Cream puffs and the dream that is pastry cream

Want to know something? I didn’t like cream puffs growing up. Or eclairs. I never understood what the fuss was about. I couldn’t figure out why someone would want this thing that looked like a roll that was stuffed with a custard filling when you had options like ice cream sundaes, and cookies, and cake. Mmmmm…. cake. But then something happened. I had a profiterole from Choux Factory.

Oh. My. Word. It’s like I was reborn. Why had no one told me about this before? What WAS this filling? Swoon. Floating. Wonder. Now whenever wonder strikes me, the next thought is usually, “I can make this. How hard could it possibly be?” Sigh. Ladies and gents, this thought applies to everything. I think I can build coffee tables, sew my own clothes, fix my car. Hell I don’t put it past me to get it in my head that I can renovate a gorgeous old school brownstone in BK. Usually I can’t. But this. This cream I could do. It took me a few recipes, a few trials and a hell of a lot of breakdowns and tears before I found a recipe and technique that didn’t congeal the minute I came near it.



Now, I am perfectly content just eating this cream straight from the pot with spoon, but I probably shouldn’t. So next up was the puff. Ugh. One of the first recipes I tried came out like a dream. But only once. Just like I can’t control my dreams, I couldn’t control this original recipe. It just kept failing. Recipe after recipe, test after test until… one day.. VICTORY! Alton Brown’s recipe was a godsend. Bread flour to keep protein content in check, extra egg whites to help the puffing, and starting with a higher temperature make these practically fool proof. I’ve made them by dropping spoonfuls of down onto a parchment lined baking sheet, with a a smooth pastry tip, and a spikey pastry tip. All three methods work fine, but I prefer the spikey tip because I feel like they puff out better.

Try these guys out and let me know how they work for you. Happy baking!

Pastry Cream from Culinary Institute of America

1/4 cup cornstarch
3/4 cup sugar (divided use)
2 cups whole milk (divided use)
4 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

  1. Combine the cornstarch with 1/4 cup of the sugar in a mixing bowl, and then stir in 1/2 cup of the milk. Blend the yolks into the cornstarch mixture.
  2. Prepare an ice water bath; reserve for later use.
  3. Combine the remaining 1 1/2 cups milk with the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and the salt in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Remove pan from heat.
  4. Temper the egg mixture by gradually adding about one-third of the hot milk mixture, whisking constantly. Add the remaining milk mixture to the eggs. Return the mixture to the saucepan and continue cooking over medium heat, stirring with a whisk, until the mixture comes to a boil and the whisk leaves a trail in the pastry cream, 5 to 7 minutes. Now this is IMPORTANT! You need to whisk while it’s boiling. This cream changes from super liquid to custard consistency in a matter of a minute once it reaches the right temperature. You will feel it change. If you aren’t whisking, it’s going to turn into a goopy, chunky mess.
  5. As soon as the pastry cream reaches this stage, remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract and the butter. Transfer the pan to the ice water bath. Stir occasionally until the pastry cream is cool, about 30 minutes.
  6. Transfer the pastry cream to a covered storage container and refrigerate until needed, up to 3 days. I also put a piece of plastic wrap or parchment paper right on the surface of the cream before I put it in the fridge. Make sure the cream is room temp before covering and putting in the fridge. If it’s warm when you put it in the fridge, it will turn to liquid and lose it’s thick creamy consistency.

Pate Choux by Alton Brown

1 cup water
3/4 stick butter (6 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon sugar
pinch of salt
5 3/4 ounces bread flour (It’s really best to use a scale, but if you don’t have one this is about 1 1/3 cups using the ‘scoop method’)
1 cup eggs (about 4 large eggs and 2 whites) *Note 10/20/11 – the egg whites is what helps the puff actually puff. Measure out 3 large eggs and 2 whites first. If it’s below one cup, add the fourth egg.

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. In a medium sauce pan add water, butter, salt, and sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Try not to use a non stick pan.
  3. Dump in the entire batch of bread flour. Using a wooden spoon, or a plastic spatula, work flour into liquid until combined. It’s ok if there are a few chunks or spots of flour.
  4. Increase heat to medium and continue to work the flour until it comes together in a ball. Keep flattening the dough and working it until you see it start to stick and leave a residue on the pan.
  5. Transfer mixer to a mixing bowl and let it cool down for 5 – 8 minutes.
  6. With your mixer on the lowest speed, add eggs one by one. Let the egg get fully incorporated before you add the next once. I usually have to stop the mixer and use my spatula to help it combine. Continue adding eggs until the mixer is smooth and is elastic when you turn your beater through it.
  7. Use a piping bag to pipe out golf ball size chunks of dough, or spoon out dough onto a parchment paper linked baking tray.
  8. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes. Turn oven down to 350 degrees F and continue to bake for another 10 – 15 minutes, until golden brown.
  9. Remove from oven and pierce each puff to help release any excess steam.

To assemble – spoon pastry cream into a pastry bag. Pierce the puff with the pastry cream bag and inject pastry cream. If you want to add the chocolate stripes like I did, melt some chocolate, dip a spoon into the bowl, and flick across a batch of puffs. Or you can use a parchment cone (my usual method). You can even simply dunk the top half of the puff and have a smooth chocolate coating. Be creative!

For more behind the scenes photos, stories and discussions:

12 thoughts on “Cream puffs and the dream that is pastry cream

  1. Thanks Saira! You should definitely try them out and let me know how the recipes work for you. Hah, I think the only reason I make them is to have an excuse to eat the pastry cream 🙂

  2. cream puffs!!! these looks GORGEOUS!!! your photography alone makes me want to eat anything you take a pic of lol, it helps that everything is super delicious though. I am now craving a cream puff, a cold one. There are 2 things I like out of the fridge, cold pizza and and cream puffs! Have you used the pastry cream for anything else?

    btw-love the blog, can’t wait for more posts! 🙂

  3. Thanks guys!
    Maliha – I’ve used the pastry cream in small tarts, but since my tart shells were a disaster (too dry) all I ended up doing was eating the cream and strawberries out of the shell :p I plan on trying it again at some point.

  4. WHY DO YOU HATE ME THIS MUCH!??!?! you made cream puffs and didn’t give me any? and you take hi-res photos of them to rub it in my face? 🙁 ugggh!

    1. Hahah I don’t hate you Roon! I just can never find you when I make a batch because you’re off exploring a new city every month 🙂

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