These classic French cream puffs are light, delicate, and filled with fluffy, sweet whipped cream and dusted with powdered sugar.
While I love creating and baking incredibly simple recipes, like small batch chocolate chips cookies and chocolate Nutella cake, sometimes it’s fun to create classic French pastries that require a little more work, too, like cream puffs.
Cream puffs are delicate bites of crisp pastry filled with fluffy whipped cream. They aren’t too difficult to make and taste incredible! If you’ve ever taken a trip to France, you’ll see these pastries lining the shelves of almost every bakery you enter.
What are cream puffs?
Cream puffs, or profiteroles in French, are a classic French dessert made from a type of dough called pate a choux. When piped and baked, pate a choux has a slightly crispy exterior and light and hollow inside, making it the perfect vessel for filling.
Pate a choux is unique because you need to cook the dough on the stovetop for a minute or two to cook the flour before adding the eggs. Cooking the flour before baking helps create their unique texture and hollow centers. Then, eggs are added gradually until the dough reaches a pipeable consistency. You pipe the dough into small circles and bake them, creating perfectly light balls of pastry. The outsides are crunchy and the insides should be slightly wet and custardy. Once cooled, you can fill them with all types of fillings, but this recipe calls for a Chantilly cream, which is sweetened vanilla whipped cream.
Some other French pastries made with pate a choux are eclairs and Paris-Brest.
How to make cream puffs
To make cream puffs, first you’ll need to make the pate a choux and bake it. Then, they get filled with light and fluffy Chantilly cream (which is just whipped cream with powdered sugar and vanilla extract).
Make the pate choux dough
- Place butter, milk, water, sugar, and salt in a saucepan and heat on the stove until the butter is melted and the sugar is dissolved.
- Pour all the flour at once into the pot and stir until the flour is completely incorporated and a thick dough clumps into a ball. Beat the dough ball against the bottom and sides of the pan for 1 minute on medium heat, which gently cooks the flour (Note: You’ll know the dough is ready for the next step when it easily pulls away from the sides of the pot).
- Remove the dough from the heat and place in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (You can also do this with a handheld mixer or by hand with a whisk, but it is more difficult to incorporate the eggs by hand).
- Whisk the eggs together in a small bowl. Turn the mixer on medium speed and slowly and gradually add the eggs a bit at a time (about the amount of one egg). Allow the mixer to incorporate all the egg before adding more.
- When you have about the amount of one egg left, add it bit by bit until the dough reaches a soft, shiny, pipeable consistency.
Note: The amount of egg fluctuates because when you cook the dough on the stove, it’s impossible to control exactly how much liquid will evaporate and how dry the dough will get. So the important thing when adding the eggs is to check the dough between each addition. Once it reaches the a shiny, pipeable consistency, don’t add any more egg.
If you accidentally add too much egg and your dough is too thin, make 1/4-1/2 of the recipe again on the stove top and add it gradually to the runny pate a choux until it reaches the correct consistency.
Pipe and bake the cream puffs
- Pastry bag or large Ziploc bag
- Circle tip, about 1-cm in diameter
- Line two sheet pans with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
- Place your star tip either in a pastry bag or in the corner of a Ziploc bag. Cut a hole to bit the tip and then fill the bag with pate a choux.
- Pipe 1 1/2-2 inch mounds about 3 inches apart, keeping your piping bag at a 90-degree angle so they bake straight and not lopsided. Pipe continuously so the mound has the shape of a Hershey kiss.
- If you have sharp points on the tops of the mounds when you lift the piping bag, wet your finger and press them down.
- Bake for 15 mins at 400°F. Then, lower the temperature to 350°F with the cream puffs still in the oven and bake another 12-15 minutes until the tops are a golden brown.
- Allow to cool completely before filling.
Make the Chantilly cream
- Place cold cream, powdered sugar and a scraped vanilla bean or vanilla extract in a mixer bowl fitted with the whisk attachment.
- Whip until medium peaks form.
Filling the cream puffs
Once you’ve baked the cream puffs and they’ve cooled completely, you can fill them with Chantilly cream.
- Use a pairing knife to poke a hole in the bottom of each cream puff.
- Place the Chantilly cream in a piping bag and cut a small hole in the bag. Evenly deposit the cream into each cream puff through the hole in the bottom. Alternatively, you can split the cream puffs in half, cutting them horizontally, and fill the bottom part with cream. To make them look extra fancy, use a star tip and swirl the cream. Place the top half on top so it looks like a small sandwich.
- Dust with powdered sugar using a fine mesh strainer.
Note: Cream puffs are best served the day they are made so the pate a choux is fresh and not soggy, but I find they are still tasty the next day (just slightly softer).
Tips for making pate a choux
Pate a choux takes a bit of technique to master, so be sure to read my tips below to make your cream puffs come out perfect:
- Cooking the flour with the wet ingredients and sugar IS necessary – do not skip this step. This step cooks the flour slightly, which helps the dough puff up and create hollow shells.
