Cream puffs, eclairs, or profiteroles... all use the same kind of choux pastry dough. Cream puffs are round, eclairs a little longer in shape, and profiteroles are basically cream puffs with ice cream and drizzled with chocolate or fudge sauce... yum! Cream puffs are an impressive dessert, yet very simple to make.
Have you ever wanted to make cream puffs, but just think they are too difficult? Well, you must try again. Cream puffs are very easy to make, if you just follow some basic tips that I have learned over my years of baking and catering.
When I was still catering, we made many many cream puffs. Not only did we fill those with whipped cream and mousse fillings for desserts, but we also made them as a shell for our savory chicken salad, which was a huge hit with our customers. Now that I am not catering any longer, I don't often make the chicken salad puffs, but I have been experimenting lately with different presentations of dessert cream puffs.
Once you learn how to make the choux pastry dough, you can make the cream puffs any size you wish, from mini to much larger. My favorite is usually somewhere in between. When making a cream puff tower, you usually need to make very small, or mini puffs. I have not yet perfected the true croquembouche-the French cream puff tower assembled with caramel that hardens and makes a crunch in your mouth, and is decorated with strings of pulled caramel. It is a perfect combination of flavors- the soft yummy sweetness of the filling and the crunchy caramel as you bite into the cream puff. Usually, you use some sort of a crocquembouche mold for the best results. It is my goal, sometime soon, to perfect one of these. I have assembled small cream puff towers with melted chocolate, which also works well... just not the true French croquembouche (which means "crunch in the mouth.")
In the meantime, I would like to share the recipe and tips for making a perfect cream puff, and also my basic simple mousse and simple Bavarian Creme recipes.
One thing I have learned to do is to measure my eggs. We have our own chickens, and so the eggs are not always consistent in size. 1 cup of our fresh eggs usually equals about 4 extra large eggs. My baked items always turn out better when I measure the eggs to make sure the amount is consistent.
BASIC CHOUX PASTRY DOUGH
1 cup water
1/2 cup (1 stick butter)
1/4 tsp. salt
1-2 tsp. sugar (optional)
1 cup flour
4 extra large eggs (1 cup)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line 2 bun pans with parchment paper.
Bring water, butter, salt, and sugar (if desired) to a rapid boil. Remove from heat and add flour, and stir until it forms a ball and comes away from the sides of the pot. Return to heat for 1-2 minutes and stir until you have a smooth ball and less moisture. Measure the eggs. Pour mixture into mixing bowl, fitted with a flat paddle. I use a KitchenAid, but any mixer will do. You can even just use a spoon and lots of elbow grease. Turn on mixer and add one egg at a time. Mix until incorporated, then add the next, and so forth. Continue mixing until you have a soft smooth batter.
Put batter into a pastry bag fitted with large tip, and pipe onto pans. You can also use a cookie scoop or two spoons to put batter onto pans. If you have peaks at the top of your dough balls, wet fingertip and smooth down. This will prevent the tips from burning.
This next step is very important and I have learned from trial and error. Put puffs in the 425° oven for 15 minutes, then turn the temperature down to to 375° and bake for another 15-20 minutes, depending on the size of your cream puffs. This will make certain that your puffs are dry enough and will not collapse, yet still remain golden color. I have learned this from experience.
Remove from oven and cool completely, away from draft, before filling. When ready to fill, you can either slice the tops and fill, or use a pastry bag by inserting the tip into the side or bottom of each puff to fill with cream or mousse filling. Sprinkle dessert puffs with powdered sugar.
SIMPLE BAVARIAN CREME
8 oz. cream cheese
(2) small packages vanilla instant pudding mix
3/4 cup milk
1 large or 2 small containers of Cool Whip, thawed
Beat cream cheese until softened. Gradually add pudding mix until combined. Very slowly add the milk, and continue beating until smooth. Fold in Cool Whip until thoroughly combined. Keep in refrigerator, or freeze for longer storage.
EASY MOUSSE FILLING
8 oz. cream cheese
1 1/2 - 2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 small container of Cool Whip
Cocoa, fruit, jams, fillings, peanut butter, Nutella, or any other flavorings
Beat cream cheese to soften. Add powdered sugar and vanilla, and beat until smooth. If you want chocolate mousse, add desired amount of cocoa at this time. Beat until smooth. Fold in Cool Whip until thoroughly combined. Fold in desired flavorings, or leave plain for vanilla mousse. Refrigerate or freeze for longer storage.