Cream Puffs

Cream Puffs

Did cream puffs originate in France or Italy? The answer is both! 

A (Very) Brief History of the Cream Puff

The cream puff was first brought over to France in the 1500s by Italian noblewoman Catherine de’ Medici’s pastry chef when she married King Henry II. Later perfected in the early 1700s by French pastry chef Antoine Carême, the cream puff became a classic in French cuisine and many bakeries throughout Europe. 

What Are Cream Puffs Filled With?

Cream puffs are traditionally filled with pastry cream or whipped cream while the looser term of profiteroles encompasses other fillings, including savory ones. This being said, in America profiteroles as seen on menus in restaurants are usually filled with ice cream. 

A Crackly Cream Puff Variation

My favorite cream puffs are topped with craquelin, a thin cookie topping that adds an irresistible crunch and can also assist in keeping them domed on top versus rocky shaped. You can make them without the optional craquelin tops, but I highly recommend not skipping it. If you do want to make the cream puffs without craquelin, brush them with egg wash before baking for a nicely browned, shiny finish.

“The cream puffs were rich and delicious, and they would be the perfect treat for a holiday or family gathering. I had never made craquelin, and I was surprised at how quick and easy it was. Plus, the craquelin gave the choux buns an excellent round shape and crisp, sugary coating.” —Diana Rattray

Cream Puffs/Tester Image A Note From Our Recipe Tester

Ingredients

For the Pastry Cream:

  • 2 cups whole milk

  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar, divided

  • 1 large egg

  • 1 large egg yolk

  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch

  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt

For the Craquelin (optional):

  • 4 ounces (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature

  • 2/3 cup (125 grams) granulated sugar

  • 1 cup (127 grams) all-purpose flour

  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt

For the Choux:

  • 1 cup water

  • 4 ounces (1/2 cup) unsalted butter

  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar

  • 1 cup (127 grams) all-purpose flour

  • 4 large eggs

For the Egg Wash (for pastry without Craquelin):

  • 1 large egg

  • 1 teaspoon milk

  • 1 pinch fine salt

To Serve:

  • 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Steps to Make It

Make the Pastry Cream

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Prepare an ice bath large enough to hold a medium bowl.

    Ingredients to make pastry cream and a bowl with ice water

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  2. Combine the milk and 1/4 cup of the sugar in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until the mixture just begins to boil.

    Milk and sugar mixture in a small pot

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  3. In a medium bowl, combine the egg, egg yolk, the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, cornstarch, vanilla, and salt. Whisk by hand until pale, fluffy, and smooth.

    A bowl of egg, egg yolk, sugar, cornstarch, vanilla, and salt

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  4. When the milk-sugar mixture begins to boil, slowly add it to the egg mixture in a thin, steady stream while whisking continuously to prevent cooking the eggs (this process is called tempering).

    Adding warm milk mixture to the egg mixture

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  5. Return the custard to the saucepan and whisk continuously over medium-low heat until it bubbles and thickens, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and continue to whisk until smooth, another 1 to 2 minutes.

    Thick custard in a pot

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  6. Strain the pastry cream through a fine mesh sieve and into a clean bowl. This will remove any coagulated bits of egg.

    Smooth pastry cream in a bowl

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  7. Cover the surface of the custard directly with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming. Place the bowl into the prepared ice bath and let cool, about 30 minutes. Remove from the ice bath and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes more, or until ready to use. While the pastry cream cools, make the optional craquelin and the choux.

    Bowl of custard covered with plastic wrap in an ice bath

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

Make the Craquelin (if using):

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients to make craquelin

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter and sugar. Mix on medium speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.

    A stand mixer bowl with butter and sugar

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  3. Turn the mixer off, scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, then add the flour and salt. Starting on low speed moving up to medium, mix the dough until completely combined, about 1 minute.

    Flour and salt added to the butter mixture

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  4. Gather 2 pieces of parchment paper (approximately 12 x 16 inches). Scrape the dough onto one sheet of parchment, place the other sheet on top, and roll the dough out to about 1/8 inch thick. Place the rolled sheet of dough on top of a sheet pan and refrigerate until ready to use. Meanwhile, make the choux.

    Craquelin dough rolled out thinly between two pieces of parchment paper

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

Make the Choux:

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 400 F.

    Ingredients to make choux

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  2. In a large saucepan bring the water, butter, salt, and sugar to a boil over high heat.

    A pot of water, butter, salt, and sugar

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  3. Turn the heat off, add the flour, and stir until it comes together into a ball, about 1 minute.

    Flour added to the butter mixture, making a dough

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  4. Return the pan to medium-high heat, stirring constantly until the mixture begins to look dry, 3 to 4 minutes. There should be a thin film of dough at the bottom of the pan.

    Choux dough in a pot

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  5. Add the dough to a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix the dough on medium speed to cool slightly, 1 to 2 minutes.

