Cream puffs is by far my most requested recipe. But people enquire with angst, thinking they are painstakingly hard to make. And then I give them recipe with embarrassment because my short-cut way to making cream puffs is soooo EASY! Consider it a semi-homemade/Sandra Lee method if you will.
I learned all I know about cream puffs from my mom (it was one of her trademark recipes), Martha, and Alton Brown.
The puff part is made out of pate a choux (say it like pot uh shoe) dough. This is the french pastry dough that is also used for croquembouches, eclairs, and gougères. When it’s fried, it can be used for beignets and churros. I think it might be these fancy french words that scare people away. But don’t be scared because there are only 4 ingredients in the puffs! In the words of Ina, “How easy is that?”
Take off the heat and add 2 cups (plus 2 tablespoons) of flour. Now quickly stir until there’s no lumps and it will roll into a ball. (My kids think that it looks like brains when it’s at this stage).
Now put that in a mixer bowl and let it sit for about 5 minutes so its not too hot. Giving it a little mix will speed the cooling process, but don’t mix too much. Use the paddle attachment.
Now you need to add 8 eggs. Break them into a separate container and then add them one by one with the mixer on low speed. Add one, then wait until it’s all incorporated to add the next. You can mix this by hand, but only if you belong to a gym. It takes some serious muscle. You have to mix fast so the warm dough doesn’t make scrambled eggs. It also gets very slippery until mixed in, so be careful for flying bits of dough if you’re working fast. I used to do it by hand until Martha did it in her mixer…way easier!
My mom used to use the double spoon drop technique, but I like uniform sized cream puffs, so I use a scoop. You can use a small one for bite sized cream puffs or a big one for some monster ones.
I usually use a medium one (#40) and this makes about 46 cream puffs. I half this recipe if by chance I only need a few, but these are pretty small, so plan on 2 per person if you’re bringing them somewhere.
This is where my silpats are the bomb. These sticky things just roll right off if you use these. If you don’t have silpats, line your pans with parchment. Leave plenty of room in between because these things puff up! But do you see the peaks on these? Those peaks will still be there after you bake them, so we need to get rid of them. No one wants a sharp edge to poke their mouth amidst tasting that gooey cream!
Put these babies in the preheated oven (400) and bake for about 25-35 min. They should be nice and golden brown. Not light at all. Now it is important not to open your oven to check them. This will let out the steam that plays a roll in puffing them. It’s a science thing that Alton taught me. Just check with your oven light. My oven cooks really fast, so I check it at 25 min. It will probably take longer.
Now while these were in the oven you can make your cream filling.
You need a big box of vanilla pudding and a 12 oz container of cool whip.
Mix the pudding powder with 2 1/2 cups of milk and let it set in the fridge for about 10-15 minutes.
I just spread it around with the spoon. This is a messy process, so I don’t do this on the plate I want to serve it on. After they have the frosting on, they need to go in the fridge. Then right before I serve, I transfer them to the serving plate.
Now if you’re in a hurry, or you just don’t want to deal with tips and bags. You can just slice your puff in half, then fill it with a spoon. Some people take out any extra soft part of the pastry after they’ve opened it. I find that if it puffed up well, there isn’t much to take out. This way is easier and faster, but it does make them a little more messy to eat.
I have a recipe for a vanilla custard creme filling and a homemade chocolate ganache. But I haven’t made them the “food purist” way in a while, because I flat out love the way these taste, the easy way!
So now you know how to make cream puffs. And guess what? You also know how to make eclairs. They are the same thing. Eclairs are typically made in a bar. You can just pipe out your pate a choux in a long and narrow shape. Oh, and I can’t forget to mention that you can make savory cream puffs by filling them with a chicken salad, or seafood salad, or anything you want!
We love these things around here. My daughter requested these instead of a birthday cake last year.
I can’t wait for you guys to try these out. Be sure to let me know if they change your life!