How To Make Cream Puffs (detailed guide)
Everyone loves delicious cream puffs!
Luckily, they are really easy to make.
Follow the tips below to improve your own cream puffs recipe. Or even better, use my original cream puffs recipe and apply everything you learn here.
The result will be 100% perfect cream puffs.
P.S.: If your cream puffs always turn out too small or too flat, you find the solution in the Problems and Solutions section.
Free Bonus: Click here to get my original cream puff recipe that I use every day to make 100% perfect cream puffs. It also includes the guide for making cream puff swans.
The batter we need for a making cream puffs is choux pastry. Choux is French and means cabbage (because some of the early choux pastry treats looked like cabbages).
The special thing about choux pastry is that it is first cooked and then baked.
What's the point of cooking and baking the batter?
Well... the cream puff shells need to grow a lot during baking. For this, a high moisture content is needed in the batter. The moisture turns into steam and blows up the cream puff shells like a balloon. That's what we want!
The question is: How do you get lots of liquids into the batter?
And the answer is: By cooking the batter!
At around 60°C (140°F) the flour releases its starch and can then bind lots of liquid (water, milk). The starch molecules can bind more than 10 times their own weight in water (or fat)!
So, in order to use this wonderful binding power, we need to heat (cook) the batter.
1. All You Need To Know About Ingredients
As always in baking, it’s important to measure the amounts accurately. This is so important, that I made a separate guide about how to measure baking ingredients correctly.
The Liquids: Milk & Water
The main feature of a cream puff is its size and the huge pores inside (for the filling).
As explained before, the cream puff shells need to grow a lot during baking. And for this, a relatively high percentage of liquids is needed in the batter.
But why water and milk?
Couldn’t we use only water or only milk as well?
Yes, that’s possible.
(In my recipe, I only use milk and no water)
The milk sugar (lactose) gives the cream puffs that nice brown color. Using only water and no milk would result in a rather pale cream puff shell.
Conversely, only using milk gives a very brown cream puff shell. I like that, so I prefer the only-milk version. 🙂
If you suffer from a strong lactose intolerance, you can use water instead of milk for the cream puff shell. Add a little more sugar to the batter to get a browner color for the shells.
Of course, you will also need to use a different filling for the cream puffs.
You need a flour with a good protein content.
Normal all purpose flour is fine. High protein flour works as well.
Cake flour (which has less protein) is not recommended.
The proteins turn into gluten in the batter. And the gluten gives the batter its elasticity and gas retention capacity.
Without this, the surface of the cream puffs would tear quickly during baking and release all the gas inside. The result would be tiny cream puff shells with small pores...
Not good. 🙂
We want large cream puff shells with large pores so we can fill them with lots of delicious pastry cream.
Usually in baking, it’s very important to use the exact amounts (i.e. weight) of egg as stated in the recipe.
However, when making choux pastry it’s possible that you need a little more or a little less egg than stated in the recipe to get a perfect result.
The reason is that the water-binding capacity of the batter depends on how well you cooked the dough (there’s more about that in the cooking part below) and the kind of flour you used. This can differ from time to time.
So how do you know how much egg to use?
Well, use the amount mentioned in the recipe as a guide. Then do the triangle test to decide if you need to add a little more egg (I explain it below).
There’s not much you can do wrong with the butter. Just make sure it’s real (unsalted) butter and not margarine or some low-fat substitute.
The butter is important during the cooking part and it makes the final cream puff moist and soft inside.
2. The Batter (Step 1: Cooking)
Put the liquids (water, milk) and fat (butter) on heat and bring them to a boil. Then add the sifted flour all at once.
It’s really important to add the flour all at once.
As mentioned before, the starch in the flour can bind lots of liquid or fat. If you add the flour slowly, the “initial” flour would bind most of the liquid and the “later” flour would not mix in well enough and instead build little lumps.
We don’t want a lumpy batter! 🙂
So, add the flour all at once and then keep stirring with a wooden spoon (or a spatula) until a ball forms. You will also see a white coating on the bottom of the saucepan. That means, the batter is now ready for the next step.
