Whip up some magic in the kitchen with my simple and customizable cream puff recipe, guaranteed to impress at any gathering!
Recipe At a Glance
Cream puffs are one of the simplest uses of choux pastry, next to eclairs. The primary difference between the two lies in their shape: eclairs have an oblong shape, similar to a very small loaf of bread, while cream puffs are round and ball-shaped.
Both pastries can be filled and topped with whatever you like, making them super versatile to use and allowing for endless variations, depending on what you have on hand.
In this recipe, we’ll fill our cream puffs with a pastry cream based on our Polish vanilla pudding recipe and dust them with powdered sugar. However, you are free to use any other filling or topping of your choice.
If you’re making cream puffs for the first time, read the ingredients notes, step-by-step instructions, and tips. If you’re a veteran, feel free to jump to the recipe card.
Ingredients Notes and Substitutes
- Unsalted butter.
- All-purpose flour.
In this recipe, I use a simple vanilla pastry cream, but there’s nothing stopping you from using any other pipeable filling.
- Milk. Whole fat is best.
- Sugar. Regular granulated sugar is all you need, but feel free to use any sugar alternative.
- Cornstarch. Potato starch is a great alternative, though you need to lower the amount to two-thirds that of cornstarch (2 tbsp potato starch instead of 3 tbsp cornstarch).
- Vanilla extract. If you have vanilla beans on hand, you can use the beans instead. Cut a single bean lengthwise, scrape the seeds, and add to the milk, then cut the bean in half and add to the milk. Remove the cut beans before adding the starch.
- Egg yolks.
- Unsalted butter.
How to Make Cream Puffs
Here’s a detailed, step-by-step description of making cream puffs. I divided it into sections that focus on certain parts of the recipe, but you’re free to optimize the ordering of steps (e.g., start making the pastry when the pudding chills).
Step 1: Make Pastry Cream
(Skip this section if you’re using a different filling.)
This filling is based on our Polish vanilla pudding recipe. The main differences are that we use less milk (which intensifies the flavor and thickens the consistency) and add whipped butter to transform the pudding into a pastry cream.
- Warm up the butter. Begin by taking the butter (for the filling) out to warm it to room temperature. Cutting it into several slices will speed up the process.
- Pudding prep. Measure all the ingredients for the pudding cream, except for the butter, and set them aside. Set aside one-third of the milk from the total amount and pour the remainder into a large pot. Add sugar, vanilla extract, and egg yolks to the pot, stir it, and start heating the mixture until it comes to a boil.
- Prepare starch slurry. In a separate bowl, mix the reserved milk with cornstarch, ensuring there are no lumps.
- Make the pudding. When the milk mixture in the pot is almost boiling, pour in the starch mixture while stirring. Continue stirring on low heat until it thickens, then turn off the heat.
- Chill. Place plastic wrap directly on the pudding’s surface to prevent a crust from forming, then leave it at room temperature to cool for at least 60 to 90 minutes. Aim for the pudding to reach the same temperature as the butter.
- Make pastry cream. Whip the room-temperature butter in a bowl, starting at low speed and gradually increasing to high speed until well aerated, usually 20-30 seconds. Gradually add the cooled pudding to the whipped butter, one tablespoon at a time, mixing well after each addition until a creamy consistency is achieved.
- Taste test. If necessary, add powdered sugar to the cream for sweetness, mixing until well combined.
- Refrigerate. Refrigerate the cream for at least an hour before use, allowing it to thicken and hold its shape when piped.
Step 2: Make Choux Pastry
- Preheat the oven. Start by preheating your oven to 390°F (200°C).
- Cook the butter. In a pot, combine butter and water, then bring the mixture to a boil, ensuring the butter is fully melted.
- Add the flour. Pour all the flour into the boiling mixture at once and stir vigorously with a spoon over low heat. The dough will thicken and come together quickly. Continue stirring for 3-4 minutes, scraping the dough from the sides and bottom of the pot. The dough should become glossy and easily detach from the pot.
- Transfer. Move the dough to a mixing bowl and let it cool for about 10 minutes. Spreading it across the bowl can speed up cooling.
- Prepare the eggs. Crack the eggs into a separate bowl.
- Combine ingredients. Once the dough has cooled slightly, start mixing it with a hand mixer at medium speed. Gradually add the beaten eggs to the dough, one at a time, mixing well after each addition until all eggs are incorporated and the dough is thick and sticky.
Step 3: Pipe and Bake Cream Puffs
- Prepare the baking tray. Line a baking tray with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Optionally, draw 2- to 3-inch diameter circles on the underside of the parchment as guides, spaced about 2 inches apart, for uniformly sized cream puffs.
- Set up for piping. Transfer the dough to a piping bag fitted with a large tip. I use a Wilton 6B, which has an opening of approximately 15mm in diameter (a bit more than half an inch). Alternatively, use a plastic food bag with a corner cut off. The cream puffs won’t look as elegant, but they will taste just as delicious.
- Pipe the dough. Hold the piping bag vertically above the tray and apply steady pressure to release the dough, moving the tip in a small circular motion. Lift the bag to finish each puff. If a small peak forms, dampen your finger and gently pat it down. Remember to leave about 2 inches of space between puffs to allow them for expansion.
