Cream Puffs and a Nest of Nuts!

Cream Puffs With a Sugar Nest | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

It is my birthday and I decided to make myself something fun to celebrate. Now that I am squarely in my 40s I find it especially important to make this occasion a special one. I was in the mood to play with sugar. It has been years, many years, since I have worked in the restaurant world and had the opportunity and excuse to do over-the-top fanciful things with sugar.  It is more the act of creating these wisps of golden caramel that thrills me, even more than eating them. To sit on top this ethereal nest I decided I needed something creamy and decadent; cream puffs filled with pastry cream in three flavors. I set these cream puffs on a sugar nest.

The tale of two puffs:

Last week I received the long awaited sequel to Shirley O. Corriher’s wonderful book Cookwise. I’d met her at least a decade ago and she mentioned her manuscript for BakeWise, a book dedicated to the science of baking. I’ve been chomping at the bit for it ever since. Shirley writes about this sometimes weighty subject with such a fun and lighthearted way that even those who are not geeks about their food chemistry will enjoy it.

I decided to give her pâte à choux (Cream Puff) recipe a go. It is radically different than the one I have used for years so I thought it would be interesting to see how the final puffs would compare. Her recipe calls for the use of a Baking Stone and a pan of hot water to create steam. Wow, that sounds very familiar. It is exactly what we use in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day to get a crisp crackling thin crust on our breads. It made so much sense that it would do the same to the puffs! She also used bread flour instead of all-purpose so the pâte à choux would have more structure and be able to PUFF even more. The theory was great but the execution was anything but exciting. In the end I ended up using my tried and true recipe, but this time substituting bread flour as she did.

Cream Puffs Recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

On the left is my recipe baked as I show below. On the right are puffs baked on a pizza stone and with steam. Maybe it is just my oven?

After a couple of failed attempts I skipped the steam and the baking stone because the puffs made with them ended up expanding so much they lost their shape and then collapsed. In defense of Shirley’s recipe I think this failed experiment has more to do with my oven trapping too much of the steam and causing the puffs to get soggy and collapse. The other issue was that the stone seemed to retain so much heat that even when I dropped the temperature, as you are supposed to do, the oven stayed too hot and the pâte à choux got too dark. Have you baked your puffs with steam and on a baking stone? How did it go in your oven?

Pâte à Choux:

1 cup milk or water (I used milk,which makes for a darker and richer puff. The one made with water will be crisper and lighter in color)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon sugar

3 ounces unsalted butter

1 cup eggs (about 5 large, maybe 6)

1 cup bread flour, or all-purpose

Preheat oven to 425°

Heavy cream and butter in a pot | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

In a heavy saucepan bring the milk, salt, sugar and butter to a boil.

Cream Puffs Recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Remove from heat and add the flour all at once to the pan and

Cream Puffs Recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

stir it until it becomes a

Cream puff dough | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

smooth ball. Turn the stove back on low and continue to stir for about 3-5 minutes. Do not allow the dough to color. You are trying to dry the dough out as much as possible. The dryer it is the more eggs your can add to it and the better your pâte à choux will puff.

Cream Puffs Recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Remove from stove and place the hot dough in your stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Mix for a few seconds.

Cream Puffs Recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Add the eggs one at a time to the hot dough. Mix on medium speed until the egg is completely blended in to the dough. Repeat with the other 4 eggs, scraping down the bowl after each addition.

Cream Puffs Recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Your dough should be very soft, but still hold its shape when piped out. If the dough still feels stiff at all you can mix up the 6th egg in a small bowl and add half of it to the dough. You want to avoid having your dough too runny or it is hard to pipe.

With a Pastry Bag fitted with a large round Pastry Tip you want to pipe out mounds that are about the size of a quarter and 1 1/2 inches apart.

Place the sheet in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Turn the heat down to 350 degrees and continue to bake for another 20-30 minutes or until golden brown and firm.

I filled the puffs with 3 different flavored pastry creams. Vanilla, ground pralines and Nutella were my choices. You will need:

1 recipe vanilla bean pastry cream, divide the recipe into 3 bowls. Leave one as vanilla and then add ground praline to one and nutella to the other. Just add until they suite your taste.

Other flavors to try: fruit preserves, rum, chocolate, peanut butter, banana puree, passion fruit, lemon zest, and anything else your imagination can think of. If you come up with fabulous ideas let me know!

Cream Puffs Recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

To fill the puffs, just fill the Pastry Bag with your flavored pastry cream. Cut a small hole in the bottom of the puff with a knife and then fill through the bottom.

Cream Puffs Recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Dust with powdered sugar and flick with cocoa powder to create the look of little eggs.

Cream Puffs With a Sugar Nest | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

A cup of coffee or a glass of port and you are set!

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55 thoughts to “Cream Puffs and a Nest of Nuts!”

  1. Happy Birthday Zoe! This looks fantastic, you are so talented! Do you have any brown sugar fudge recipes? I’ve been trying to make it, but I have not been very successful. It has been coming out very watery. It would be great if you could do a photo tutorial on making fudge!

  2. Thank you all for the birthday wishes! It has been a great day.

    Mercina, I adore fudge and will do a post on it soon. Thanks for the great idea!

