Make these puffs the next time you need a special treat for a group–it’s not every day people get to enjoy a cream puff! They will love you for it.
Pâte à choux is an eggy batter that puffs into a crisp shell and is the base for many delicious treats, from cream puffs, éclairs, and profiteroles to savories like gougères, little pop-in-your mouth cheese pastries. I made my first choux pastry a long time ago—6th grade, if I remember correctly. Cookbooks were my favorite reading material, and one day I decided that the cream puff swans illustrated in mom’s blue Joy of Cooking seemed like a reasonable thing to make for dessert. (I think that’s when my mom realized I had an extraordinary interest in cooking.)
Fast forward to my post-college era. After a few years of working for Oracle, I figured out how to escape at 5:00 about once per month—”leaving early” after an 8 – 10 hour day. I wouldn’t have been able to withstand the guilt if it weren’t for the culinary wonderland that awaited me just a 20 minute drive south. Draeger’s Menlo Park is a luxe grocery with black and white tile floors, gleaming fixtures, bountiful flowers and an escalator to the second floor where the cooking school lives. When you come for class, they greet you with a glass of wine.
Chef Gerald Hirigoyen, of Fringale at the time, was one of the dozens of chefs I met and worked with over the years. My handwritten notes annotate the hard copy recipe he handed out for “Chocolate Cream Puffs”: “alt. rock sugar on top, no filling”, “kitchen aid”, and “2/3/96”. 1996. Before we even dreamed about Google-ing recipes from food bloggers.
I keep my ten-year collection of Draeger’s cooking school recipes in a set of three, 3-inch binders, each of them full of paper recipes and memories, all within arms reach of my iMac. The recipes inspire me to this day, and the notes I scribbled on them—names of fellow assistants, the best butcher shop in San Francisco, where to buy this or that—transport me back to particular classes or special evenings, like the time I laughed with Julia Child at a book signing.
Pastry Puffs (Cream Puffs, Pâte à Choux, Profiteroles)
- 1 cup water
- 5 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1/4 tsp kosher salt
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 eggs
Chocolate Whipped Cream
- 8 oz. bittersweet chocolate (60 - 70% cacao), finely chopped
- 2 cups heavy cream
Preheat oven to 400° F. Butter a large rimmed baking sheet, or use a Silpat liner.
In a saucepan combine the water, butter, sugar, and salt and bring to a boil. As soon as it boils, remove pan from the heat and add the flour all at once. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, briskly beat in the flour. Return the saucepan to the heat and continue briskly beating for two minutes. Remove from the heat again and let cool a minute or two.
Transfer the contents of the pan to a large bowl ("kitchen aid" if you have one). Add the eggs, one at a time, beating vigorously after each until smooth.
Transfer dough to a pastry bag with a 1/2" diameter plain tip (or use a zip lock bag with corner snipped). Pipe 2" diameter mounds about 2" apart on the pan—aim for 12. Bake until puffs are golden brown, 25 - 30 minutes. Transfer puffs to a rack and let cool completely.
Chocolate Whipped Cream
Melt the chocolate in small bowl set in a pan of barely simmering water—do not let the water get into the chocolate or it will seize. Remove from heat.
Whip the cream until soft peaks just begin to form. Pour the melted chocolate into the whipped cream and continue to whip for a minute, until everything is evenly combined. Transfer chocolate cream to a clean pastry bag with a 1/2" plain tip, or go the simple route and use a spoon to fill the cream puffs.
Recipe Notes / Tips
- Gluten free: Cream puffs are a great for gluten free flours, since the puff is created primarily with steam, not the flour structure. I've used oat flour with success, as well as my GF flour blend.
- The baked puffs keep and travel well—just we aware of your climate. In dry climates like Montana, keep them at room temperature loosely covered with a towel or in a tin with the lid ajar, or in an unsealed plastic bag. In humid climes, store puffs air-tight.
- Make in advance tip: load the chocolate whipped cream into the pastry bag and keep refrigerated if dessert is more than an hour away. Fill the puffs just before serving.
- Instead of chocolate whipped cream, go plain sweetened with a few shakes of powdered sugar and a bit of vanilla. Serve with a delicious jam like Root’s raspberry vanilla.
- Cream Puff bar: Let people fill their own from a selection of different ice creams, whipped cream, and/or chocolate sauce.