Take the saucepan away from the heat and transfer the batter to a bowl.
3. The Batter (Step 2: Adding Egg)
Beat the egg for a short moment to mix the egg white and egg yolk. The egg should be at room temperature.
The batter should have cooled down a little bit before adding the egg. Add the egg little by little and mix very well after each addition.
Important: Do NOT use an electric mixer for this.
This would incorporate too much air into the batter and make it “fluffy”. It would then become runny during baking and result in flat cream puffs that look like pancakes.
So, use a spatula or wooden spoon to mix in the egg. And make sure that all egg is incorporated into the batter (smooth consistency) before adding more egg.
Now, to test if you added enough egg, do the triangle test. Let the batter drop from the spoon. The consistency is perfect, when it has this triangle shape.
It’s now ready for baking...
Preheat your oven to the correct temperature. This takes about 15-20 minutes, so I recommend you turn on the oven when you start preparing the batter.
Fill the batter into a piping bag and pipe out little mounds onto the baking sheet (with baking paper).
Then spray with water (a simple spray bottle works fine).
The water keeps the surface of the cream puff shells wet and elastic during the first phase of baking. This way, the shells can grow more without tearing. The resulting cream puff shells will be much larger.
The baking temperature is relatively high in the beginning. The liquids turn into steam quickly and make the cream puff shell expand as long as the surface is elastic. After some time, the surface will dry out and become firm. The shell no longer expands.
Depending on the recipe, you may need to reduce the baking temperature and continue baking for some time. Follow the instructions in the recipe.
5. Cream Puff Filling & Storage
Cream puffs are filled with sweetened whipped cream or with pastry cream… or both.
You can use the pastry cream from my recipe guide for this.
Let the cream puff shells cool down to room temperature before filling them. Otherwise, the cream would melt and make the shell soggy.
Finally, powder the cream puffs with icing sugar and you’re done.
Enjoy your perfect cream puffs!
There’s one more thing you should know about cream puffs or choux pastry in general. You cannot store them for long. The reason is that their large surface lets them dry out quickly. Also, baked choux pastry turns stale after some time.
Therefore, eat the cream puffs on the same day to enjoy the full flavor.
If you want to store them for longer, you can freeze the cream puff shells and the pastry cream separately. Defrost the pastry cream in the microwave. Heat it up once (oven or microwave), whisk until the pastry cream has a smooth consistency and let it cool down again.
Bake the puff shells again for 10-15 minutes at 150°C (300°F).
There are many different cakes and variations with choux pastry…
Cream Puff Swan
Looks impressive but is actually quite easy to make. The instructions are included in my cream puff guide.
They come with many different fillings and toppings. Some patisseries in Paris have specialized on eclairs.
Invented by the French patissier Louis Durand in 1910 to celebrate a popular cycle race (the Paris-Brest-Paris). It has a round shape (like a bicycle tire) and is filled with hazelnut buttercream.
Savory Cream Puffs
Cream puffs work great with savory fillings as well.
A traditional French pastry named after the French saint patron of bakers. Do you see the three little cream puffs (profiteroles)? Tastes great together with the cream and the cookie base. 🙂
Another traditional French pastry (religieuse is French for nun).
These little treats are similar to profiteroles. They come in many different flavors.
An extra crunchy version of a cream puff wrapped in puff pastry.
A cream puff with a special surprise inside. It contains a full caramel cream dessert (called purin in Japan), a soft vanilla pudding with melted caramel on top.
7. Problems & Solutions
Problem: Cream Puff Shells Are Too Small
Also remember to spray the choux pastry with water before baking. This helps to get larger cream puff shells.
Problem: Cream Puff Shells Are Flat ("pancake")
Now it's your turn!
Making perfect cream puffs is fun and easy.
Download my full cream puff recipe guide and give it a try. Or use your own recipe and apply the tips you learned here.
I'm sure your family will love the results! 🙂
Are you going to try the normal cream puffs or the cream puff swan?