Tips for cream puff success

Q. I'm thinking of making cream puffs for the first time. Do you have any reliable pate a choux and pastry cream suggestions? Should I plan on needing to fold whipped cream into the pastry cream, or should I pipe it as is (re-stirred) into the puffs?

A. Here are few cream puff tips for you:

-- After you've brought the milk, water, salt, sugar and butter to a boil, add the flour, stir like crazy and then don't stop - you should cook the flour for another full minute or two. Look for a film on the bottom of the pot. This step is crucial to a good cream puff: You need to dry out the mixture and cook the flour, so stir energetically and for longer than you think it needs.

-- Make sure you beat well after each egg goes into the dough.

-- Make a decision: Either bake the cream puffs as soon as they're shaped, or shape them and freeze them. Freezing them unbaked is so much better than baking and keeping them. Bake them directly from the freezer.

-- Bake the puffs until they have color.

-- It is better to fold some whipped cream into the pastry cream, and fill the puffs as close to serving time as possible.

I have a recipe for cream puffs with a crackle top in my book "Baking Chez Moi." You can skip the crackle top, and you'll have a plain cream puff that I think you'll enjoy.

Q. How do you know when the Dorie Greenspan's Cocoa Crunch Fruit and Nut Granola is done baking? I overcooked it a little, and although it has a slightly burned taste, it's still edible. I baked it for close to 50 minutes. What should I look for next time? And besides adding it to yogurt or making granola bites, what else can I do with the granola?

A. With granola, the way to test doneness is color: When the granola is deeply golden, it's usually done. Next time, look at the color and - a good test - pull out a spoonful, let it cool a little and taste it to see if you like it.

The cocoa granola is a little harder to test because the cocoa is dark, but now that you know that 50 minutes was too long for you and your oven, bake it for 40 minutes and test then.

Granola is good on its own as a snack, it's delicious with milk as a cereal, and it can even be sprinkled over vegetables, such as roasted squash or sweet potatoes.

Q. When I bake an apple pie and cut a slice, a lot of liquid from the filling runs into the pie pan and pools where the missing pie slice once was. What am I doing wrong?

A. That is typical apple pie behavior. If you'd like, you can mix a little quick-cooking tapioca (maybe two tablespoons) into the apple mixture before baking to help thicken the juices. You can also line the bottom crust with bread crumbs or cake crumbs to sop up some of the liquid.

Q. I can't seem to make creme caramel. Either the consistency is off or it doesn't look right.

A. An important step is to bring the cream and milk to a boil before adding them to the eggs. You should also bake the creme caramel in a water bath.

Q. What are the top three baked goods that you always need to get when you go back to Paris?

A. We always buy bread and croissants the instant we arrive. My husband adores strawberry tarts. In the two days we've been here, we've had macarons, eclairs and a lemon tart. And rice pudding, but that doesn't count as a baked good.

And of course, we usually get a kouign-amann.

Q. When we stayed in Paris a few years ago, we noticed bunches of skinny wild asparagus at a produce market. How does it taste? I've heard it has a stronger flavor than domestic asparagus.

A. Those wonderful wild asparagus look like tiny green stalks of wheat. I don't find their flavor stronger than that of "regular" asparagus. The thin asparagus don't take well to lots of heat, and so they're often used in omelets. A treat!