Cream Puffs and Éclairs: puff & stuff

About a month ago, I posted the following question on our King Arthur Flour Facebook wall:

“Question: Have you, would you, or are you interested in making cream puffs, chocolate éclairs, and/or profiteroles (ice cream-stuffed puffs)?”

I expected a moderate response. I mean, cream puffs and éclairs aren’t the most au courant dessert these days. Compared to cupcakes, they’re positively old school.

Well, guess what? Our Facebook followers, which I know include a lot of you, dear readers, are apparently not averse to “old school.”

Over 1,000 of you responded in the affirmative: YES, bring those cream puffs on!

Which positively warms my heart.

Maybe it’s the fact I’m a Wisconsin native, and the cream puff – to be exact, the dinner-plate-sized, stuffed-with-about-a-quart-of-whipped-cream cream puff – is, as of last July, the state’s official dessert.

Which makes sense, given Wisconsin’s license-plate moniker: America’s Dairyland.

Bet you didn’t know that that over 400,000 puffs are sold each year at the Wisconsin State Fair.

Or that at that fair last October, the Guinness record for World’s Largest Cream Puff was set by the Wisconsin Bakers Association. Big Choux to Fill will tell you all about this 125.6-lb. puff; the headline alone is worth its weight in gold (ink).

But you know the very best part about cream puffs – and their pastry-cream-filled counterpart, chocolate éclairs?

They’re just so gosh-darned easy to make.

Nothing fancy; no tricks. Just good, simple ingredients – and lots of cream.

What’s not to like?

If you haven’t made cream puffs in awhile, dig out your favorite recipe and get going.

If you’ve never made cream puffs – read on. Before you know it, you’ll be making not only cream puffs, but chocolate éclairs and ice cream profiteroles: three siblings under the same (pastry) skin.

Let’s start with the pastry shells, made from all-purpose puff paste, a.k.a. choux paste (“Big Choux to Fill” – HA!).

Now, before we begin: note that the following pastry recipe will make 12 cream puffs OR 12 éclairs. The filling recipes (one for whipped cream, one for pastry cream) make enough for 12 pastries each. The chocolate icing recipe makes enough for 12 éclairs.

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two baking sheets.

Did you know that by clicking anywhere on this block of pictures, you can enlarge them to full size? Go ahead, give it a try; it’ll work for any of our gridded photos.

Combine the following in a saucepan set over medium heat:

1 cup water
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
3/8 teaspoon salt

Heat until the butter has melted, and bring to a rolling boil.

Remove the pan from the heat, and add 1 1/4 cups (5 1/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour all at once, stirring vigorously.

Return the pan to the burner and cook over medium heat, stirring all the while, until the mixture smooths out and follows the spoon around the pan; this should take less than a minute.

Remove the pan from the heat, and let the mixture cool for 5 to 10 minutes. It’ll still feel hot, but you should be able to hold a finger in it for a few seconds. If you have an instant-read thermometer, the temperature should be below 125°F.

Transfer the mixture to a mixer, and beat in 4 large eggs one at a time, scraping the bowl as needed.

The mixture will look curdled at first, but when you add the last egg it should become smooth. Beat for at least 2 minutes after adding the last egg. See how silky it gets?

Using a generously filled tablespoon cookie scoop, or a level muffin scoop, drop the thick batter onto the prepared baking sheets in 3- to 4-tablespoon mounds.

The muffin scoop will make slightly larger puffs; either tool is a good choice. If you have neither, drop the dough from a wet spoon.

Space the mounds about 3″ apart, to allow for expansion.

Bake the puffs for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 350°F and bake for an additional 25 minutes, until they’re a medium golden brown. Don’t open the oven door while the puffs are baking; like popovers, they may fall a bit.

Remove the pastries from the oven.

Make a small slit in the top of each, and return them to the oven for 5 minutes, to allow the steam to escape.

Place them on a rack to cool. When they’re cool enough to handle, split each in half to make top and bottom pieces; splitting and exposing the centers to air will help keep them from becoming soggy.

