How do you make yet another office birthday celebration not feel forced and cliche? First, stay away from Costco. Nobody really wants a Costco cake.
Next, forget cake altogether. Cake is fun sometimes, but with 30+ office birthdays a year, I like to shake things up.
I also like to make the celebration specific to the person who’s getting older. And since my friend, Carina, was in Paris on her actual birthday I thought it would be fun to help her continue her vacation when she returned to work by giving her a Parisian party. And instead of a cake, I decided to open up my old Betty Crocker cookbook and make light and fluffy cream puffs just like my mom used to make.
Ooh la la!
Although they look fancy, cream puffs are super easy to make. Really. Even if you’ve never baked anything before in your life, you can make cream puffs. Just look: there are only four ingredients, and one of them is water. You can do this!
1 cup water
1/2 cup butter
1 cup flour
Get your oven heating to 400 degrees while you make the dough so it will be all ready. Put the butter and water in a saucepan on the stove and heat them until they’re boiling.
Then turn down the heat to low and add the flour. Stir until it’s all incorporated and forms a dough that all sticks together.
Take the pan off the heat and add the eggs, one at a time. It will be a little goopy and weird at first, but keep stirring until you have a smooth mixture. I used a wooden spoon for all this. You don’t need to get out your mixer.
Now you just have to drop it by spoonfuls onto a baking sheet. Use parchment paper and they’ll slide right off when you’re done. If you get little peaks on the top when you spoon the dough out, just pat them down a little. Try for a round shape, as the puffs won’t change much as they cook. If they’re odd shaped when they go in the oven, they’ll be odd shaped when they come out.
Bake for about 45 minutes. If your oven is temperamental you might start checking on them a few minutes before that. They should be nicely browned on the top and bottom, but if they get too dark then it’s time to take them out.
Look how beautiful and professional these look! Don’t you feel like a sucker for paying $2 or more each at a bakery for these? Ridiculous.
Let them cool completely, and now the rest is up to you. Cream puffs can be filled with whatever you like. Use a sharp knife to cut off the tops and then spoon or pipe in whipped cream, custard, chocolate mousse or whatever else you like. I filled half of mine with a package mix of mousse and the other half with fresh whipped cream.
A little powdered sugar on top is the final fancy touch.
For the rest of the Paris party table, people brought in croissants, fruit and cheese. We had a beautiful and tasty spread, and I didn’t even have to bake it all. The day I realized that parties didn’t have to be all about desserts is the day I was set free from my oven. Let’s hear it for grapes and brie!
I was also very lucky with this party because one of my coworkers has a wife who is a magical balloon sculptress. She created this fantastic Eiffel Tower for Carina, which everyone loved. (If you’re in the San Francisco area, check out Balloon Twisting with Lien.)
A few days before this party I was sorting out a closet and came across two posters I bought in Paris back when I was in high school. They’re lovely but I didn’t anticipate hanging them up anytime soon, so I got a couple of frames for them and used them as a backdrop and gift for Carina to keep.
Just add a red tablecloth and voila! You’ve got a table straight from a Paris cafe in your office. If only I could have found someone to play the accordion.