Makes about 2 ½ dozen 2-inch puffs
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Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
In a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan, combine milk, ½ cup water, vanilla bean, butter, sugar, and salt. Bring mixture to simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Carefully remove vanilla bean and scrape any remaining seeds into liquid. Bring mixture to a boil. Add flour, lower heat to medium, and immediately begin stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon-don’t let up until the dough starts to come away from the sides of the pan and form a loose ball; a light crust will form on the bottom of the pan. Keep stirring quickly to dry the dough, about 2 minutes more. The dough should now be very smooth and have lost most of its moist appearance.
Transfer dough to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, on medium speed. You’ll think the dough is breaking apart and all is lost, but it will come together again when all the eggs have been added. Beat in vanilla extract. Drop dough by the tablespoonful onto prepared baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches of space between dollops.
1 large egg
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Swedish pearl sugar, to taste
In a small bowl, beat together egg, vanilla extract, and salt, and 1 teaspoon water until well blended. Brush each puff with egg wash and sprinkle generously with pearl sugar. Bake for 15 minutes, then rotate the sheets from top to bottom and front to back. Continue baking until puffs are deeply golden and sound hollow when their crisp exteriors are tapped, another 15 to 20 minutes. Carefully transfer puffs to a wire rack to cool a bit before serving.
Mini Vanilla Éclairs: In spite of their sexy slick of chocolate ganache, éclairs have always seemed like a vanilla recipe to me, with the chocolate playing second fiddle to all that creamy vanilla filling. After beating in the eggs and vanilla extract, transfer the dough to a piping bag and pipe it into 2 ½ –inch lengths. Bake as above and, when cool, fill with a pastry cream into a pastry bag filled with a medium round tip. Pierce one side of each éclair with the tip and fill it slowly, just ganache, combine 4 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate and ½ cup heavy cream in a heatproof bowl. Melt together in the microwave with 30-second bursts of high power, stirring well after each interval, just until the glaze is smooth. Spoon ganache onto the filled éclairs and refrigerate until ganache is set before serving.