- Be careful when adding the eggs to the pate a choux. The amount of eggs will vary slightly depending how much liquid evaporates when cooking the dough on the stovetop – this is why there is always a range in the amount of egg in pate a choux recipes. Add a bit of egg at a time and mix the dough together to check the consistency before adding the next. Once you’ve reached the right consistency, DO NOT add any more egg. If you accidentally add too much egg and your dough is too runny, make 1/4-1/2 of the recipe again on the stove top and add it gradually to the runny pate a choux until it reaches the correct consistency.
- Apply even pressure when piping the dough. Keep your piping bag at a 90-degree angle when piping your cream puffs and apply even pressure so the dough pipes continuously. Do not start and stop.
- Whip the cream when it’s cold. Cold whipped cream is much easier to whip than rom temperature, so leave the cream in the fridge until you are ready to whip it up into Chantilly cream.
Can I freeze cream puffs?
You shouldn’t freeze cream puffs once they are filled, but you can freeze the unfilled shells in a closed container or Ziploc bag for up to 2 months. To use, bring them to room temperature. Then, line cream puff shells on a sheet pan and place in a 350°F/180° oven for 5 minutes to crisp up. Allow to cool completely before filling.
More recipes you’ll enjoy
- Nutella Tart: Made of rich hazelnut crust and a simple, super creamy Nutella filling.
- White and Dark Chocolate Marble Cake: Rich, buttery pound cake swirled with both white and bittersweet chocolate cakes.
- Pumpkin Cheesecake: Rich, creamy, and bursting with pumpkin flavor.
- Carrot Loaf Cake: Moist and tender carrot cake topped with fluffy cream cheese frosting.
These classic French cream puffs are light, airy, and filled with fluffy sweetened whipped cream. Top them with a sprinkle of powdered sugar for a delicious, elegant treat!
- 1/2 cup (120 ml) whole milk
- 1/2 cup (120 ml) water
- 1/2 cup (1 stick/115g) unsalted butter
- 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (140g) all-purpose flour
- 3-4 large eggs
- 1 1/2 cups (360 ml) heavy cream, cold
- 1/2 cup (55g) powdered sugar, plus more for garnish
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract or one vanilla bean, split in half and scraped
Make the pate a choux: Preheat oven to 400°F/200°C. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
Place milk, water, butter, sugar, and salt into a medium-sized pot. Heat on medium heat until the butter is melted and the sugar and salt are dissolved, stirring occasionally. Add the flour all at once and mix with a large spoon until a dough paste is formed. Mix the dough ball with a large spoon against the bottom and sides of the pot for about a minute, which gently cooks the flour. You'll know it's done when the dough appears slightly dry and easily pulls away from the sides of the pot. Remove from heat and place dough into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.*
Whisk the eggs together in a small bowl. Turn the mixer on medium speed and slowly and gradually add the eggs a bit at a time (about the amount of one egg). Allow the mixer to incorporate all the egg before adding more. When you have the amount of one egg left, add it bit by bit until the dough reaches a soft, shiny, pipeable consistency. I usually have about half an egg leftover, but it just depends on how much liquid evaporates when cooking the choux on the stovetop.
Place the dough into a piping bag fitted with a round tip with an opening about 1-cm in diameter (it can be slightly larger or smaller)**. Holding the piping bag at a 90-degree angle, pipe 1 1/2-2-inch mounds 3 inches apart using even pressure. Do not start and stop as you pipe. To remove the pointy tails when you lift up the bag, wet your finger and gently press them down before baking.
Bake for 15 minutes then, keeping the cream puffs in the oven, lower the temperature to 350°F/175°C for 12-15 minutes, until the cream puffs are golden brown on top. Do not open the oven as they bake. Once fully baked, remove cream puffs from the oven and allow to cool completely on a cooling rack before filling.
To make the Chantilly cream: Using a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or using a handheld mixer, whisk heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla on medium speed until medium peaks form.
Fill the cream puffs: Use a sharp knife to poke a hole in the bottom of each cream puff. Fill a pastry bag with Chantilly cream and deposit into each cream puff through the hole. Alternatively, slice the cream puffs horizontally and pipe Chantilly cream into the base of the bottom half. Place the top half on top of the cream so it resembles a mini sandwich. Dust cream puffs with powdered sugar using a fine mesh strainer. Serve immediately.***
*If you don’t have a mixer, you can add the eggs by hand or use a handheld mixer. If adding by hand, use a whisk and mix the eggs into the dough vigorously. The dough will looked separated and curdled at first, but keep whisking until the eggs are fully incorporated and the dough is smooth.
**If you use a different size tip, you may need to adjust the baking time slightly. A larger tip will make slightly larger cream puffs, and may need to be baked a few minutes longer.
***Cream puffs are best eaten the day they’re made, but will stay good in the fridge for up to 2 days – just keep in mind they will get slightly soft the longer they sit.