Creampuffs are pretty easy and quick to make. They are made of choux pastry, filled with pastry cream and topped with whipped cream. Common variations include profiteroles, small creampuffs filled with whipped cream/ice cream/whatever and topped with chocolate; creampuffs with fruits; and the Paris-Brest, a ring-shaped choux filled with praline cream. The process for the basic creampuff consists of boiling milk, butter, flour (et al), and adding beaten egg to form the choux dough. The dough is then piped into rounds, baked, and then cut open and filled with pastry cream and whipped cream. The pastry cream consists mostly of milk boiled with egg yolks and sugar.
Ingredients - Choux
- 200g milk
- 80g butter
- 140g flour
- 5 eggs
- 18g sugar
- 1g salt
Methodology - Choux
- Pre-heat your oven to 390F.
- Put the milk, gutter, sugar, and salt into a saucepan. Bring to a simmer to melt the butter.
- While waiting for the milk to boil, you may sift the flour if you wish; it will make the next step easier. This is not mandatory though.
- Pour all the flour into the saucepan at once and mix rapidly with a wooden spoon. Work fast, the flour absorbs milk very quickly and if you don't mix it fast enough, you will get lumps. When finished, you should have a coherent ball of dough, and a slight residue on the saucepan, like so:
- Beat the eggs until you have a homogeneous mixture. Slowly (!!) add this mixture to the choux dough in the pot, making sure that you incorporate the egg completely before adding more. If you try this step too fast, you will get lumps of dough floating in egg; you don't want this. When done, the dough should be slick and shiny, and bordering on a batter in consistency.
- Pipe the batter into 1.5 inch mounds. If you do not have a pastry bag, or are too lazy, drop the batter off a large spoon; just don't expect anything too pretty if you do. Use a large tip (I like Ateco #807), and do not move while creating the mound. This is for the most basic shape; until you get more experience don't attempt to use a smaller tip to pipe a spiral or anything along those lines. The slightest mistake will leave it leaning lopsidedly, like so:
- Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, then lower the temperature to 340F and bake for an additional 20 minutes. The 390F baking serves to expand the choux, and the 340 strengthens it. Do not open the oven at any point during the baking; the influx of cool air can very well collapse your pastries, and you end up with something looking like deflated balloons. Likewise, if you do not bake them for long enough for their size, they will not be strong enough and will turn out limp and hard to cut, and will probably collapse as well.
Ingredients - Pastry Cream
- 500g milk
- 30g butter
- 100g sugar
- 100g egg yolks (about 7)
- 40g flour
- vanilla extract
Methodology - Pastry Cream
- Put the milk, butter, and half the sugar into a saucepan, and bring to a boil.
- Mix the yolks and the rest of the sugar together. Add the flour and vanilla extract, and whisk further to combine.
- When the milk is boiling, slowly pour about half of it into the yolk mixture while whisking rapidly to temper the yolks. Then pour this new mixture back into the remaining milk in the saucepan. This process is to make sure you don't cook the yolks too fast and end up with yolk lumps in sugary milk.
- Put the pot back on the stove on medium heat, and keep whisking. Do not stop whisking, or the bottom will cook enough to solidify and create lumps in your cream. The pastry cream is done when it starts bubbling and spitting like a pot of polenta or porridge. When you see the big bubbles, take the pot off the stove immediately; it's a fine line between pastry cream and a sweetened scrambled egg.
- Leave the cream out on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper to cool. You may cool it in the refrigerator if you are in a hurry, but if you try that make sure you cover it with plastic wrap, so a skin doesn't form on top of the cream. This isn't mandatory for resting at room temperature, but it wouldn't hurt.
When you are done with baking the choux, you will probably end up with something like the following, allowing for variance in size:
This is the most basic shape. You can try something more advanced with a smaller tip, or even a fancier top with a star tip or something similar, when you gain more experience in piping these things. Cut the creampuff open horizontally. Where you cut it depends on your preference for the amount of pastry cream filling, amount of whipped cream, aesthetics, etc. The most common I've seen seems to be a 1/3 top 2/3 bottom split, but I've also seen it cut halfway across the middle, or having just a tiny bit taken off the top for a dantier look.
Pipe the pastry cream into the choux, which should be empty (or very nearly) on the inside. Top with whipped cream, then the top part of the shell. Dust with powdered sugar to taste. Another option is to put some fruit on the whipped cream before topping with the upper half of the shell; the possibilities are endless. Personally I like using hand-whipped cream stiffened with a bit of confection's sugar with a star tip to make it look a bit fancier, but if you're in a huge hurry I guess reddi-whip will do as well... Though the results won't be nearly as good.
I've seen swan-shaped creampuffs in many bakeries, and it seems to be a fairly common improvement that doesn't take too much effort to accomplish. First, when piping you'll want to leave a bit of a tail on the base:
When cutting it, cut it in half across and cut the top lengthwise in half to make two "wings." Fill the bottom with pastry cream, then top with whipped cream. I like a series of teardrop-like shapes using a star tip for a good effect:
Simply attach the head (also choux pastry; simply pipe them with a small tip in a sort of S shape, and bake at 340 until brown and stiff, usually about 15-20 minutes) and re-top with the wings to finish. Again, dust with confectioner's sugar for a nice effect.