Cream puffs are always one of those desserts that impress everybody. It’s very French and, therefore, very sophisticated in the eyes of many. But the reality is that cream puffs are incredibly simple to make once you have a good recipe on hand. When I first started baking, I attempted my hand at cream puffs and was incredibly frustrated to end up with flat, pathetic looking pastry mounds. But that’s because no one told me that 1) never open the oven door while the cream puffs are baking, and 2) although pate a choux (the pastry dough for cream puffs) is technically a one-bowl (or more like one-pot) recipe, it doesn’t mean that the timing in which the ingredients are added doesn’t matter. Now, I know better, and the recipe I’m sharing with you today, whether you decide to go all out and do a Paris Brest (a wreath of cream puffs with custard filling) or simply create classic cream puffs, is a foolproof way of creating perfectly tall, full pastry puffs.
Before I share the recipe, I thought I’d share why this wreath of cream puffs is actually called a Paris Brest. The Paris Brest is one of the oldest bicycling events that spans a distance from Brest, France to Paris, France. To commemorate this event, the Paris Brest pastry was created in the shape of a wheel. The dessert can be made up of connected cream puffs in the shape of a wreath, or the pate a choux can simply be piped into a circlular shape (small or large) and baked like that; it doesn’t have to consist of pate a choux mounds that were individually piped and connected. Please make sure to follow the recipe details to a T, especially the directions concerning the pate a choux. It’s worth the attention because you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous cream puffs that are just as good as the ones in the Paris patisseries!
for the pate a choux
- 1 c water
- 1 c stick unsalted butter, 1/2
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 c all-purpose flour
- 4 eggs
for the custard
- 2 cups whole milk
- 3 eggs
- 1 egg yolk
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
for the whipped cream
- 2 c heavy whipping cream
- 1/4 c powdered sugar, plus more for dusting the top of the wreath
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Begin creating the recipe several hours before (or the night before, if possible) by first creating your custard filling. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolk with the granulated sugar until thick and pale yellow. Add the cornstarch, flour and salt, and whisk again to combine.
- In a medium saucepan, heat milk until it’s scalding hot, but not boiling. Then remove from heat. Pour about 1/4 cup of the milk into your bowl with the eggs, and whisk vigorously to combine. Pour the entire egg mixture into the saucepan, and move the saucepan back over to the stove. With the heat on medium-low, continue to whisk the mixture until it thickens into a thick, pudding-like consistency. Do not take your eyes off the mixture and continue to whisk the entire time. This can take about 4 to 8 minutes.
- Pour the hot custard into a large bowl, then add the vanilla extract. Whisk to incorporate the vanilla and smooth out any clumps in the custard. Cover the custard with a sheet of plastic wrap, placing the plastic wrap directly onto the custard. Refrigerate until chilled.
- About 2 hours before serving the dessert, you'll want to create the pate a choux (the pastry dough). Begin by heating the butter, water, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat. Once the butter has melted and the mixture has come to a simmer, remove the saucepan from heat.
- Add in the flour and stir with a wooden spoon. Move the saucepan back over to low heat and continue to stir the mixture until the flour is completely incorporated and the dough no longer sticks to the bottom or sides of the pan. Remove the pan from heat and turn off stove.
- Add in the eggs, stirring very well after each addition. You want to make sure each egg is mixed in well before adding another. The finished result should look like a thick, goopy paste.
- Use a ruler, cake board, or just a large round bowl to measure out a 9 inch circle on a piece of parchment paper (don't use permanent marker; use a pencil to trace). Flip the parchment paper over so that the side with the drawn circle is facing down on a baking sheet. You should still be able to see the faint circumference of the circle.
- Use a cookie scooper (or a pastry bag) to place round mounds of pate a choux (about 1 1/2 to 2 inches in length) along the circumference of the circle, placing the mounds right next to each other so that they are touching.
- Place the baking sheet in the oven at 425°F for 10 minutes. Then, WITHOUT opening the oven door, lower the heat to 375°F and continue to bake for another 30 minutes, until the pate a choux is golden. Once the pate a choux has finished baking, open the oven door and gently pierce each mound with a sharp knife to let out steam. Let the puffs rest in the oven, with the oven door slightly ajar and the oven completely turned off, for another 45 minutes. Finally, remove from oven and let completely cool on a wire rack.
- Create the whipped cream by whisk the heavy cream on high speed for 1 minute, until it begins to thicken and the whisk leaves indentations in the cream. Add in the powdered sugar and vanilla extract and continue to whisk on high speed until soft peaks have formed and the cream sticks to the sides of the bowl.
- Take a sharp knife and horizontally slice through the center of the entire wreath of puffs. If a couple mounds separate, it's not a big deal. Gently lift the top half of the wreath and set aside.
- Use a spoon to scoop custard into each puff's bottom half cavity. Pipe or spoon the whipped cream on top of the custard. Gently transfer the top half of the wreath back into place and finish with a sprinkling of powdered sugar.