These easy Cream Puffs are homemade from scratch, and taste SO delicious freshly baked from the oven. A simple choux pastry dough is mixed together on the stove, then baked and filled with a rich vanilla pastry cream. All parts of the recipe can be finished in less than an hour!
When it comes to cream puffs and eclairs, freshness is everything.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bought cream puffs from a bakery, disappointed to find a stale and cardboard-like exterior, instead of the light and fluffy choux pastry that I know cream puffs should have. Which is why they’re so wonderful to make at home!
Cream puffs are a very simple dessert, but it’s their elegance that makes them so perfect. I remember the very first time I tried a cream puff, my stepdad was enjoying his day off work by watching some Sunday football, with a big tub of frozen cream puffs in his lap.
He held the bucket of golden puffballs in front of me and after tasting one, I instantly understood why he had the whole bucket out. Creamy and luscious vanilla filling encased with a light and golden dough…it’s perfect.
A true, classic cream puff is choux pastry filled with straight-up whipped cream, but I like making a pastry cream with whipped cream folded in to lighten it, kind of a hybrid between the two. It’s a little sturdier and more substantial, and I think it tastes the best!
In the recipe box below I’ve included my recipe for my favorite filling, this lightened vanilla pastry cream, but feel free to fill with whatever you’d like. I have a deliciously silky Chocolate Pastry Cream recipe on my site too that I love. I also have these tropical Coconut Rum Eclairs for a totally different take on this choux pastry classic.
Tips for Best Results
Use a sturdy spoon for the dough – A flimsy spatula will not work here. I recommend using a wooden spoon or a metal spoon for stirring the choux dough, as you’ll need to work the dough pretty thoroughly to get everything to mix evenly.
Use great dairy – This is the time to splurge on good quality butter, cream, and milk. As I discuss in my Butter Pie Crust post, different brands of butter vary in terms of flavor. My favorite is Kerrygold, though Plugra and Vermont Creamery are also good choices. I’ve also noticed with cream and milk that organic producers tend to make better tasting, more flavorful dairy.
Let the steam escape – After you pull the cream puffs from the oven, make sure to poke a hole in each one, to allow the steam to escape. This will give you a more crisp texture.
Step by Step Overview:
Start by making the choux pastry dough. Place a stick of butter and water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat:
Melt the two together, and once the butter melts, it should be pretty smooth:
Add all-purpose flour, then get ready to stir like crazy:
Using a wooden spoon, stir like mad until the mixture becomes smooth, and the dough falls away from the sides of the pan (which you can see here):
It’s essential to stir until you see this falling away happen.
Place the dough in a food processor with 5 large eggs:
Pulse the mixture until the eggs are incorporated and the the consistency of the dough is thick, kind of like a super thick cake batter:
No food processor?
You can also beat the eggs in by hand, one at a time, until incorporated into the dough. It’s just a bit tiring and more difficult than using the machine because the choux pastry is so thick.
Place the choux dough into a pastry bag, then pipe into little mounds on a baking sheet. Personally, I like to bake on a silicone mat or on parchment paper, to ensure the cream puffs do not stick.
Use wet fingers to press down gently on the tips, to give a more smooth ball shape on the top:
Bake in a 400F preheated oven for about 25 minutes, until the cream puff shells are golden brown. Because there are so many eggs in the actual pâte à choux dough, you do not need an egg wash for them to have a beautiful golden color.
Also, make sure you do not open the oven door during baking!
Once you pull the pastry shells out of the oven, poke holes into the side or bottom of each puff to let the steam escape. This is important for ensuring crispy hollow shells for filling.
Then let them cool completely to room temperature. I use this cooling time to make the filling.
Common filling choices are whipped cream, pastry cream, or even ice cream or gelato.
My personal favorite filling is a pastry cream with whipped cream folded into it, for a hybrid experience that’s luscious and rich, but not too heavy. Full instructions are in the recipe box below, but you’ll whip heavy cream to soft peaks and fold it into a rich pudding or custard filling.
If you wish, feel free to make the cream filling extra easy by simply purchasing some vanilla or chocolate ice cream to fill, or even using canned whipped cream.
How to Fill
If you have the right tip you can pipe the filling into the puffs without cutting them open. This is ideal if you have a more delicate filling like straight whipped cream, which is more prone to leaking out the sides.
I find it easiest to simply slice the cream puffs in half and fill. And I actually like the look of it better since you can see the filling peeking out! The filing I’ve shared below will be sturdy enough that it won’t leak out the sides.
As far as toppings go, I like dipping the tops with a little melted chocolate, and adding sprinkles, fleur de sel, and so on. I think they look fun with a little decoration, but you can also skip this step altogether.
Recipe Tips and FAQ
You can refrigerate these for a day or two, or freeze for up to 1 month, but know that once you refrigerate or freeze the dough, it won’t taste as good. The dough will be a bit stale.
Yes, in an airtight container for up to a month, but they won’t taste as good as fresh.
Technically yes, but I don’t like doing that because they taste much better fresh. A compromise would be to make the filling a day or two in advance, so you can have that ready to go when the cream puffs bake.
You may also fill these cream puffs with small scoops of ice cream instead, which would technically make them profiteroles. That’s delicious too, just a different experience.
You want to fill them as soon as they’ve cooled, so that they won’t melt the filling, but they still taste fresh from the oven and aren’t stale.
For the choux dough:
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 5 oz all purpose flour, by weight (1 cup, measured)
- pinch of salt
- 5 large eggs
For the vanilla pastry cream filling:
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp sugar
- 5 egg yolks
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- pinch of salt
- 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
Make the cream puffs:
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silpats.
- Place the water and butter in a saucepan and melt over medium high heat.
- Dump the flour and salt in all at once and stir, on the heat, for 2-3 minutes until the mixture is smooth and the dough falls away from the sides of the pan.
- Transfer the dough to a food processor and let it cool for five minutes.
- Add all the eggs, and pulse the mixture until the dough is smooth and has fully incorporated the eggs. The dough should look like a thick cake batter.
- Transfer this choux dough into a piping pag and pipe out small mounds of dough, about an inch in diameter, and about 1/2 inch tall. They will puff up considerably and you don’t want to make them too tall.
- Bake for about 25 minutes until the puffs are golden brown, then remove them from the oven and use a knife to poke a small hole into each of the puffs. This will let the steam escape and prevent our puffs from getting soggy. Let cool completely.
Make the filling:
- To make the pastry cream, scald the milk in a saucepan over medium high heat (you want to cook the milk to about 180 degrees F, when little bubbles start to form on the side of the pan. This is the stage before a boil).
- While the milk heats up, whisk to combine 1/2 cup sugar, the egg yolks, and cornstarch.
- Once the milk has come to the right temperature, slowly dribble the milk into the egg yolk mixture while whisking constantly, then return all of the liquid to the pan.
- Cook over medium high heat, stirring constantly, for the next minute or two, until the mixture comes to a boil and the mixture thickens up considerably.
- Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla and a pinch of salt. Taste and adjust vanilla and salt levels if needed. Chill the pastry cream in the fridge while you make the cream.
- Combine the heavy whipping cream and 2 tbsp sugar in a bowl and whip with either a hand mixer or a whisk until it forms soft peaks.
- Fold this mixture gently into the pastry cream to lighten it. You can now fill the puffs with this mixture, or you can chill it if you prefer. To fill, use a piping bag or simply cut the cream puffs in half and put the top back on after filling. Enjoy!
Nutrition is estimated using a food database and is only intended to be used as a guideline for informational purposes.
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