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August 5, 2004
You melt the butter and then you stir in the flour, all at once. Then you break four eggs into this, one at a time, beating furiously each time. The batter gets stiffer and stiffer. It doesn't look like anything that anybody would ever want to eat. It looks like shiny yellow wallpaper paste. Or maybe it looks like latex -- I think so. Yum.

Still you persevere, because your mother told you that it wouldn't look like anything at this stage and you figure she must have had a reason to say that. You drop it by spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet. Or you form it into finger-length strips on a cookie sheet. Or you make four large flat circles of the batter on two cookie sheets. Or four large flat rectangles. There they sit, in their rows on the metal pan: cold lumps of shiny yellow dough you couldn't pay me to eat.

Whatever, you think, I can always run out to the bakery. You put the pans into the center of a slow oven and hope for the best. It takes forever. You don't open the oven while you're waiting because your mother said not to and she must have had a reason to say that, although you can't ask her what it was because she died years ago. That woman is never here when I need her, you say to yourself. You clean up the disgusting, sticky batter from the saucepan and from the spoon. You put away the bag of flour. Optimistically, you get out some wire racks upon which whatever it is that will emerge from the oven will sit to cool.

At the end of the cooking time, you can look. You roll away the stone from the oven door and look inside. Rows of lovely puffs, high and light and golden and ready to be filed with something wonderful. Or four puffy golden discs or rectangles. What you see in the oven looks nothing at all like what you put in there.

Out and onto the racks to cool completely. If a few dampish filaments of not-quite-cooked dough cling to the inside of a puff when you split it carefully with a sharp, serrated knife, just pull them out and throw them away. That won't happen with the discs or the rectangles -- they're thin enough so they always cook through.

There are so many ways in which you can use your puffs: fill them with whipped cream or vanilla cream or with ice cream. Fill them with chocolate mousse. Bury a fresh raspberry in the center of each filled puff. Or surprise people and fill them with deviled ham or crab salad. If you made discs or rectangles, layer them with ice cream or custard into a stack and drizzle melted chocolate over them. Or melted raspberry jam.

Cream puffs are so simple, but they do require faith. You would never continue with them past the first stage if someone you trusted weren't there to tell you not to be discouraged by appearances. Most of us go through an awkward stage ourselves, an era when we so little resemble the beauties we will one day be that only those who love us dearly can make the effort it requires to believe in us.


Watch for Good Lord, Let's Eat!: A Geranium Farm Cookbook, which will contain the cream puff recipe and many other wonderful ones from Geranium Farmers everywhere. Available from the website in time for Christmas giving.
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