If you want to impress people with your pastry skills, offer them a homemade choux au craquelin. Made from delicate choux pastry with a crunchy biscuit topping and a pastry cream filling, they look and taste like something you might buy from a Parisian patisserie, but with a little practise, you can learn to make these tasty cream puffs in your kitchen at home.
For the cream filling
¼ stick, cubed.
For the choux pastry
¾ stick, cubed
All purpose flour,
1 cup plus 1 ¾ tbsp
For the craquelin
Light brown sugar,
1 stick, cubed.
All purpose flour,
To make the cream filling
Cut the vanilla bean in half and scrape the insides with a knife to release the seeds.
Add both the pod and the seeds to a small pan, along with the milk, and cook over a medium low heat until barely simmering.
Remove from the heat, cover, and leave the mixture to steep for around 30 minutes.
Fill a large bowl with cold water and ice to make an ice bath, and set aside.
In a slightly smaller bowl, mix together the sugar, cornstarch and salt, then add the egg yolks and whisk everything together until you have a smooth, light yellow mixture.
Remove the vanilla pod from the milk and pour the milk into the egg yolk mixture a little at a time, whisking all the while until everything is fully combined.
Pour the mixture back into the pan and cook over a medium heat for about 5 minutes, whisking throughout.
Once the mixture has thickened slightly, pause your whisking every few seconds to see if the mixture begins to bubble. As soon as the bubbles appear, set a timer and continue to cook for a further 1 minute, still whisking.
Remove the pan from the heat and add in the butter, whisking until it is melted and combined with the rest of the ingredients.
Strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl, and place plastic wrap directly on top of the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming.
Place the bowl inside the water bath for 30 minutes to allow the pastry cream to cool down, then transfer to the fridge for a further 2 hours to chill properly.
To make the choux pastry
Add the water, butter, sugar and salt to a small pan and cook on a high heat, until it comes to a fast boil.
Remove the pan from the heat and add in the flour, stirring well with a wooden spoon until the mixture is completely lump-free.
Place the pan back onto the stove and cook over a medium-high heat, stirring often.
Measure the internal temperature of the dough with a thermometer and remove from the heat once it has reached 175°F
Move the dough to a stand mixer, and use the paddle attachment on a medium speed setting to continue mixing until the internal temperature has cooled to 145°F.
Add the eggs to the mixture one at a time, waiting until each one is fully incorporated into the dough before adding the next.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl to get any bits the beaters can’t reach, then mix for a few more seconds.
Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag with a ½ inch plain round tip attachment, and set aside.
To make the craquelin
Add the butter and brown sugar to a mixing bowl and mix together until smooth and creamy. You can use either a flexible spatula or a stand mixer.
Add the flour and salt and continue mixing until you have a slightly damp breadcrumb texture.
Shape the mixture into a ball of dough. It should feel slightly sticky, but don’t be tempted to add any extra flour.
Lay a sheet of parchment paper out on the counter and place the ball of dough on top, then shape it into a rectangle of approximately 6 by 8 inches, again using your hands.
Cover the dough with another sheet of parchment paper and use a rolling pin to roll it out to a rectangular shape of around ⅛ inch thickness.
Transfer the parchment paper with the dough sandwiched in between onto a baking sheet, and place inside the freezer for 5 minutes.
Line a second baking sheet with parchment paper, and once the dough has chilled for 5 minutes, remove it from the freezer and place the first baking sheet next to the second.
Remove the top layer of parchment from the dough and cut out 18 discs using a 2 inch round cookie cutter. Transfer each disc to the second baking sheet and place them in the freezer until you need them.
Position your oven racks in the upper-middle and lower-middle positions. Preheat to 375°F and line 2 more baking sheets with parchment paper.
Take the pastry bag filled with choux and pipe a small dot under each corner of the parchment paper to hold it in place.
Hold your pastry bag at a 90° angle over one of the baking sheets and press down gently on the bag, piping a 2 inch circle onto the parchment. When you’re done, release the pressure and twist the tip of the bag away. Pipe 9 circles onto each baking tray, around 3 inches apart.
Remove the craquelin discs from the freezer and place one on top of each circle of choux, pressing down lightly to make sure they stick.
Bake for around 30 minutes, switching the positions of the trays and rotating them back to front after 20 minutes.
Once your choux au craquelin have cooked, make a hole in the bottom of each one by inserting the tip of a paring knife and rotating in a circular motion until you have a ¼ inch hole.
Replace the choux au craquelin back onto the baking sheets and place them back inside the still-warm oven with the heat off and the door slightly ajar. Leave them to cool gradually for around 30 minutes, then transfer the baking sheets to the counter and leave them for a further 15 minutes until they have completely cooled.
Remove the pastry cream from the fridge and spoon into a pastry bag with a ½ inch plain round tip attachment.
Place the tip of the cream-filled pastry bag inside the hole in the bottom of your choux au craquelin and squeeze gently until you see the cream starting to overflow. Wipe away any excess cream and repeat for each one.
Choux au craquelin are at their best served immediately, but you can make the different elements ahead of time. Unfilled choux au craquelin can be stored in the fridge for 3 days and in the freezer for up to 1 month, while the pastry cream will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days.
If you have chilled your choux au craquelin, simply leave them out on the counter to return to room temperature, then fill with pastry cream. If they are frozen, reheat for 5 minutes at 350°F, leave to cool and then fill.