Custard Puffs – an obsession?

Date: 23 April 2013
Weather: Blue skies and a generally sunny day

Custard Puffs – an obsession?

I have been a huge fan of puffs with creamy decadent custard filling since I was tiny. I especially loved the ones at Katong Bakery & Confectionery in Singapore, an iconic two-storey shophouse in a magnificent red facade that stood its place along East Coast Road once upon a time. To be exact, it occupied that spot for a good 78 years since 1925 – that’s way before my mom and dad were born, amazing stuff. I remember making very frequent trips to that bakery just for their custard puffs. They were traditional, fuss-free puffs loaded with sweet, eggy custard which had the perfect consistency. Sadly, I will never be able to taste these lovely puffs again as the bakery closed down in 2003.

Photo adapted from http://singapore-nov05.fotopages.com/?entry=636359

From what I read, the building was deemed unsafe (which is understandable since it has been erected there for a pretty long time) and was in need of repair and the post-renovation rent was a hefty S$15k, up from just S$2k a month. Obviously, the humble bakery was not going to be able to sell enough puffs and pastries to afford such a crazy rent. I remember the day when I happily made my way to the bakery, hoping to stuff my face with some comforting custard puffs (especially since I had been away from Singapore for studies and hadn’t had the chance to eat these lovelies for a while) when I saw that the building had been fenced off. My heart literally sank (and I’m not being dramatic here). You have no idea how much I had wished for it to be just a renovation stint but no, the fences never came off, for many years.

For those of you who never had the chance to step into this amazing bakery (did you know that this bakery was the first in Singapore to bake three-tier Western-style wedding cakes in the 1920s??), lucky for you, my goldfish memory managed to retain a decent image of its interior. As you walk into the bakery, you will be greeted by (buttery aroma wafting from the kitchen first) a wooden glass showcase, facing the main entrance, displaying various sorts of precious confectionary (Swiss rolls, curry puffs, custard puffs etc). It was dimly lighted (if at all during the day) with a couple of tables (white marble top and dark wooden legs I think) at the back and one or two ceiling fans that helped in swirling the enticing, fresh baked aromas, enveloping anyone who walked in. It was a sensory delight indeed. The cashier was to the left where there would be an elderly auntie or uncle standing behind the counter waiting to collect the money from their customers.

Alright, enough of walking down memory lane. So I was inspired enough to start searching for a custard puff recipe and I found a bit too many online (the wonders of the internet). I made a total of approximately 70 custard puffs in a span of 48 hours (yes call me crazy) using different recipes and only because the first batch came out mostly flat, hardly what I envisioned my custard puffs to look like, or the base of the puffs arched as they rose in the oven, making them almost impossible to fill with custard. Luckily for me (and my colleagues and friends), the second batch were MUCH better. I was ecstatic. *GRINS*

Recipe (adapted from allrecipes.com and ruhlman.com):
Makes about 30 puffs depending on size

Custard
1/2 cup white granulated sugar (adjust according to preference)
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 pinch of salt
2 cups milk
2 egg yolks, beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Puff (also called pàte à choux)
1 cup water
1 stick butter (125g)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup eggs (I used 3 large eggs)
2 tablespoons white granulated sugar

  1. Custard – combine the sugar, flour and salt in a small saucepan then stir in the milk, a little at a time, until smooth. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Note: At some point you will notice the consistency of the milk mixture getting thicker, keep on stirring. Reduce the heat to low to prevent the mixture from burning on the sides or the base.
  2. When the mixture starts to bubble, pour a small amount of it into the 2 egg yolks, and stir immediately. Return the heated egg yolks mixture to saucepan and stir, over low heat, until mixture starts to bubble again. Remove from heat, add vanilla. When the mixture has cooled down, cover and chill in refrigerator.
  3. Preheat oven to 200 degrees C.
  4. Puff – Bring the water, butter and sugar to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat slightly before adding all the flour. Stir rapidly. The flour will absorb the water quickly and a dough paste will form and pull away from the sides. Keep stirring to continue cooking the flour for about two minutes on low heat. Remove from heat, add the vanilla extract and stir a couple of times. Transfer the dough paste into a mixer bowl, wait for it to cool down.
  5. Add the eggs one at a time and combine into the paste using an electric mixer. Note: The mixture will kind of fall apart once you add the egg, that’s fine, continue to beat the mixture until the egg is fully incorporated before you add the next egg.
  6. At the last egg (the third one for me), the dough mixture becomes more of a sticky paste. The ideal dough paste should be somewhat sticky and able to form soft peaks. Note: This is important because you don’t want your paste to flat out on the oven tray, they should be able to hold their shape.
  7. Line you oven try with parchment paper and pipe the dough paste into desired shapes (approx. 2.5cm apart). You could put the paste into a zip-log bag and snip a small corner of the bag for piping purposes. Note: Please use parchment paper instead of greasing your tray for easier removal and if you don’t wish for the base of your puff to burn too badly. I piped in circular motions, moving gradually upwards. Flatten the tips (if any) of the dough paste sticking upwards.
  8. Bake 10 minutes at 200 degrees C and then about 12-20 minutes (depending on size) at 175 degrees C. Cool completely before filling with custard. Dust icing sugar on top. SERVE & ENJOY!
  9. P.S. If you are not a fan of custard, you can use whipped cream plus a dollop of nutella as filling. Just as YUMMY!

Just gone into the oven

Watching them as they rise..

Puffs ready to be filled!

Custard puffs with whipped cream and nutella filling =)

LOVE Mel

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