- Bake. Place the tray in the preheated oven, then immediately reduce the temperature to 356°F (180°C). Bake for 40-45 minutes, avoiding opening the oven door during the first 30 minutes to ensure proper rising.
Step 4: Combine & Serve
- Cool the puffs. After baking, let the pastries cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes.
- Slice. Carefully cut the puffs horizontally to create tops and bottoms.
- Fill. Pipe the pastry cream onto the bottom halves of the puffs. Be generous if desired, then place the top halves back on.
- Finish. Dust the puffs with powdered sugar, or use another topping of your choice.
- Serve. Enjoy the cream puffs immediately for the best taste and texture.
Tips for Making Cream Puffs
If you’re working with choux pastry for the first time, definitely check out my article on choux pastry. It’ll teach you everything you need to know to get the cream puffs right the first time around.
The version of the recipe that I described above asks you to cut the puffs in half and fill them. That’s one way to do it.
Another is to leave the puffs whole and pipe them by puncturing the pastry. This version is great if you don’t want to add too much of the filling or if your filling doesn’t quite retain its shape after piping.
(No one will know the filling doesn’t hold its shape if it’s inside.)
The same method works for eclairs, except cream puffs are round instead of oblong, making them easier to fill that way.
Pipe-Filled Cream Puffs
- Select a piping tip. Opt for a long, narrow piping tip, such as a Bismarck tip. You need one that can puncture the pastry without causing it to crack or crumble.
- Pierce the puff. Gently insert the tip of the piping bag into the pastry, looking for a place where the pastry is thin and easy to pierce. The tip should enter easily without applying too much pressure.
- Pipe with caution. Gradually fill the puff, stopping when the shell begins to expand or the puff starts to move away from the piping bag. Either sign indicates the pastry is filled.
- Clean any excess. If any filling oozes out of the pierced hole, gently wipe it off.
- Repeat for each cream puff.
How to Serve Cream Puffs
Cream puffs are incredibly versatile, offering a wide range of options for fillings and toppings. Below are some delightful suggestions to try.
For fillings, whipped cream and various types of pastry cream are the most popular choices. If you prefer filling the puffs without slicing them open, options like lemon curd and other fruit curds can be excellent choices.
As for toppings, powdered sugar is the simplest choice, with basic frosting as another popular option. You can also try making a ganache or a coffee-flavored variation.
To store filled cream puffs, seal them tightly and keep them refrigerated. They should remain fresh for 3 to 4 days. However, be aware that some fillings, like whipped cream, may weep or become watery after a day or two, potentially making the cream puffs soggy over time.
Like many desserts, cream puffs are ideally served on the same day they are made for the best texture and flavor.
If you need to prepare them ahead of time, bake the puffs a day in advance and store them uncut in an airtight container at room temperature. This way, you can fill them when you’re ready to serve.
- Hand mixer
- 1 cup water ~240 ml
- 4 oz unsalted butter ~114 g
- 5 oz all-purpose flour ~142 g
- 5 eggs medium-sized
- 2 1/2 cups milk
- 4 egg yolks
- 6 tbsp sugar
- 6 tbsp cornstarch or 4 tbsp potato starch
- 4 tsp vanilla extract
- 8 oz butter room temperature (~226 g)
- Butter Prep: Slice butter and let it sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour to warm up.
- Pudding Setup: Measure pudding ingredients, set aside 1/3 of milk. In a pot, mix remaining milk, sugar, vanilla extract, egg yolks, and heat.
- Starch Slurry: Mix reserved milk with cornstarch in a separate bowl.
- Cook Pudding: Once milk mixture is almost boiling, add the starch slurry while stirring. Stir on low heat until thickened, then remove from heat.
- Cooling: Cover pudding with plastic wrap, cool to room temperature for 60-90 minutes.
- Pastry Cream: Whip room-temperature butter, then gradually add cooled pudding (one tablespoon at a time) and mix to a creamy consistency.
- Adjust Taste: Add powdered sugar if needed, mix briefly to combine.
- Chill Cream: Refrigerate for at least an hour before use.
Make Choux Pastry:
- Preheat Oven: Set to 390°F (200°C).
- Melt Butter: Boil butter and water in a pot.
- Add Flour: Pour flour into boiling mixture, stir for 3-4 minutes until the dough is shiny and easily detaches from pot an.
- Dough Cooling: Transfer dough to a bowl, let cool for 10 minutes.
- Egg Mixture: Crack eggs in a separate bowl.
- Combine: Mix dough using a hand mixer. Add eggs one by one and mix to fully incorporate before adding the next one. You should end up with a uniform, thick and sticky dough.
- Prepare Tray: Line baking tray with parchment paper or silicone mat.
- Piping Setup: Fill piping bag with dough.
- Pipe Dough: Pipe the dough onto the tray using a circular motion, leaving 2 inches between puffs.
- Baking: Place the baking tray in the oven, immediately reduce temperature to 356°F (180°C), and bake for 40-45 minutes until nicely browned.
Fill and Serve:
- Cool Puffs: Let puffs cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes.
- Cut: Slice puffs horizontally.
- Fill: Pipe cream onto bottom halves, reassemble puffs.
- Decorate: Dust with powdered sugar.
- Serve: Enjoy immediately for best taste.