These simple, decadent cream puffs are the ultimate indulgence. One bite has everything you need in a dessert: crispy outer shell, creamy ice cream, and rich chocolate sauce. It’s the ultimate two-bite package. The foundation of these French treats is an easy pâte à choux pastry dough that bakes up golden and crispy on the outside and puffed up and tender on the inside. Once the puffs are baked, you can fill them with pastry cream or whatever you please, but since it’s still summertime I decided to split them open, fill them with vanilla ice cream, and top them with a rich chocolate ganache sauce. If you want to make your guests think that you became a fancy French pastry chef overnight, these are definitely the treats for you.
The earliest I can remember having a cream puff was when I was a kid on vacation at Disney World. I’m a born and bred nerd, so obviously my favorite part of the whole experience was Epcot, since I could be on vacation, go on cheesy rides, and also learn stuff. I distinctly remember going to the French bakery there and having the license to pick anything I wanted. The cream puffs, with their craggy crispy shells and shiny chocolate sauce, looked like the most sophisticated dessert in the world, and I couldn’t resist them. Thankfully, this was one case of my childhood experience actually living up to my expectations, because I’ll be darned if it wasn’t a bite of pure heaven.
It’s taken me a while to tackle making cream puffs at home, but now that I have, I can tell you that it’s actually fairly simple. This pâte à choux recipe comes from Erin McDowell’s truly excellent book The Fearless Baker, and I can’t wait to use it for eclairs and croquembouche and make my kitchen counter look like the window at a French patisserie.
It’s an easy dough to make, with water, milk, butter, flour, and a little salt cooked together on the stove, then with eggs mixed in off the heat to form a thick paste. For cream puffs, you pipe it into 2 inch mounds, and then bake them until they are puffed and golden. The moisture in the dough gets released as steam while it cooks, which forms the large air bubbles at the center of each puff. Once they’re cooled to room temperature, you can either pipe in pastry cream or another filling or, if you’re like me and in the mood for a frozen treat, you can split them open, sandwich a scoop of ice cream in between, and then top them with chocolate sauce. You can also make the puffs ahead of time and store them at room temperature for up to three days, then fill and top them whenever your guests arrive to devour them.
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup whole milk
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ cups bread flour
- 5 large eggs, plus 1 more if needed
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1 tablespoon water
- Pinch of salt
- 1 quart ice cream, flavor of your choice
- 4 oz dark chocolate, chopped
- ½ cup heavy cream
- In a medium saucepan, bring the water, milk, butter and salt to a boil over medium-low heat. Add the flour all at once and stir constantly with a wooden spoon, then reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture becomes a slightly sticky paste and there’s a film of starch on the bottom of the pan, about 2 to 3 minutes.
- Transfer the paste to a large mixing bowl and use a hand mixer on low speed to mix for 1 minute to cool down the paste.
- Whisk the 5 eggs together in a liquid measuring cup and, with the mixer running on medium speed, add them in a slow and steady stream. Continue mixing until fully incorporated, 4 to 6 minutes. The dough will be ready when you lift the beaters out and the batter forms a V shape that slowly breaks away back to the bowl. If the dough is too stiff or pulls away too quickly, whisk in another egg and mix for 1 minute.
- Transfer the batter to a disposable bag pastry bag (or zip-loc bag) fitted with a large circular tip (or cut a ¾ inch opening at the tip).
- Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Hold the pastry bag straight up and down above one of the baking sheets and pipe 2-inch (in diameter) mounds of pâte à choux onto the baking sheet, spaced 1 inch apart. As each round nears the correct size, release the pressure on the bag and twist it slightly to finish. If the tops of the puffs have little points or divots, dip your finger in water and press gently to smooth them out. Let the puffs rest on the baking sheets for 20 to 30 minutes while the oven preheats and the batter forms a skin.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Make the egg wash by whisking the egg and water together, then brush the cream puffs with it. Bake the cream puffs until they are evenly golden brown and very crisp. When you tap them with a fingertip, they should feel firm and sound hollow. This should take 24-26 minutes. Allow them to cool completely before filling and serving.
- To make the chocolate sauce, heat the heavy cream in a small saucepan until simmering. Add the chopped chocolate in a medium heat-proof bowl, then pour the heavy cream over it. Allow it to set for a few minutes, then stir until the sauce is shiny and even.
- Split each cream puff in half with a serrated knife. Place a scoop of ice cream on each bottom half and top with the remaining half. Drizzle with the chocolate sauce and serve.