Cream puffs offer irresistible indulgence, where crispy, golden shells meet their creamy, dreamy match. Get ready to bake your way to sweet perfection and watch these elegant delights disappear!
Cream puffs are like little bites of heaven—crispy on the outside, with a soft, creamy filling on the inside. Made from a light pastry dough (called pâte à choux) that puffs up in the oven, they’re then filled with sweet, silky pastry cream. Dust them with a bit of powdered sugar, and you’ve got yourself a treat that’s as pretty as it is delicious!
Why You’ll Love This Cream Puffs Recipe
- Simplicity meets elegance. This recipe turns simple ingredients into an elegant dessert that’s sure to impress your guests!
- Light and airy perfection. With a golden, crispy shell and a cloud-like creamy filling, each bite is a delightful contrast of textures.
- Versatile and customizable. Whether you stick to the classic vanilla cream filling or venture into other flavor territories, this recipe is a perfect canvas for your culinary creativity. Plus, they’re just as stunning dusted with powdered sugar as they are drizzled with rich chocolate.
- Crowd-pleaser. There’s something universally appealing about cream puffs. Easy enough for beginners but impressive enough for seasoned bakers, you’ll fall in love with the magic of making (and eating!) these delightful pastries. Serve them for a special occasion like Valentine’s Day or an anniversary, or just let them turn an ordinary day into something special!
What You’ll Need
See the recipe card below for ingredient quantities and full instructions. Here are some notes about the ingredients:
- Milk – For the best flavor and texture, whole milk works best.
- Unsalted butter – You’ll need butter for both the pastries and the filling. For both, cut the butter into cubes to help it melt and mix easily.
- Sugar – There’s a bit of sugar in the pastries, but most of the sweetness will be in the filling.
- All-purpose flour – Measure by weight for the best results. Otherwise, use the spoon and sweep method. I recommend sifting the flour here. If you’re not weighing your flour, then sift it after you’ve measured. Learn more: How to Measure Flour
- Eggs – Lots and lots of eggs! You’ll need whole eggs for the pastries and just egg yolks for the filling. If you don’t want to waste the egg whites, you can make a batch of coconut macaroons or hazelnut macaroons, or freeze them for later.
- Heavy cream – Look for heavy cream or heavy whipping cream.
- Corn starch – This helps thicken the filling.
- Vanilla bean paste – You can substitute an equal amount of vanilla extract if you prefer.
- Confectioners’ sugar – Also known as powdered sugar. Use this to dust over the assembled cream puffs before serving.
How to Make Cream Puffs
If you’re intimidated by making homemade cream puffs, don’t be! I think you’ll find that they’re surprisingly simple to make and definitely sure to impress. Here’s what you’ll need to do:
Make the Pastries
- Prepare for baking. Heat the oven to 400°F. Line baking sheets with silicone liners or parchment paper. You’ll need 2 or 3 baking pans, depending on how you space the pastries on the pan.
- Mix the wet ingredients. Combine the milk, water, butter, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a gentle boil, and then remove from the heat.
- Add the flour. Stir the flour into the wet ingredients, and then return the pan to the heat. Cook for 2 more minutes, stirring constantly. The dough will form a ball as it cooks.
- Cool. Transfer the dough to a heat-resistant mixing bowl. Use a hand mixer to mix the dough for 1 minute to let it cool.
- Add the eggs. Mix the eggs into the dough one at a time until combined. The dough should be a pipeable consistency.
- Form the cream puffs. Transfer the dough to a piping bag fitted with a large open tip. Pipe the dough in mounds onto the prepared pans, leaving space between the pastries to allow for spreading. Make your cream puffs roughly 2 inches in diameter. Dampen your fingertips and press down the peaks of each pastry.
- Bake. Place one pan at a time in the oven, and bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until the pastries are golden brown and puffed.
- Cool. Place the pastries on wire racks to allow them to cool completely before filling them.
Make the Filling and Assemble
- Mix the wet ingredients. Whisk together the milk, cream, and egg yolks.
- Cook. Stir together the sugar, salt, and corn starch in a medium saucepan. Add the egg mixture while continuing to stir. Once the eggs are incorporated, cook the mixture over medium heat, whisking constantly, until it thickens and coats the back of a spoon.
- Finish mixing. Remove the pan from the heat, and add the butter and vanilla bean paste. Stir until combined and smooth.
- Chill. Transfer the filling to a bowl and cover, placing plastic wrap directly on top of the filling. Refrigerate for 1 hour, and then transfer to a pastry bag with a large star tip.
