Baking legend holds that cream puffs originated in Denmark and were made in France before finding their way to America’s kitchens. Popular throughout the last several decades, cream puffs are a culinary classic that any baker should be familiar with.
I had great fun making cream puffs at the photo studio in December when we shot the recipe for our spring Bunny Cream Puffs. It had been several years since I had tackled this pastry and was quickly reminded just how easy cream puffs are to make.
Cream puffs are crisp, hollow pastry shells made from dough called choux (pronounced shoo) pastry. This French named pastry is also used to make other baked specialties such as éclairs, gougere and profiteroles.
Cream puffs are so simple because they only require four ingredients you probably have on hand – water, butter, flour and eggs. The key to success is in blending these elements together in a timely manner.
Create this easy pastry by simply combining flour with boiling water and melted butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Heat the ingredients just until the butter is melted and the water has come to a full boil. Stir in the flour, being careful not to over mix it. Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon just until it forms a ball.
Remove the pan from the heat and beat in eggs until the mixture is thickened and becomes very shiny and smooth. Make sure to beat in the eggs vigorously, one at a time, using a wooden spoon or wire whisk.
The pastry has been sufficiently beaten when it pulls away from the sides of the pan in a ball.
During baking, the eggs make the pastry puff into irregular domes to create cream puffs.
After baking the puffs are split, hallowed out and can be filled with custard, whipped cream, ice cream or many other fillings and served as a dessert. They can also be sprinkled with powdered sugar or drizzled with a glaze.
Cream puffs can also be filled with a savory mixture such as chicken salad and served as a main dish or made into a miniature size as an appetizer.
Here are some additional cream puff tips:
· When dropping cream puff dough onto baking sheet, push dough off spoon with a spatula or second spoon so puffs will stay round. Do not add more dough to the original mound. The dough can also be piped to form a ring or other shape before baking.
· While puffs are hot, carefully split each with a serrated knife. Then, with a fork, gently remove any soft dough inside the puff, leaving a crisp shell.
· Store baked cream puff shells in an airtight plastic container or resealable plastic food bag to prevent them from drying out. Refrigerate shells and use them within 24 hours.
· Baked cream puff shells can be frozen for up to 2 months in a resealable plastic freezer bag. The shells only take 5 to 10 minutes to thaw at room temperature.
· Do not fill cream puffs until they are completely cooled. After they are filled, refrigerate at once, but don’t let them stand in the refrigerator longer than an hour or two or they may soften.
Now that you know all the secrets of making great cream puffs, try our recipe for Bunny Cream Puffs. This fun, spring recipe idea takes cream puffs to a new creative level! See our “bunny herd” on the home page and have fun decorating them with your kids. Many types of fillings and candy will work as decorations.
After conquering cream puffs, it is easy to experiment with different fillings. Over the holidays I filled them with ice cream, drizzled with chocolate sauce and garnished with crushed peppermint candy. My guests never realized how simple this elegant looking dessert was to prepare. Just vary the flavor of ice cream and chose a different garnish dependent on the season. Think of making cream puffs the next time you need an easy dessert idea.