CREAM PUFF DOUGH known as pâte á choux
For cream puff dough:
Preheat oven to 400°F. Heat water and butter to a rolling boil in a saucepan. Stir in flour all at once. Stir vigorously over low heat until mixture no longer sticks to pan and forms into a ball. Remove from heat. Beat eggs in thoroughly, one by one. Beat mixture until smooth.
The pastry base and pastry puffs
1. Cut out a 7" round from the puff pastry or Pâte Sucrée. Use a pan, plate pot lid - whatever you have that will help you cut out a 7" circle. Place this pastry circle on a baking sheet fitted with parchment paper or a silicone mat.
Spoon cream puff mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain tube and pipe a circle of cream puff dough around the edge of pastry.
Pipe a second circle inside and touching the first. Then pipe a 1-inch mound of the cream puff in the center of the base. Bake about 20 minutes until puffed, golden brown and dry. Let cool on rack.
On a second sheet pan, pipe the remaining cream puff dough into 1-inch mounds about 2 inches apart. Brush with egg glaze. Bake for 10 minutes at 425°F, then bake the pastry puffs for another 18 minutes at 375°F, until they're a deep golden color.
Create the Creme Patissiere
1. Meanwhile, heat the milk in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. In a medium bowl, whisk the sugar, cornstarch, flour, egg, and egg yolk together.
2. Once the milk is hot and steam is beginning to rise from it, stir in the vanilla bean paste (if using extract, hold off for now). Then, pour half of the milk into the egg mixture, whisking the egg mixture vigorously as you do. Pour the rest of the milk in, and continue to whisk vigorously.
3. Transfer the entire batter back into the saucepan and whisk over medium heat. It will take about 5 minutes for the cream to thicken up into a pudding-like consistency. Just keep whisking the whole time.
4. Once the cream is starting to look like pudding, quickly remove the cream from the heat. If you're using vanilla extract, stir the extract in now. If there are any lumps in your cream, just whisk the cream really vigorously to smooth them out.
5. Transfer the cream to a clean bowl and cover the cream with a sheet of plastic wrap placed directly onto the cream (this will prevent a filmy layer from forming). Chill the pastry cream in the refrigerator.
Create the Creme Chantilly
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the heavy cream on high speed until indentations begin to appear. Pour in the vanilla extract and powdered sugar, then whisk on high speed until a frosting-like consistency is formed.
Create the caramel
1. In a medium saucepan, add the sugar + 1/4 cup of water. Do NOT stir the two together. Simply place the saucepan over medium-high heat, and allow the mixture to come to a simmer. Watch the sugar-water bubble for approximately 7 to 8 minutes, watching it go from white-ish/clear to a dark amber color. Do NOT step away from the caramel as it can burn in a matter of seconds.
2. Once the caramel has reached a dark amber color and is JUST beginning to smoke, quickly remove the caramel from the heat. Carefully pour the heavy cream into the caramel (it will bubble), then stir to combine. Add the salt, and again stir to combine.
1. Fit a pastry bag with a long, narrow filling tip. Fill the pastry bag with the creme patisserie and then pipe this into the pastry puffs. Flip the pastry puff upside down so that the flat side is facing you, then dip the top in the salted caramel. Gently give it a shake to pour off excess caramel, then carefully dip the bottom of the pastry puff in caramel too.
2. Place the pastry puff onto the pate a choux wall that you created on top of the puff pastry circle. The caramel will act like a glue. Continue until you've got a ring of pastry puffs.
3. Scoop the remaining creme patisserie onto the center of the puff pastry. Fill a new pastry bag fitted with whatever tip you like (plain, star, st. honore) with the creme chantilly, and pipe the creme on top of the pastry cream.
4. Stick one final pastry puff in the center of the dessert, then drizzle caramel all over. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Refrigerate extra salted caramel for later use, and a few extra pastry puffs.