Cream Puffs with Pastry Cream: A fancy dessert that’s easy to make at home. Crisp choux dough shells with sweet and silky pastry cream. And they freeze great too!
Can you believe it!? Today marks 7 years since I started blogging. SEVEN!!
I wrote last year what it felt like all those years ago, fumbling around the kitchen, never straying from a recipe. These cream puffs are a testament to how far I feel I’ve come.
They are not difficult by any stretch, but the thought of making them intimidated the heck out of me for years. And if you’ve ever been New England’s major agricultural fair, The Big E, you’ll know that I have pretty high standards for cream puffs.
We’re talking cream puffs AS BIG AS YOUR FACE. I kid you not!
What are Cream Puffs Made With?
The pastry shell of the these cream puffs is a basic pâte à choux dough, a simple and timeless blend of pantry staples of eggs, butter, milk, flour, sugar, salt, and water.
Yes, the ingredients are so very basic!
The pâte à choux is made partially on the stovetop and finished in the food processor. Then you’ll pipe the soft pastry paste into rounds on a baking sheet and bake them off until they are puffy and golden.
Baking the choux dough in a super hot oven allows the dough to bake into puffed-up pastry shells that you’ll fill with pastry cream. Or whipped cream. Or ice cream (hello profiteroles!).
I chose pastry cream for these cream puffs this time because well…it’s pastry cream! I could faceplant into a bowl of pastry cream and never feel bad about myself.
That time I made pastry cream for a strawberry tart was the first time I got super excited about a fancy dessert that had turned out so well. There’s just something about pastry cream that gives me butterflies!
Anyway! You can pipe the pastry cream directly into the pastry shells or slice them open and slather a layer of cream between the halves.
How to Store Pastry Cream
You can make the pastry cream for this recipe up to 3 days in advance of when you need it. Keep it in a glass bowl in the fridge.
Press plastic wrap directly on the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate until cold and set. If you have a cover for the bowl (like a Pyrex storage bowl) put the cover on top as well – this will help to keep it extra fresh.
When eaten fresh, the cream puff shells are ever so slightly crispy with a burst of cold and creamy pastry cream nestled inside. Needless to say, these cream puffs with pastry cream are insanely amazing!
I’m almost ashamed to admit that the two of us polished off a batch of these cream puffs in the course of a weekend with no regrets whatsoever. #foodbloggerproblems
Can you freeze cream puffs?
Yes! You can freeze cream puffs that are filled! And it’s easy to do!
Just make them according to the instructions below and freeze the filled cream puffs on a parchment-lined baking sheet until frozen, about 4 hours. Make sure they don’t touch each other or they will stick together.
When the cream puffs are frozen, toss them in a zip-top bag and put them back in the freezer.
When you’re ready to eat them, thaw as many as you need in a zip-top bag in the refrigerator overnight.
You can keep these cream puffs frozen for about 2 months.
Keep in mind the pastry shells may have softened when you thaw them but they will still be delicious!
And with the ever-difficult decision of what to make for Easter dessert looming over me, I think I may need to make these babies reappear.
For the pastry cream:
- 2 cups half-and-half
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- Pinch of table salt
- 5 large egg yolks
- 3 tbsp cornstarch
- 4 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
- 1 ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
For the cream puff shells:
- 2 whole large eggs plus 1 large egg white
- 5 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces
- 2 tbsp whole milk
- 6 tbsp water
- 1 ½ tsp granulated sugar
- ¼ tsp table salt
- 2 ½ oz all-purpose flour, sifted
- To make the pastry cream: Heat the half-and-half, 6 tablespoons of the sugar, and the salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat until simmering, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar.
- Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks in a medium bowl until well-combined. Whisk the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar into the eggs, and whisk until the sugar has begun to dissolve and the mixture is creamy, about 15 seconds. Whisk in the cornstarch until combined and the mixture is pale yellow and thick, about 30 seconds.
- When the half-and-half mixture reaches a full simmer, slowly whisk the simmering half-and-half into the yolk mixture by the ladleful to temper the eggs. Return the mixture to the saucepan, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula. Return the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly, until a few bubbles burst on the surface and the mixture is thickened and glossy, about 30 seconds. Off the heat, whisk in the butter and vanilla. Strain the pastry cream through a fine-mesh sieve set over a medium bowl. Press plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate until cold and set, at least 3 hours or up to 2 days.
- To make the cream puff shells: Beat the eggs and egg white in a liquid measuring cup until combined. You need ½ cup - discard the excess. Set aside. Ready your food processor, fitted with the steel blade. Grease the bottom of a large baking sheet with butter or cooking/baking spray and the line baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Bring the butter, milk, water, sugar, and salt to a boil in a small saucepan set over medium heat. Once the mixtures fully boils and the butter is melted, immediately remove the pan from the heat and beat in the flour with a wooden spoon until it combines and clears the sides of the pan.
- Return the pan to low heat and using a heatproof rubber spatula, cook the mixture while you stir it constantly with a smearing motion on the bottom of the pan. Continue this for about 3 minutes. The mixture should be slightly shiny, look like wet sand, and tiny beads of fat from the butter should appear on the bottom of the saucepan. If you have an instant thermometer, the temperature should read 175° to 180° F.
- Immediately transfer the mixture to the food processor. Leave the feed tube open and process (not pulse) for 10 seconds. With the machine running, gradually add the eggs through the feed tube in a steady stream. When the eggs have been added, stop processing and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Process for another 30 seconds, until the mixture turns to a thick, smooth, and sticky paste.
- Preheat the oven to 425° F with a rack in the center of the oven. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a ½-inch round tip with the paste. Pipe the paste into 24 1½-inch rounds on the baking sheet. Dip the back of a small spoon in some cold water and gently smooth out the irregular tops of the rounds.
- Bake for 15 minutes then reduce the oven temperature to 375° F - do not open the oven door. Bake for another 10 minutes until the puffs are golden brown and fairly firm - they should not be soft and squishy. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack and using a clean kitchen towel, hold each puff while you slide a ¾-inch slit into the side to allow the steam to escape with a paring knife. Return the baking sheet to the oven, prop the door open with a wooden spoon, and allow the puff to dry out and crisp up for about 45 minutes. Transfer the puffs from the baking sheet to a wire rack to cool completely.
- To assemble the cream puffs: Once the pastry cream has chilled for at least 3 hours, slice a small X into the side of each pastry puff. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a ¼-inch round tip with pastry cream and pipe some cream into the X of each pastry puff. You'll know when you've piped enough cream because the cream will start to either push out the opposite side of the puff or it will start to push the pastry bag out. Dust the tops of the filled cream puffs with some sifted powdered sugar and serve immediately.
Storage and Do ahead: You can store the unfilled cream puff shells (at the end of Step 9) at room temperature for up to 24 hours or freeze them for up to 1 month. If you freeze them, thaw them at room temperature then heat them on a baking sheet at 300° F for 5 to 8 minutes, until crispy.
Alternatively, the cream puffs can be fully assembled in advance, frozen, and thawed without issue. I tested doing this and the only issue I found when thawed is that the pastry shells aren't crispy any longer. It didn't deter from the taste at all, and the pastry cream was still delicious, so if you're OK with a soft cream puff this would be a great make-ahead dessert.
adapted from Baking Illustrated by the editors of Cook's Illustrated
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