    Thanks, Zoë

  3. I just bought Artisan Breads and have already made the Vermont Cheese bread (YUM!) and the Boule bread. Over the weekend I purchased a stone and several other items from KAF. Can’t wait to receive them. I’ve always loved home baked bread but rarely took the time. Now there is no excuse! Maybe I’ll try the puff pastries as well. They’re beautiful.

  4. Happy birthday!!! The puffs are lovely – I’ve tried a few different recipes, and for me, usually the simpler ones are better. I love your trio of pastry creams too — sounds really delicious!

  5. Happy Birthday! I love your puffs. That’s my idea of a birthday “cake”! Your trio of flavors are making me drool. I’ll take one of each, please:)

  6. Wow! Those look so good! Happy birthday! I just love that you take step by step pictures so there is no doubt on any step…thank you for taking the time!

  7. Thank you all for the Birthday Wishes!!! It was just wonderful.

    Andy, I was going to show how to make the spun sugar in this post but it got to be way TOO long. I’ll do it next time, I promise!!!

    Thanks, Zoë

  8. Hi Zoe!

    Happy Birthday with a day of difference!

    Wonderful recipe and the total presentation is absolutely original!
    Love these cream puffs 🙂

  9. Happy Birthday! I’m going to be celebrating my birthday this weekend too! I’m looking forward to eating out! Your cream puffs are presented so creatively! I love it! It’s such a gorgeous looking dessert! love the step-by-step. It’s too bad your results were disappointing with the baking stone & steam. Isn’t it a drag when theory doesn’t translate well in reality?

  10. I’ll join in the chorus of Happy Birthday!

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with your handsome cream puffs. (I had matcha and white chocolate ice cream filled cream puffs last night).

  11. Hi Zoe….first a belated Happy Birthday!! 3 days late isn’t too awful…Second, I have been making cream puffs forever, my favorite is pistachio filled, but I would imagine steam would make the puff limp, not crisp like they’re suppose to come out. I always bake mine at 400 degrees on parchment paper in my convection oven for about 20 minutes. They always come perfect. I usually let them sit in the hot oven with the door ajar before bringing them out to a temperature change. Very rarely do they deflate…Try the pistachio filling it’s really wonderful. It’s my “signature” dessert….

  12. Wow, I love the spun sugar nest for the cream puffs. The contrast of textures is perfect. I like your experimentation with the baking stone and steam. Good to know. Your fillings sound amazing too – the praline one with some crunch sounds delicious! Happy belated birthday!

  13. Happy Birthday! Those puffs look great. I’ve never made them with a baking stone before. Your normal ones look pretty spot-on already!

  14. Zoe,
    Happy Birthday !! What an inspiration… Lovely
    I love all our recipes and I have been amazed with the recipes in the Artisan Bread in 5 min. I look forward to the next book. I tried the Buttermilk dough with green onions and sesame seeds following a Chinese Onion Bread and it was great !! Keep it up.

  15. Jeez. I’m getting so bad, I “hear” you on Twitter, and then forget to head on over here. Promise to do better because I know that I’ll see something amazing — like the pate a choux. I’ve tried the spun sugar once, and it was quite the mess! Gorgeous work, and a belated Happy Birthday!

  16. Happy Birthday! Good for you for giving yourself such a precious and delightful birthday indulgence. You are living proof that expending effort on something makes it all the more sweeter to enjoy in the end.

  17. Zoe, very Happy Birthday and the most wonderful wishes to you!
    Your cream puffs are lovely! And the fillings are delicious!

    I do bake mine with steam (not on a stone, though) but I remove a pan with water before poking the puffs. Then I let them dry in the oven.

  18. Hello! I was thinking of making a pumpkin cream filling and I was wondering how I would go about modifying the vanilla cream to do so. Thanks and happy belated birthday (sorry i’m two years late!)

    1. Hi Lauren,

      Thank you for the birthday wish! 😉

      You could make try adding a cup of pumpkin puree and some spices to the milk when you heat it with the vanilla. You may also have to add an additional tablespoon of starch, 2 tablespoons of sugar and an extra egg yolk.

      Let me know how it comes out! Zoë

  19. Hi Zoe, I see that this recipe was posted several years ago, but I hope you still pick up comments on it. I wonder if you can offer some troubleshooting on what would make my cream puffs not “puff.” A few days ago, I used a Betty Crocker recipe calling for 1 C water, 1/2 C butter or margarine (I used margarine), 1 C all-purpose flour, and 4 eggs. I’ll try your recipe next to see if I get different results. Thanks!

    1. Hi Chris,

      Did you cook the cream puff mixture until it was very thick. It needs to cook until the liquid is absorbed into the flour, then you can add the eggs.

      Let me know if you have better luck with this recipe.

      Thanks, Zoë

  20. Thanks for the quick answer! The recipe said to stir vigorously over low heat about 1 minute or until mixture forms a ball. So I cooked the flour/butter/water mixture about a minute, and it was about the consistency of playdough before adding the eggs. Do you think it needed to cook longer?

    1. Hi Chris,

      Then it could be the consistency of the mixture after adding the eggs. It should be very soft, but still hold its shape when piped.

      Thanks, Zoë

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