Today is Mother’s Day and I am paying tribute to my mother, Mama Mirabile. I have written before about my Mama before — her Sunday sauce, meatballs and braciole along with some of her legendary desserts. But I have never talked about her Italian pastry cream filled cream puffs in Chow Town.
I like to say my mother’s cream puffs are legendary because she has made them for movie stars, TV personalities, police chiefs, doctors, lawyers, senators, governors, family friends, President of the United State’s wives … Yes, a legendary cream puff princess, that’s my Mama. Mama tells me Mitzi Gaynor still sends her a Christmas card every year from a friendship made over cream puffs. She used to tell my mom not to make the cream puffs because she would gain too much weight and had to keep her legs in shape.
I like to say my mother is “old school” in her style of cooking. No short cuts, no microwaves, no cheating at all, just respecting traditional recipes and cooking methods. Unlike me, a short order line cook, mama measured everything exactly, never doubling a recipe, never experimenting with different ingredients, just preparing the same tried and true recipes over and over again since she learned to cook as a teenager.
Mama learned to prepare her Sunday sauce, meatball and braciole from her mother, Rosa Cropisi. Grandmother Cropisi brought the recipe over from Corleone, Sicily, never changing a single ingredient. In The Jasper’s Kitchen Cookbook, my mother claims my father only married her for her mother’s meatball recipe. Talk about legendary. She claimed to make her first cream puff in 1956 right after my brother Sam was born. Hmm … maybe that is why Sammy Joe loves cream puffs so much.
Mama learned to make cream puffs from my father’s mother, my Nana Josephine. She told me last week that Nana Mirabile’s cream puffs were 3 times the size and my father requested bite size so she just made more out of the recipe. The original recipe made 6 but my mama’s made exactly eighteen and must be followed word for word, line by line. Believe me when I tell you this because I myself was called out during a cooking class as I added two eggs at once instead of one at a time. When i say please follow the recipe as is, I truly mean it. To finish the cream puffs, she generously dusts each with powdered sugar.
As for myself, I love the history of food and research it often. A cream puff is a French dessert in origin so named a choir pastry and is filled with whipped cream, pastry cream, custard or ice cream, sometimes called a profiterole. Cream puffs date back to the time of Caterina de’Medici, wife of Henry II of France. Legend has it she brought the recipe from Tuscany in 1540 where it was a classical dessert served in a bowl and drizzled with chocolate sauce. Some may argue but we all know the history of Caterina de’Medici and her leaving Italy to marry the King of France. We Italians like to say she also brought with her the fork along with the recipes and taught the French not only how to cook but eat.
Last week I made a batch and brought over to her enjoy and she claimed they were a “little tough on the bite.” I know the reason, but would not admit. In my Mama’s recipe, she swears by Crisco shortening but I substituted butter. The French all use butter so I thought I could make them better. I was wrong. I admit it. Sorry Mama, please don’t hold it against me.
Today, I am going to make a batch of cream puffs for the family and top them with loads and loads of powdered sugar. I think Mama will be proud. I know one thing is for sure, i am not going to mess with her recipe. No way, not on Mother’s Day!
Mama Josephine’s Cream Puffs
Makes 18 cream puffs
1 cup water
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon Crisco
Powdered sugar for dusting
Directions: Bring water, Crisco and salt to boil in a small pot. Remove from heat. Add flour. Mix thoroughly. Add eggs, one at a time. Mixture will separate after adding each egg but do not worry, it will form back together.
Drop a large tablespoon of batter onto a prepared baking sheet. Bake shells in a 400-degrees oven for 25 to 35 minutes or until puffed and golden brown.
It is important that the puffs are golden/crisp or they may collapse. Remove from oven and cool completely and fill with Italian pastry cream. Dust with powdered sugar and serve.
Italian Pastry Cream
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon flour
3 cups milk
Directions: Mix flour and cornstarch and sugar in a 2-quart pot. Add milk until all mixed together and bring all to a boil. Whisk egg yolks in a bowl.
Take 1/2 cup of hot milk and mix with eggs, then add back to all of milk mixture. Add vanilla. Pastry cream will thicken. Remove from heat and pour in bowl.
Top with film so a crust does not form. Cool before refrigerating. Chill for three hours before filling cream puffs. Dust with lots of powdered sugar.
Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s runs his family’s 59-year-old restaurant with his brother. Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He is host to many famous chefs on his weekly radio show “Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen” on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM. He also sells dressings and sauces.