How to Make Cream Puffs With Choux Pastry
Aren’t cream puffs great? With each delightful, indulgent bite, you get light, eggy pastry with a delicate crunch, plus some luscious, subtly sweet cream. Here, we use a vanilla-infused diplomat cream. It’s part whipped cream and part pastry cream — the perfect balance of airy and rich. Finish them with a drizzle of bittersweet chocolate, as we did, and you find yourself with a truly luxurious treat.
Of course, the magical cream puff would not exist if it weren’t for choux pastry, or pâte à choux. It sounds highfalutin, but it’s actually quite simple to make. There’s a little boiling, stirring, and turning on the mixer. And the ingredient list is quite short: butter, flour, eggs, salt, and some liquid. What kind of liquid? Either milk or water, depending on what you’re making. For gougères, those amazing French cheese puffs, we like to use milk to get a more custardy center. For cream puffs (and éclairs and croquembouches), we like to use water for the choux — as well as bread flour. The combination makes the puffs firmer and sturdier, so they hold up longer against the slow migration of moisture from the cream filling.
A couple of tips from the test kitchen to help you get positively perfect choux pastry puffs: Dip your fingers in water so you can move and adjust the piped mounds as needed or dab out any imperfections. And baking the choux puffs at two different temperatures is key! Baking at 425° for the first half makes the puff glorious; baking at a cooler 375° for the second half creates that beautiful golden brown exterior. And you’ll wind up with light, pillowy puffs that lift right off the tray — and don’t have any major cracks.
P.S. Those little balls of choux are good for more than just cream puffs! We sometimes fill them with a mini scoop of our favorite ice cream — or a dollop of chicken salad or smoked salmon mousse for a savory party appetizer.
Yield: 2 dozen
How to Make Cream Puffs With Choux Pastry
Preheat the oven to 425º.
In a medium saucepan, heat the water, butter, and salt over medium heat. Bring to a rolling boil.
Add the flour and stir continuously until it’s fully incorporated and forms a paste. Continue to cook and stir until the paste dries slightly and forms a ball, about 1 to 2 minutes.
Transfer the paste to the bowl of a stand mixer, and allow it to cool for 5 minutes.
With the paddle attachment on medium speed, beat in 1 egg at a time until fully incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Note: the batter will be smooth, shiny, moist, and thick enough that it holds its shape when the paddle is pulled out of the pastry.
To make the cream puffs: Transfer the pastry to a pastry bag fitted with a plain piping tip. Pipe a tiny amount of pastry into the corners of a rimmed baking sheet and place a piece of parchment on top.
Holding the piping bag at a 90-degree angle, squeeze to make 1 ½” mounds of batter, leaving 3” between each cream puff. Round out any imperfections in the puffs by moistening the tip of your finger with water and very gently patting the tips into the pastry.
Bake for 15 minutes. Then, lower the oven to 375°, and continue baking for another 15 to 20 minutes or until fully browned on all sides. Note: do not open the oven for the first 20 minutes of baking; otherwise, your puffs may collapse.
Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely before filling.
To make the diplomat cream filling: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, dissolve ¼ cup sugar in the milk and heat until the milk is steaming. Reduce the heat to low.
In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks and whole eggs together. Sift the cornstarch and ¼ cup sugar into the eggs. Whisk vigorously until perfectly smooth and shiny, about 1 minute.
Slowly add one ladle of hot milk to the egg mixture, whisking continuously. Continue adding the hot milk one ladle at a time until about ½ of the milk has been added. Pour the tempered eggs into the hot milk, whisking constantly.
Increase the heat to medium and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil for 2 minutes until the pastry cream thickens. Immediately transfer the pastry cream to a small bowl, and stir in the butter and vanilla bean paste until completely melted.
Spread in an even layer and cover with plastic wrap placed directly in contact with the surface of the cream to prevent a crust from forming. Cool in the refrigerator until completely cold, about 2 hours. This can be made up to 3 days in advance.
Using a rubber spatula, stir out any lumps that may have formed in the pastry cream. Set aside.
In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, combine the heavy whipping cream and remaining ½ tablespoon of sugar. Beat on medium speed until soft peaks form.
Stir ⅓ of the whipped cream into the pastry cream just until combined. Fold the remaining whipped cream into the pastry cream mixture in two batches, being very gentle, so that your diplomat cream is light and airy. Cover and refrigerate until needed.
To assemble the cream puffs: Gently slice the cooled cream puffs in half with a serrated knife and place on a rimmed baking sheet.
Transfer the diplomat cream filling to a piping bag fitted with a star tip. Pipe the diplomat cream into the bottom of each puff and then close with the top puffs.
Drizzle the tempered chocolate over the top of each cream puff. Place cream puffs in the fridge to set for 30 minutes, and serve cold.