Quentin's Choux à la crème

by Quentin Rizzardi

Choux à la crème (cream puffs) are a staple of French baking tradition. We eat them at weddings, family reunions, or every time we want to feel a bit fancy! These tasty bites are a perfect way to dive into the French style of baking, because they combine two very common elements of French pastry into one delicious result: the pâte à choux is used to create the choux themselves, but is also used for beignets, churros, St Honoré cakes and many other treats; and the crème pâtissière used to fill the choux is also found in éclairs or millefeuilles. So once you know how to make these two, the world of French delicacies opens to you!

This being a French recipe, the quantities are in metric (grams, milliliters, etc.) We have provided some US measure conversions, but they’re not as precise, so we wholeheartedly encourage you to keep to metric and use a scale!

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One final word of warning: stretch those shoulders because making these can be a bit of an arm workout. Ready? Here we go!

Ingredients for the pâte à choux (between 20 and 40 choux, depending on size):

  • 125g (1 cup) of flour

  • 80g (⅓ cup) unsalted butter

  • 250mL (1 cup) water (you can use milk or a mix of both for a richer result)

  • 3 eggs (+1 optional for egg wash)

  • 1 tbsp sugar

  • 1 pinch salt

  • Some powdered sugar (optional, for dusting)

Ingredients for the crème pâtissière:

  • 500mL (2 cups) milk

  • 1 vanilla bean pod (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)

  • 50-80g (¼ -⅓ cup) sugar, depending on how sweet your tooth is and whether you are using chocolate (see below)

  • 2 egg yolks + 1 egg

  • 30g (4 tbsp) flour

  • 20g (3 tbsp) cornstarch 

  • 1 pinch salt

  • 50g dark chocolate small chunks (optional; if you use chocolate, then only use 50g sugar)

  • 1 tbsp amaretto (optional)

Let’s start with the crème pâtissière, because it will need to cool down in the fridge.

  1. Pour the milk and the vanilla in a saucepan and bring slowly to a boil. Once boiling, add the chocolate (if using any) and fully mix.

  2. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and the sugar together until it becomes pale yellow. Add flour, cornstarch and salt.

  3. Add the milk to the eggs and sugar bit by bit to avoid overheating.

  4. Pour the whole mixture back into the saucepan slowly and under low heat. Continuously stir until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.

  5. Place into a bowl and cover with cling wrap so that the cling wrap touches the entire surface of the cream (otherwise the cream will form a “skin” when cooling). Put into the fridge until cold (usually 20-30 minutes).

  6. Optional step: once the cream has cooled down, you can add some amaretto, Bailey’s or similar to enhance the flavor!

While our crème is cooling, let’s make some choux!

  1. Preheat the oven to 400F (200°C).

  2. Heat the butter, water (milk if that’s what you are using), salt and sugar on medium heat. Once everything is melted and mixed together, add all the flour at once and mix it vigorously with a wooden spoon until the resulting dough stops sticking to the pan and the spoon.

  3. Remove pan from heat and add the eggs one by one: with each egg, mix until you get a homogeneous mixture (at first the dough will separate into chunks, that’s okay, just keep mixing). Your final dough should pass the “ribbon test”: when you slowly take the spoon out of the dough, it should drip from the spoon in a ribbon-like fashion.

  4. Fill a piping bag with the dough. If it’s a disposable bag, just cut the tip off in order to get a ¼ “ opening; you can also use a tip. My advice: place the bag into a tall glass to keep it upright when filling it, and you’ll have much less of a mess!

  5. Pipe the choux onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat. No need to be fancy: just pipe them in a loose spiral motion (or even just press them out with the bag held vertically over the sheet) until you get a blob with a diameter of 2-3”. If you end up with a “tail” when removing the piping bag, you can wet a spoon in warm water and use its back to smooth down the tail. 

  6. Optional: beat an egg in a bowl (what we call an egg wash). Dip a brush in the egg wash and lightly tap the choux. This will give them a nicer golden color and it can help the crust to hold.

  7. Bake the choux for 20-30 min, until they’re nicely golden. Here is the hardest part: don’t open the oven door during the baking! The reason the choux rises is because of the steam traps in the dough. It’s important to keep the oven closed so that the steam doesn’t escape.

  8. Turn down the oven to 300F (150°C) and bake them for 5 more minutes to get them to the right dry consistency.

  9. Take out from the oven and place them on a cooling rack (if left on the sheet they tend to soften).

Once your choux and crème are cool enough to handle, it’s time to assemble!

  1. Take a piping bag, this time using a tip is highly recommended, and fill it with the crème.

  2. Either pierce a hole at the bottom of each chou with the point of a knife, or find an existing hole in the chou (not as pretty, but certainly easier).

  3. Place the tip into the hole and squeeze the crème inside the chou. Choux are fragile little things, so go slowly! You should feel the chou getting gradually filled up.

  4. Alternatively, you can also simply cut the chou horizontally in half and pipe or spread the crème directly between both halves. It is easier, but the choux won’t be as full.

There you go! Traditionally, choux are topped either with a dusting of powdered sugar or a glazing (usually vanilla, chocolate or coffee). I’m partial to a light dusting of powdered sugar myself, but if you want it to be really decadent, don’t hesitate to go for a glaze!

Extra tips:

  • Adding a teaspoon’s worth of instant coffee when heating up the milk for your crème can intensify the chocolate flavor;

  • It’s a lot of choux; luckily they can easily be frozen (that’s what a profiterole is, by the way!). When taken out of the freezer, you can reheat them in the oven at 300F (150°C) for 5-10 minutes.

  • If you stack your choux into one tiny mountain of deliciousness and drip some caramel onto it, that’s called a croquembouche and it’s incredibly fancy.