Cream Puffs, or profiteroles, are a deliciously delicate pastry with a creamy filling and sometimes even topped with a delicious glaze. While not incredibly complicated to make, they do require a little bit of effort to pull off. I did a lot of research before playing with choux pastry for the first time. Let me share with you some great tips and tricks, and how to avoid some blunders!
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When I first decided to launch Bakes and Blunders, I knew I wanted to learn how to make beautiful cakes, chewy cookies, and delightful pastries. I’ve been hitting these delicious recipes pretty hard, but I keep putting off pastry. There are so many amazing recipes to try that I just can’t find the time to bake them all, but also… Pastry intimidates me!
There are a lot of types of pastry dough that you can come across. Some of the big players are puff pastry, rough puff pastry, flaky pastry, shortcrust pastry, and choux pastry. There’s a bunch more, but these are some of the more “basic” varieties. Each one has its own uses and difficulties. I decided to start with choux pastry because it seemed like the most manageable to begin with.
These cream puffs have three major components; choux pastry, vanilla pastry cream, and chocolate ganache. I’m going to break them down for you.
Vanilla Pastry Cream
The filling will need time to chill, so you can make the custard the night before you make the cream puffs. This will make life much easier if you’ve got the time. To make a light and creamy pastry cream, or creme patissiere, we’ll make a thick vanilla custard first. Right before we fill the cream puffs, fold freshly whipped cream in for a light, pipeable cream.
I know we’re all conscious about what we eat, but don’t skimp out on the fat and sugar here. Obviously, that stuff is going to add loads of flavor, but that’s not all! Fat and sugar help prevent the custard from curdling, like I mentioned in the pumpkin pie recipe. I suggest using whole milk, but you could go down to 2% if you really wanted to.
Custard forms a skin super quickly. Before you even start the recipe, have your cling wrap out and ready. Consider it part of your mise en place. Once you strain the custard to remove lumps, immediately press cling wrap onto the surface of the custard. It will be hot, but you want to prevent that skin from forming!
If the Choux Fits
Choux pastry (pronounced “shoe”, see what I did there?) is most commonly used to make cream puffs, eclairs, and churros. A really impressive choux pastry dessert is the enviable croquembouche. It’s basically a tower of cream puffs drizzled with caramel. This is officially on my “to bake” list!
The unique characteristic about choux pastry is that you make the dough on the stove top and cook it before you use it. Crazy, right? It seemed sooo easy and I figured these cream puffs would be a walk in the park. Then I started reading a bunch of different recipes. Ahh! They all use different methods and have different tips and tricks. Don’t worry. I’ll tell you what worked and what didn’t!
While your custard is chillaxin’ in the fridge, we’re going to make those delectable shells for our yummy cream puffs. To make choux pastry, you boil water (maybe milk too), butter, sugar (sometimes), and salt. Start on a medium heat and make sure the butter is completely melted and the sugar and salt are dissolved before you bring them to a boil.
Add the flour all at once and use a wooden spoon or spatula to stir it in completely. Once it’s combined, you’re going to cook the dough for a minute or two to evaporate some of the water. If you’ve got a stainless steel pot, look for a film to form on the bottom and sides. I use non-stick pans, so I looked for oil droplets to bead on the bottom.
Usually, you see people adding the eggs straight into the pot and beating with a wooden spoon. But recently, I’ve been seeing people do this step in their stand mixer. Yes! That sounds like the option for me. Just be careful to only mix on low and keep it to less than 3 minutes of mixing time, if possible. You don’t want to overwork the dough.
Every recipe except for the one I used by An Edible Mosaic, listed only 4 eggs in the ingredients. In fact, most of them listed 4, but might end up using 3 ½. Yet, my recipe had 5 eggs. I added 3 eggs, one at a time, to start off with. The last two I mixed up and poured in little amounts at a time. I ended up using 4 ½ eggs. If the dough gets to runny, do not add raw flour! Be careful to add the eggs slowly so that you don’t add too much.
When you add an egg to the dough, it’s going to look horribly lumpy and nasty. It will absorb and get smooth, I promise! The choux pastry is at the right consistency when it hangs in a V off of your spatula. It should be smooth and shiny, but not runny at all. In all honesty, I should have used all 5 eggs, but I wanted to err on the side of stiffness.
Cream puff shells are frequently baked at a high temperature before dropping down to a more moderate level. This helps create the gorgeous volume and puff. I saw recipes that suggested piping the choux pastry or using a small cookie scoop. Piping is definitely more traditional, but I love my scoop, so I tried both!
Stick with piping. The dough is sticky, so it doesn’t release well. Plus, it just looks all blobby and ugly. Once I baked them up, the scooped ones were more uneven and unattractive. With piping, you want to hold the bag perpendicular and use a wide circle tip (like 1A). Let the dough build up and spread out a bit as you lift up slightly. Stop squeezing and flick the tip away. Dab your finger in water to tap down any pointy bits.
Heck to the yes. These ended up delicious, but there was no way my first cream puffs were going to be perfect. I got a tip to brush my parchment paper with water to help create steam and make the choux pastry puff up beautifully. Um, no.
Maybe I was too liberal with the water, but this caused my parchment paper to burn and set off my smoke detectors! I was so confused, because my puffs were barely golden brown. The bottoms of most of the puffs were burnt because of the water. Instead, sprinkle a little bit of water on the sheet right before placing in the oven.
Ben did me the favor of telling all of his friends and their parents that I set off the smoke alarm. *Facepalm* And of course this was literally the day after I told them I love to bake and I’ll bring them some of my extras some time.
