Cream puffs, or chou à la crème in French, is a light, French pastry ball filled with whipped cream. This timeless dessert found at almost every patisserie in Paris uses a basic dough called the choux pastry, chou meaning cabbage in French, named after the shape of a cream puff when it is baked.
Learning how to make cream puffs means mastering this choux pastry, which will also lead you to a range of other French patisserie favourites. The versatile dough can be piped long to make eclairs, drizzled with chocolate to make profiteroles, formed into a giant ring for a classic Paris-Brest, or piped into balls and piled up high to create the impressive festive season dessert, croquembouche.
The choux pastry dough for cream puffs is different to other doughs in that it is cooked twice: first on the stove to form the dough, followed by the oven after it has been piped onto the tray. Cooking the dough first in the saucepan adds extra lightness to the choux pastry, as the process of beating in the eggs ensures that lots of air is incorporated into the dough. All this air is what then helps the cream puffs to expand and puff up in the oven.
What’s the Difference Between Cream Puffs and Profiteroles?
The word profiterole is often used interchangeably with cream puffs, in referring to the baked choux pastry balls. Outside the United States, however, especially in the UK or Australia, profiteroles are more commonly used as a generic term for cream puffs as they can be filled with creams and sauces that go beyond whipped cream.
In some countries, such as in France and Italy, profiterole specifically refers to a cream puff covered in chocolate sauce. In this case, the fillings for the cream puffs can also range from a simple vanilla infused whipped cream, custard, and even ice cream.
Cream Puff Recipe
This cream puff recipe creates around 30 pastry balls that remain crisp on the outside and light as air on the inside. Follow it up with a simple whipped cream filling as indicated in our recipe, but don’t hesitate to have fun here - the baked cream puffs are the perfect vessel for a huge range of fillings, both sweet and savoury. Add cheese to the dough to make gougères, drizzle it with chocolate for profiteroles, from fancy amuse-bouches to extravagant desserts, this French pastry is the definition of versatile.
The fundamental technique here consists of cooking the dough first on a medium heat, to which eggs are added one by one. Make sure the pan is on a low heat or off the stove entirely so that it is just warm enough to cook the eggs slightly but not too much so as to set the dough. Be prepared for some arm work! Beating vigorously with a wooden spoon will allow more air into the dough at this point, which is crucial to ensure light, airy cream puffs that will make many people happy.
Makes about 30 cream puffs
For the cream puffs:
1 cup /250ml water
1 stick/115g unsalted butter
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup/150g all purpose flour
4 large eggs
1 egg yolk
For the cream filling:
1 1/2 cups/375ml heavy whipping cream
2 tbs sugar
confectioners sugar, for dusting
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 400F/200C. Grab a pastry bag and fit it with a plain 1cm tip, set aside.
Bring the water and butter to a boil over medium heat in a medium saucepan, stirring occasionally. Add the flour, salt and sugar, remove from heat and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon. Keep stirring until the dough looks smooth and pulls away from the sides of the pot.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating well before adding the next. The dough should thicken and look shiny.
In a small bowl, beat the egg yolk with a teaspoon of water for the egg wash, set aside.
Spoon the mixture into the pastry bag and pipe out 2 inches/5 cm rounds onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving 2 inches/5 cm of space between each round.
Use a pastry brush to lightly brush over the rounds with the egg wash. Optional tip: create more even rounds by gently pressing down on each with a fork dipped in the egg wash.
Bake puffs in the preheated oven for 25 minutes or until they are a deep golden brown all over. Transfer to wire racks to cool completely before filling.
Once cool, use a serrated knife to split the cream puffs horizontally. Remove some of the soft dough from the inside.
In a large bowl, beat the cream with the sugar until soft peaks form. Spoon the cream into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch/1 cm open star tip and fill the puffs with cream just before serving. Dust puffs with powdered sugar.