Perfect Little Cream Puffs

by Caterina Borg, Good Food Gourmet on July 28, 2010

When I was in culinary school, there were a few things that they made us work on over and over again. One of those things was our piping. Whether we were learning how to pipe out buttercream to decorate a cake or how to pipe out chocolate decorations for a final garnish or discovering the frustration of how to write on a cake from a paper cone…piping was King here. The instructors knew that the quality of the piping mattered because it affected the end result, and so all of us settled in for many hours of lovemaking with our pastry bags…

And so it was when we learned how to make cream puffs and éclairs for the first time. The dough was fairly easy to put together and very forgiving to work with, but piping out a perfect little circle or a finger sized éclair was quite another feat. We practiced and practiced until the technique finally worked its way into our fingertips…and there really is a technique to making them correctly. There needs to be a certain amount of hand-eye coordination, so that you pipe out just the right amount of dough, then stop piping and with a quick flick of the wrist, cut across the top of the circle for a smooth finish. Doing it this way will  prevent the dreaded pointy tops!

It does take a little practice, but you can make yourself a batch of dough, pipe it out onto the sheet and if you don’t like it, scrape it off the pan liner, put it back into the bag and start again…the dough will seem like a thick glue, but it is very forgiving.  Let me know how it goes…

Cream Puff Dough (Rich Pate Choux)
1/2 cup milk (4 fl oz)
1/2 cup water (4 fl oz)
4 oz butter
1-1/2 teaspoons sugar
¼ t salt
6 oz all purpose flour (about 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon)
2-3 eggs (3.6-5.4oz)

Alternate Choux Paste Recipe (lean)
1-1/4 cups water (10 oz by weight)
6 tablespoons butter (about 3 oz)
1 tablespoon sugar (.5 oz by weight)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 2 heaping tablespoons flour (6 oz)
4 large eggs

Crème Chantilly
2 cups heavy cream
5-6 Tablespoons powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat oven to 425°F. Add all of the liquid along with the butter, salt and sugar into a medium size pot. Heat over moderately high heat until the butter melts and the liquid is scalded but not boiling. Add the flour all at once and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes together in a ball.

Continue stirring for another 5 minutes to remove as much liquid as you can.

Add this cooked dough to a mixing bowl and with the paddle attachment, beat until the dough is cool.

Crack the eggs into a small bowl and add to dough one by one, once it is cool. The final mixture should not be runny, so do not add too many eggs.

Take a little bit of the dough and dot each corner of the sheet pan so that the parchment paper will remain secure and not fly onto the puffs as they bake (this is important especially if you are baking in a forced air convection oven).

Then begin piping the same size puffs onto the sheet pan. This is critical because if they are different sizes, some will burn while others remain raw.

Start piping from the center of the sheet pan down towards you, then turn the sheet pan around and finish the other side using the same procedure.

Many people use an egg wash on their dough before baking, but I do not. Do this only if you want a shiny surface on your cream puff, otherwise you can omit this step. Bake one sheet at a time in the center rack of a conventional oven at 425°F for about 10 minutes. At this time, rotate the sheet pan and reduce the heat to 350°F until golden brown. Do not remove the pan from the oven too soon because the puff will remain raw inside and then collapse onto itself. Perfectly made puffs are slightly crispy on the outside and hollow on the inside.

Once they are completely cool, fill with either a pastry cream (custard) or a sweetened whipped cream, also called Crème Chantilly. To make this, add the cream to a mixing bowl, along with the sugar and stir them well together. Using the whip attachment beat the cream until you have stiff peaks. When the cream is almost to the right consistency, add the vanilla and mix in well again. While the cream is mixing, poke holes into the bottom of each cream puff. Use a pastry bag with a medium sized tip to fill each puff…be careful not to overfill or they will burst open.  You can also use a knife to cut them in half and pipe a rosette of cream on the base and then replace the top. Dust with powdered sugar and enjoy!

NOTE: If you would like to make a leaner dough, simply omit the milk and substitute another cup of water. The recipe will cut down on your food cost, but will not adversely affect the taste of the final product.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Lorraine @NotQuiteNigella July 29, 2010 at 2:23 p

You make such perfectly beautiful cream puffs Caterina! I wish mine were that perfect :D

avatar Caterina Borg July 30, 2010 at 8:10 p

Thanks Lorraine! I have been reading your blog for over a year now, and am a huge fan…When I grow up I want to be just like you!!

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