Assembling the Cream Puffs
To avoid a collapsed puff, it’s important to let the steam out and let them cool down slowly. Once they are done baking, pierce the sides with a sharp paring knife and place them back on the baking sheets. I made a bit of an x with the knife so that I could fit a piping tip in there later. Place the baking sheets back into the turned off oven with the door open a smidge. Let them chill out for 10 minutes before taking them out for good. Let them cool completely before continuing.
Now that your shells are good to go, finish off that pastry cream. Whip up the cream in a chilled bowl with a chilled whisk. In a separate bowl, use a hand mixer to beat your cold custard. This will make it easier to work with. Fold in the whipped cream one third at a time, being very gentle. Fill a piping bag fitted with a medium- small tip (I used a medium star tip).
Insert the piping tip into the hole you made with your knife. Gently fill the whole with that delicious vanilla pastry cream. Some will ooze out, it’s not biggie. Once filled, make your chocolate ganache. Dip the tops of the cream puffs in the ganache or just spoon a bit over them. And that’s it!
Prevent a Soggy Puff
Once your delicious cream puffs have been filled, you’ll need to serve and eat them that day. They will keep overnight in the fridge, but they’ll lose that lightly crisp exterior. If you’re not going to eat them right away, hold off on making the filling and assembly. That custard will keep in the fridge, covered, for a day or two.
If you made these just because and can’t eat them all at once (like me!), I’ve got you covered. Place the shells in a large container, like your cupcake carrier. Cover with foil and poke a few holes so that they don’t become too soggy. Fill the puffs as you snack through them. Even like this, they will only keep for a few days.
If you think making a boxed cake is tough, maybe this recipe isn’t for you. (Make this bundt cake instead!) But if you’re looking to dip your toes into pastry making, these cream puffs are a great start. The shells are deliciously light and crispy, the filling is smooth and creamy, and the dark chocolate ganache is simply divine.
Whisk together the egg and egg yolks in a medium or large bowl and set aside. In a medium saucepan, whisk together the milk, sugar, flour, and salt. Place on a medium, whisking regularly.
Bring the milk mixture to a bare simmer, then remove from the heat. Whisk a small ladle of the hot milk into the eggs. Gradually whisk the hot milk into the eggs one ladle at a time. Keep the eggs moving constantly to prevent them from cooking and becoming lumpy. Whisk well between additions.
Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and place back on medium heat. Bring it to a boil and boil for 2 minutes. Stir constantly the entire time.
Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter and vanilla. Stir until the butter is completely melted. Pour the custard through a sieve into a bowl. Immediately press cling wrap onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming.
Allow the custard to come to room temperature before placing in the fridge to chill for at least an hour. It's best to make this the night or morning before you need it.
When you are ready to fill the puffs, beat the chilled custard for a minute to loosen it up. Then, whip the heavy cream in a chilled stand mixer bowl until thick and fluffy. Gently fold the whipped cream into the custard in three batches. The vanilla pastry cream is ready to pipe!
Preheat the oven to 400℉ and line your baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter with the water, sugar, and salt. Once melted, bring the mixture to a boil.
Remove from the heat and add all of the flour. Stir until combined, then place the saucepan back on a low- medium heat.
Cook the dough for 1- 2 minutes to evaporate some of the water in the dough. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to stir and press the dough around. It's done when you see oil beading on the surface of your pan (non-stick) or a film forms on the side (stainless steel).
Place the dough into the bowl of your stand mixer. Press it evenly along the bottom and a bit up the sides so that it can cool down. Allow the dough to cool for 5- 7 minutes.
Add and egg and beat on low until combined. Repeat with the next two eggs as well. Crack the remaining two eggs into a cup and mix with a spoon. Add this egg mixture a bit at a time, combining between additions, until you reach the right consistency. The choux pastry dough should be smooth, glossy, and form a V off the end of your spatula when you lift it up. It's best to have dough that is took thick than too thin.
Fill a piping bag fitted with a wide round tip with the choux pastry dough. Pipe mounds two inches apart onto the prepared baking sheets. Dip your finger into water and pat down any peaks. Brush the tops with an egg wash.
Gently sprinkle some water over the baking sheets. This will create steam and help them puff up.
Bake for 20 minutes. Drop the temperature to 350℉ and bake for another 5- 10 minutes, or until the puffs are golden brown. Watch them closely!
Immediately take the puffs out and pierce the sides with a sharp knife, making a small X. Place them back on the sheets and back into the oven. Crack the oven door. Let them cool in the oven like this for 10 minutes before removing the baking sheets. This will help prevent them from collapsing.
Place the butter and chocolate into a microwave safe bowl. Microwave in 10- 30 second bursts until melty, but still lumpy. Stir until smooth.
Stir in milk until you reach desired consistency.
Cream Puff Assembly
Fill a piping bag fitted with a small tip and fill with the pastry cream. Insert the tip into the X you made in the side of the puff. Gently fill with the pastry cream. A bit will ooze out.
Spoon the ganache on top or dip the cream puffs in, shaking off the excess.
Don't add the whipped cream to the custard until you are ready to fill the puffs.
Once filled, these will not keep for long. They will still taste fine after a night in the fridge, but the choux pastry will lose the light crispiness.
Hi there! I’m Colleen, a novice baker with a passion for learning and improving my bakes… and blunders. On Bakes and Blunders, you can find all sorts of tasty recipes that range in difficulty, but most importantly, I’ll try to explain the reason behind important steps. If you know why a recipe works, you can tweak and adapt it to suit your unique tastes, and you’ll be able to reliably produce some very delicious treats. If you love baking and want to expand and grow your skills, or if you are a casual baker and just need some pointers, my blog is right up your alley! Join me on my baking journey and we’ll learn how to make more impressive recipes together.