Light and airy homemade cream puffs filled with vanilla pastry cream and dusted with powdered sugar. They are such a comfort dessert and sure to be a hit for any occasion!
I’ve been dreaming of traveling to Paris one day and having all of their desserts during a trip. Movies that are set in Paris, always inspires me to visit there once in a lifetime. Their bakery shops would be one of my first destinations and I feel that I won’t be ready to leave without a bunch of their pastry desserts in my bag. Cream puffs will be one of them.
Cream puffs, aka Choux à la crème, are a classic French dessert that consists of a baked choux pastry shell filled with vanilla pastry cream. Choux pastry (French: Pâte à Choux) is an old French pastry dough that is made from water, butter, flour and eggs. Choux pastry is amazingly easy to make and once you’ve mastered the recipe, you can work with other pastries out there like eclairs, profiteroles or churros. They seem to have the same pastry dough but use different baking/cooking methods and fillings.
Eclairs: filled with pastry creme and dipped into chocolate
Profiteroles: it’s like cream puffs but filled with ice cream instead of pastry creme, topped with chocolate ganache and frozen.
There is another recipe that uses choux pastry dough but cooked in different method which is Churros. Instead of baking in the oven, churros will be piped into 4-6 inch long strips and deep fried in oil then coat with cinnamon sugar.
PASTRY CREAM FILLING
Cream puffs can be filled with anything. Some other recipes will call for whipped cream (or crème Chantilly) but today I am going to make pastry cream filling for these cream puffs. I personally find that the crispy airy shells are the perfect match to the thick and creamy pastry cream. It’s recommended to make the pastry cream before baking cream puffs since it needs a long chill in the fridge to set up properly.
There are two ways to fill the puffs. You can first slice the puffs in half horizontally and pipe the creme inside each or poke a hold on the bottom of the puff and gently pipe until filled. Dust the cream puffs with powdered sugar or a drizzle of chocolate upon your choice.
GOLDEN RULES TO PREVENT DEFLATION
Measure ingredients properly. Cream puffs rise thanks to protein and fat content, so make sure you measure ingredients correctly.
Don’t open the oven too early while baking. Loss of heat will result in the possibility to collapse. Also let cream puffs cool slowly in the oven.
Temperature. We will want to bake the cream puffs at high temperature for the first 10 minutes. The high heat will push the dough to rise up very fast, but the puffs will burn if we keep leaving high heat in the oven. Instead, we’re going to reduce the temperature after then.
Homemade Cream Puffs
For Cream Puffs
- 1 cup (130g) all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon (5g) granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup (113g/1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
- 1/2 cup (120ml) water
- 1/2 cup (120ml) whole milk
- 4 large eggs room temperature
For Pastry Cream Filling
- 1/3 cup (67g) granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoons (23g) cornstarch
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 4 egg yolks room temperature
- 2 cups (480ml) whole milk
- 2 tablespoons (28g) unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons powdered sugar for dusting
Make Pastry Cream
- Make pastry cream. In a medium bowl, whisking the egg yolks, sugar, salt and vanilla until it’s creamy and pale, then add in the cornstarch and mix. Set aside.
- In a saucepan bring the milk to a simmer over medium heat. Once it reaches the simmering point, remove from the heat. Quickly and carefully pour half of the hot milk into the egg mixture while whisking constantly the egg mixture to prevent eggs from curdling.
- Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until mixture begins to thicken and comes to a boil. Remove from heat then stir in butter and whisk until completely melted and smooth. If there are any big lumps remained, you can smooth out the cream by straining through a sieve to separate the clumps from the pastry cream.
- Cover the surface of the pastry cream with a plastic wrap (press directly onto surface) to prevent a skin from forming. Let it cool and chill in the fridge.
Make Cream Puffs
- Preheat oven to 400°F/204°C. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.
- Prepare the choux pastry dough. In a medium saucepan, combine the butter, water, milk, salt, and granulated sugar together in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stirring occasionally. Bring mixture just to a boil then reduce to low heat and add in flour all at once. Continue stirring until the flour is incorporated and the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan, forming a smooth dough ball. Remove from heat and transfer to the bowl of a large mixing bowl. Allow to cool down for a few minutes before adding the eggs.
- Use a stand mixer (or a handheld mixer) fitted with a paddle attachment to beat 4 eggs and vanilla extract on a low speed, one at a time, beat well after each addition until fully incorporated. Once all of the eggs have been added, scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl and mix again to ensure everything is fully incorporated, an additional 5 to 10 seconds. The dough will become smooth and shiny and can form a thick ribbon when pulled up.
- Transfer the dough to a piping bag fitted with a 1/2-inch round tip (I use Wilton 1A tip). Use immediately or refrigerate for up to 2 days in a piping bag or with a piece of plastic wrap pressed onto the surface.
- Bake cream puffs. Pipe the choux pastry dough onto prepared baking sheets into 18 small mounds (or 14 medium mounds). Keep 2 inch apart between the puffs. Smooth the peaks out with your finger lightly dipped with water. Bake at 400˚F for 15 minutes then reduce temperature to 350˚F and bake 20-22 min longer or until golden brown on top. Make sure not to open the oven while they are baking or cream puffs will deflate. Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before adding filling.
- Fill cream puffs. Slice the puffs in half and pipe pastry cream onto the bottom of the puff using a pastry bag fitted with a piping tip (I use Wilton 1M), then cover with the top half. You can also poke a hold on the bottom of the puff and gently pipe until filled. Dust with powdered sugar and serve. Cream puffs are best served cold.