prepared sheets. With an offset spatula, shape the scoops into neat, rounded mounds and flatten any points. Bake until deep golden brown and puffed, rotating the sheets halfway through, 22 to 26 minutes. Pierce the side of each puff with a toothpick to allow steam to escape. Let cool completely on a rack.
3. To prepare the cream, whisk together the egg yolks, cornstarch, sugar, and orange zest (or vanilla bean seeds) in a medium saucepan. Slowly whisk in the milk until smooth. Heat the mixture over medium heat, whisking constantly, until it comes to a very low boil. Reduce the heat to low and cook, whisking, until very thick, another 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer the custard to a bowl and press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface. Refrigerate until cold.
4. Whisk the cold custard to loosen it – it will be very stiff. Whip the mascarpone and cream together in a large bowl until stiff peaks form. Fold the whipped cream into the custard. Transfer the cream to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch pastry tip. Pierce the bottom of each puff with the tip and fill each puff with cream.
5. Set a bowl of ice water on your work station, near the filled puffs. To prepare the topping, add the water to a medium saucepan. Pour the sugar into the center of the pot. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat and cook it, swirling the pan occasionally, until it is an even amber color, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat a little bit before the caramel is the perfect color as it will continue to cook for a few minutes after you remove it from the heat.
6. Carefully dip the tops and sides of the filled cream puffs into the caramel. Be very careful. The sugar is extremely hot. Take care to swirl the puffs and set them back on the sheets without getting any caramel on your fingers. If you do get any caramel on your hands, immediately plunge them in the bowl of ice water. That will prevent burns. Let the puffs stand at room temperature until the caramel is hard. The puffs are best the day they're made.
* If you’d like to omit the mascarpone, simply increase the heavy cream to 1 1/4 cups.