And now, as the puffs cool – a word from our sponsor. If you want to prepare the whipped cream filling for these puffs ahead of time, it’s a good idea to use whipped cream stabilizer, which helps whipped cream hold its shape.

The puffs in the back were filled with stabilized whipped cream. In front, cream that was whipped without stabilizer, then refrigerated overnight. See the difference?

OK, back to the recipe.

Pour 1 pint heavy or whipping cream into a mixing bowl, and begin to whip it on high speed (using your mixer’s whisk attachment, if you have one).

Gradually pour in 1/4 cup granulated sugar (or to taste) as the cream whips. If you’re whipping cream more than a few hours ahead of time, mix 1/4 cup whipped cream stabilizer with the sugar before adding.

Whip cream until stiff, but be careful not to over-whip; it should still look smooth.

Fill each puff with about 1/3 cup whipped cream.

Yes, this is quite a lot; we Wisconsinites love our whipped cream!

Sift confectioners’ sugar over the puffs, and serve.

OK, I hear you – “I want to make these ahead of time…”

Make the shells, and store them at room temperature, lightly covered; they’ll stay pretty good for a few days. If you can’t use them within a few days, don’t split them in half after baking; place cooled puffs on a baking sheet, and freeze. Transfer to airtight storage of some kind, and freeze for no longer than a few weeks.

Your best bet is to whip the cream no more than several hours ahead of time, unless you stabilize it with whipped cream stabilizer, as mentioned above; in that case, it can be whipped a couple of days ahead.

Thaw frozen puffs at room temperature, uncovered. They won’t be as crisp as they were when freshly baked; if desired, refresh them in a 350°F oven, lightly covered with foil, for about 10 minutes.

Fill puffs with whipped cream just before serving. If you can’t manage that – fill no more than several hours ahead, and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Now, how about chocolate éclairs?

Same pastry, different shape; different filling, added icing.

Pipe the puff batter onto a parchment-lined or lightly greased baking sheet. Make 5″ logs about 1/2″ to 3/4″ in diameter.

To shape éclairs without a pastry bag, place a sandwich bag into a glass, to hold it securely upright as you fill it. Roll the bag’s edge over the rim of the glass, to hold it in place.

Spoon the batter into the bag. Cut off one corner of the bag, making a 1/2″ cut. Squeeze the batter onto the baking sheet through the hole in the corner.

Bake éclairs the same way you would puffs; see oven temperature and baking time above.

To make the éclair filling, prepare your favorite pastry cream. You’ll need about 3 cups of filling.

While homemade pastry cream is delicious, I have to admit to taking an easy shortcut 99% of the time: jazzed-up instant pudding.

Pour 3 cups milk into a bowl (the higher-fat the milk, the richer the filling; I often use half & half or even light cream).

Add the contents of 2 regular-size boxes of vanilla instant pudding mix (sugar-free is fine), plus 2 teaspoons vanilla extract. Beat until thick, and refrigerate until ready to use.

Spoon the filling into the split éclair shells.

To make the icing, place 1 cup chocolate chips or chopped semisweet chocolate and 1/2 cup heavy or whipping cream in a small saucepan or microwave-safe bowl or cup.

Heat over low heat (or in the microwave) until the cream is very hot. Remove from the heat, and stir until the chocolate melts and the icing is smooth.

Spoon over the éclairs, spreading to the edges.

Serve immediately; or refrigerate for up to several hours.

Now, how about profiteroles? Fill cream puff shells with ice cream, and drizzle with the sauce of your choice; chocolate is traditional.

Read, bake, and review (please) our recipe for Cream Puffs and Eclairs.

