My husband, who is French, recently challenged me to make cream puffs. I admit, I’ve always been hesitant to try French desserts as I feared they would be too complicated. I decided to give it a go nonetheless, and I was actually surprised to discover how easy cream puffs are to make! While I still haven’t found an icing recipe that I like, I was quite pleased with the pastry and filling.
I thought the pastry would be a daunting experience, but in fact, it was quick and easy to prepare and only requires a few ingredients, all of which I had on hand. It took me a couple of tries to get it right; the first batch was inedible and ended up in the trash. While the dough is easy enough, the key to yummy cream puffs is, I believe, in the oven temperature and cooking time. The recipe I used said to bake the puffs for 20 minutes in a 200°C (400°F) oven. This did not work for me at all! The puffs were burned on top and undercooked in the center. Every oven is different, of course, but I obtained better results baking the puffs at 190°C (375°F) for about 25 minutes. Also, I formed the first batch of puffs using a pastry bag, which gave them a very… unappetizing shape. The second time around, I “dropped” the dough onto the baking sheet by heaping tablespoonfulls, the way I would a cookie, gently smoothing out the tops and sides as needed. This gave the puffs a more uniformly rounded shape.
While the puffs were in the oven, I made the crème patissière filling. Again, I was expecting this to be a complicated process; but in fact, it is very similar to making vanilla pudding! Once the puffs and the filling had cooled, I was able to fill the puffs using a pastry bag with a narrow tip.
After the filling process, I made the icing. This did not go as well as I had hoped. I found a recipe for a fondant icing, but it turned out to be a vanilla glaze, the kind one drizzles over cinnamon rolls. Tasty, but not the right icing for cream puffs. The recipe called for an egg white and about 180g of powdered sugar. The result was far too liquid, so I added a little extra sugar. This thickened it a bit, so I dipped the tops of the puffs in the icing. Apparently, the icing was still too liquid, and it dripped down the sides of the puffs and turned translucent as it set – like a glaze, rather than an icing. I placed the cream puffs on a cooling rack in the refrigerator to the let the icing set, taking care to line the shelf with parchment paper to catch the drips.
Despite the icing fiasco, the cream puffs were quite tasty – even better the next day!
And now for the recipe, with step-by-step directions (except for the icing – I will post a recipe for that as soon I find one that is suitable). Converting the amounts from metric to US Standard can result in some unusual measurements, but I’ve tried to get them as close possible:
Ingredients for pastry
– 1/3 c. + 1 tsp. butter
– 1 c. flour
– 1 c. water
– 3 eggs
– 1 tsp. sugar
– pinch of salt
Ingredients for crème patissière filling
– 2 c. milk
– 1 tsp. vanilla
– ½ c. sugar
– 2 egg yolks + 1 whole egg
– 1/3 c. + 4 tsp. flour
– pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 400°F (I prefer 375°F).
Heat the butter, water, sugar and salt together in a saucepan. When the butter is completely melted, add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon until the dough no longer sticks to the sides of the pan. Remove from heat.
Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each addition until each egg is fully incorporated into the dough. The result should look something like this:
Place the dough in small mounds on a greased baking sheet. I use about 1 heaping (and I do mean “heaping”) tablespoon per puff.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the pastries are golden brown and spring back when touched. Let cool completely.
Prepare ingredients. Heat the milk and salt in a saucepan.
While the milk is heating, beat the eggs and sugar together until they reach a pale yellow. Add the flour and vanilla. Gradually stir in the hot milk.
Pour le mixture back into the saucepan and continue stirring over low heat until it thickens. Let cool. To speed things up, I cover the surface of the filling with plastic wrap (to prevent a skin from forming) and I let it cool in the refrigerator.
When the filling is completely cooled, put it in a pastry bag with a long, narrow tip, and fill the pastries by piercing them from underneath. How can you tell if the pastries are full? I judge the amount of filling by the weight of the pastry in my hand. You can also pierce another small hole in the top, and stop filling the pastry one the cream starts to come out of the top. That hole will ideally be covered by the icing. Store cream puffs in the refrigerator.