    Choux dough in a stand mixer

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  6. Once the dough is cool, add the eggs one at a time until completely absorbed before adding the next. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and continue to mix until the dough is well combined, smooth, and glossy.

    Glossy choux dough in a stand mixer

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  7. Fit a piping bag with a half inch circle tip (such as Ateco tip #805). Fill the piping bag with the batter.

    A pastry bag with a round tip filled with choux dough

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  8. Prepare 2 baking sheets by piping a small dot of batter on each corner, then line with parchment paper. This will prevent the parchment paper from flying up in the oven when the fan turns on if you are using a convection oven.

    A baking sheet with a small dab of choux dough in the corner

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  9. Pipe 2-inch round mounds of batter, 2-inches apart by holding the pastry bag vertically, 1/2-inch away from the paper and gently squeezing without moving the piping bag. When you reach the desired size, quickly twist and flick the piping bag so you have more of a flat top than a peak.

    If you are not making the craquelin, proceed to second half of step 11.

    Small rounds of piped choux dough on a parchment-lined baking sheet

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  10. If using the craquelin, remove the sheet of craquelin from the fridge. Peel off one side of parchment and lightly place it back on top. Flip the sheet, then peel off the other piece of parchment. Doing this will help loosen the dough and make it easier to stamp out circles.

    Peeling back parchment paper from the craquelin

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  11. Using a 2-inch circle cutter, stamp out discs. Gently place a disc on top of each mound of piped choux. It will drape around the pastries as they bake and create a crispy exterior.

    If not using the craquelin, prepare the egg wash by whisking together the egg, milk, and salt in a small bowl. Brush the tops of the choux with the egg wash.

    Small rounds of craquelin cut out and put on top of the choux dough

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  12. Bake for 10 minutes then reduce the heat to 350 F. Continue to bake until the puffs are golden and cooked through, another 24 to 27 minutes without the craquelin topping, and about 30 minutes with craquelin topping.

    Remove from the oven and let them cool completely on the baking trays or a wire rack.

    Baked choux topped with craquelin

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

Fill and Serve:

  1. Once the pastries are completely cool, use a paring knife or a chopstick to poke a hole at the bottom of each.

    Choux buns with small holes in the bottom

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  2. Remove the pastry cream from the fridge and transfer it into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle. Mix the pastry cream on medium speed until smooth and silky, 2 to 3 minutes.

    Chilled pastry cream in the bowl of a stand mixer

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  3. Fit a piping bag with a 1/3 inch round tip (such as Ateco tip #803) and fill the piping bag with the pastry cream.

    Pastry cream in a piping bag

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  4. Gather the prepared piping bag filled with pastry cream and pipe enough cream in each puff until it feels heavy and it starts to overflow slightly. Scrape off any excess cream from the bottom of the pastry and transfer to a serving platter.

    Piping pastry cream into the bottom hole of the choux buns

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  5. Sift the confectioners' sugar over the tops of the cream puffs and serve immediately.

    Cream puffs topped with confectioner's sugar

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

Recipe Tips

  • You can reroll the craquelin dough one more time if you don’t yield enough circles on the first rollout.
  • When making the choux, make sure the water and butter mixture is at a rolling boil before adding the flour otherwise it doesn’t work. I know this from experience (haha).
  • Don’t skimp on cooking the dough out over the stovetop. This is an important step as we want to cook out some of the moisture so we can replace it with the eggs. Stir and smash the dough against the bottom of the pan to dry it out evenly, and you want to make sure there is a thin film of crusted dough on the bottom of the pan before taking it off the heat.

Recipe Variations

  • If you feel like being fancy, substitute the seeds of one vanilla bean for the vanilla extract.
  • My favorite way to fill cream puffs is with a crème diplomat, which is whipped cream folded into pastry cream. For this recipe you can easily whip up 3/4 cup of heavy cream and fold it into the cooled and paddled pastry cream.
  • To make a chocolate pastry cream, whisk 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chunks into the still-hot pastry cream after straining it.
  • To make coffee pastry cream, whisk in 1 tablespoon instant espresso after step 4 and before step 5.
  • Turn the empty shells into profiteroles by slicing them in half horizontally and filling them with a scoop of your favorite ice cream
  • Serve them up with a side of chocolate sauce or caramel sauce.

How to Store and Freeze

  • The fully assembled cream puffs should be consumed the day-of.
  • The pastry cream can be made in advance and kept in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days, I do not recommend freezing.
  • The craquelin can be made in advance and kept in the fridge wrapped in plastic or rolled between parchment paper for up to one week, and up to 6 months in the freezer.
  • The unfilled baked puffs can be made in advance and kept in zip top bags in the freezer for up to 3 months. Bake them straight from the freezer in the oven preheated to 375 F for 5 minutes to refresh them. Allow them to cool before filling.

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