Print just the recipe.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. pam young

    Iam looking for the whipped cream stabilizer to buy Where can I get? Last time I got it from you.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi there, Pam! We no longer carry whipped cream stabilizer. We’d suggest doing a quick Google search for it to see if you can find another product that would work for you. Best of luck and happy baking! Morgan@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Alice. Puffs can be baked, cooled, and frozen for up to 3 months. They tend to get soggy really fast, so I’d recommend waiting to fill them until the day you’re going to serve them. They’ll thaw at room temperature in an hour or so. Annabelle@KAF

  2. Louise Smoczynski

    Just so you know, Wisconsin’s license plates do not say Dairy State. The correct slogan is America’s Dairyland. lcs

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You’re absolutely right, Louise, and we appreciate you pointing this out. We’ve gone ahead and updated the post so it’s correct. America’s Dairyland sounds like quite a pleasant place to be! Kye@KAF

  3. Cowsluvr

    I have a different recipe for choux pastry, but going to try King Arthur’s recipe. For my filling I use my go to cream recipe which is a contained of whipping cream and one pkg. (small for 2 c. cream) of instant vanilla pudding. Whip together until cream and pudding have melded together to give you a creamy, rich filling. (it’s yummy for a number of things) Then top with your favorite chocolate recipe. Yummo for my tummo for sure. Cannot wait to try these. Cowsluvr from NH.

    Reply
  4. Teyebeh Bashir

    I had a question. I would like to make a large batch of these but my oven can only accommodate one tray at a time. I tried 2 trays and the batch on lower rack did not rise like the ones on middle rack. What do I do with the batter in between baking? Do I refrigerate or leave it room temperature? Cause in between baking I need to wait for oven to reach 400 again since each batch is taken out at 350. Hope I may sense. Thanks

    Btw, I made these today and my guests loved them. Thank you so much!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi there, choux pastry baker. We understand what you’re asking. You can either try leaving the second half of your choux pastry in a bowl, covered with plastic wrap so it doesn’t form a skin at room temperature; or you can pipe your cream puffs/éclairs and then put those straight into the fridge. (Our bakery bakes choux pastry that’s been kept in the fridge overnight with good results.) You may need to extend the baking time just slightly if you opt for the piped-in-the-fridge option. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  5. Ines

    I love cream puffs! One problem I have had, and I hope you can offer some suggestions, the finished baked product is not as airy and light as I have tasted in local bakeries. The puff cooks nice and high and has a golden color with an air pocket but the dough part is dense. Am I cooking it too long or is the heat too high when preparing the dough on the stove? The recipe I have used is the Martha Stewart version and it calls for the oven to be at 350 degrees throughout the baking part. I noticed in your instructions there is a high heat at first and then the oven is lowered. Do you think that may be my problem?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Ines, there’s a few pieces of advice we have for you. First is the oven temperature. We’ve found that starting out at a high temperature (425°F) gives the choux pastry a nice lift and creates steam inside the pastries. Lowering the temperature to 350°F then allows them to dry out and become crispy, so you may want to give this approach a try. Additionally, be sure your batter is not too hot when you’re adding the eggs initially — they’re the only leavening ingredient in the dough, and if they get too hot they’ll start to cook and won’t perform correctly in the batter. Lastly, consider using a mixture of water and milk for the liquid in your choux dough. Milk encourages browning while the water makes them crispy. It sounds like you’re looking for a combination between the two, so you might want to give this a try. Good luck! Kye@KAF

  6. Our Favorite Bakery

    I have to admit, i read your posts to compare to my recipes and see what makes better sense to me. Another admittion – a LOT of good ideas!
    Now , I just made both, cream puffs and a Bailey’s spiked whip cream. You mentioned some type of stabilizer. I have never used it before but I add dry pudding mix and powder sugar and my whip cream is always stiff.

    Reply
  7. jennifer

    I’ve made these and they looked great, but the flavor is very eggy. Any suggestions for additions to the whipping cream that will counteract the eggy flavor?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Jennifer, if the choux pastry tastes a bit egg, try cooking the dough and baking the puffs for longer. Extending both of those processes should help get rid of any of that residual “eggy” taste. Additionally, you can flavor your whipping cream with a bit of almond extract, or if you really want it to shine, use Fiori di Sicilia. It’s a heavenly combination of citrus blossom and vanilla bean. This ingredient might be the trick! Kye@KAF

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