- Assemble. Slice each pastry in half, and pipe the filling onto the bottom half of each. Place the tops on top of the filling. Dust with confectioners’ sugar.
Tips for Success
Before you get started, read through these tips to help ensure cream puff success!
- Pastry dough consistency. After adding the eggs, the dough should be smooth, but still thick enough to hold its shape when piped. If it’s too stiff, the puffs won’t expand as much. If too runny, they won’t hold their shape.
- Piping uniform puffs. To ensure uniform size and shape, consider using a template under your parchment paper as a guide or try a silicone mat with templates on it. This can help achieve consistently sized puffs that bake evenly.
- Avoiding cracks and splits. High oven temperatures can cause the puffs to expand too rapidly, leading to cracks. Make sure your oven is accurately calibrated by checking its temperature with an oven thermometer. Also, opening the oven door during the initial baking period can cause temperature fluctuations, so try to resist peeking!
Unleash your creativity with countless ways to put your own spin on these cream puffs. Here are some ideas to kickstart your creativity:
- Fruit-filled. Add a dollop of your favorite jam or fresh fruit compote before adding the cream filling. Raspberry, strawberry, or apricot jams offer a tart contrast to the sweet, creamy filling.
- Lemon or citrus cream. Add the zest of 1 lemon, lime, or orange to the milk when heating it for the cream filling. Strain before adding to the egg yolks for a bright citrus flavor. You can boost this by incorporating a tablespoon of the corresponding citrus juice into the cream once it’s cooled.
- Coffee-infused cream. Infuse the milk with 2 tablespoons of ground coffee before heating it for the cream filling. Strain the mixture to remove the coffee grounds before combining with the egg yolks. This gives a subtle coffee flavor that pairs wonderfully with the sweetness of the puffs.
- Ice cream. For a summery twist, slice cream puffs in half and fill them with a scoop of ice cream. Drizzle with chocolate sauce or caramel, and serve immediately.
- Pudding. For another filling option, try pudding – homemade is great or take a shortcut and use a mix.
Moving beyond the classic sprinkle of powdered sugar, there’s a whole world of delicious possibilities for serving your cream puffs. Let these ideas spark your imagination:
- Fresh berries. I love to serve these cream puffs with fresh raspberries. Strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries also offer a nice balance of tartness and sweetness that complements the richness of the cream puffs.
- Chocolate sauce or ganache. Serving warm chocolate sauce or ganache on the side for dipping or drizzling over the cream puffs adds a luxurious touch. The contrast of warm chocolate with the cool, creamy filling is irresistible.
- Fruit coulis. A raspberry, strawberry, or mango coulis can add a vibrant splash of color and a tangy contrast to the sweet, creamy puffs. These can be easily made by blending the fruit with a bit of sugar and straining it for a smooth sauce.
- Whipped cream. Offer a side of lightly whipped cream flavored with vanilla, almond extract, or even a splash of liqueur like Grand Marnier or Chambord.
How to Store
Cream puffs are best the day they’re made, but you can store the assembled pastries in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a day or two. If you can store the pastries and filling separately, that will help prevent them from becoming soggy.
Can Cream Puffs Be Frozen?
Yes, you can freeze the unfilled pastries. After they have cooled completely, place them slightly spaced apart on a rimmed baking sheet and freeze them until they’re firm. This should take about an hour. Then, transfer them to a freezer-safe container. For an extra layer of protection, you can wrap each pastry in plastic wrap before placing them in the container. Properly stored, they should keep in the freezer up to 2 months.
When you’re ready to serve, let the pastries thaw at room temperature for about an hour or until they’re completely thawed. Then, to crisp them up, you can reheat them in a 300°F oven for 5 to 10 minutes. Let them cool before filling as usual.
Frequently Asked Questions
Ensure your oven is properly preheated and at the correct temperature. Avoid opening the oven door while baking, as drafts can affect puffing. Also, check that your dough was the right consistency before piping. It should be thick but still pipeable. Too runny, and it won’t hold its shape; too stiff, and it might not expand well.
Cream puffs may deflate if they’re not fully baked. They need to develop a sturdy structure to hold their shape. Make sure they’re golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. Letting them cool in the oven with the door cracked open helps them set.
This can happen if they’re not baked long enough or if they’re stored in airtight containers before they’ve completely cooled. Let them dry out in the oven with the door slightly ajar after turning off the heat to help remove excess moisture.
Make sure to whisk constantly when cooking to prevent eggs from scrambling. If necessary, strain the cream filling through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any lumps for a silky texture.