These fluffy, light and creamy little sweet treats called “Choux à la Crème” – or Cream Puffs in English – are a Classic French dessert made from Choux Pastry and filled with a Cream. They are perfect to be enjoyed with your afternoon tea or served for a special occasion!
This post may contain affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission - at not cost to you - for purchases made through these links.
What are Choux à la Crème?
“Choux à la Crème” are classic French Pastries made out of Choux Pastry Buns filled with a Cream – often Whipped Cream or Pastry Cream. The Choux Pastry is piped in small bun shapes and baked in the oven to puff. When cool, they are sliced in half and filled with a Cream (or filled from a small hole made at the bottom of each Choux). They can be topped with Craquelin – a simple dough made from Flour, Sugar and Butter, a Glaze, a Ganache or kept plain.
For this recipe, I made my Cream Puffs with the following three elements:
- Classic Choux Pastry or “Pâte à Choux“
- A simple Vanilla Pastry Cream or “Crème Pâtissière”
- An easy Brown Sugar Craquelin Topping for the Cream Puff Buns
How to make Choux Pastry (Pâte à Choux) for Cream Puffs
To make Classic Choux Pastry, you will need the following ingredients:
- Unsalted Butter
- Caster Sugar
- Plain Flour
Choux Pastry is made from a dough baked twice: first on the stove in a pot, then a second time in the oven. That is what allows them to fill with air and puff in the oven. There is a specific technique that needs to be used to make Choux Pastry, and I highly recommend following it closely. I have never failed a Choux Pastry recipe with this one!
- Place the Water, Butter and Sugar in a medium size pot and bring to a simmer.
- When all melted, drop the flour in at once. Using a wooden spoon, work the pastry by mixing and pressing it against the hot sides of the pot. You want to remove as much moisture as possible – this is an essential step to make sure the Choux will puff in the oven.
- Keep stirring for a couple minute over low heat until most of the steam has disappeared, then remove from the heat and transfer into a clean bowl. Leave to cool down completely
- When cool, beat in the Eggs one at the time until completely integrated.
Did you know that you could make Savoury Choux Pastry?
Check out my recipe for Cheese Gougères!
What is a Craquelin topping for Choux a la Creme?
Craquelin is the name given to the thin layer of pastry sometimes placed over Choux to gives a ‘crack‘ effect to the treats. They are not only great to bring a crunchy texture to the buns, they also help the Choux to keep a consistent round shape when baked. These small disk of pastry are made out of 3 simple ingredients:
- Plain Flour
- Sugar (I used Brown Sugar)
- Melted Butter
They are mixed together to form a dough that is thinly rolled then rested in the fridge until hard. They are then cut into small disks using a cookie cutter and placed over the Choux Buns before baking them. Once in the oven, they will melt and wrap around the Choux to create a delicious cracked, crunchy topping.
The Classic Craquelin only uses the three ingredients mentioned above, but it can also be flavoured with many different ingredients such as Cacao Powder, Vanilla Beans, Matcha Powder or any other powder that will colour the pastry.
Choux à la Crème Filling
There are so many options when it comes to the Choux Cream filling! Traditionally though, the French Cream Puffs will be filled with either Crème Pâtissière (Pastry Cream) or Whipped Cream – or a variation of those creams like Crème Diplomate, Crème Mousseline, etc…
The Choux Cream Filling can be flavoured with traditional Vanilla, Chocolate or Coffee – or really any flavour you can think of! For this recipe, I made a simple Vanilla Crème Pâtissière to fill the Choux Buns as it is the most classic version of this dessert.
See my Coffee Choux Buns Recipe
for another version of the classic Choux à la Crème!
To make a Crème Pâtissière, you will need:
- Vanilla Beans or Vanilla Paste
- Caster Sugar
- Egg Yolks
- Cornstarch or Flour
- Butter (optional)
Check out how to make Crème Pâtissière here
How long can you keep Unfilled Cream Puffs?
The Choux Buns themselves can be kept in an air-tight container at room temperature for up 3 days (un-sliced). When filled with a cream, they need to be eaten straight away or kept in the fridge for up to a day. After that period, they will become soggy and loose their “puffs”. I highly recommend filling them up to a couple of hours before serving them only.
Can you freeze a Chou à la Crème?
If you want to prepare Choux in advance, note that baked (and also unbaked) Choux Pastry actually freezes really well. You can easily prepare a big batch of the Choux and keep them in the freezer (unfilled) for up to 3 months. I personally recommend freezing Choux that are baked, but they can also be frozen unbaked:
- Unbaked: prepare the Choux Pastry with the conventional method then pipe them on a lined baking tray. Place the baking tray in the freezer until the Choux are fully frozen, then transfer into an air-tight container. When ready to be eaten, place back on a lined baking tray and bake them like you would usually would, adding 5 to 10 minutes to the baking time.
- Baked: once baked, leave the Choux to cool down completely. Place them in an freezer-friendly air-tight container, putting baking paper between each row/levels of Choux. Try not to press on them so that they can keep their shape. When ready to be eaten, let them thaw at room temperature for an hour. If they seem soggy, place them in the oven for 5 minutes to dry out.
Should Cream Puffs be refrigerated?
It depends if they are filled or not. When plain (unfilled with a cream), they can be kept at room temperature in an air-tight container for up to 3 days. They could technically be kept for a little bit longer than this but I find them to loose their shape and become soggy after that time.
Once they are filled with a cream – and if they are not going to be served straight away – Choux à la Crème need to be kept refrigerated and will keep well in the fridge for up to a day.
More Classic French Dessert Ideas:
French Buckwheat Crêpes
Easy French Apple Cake
Sablé Breton Cookies (Salted Butter Cookies)
Spiced Red Wine Poached Pears
Easy Cherry Clafoutis
Double Chocolate Bavarois Cake
Classic Choux a la Creme Recipe:
Choux à la Crème (French Cream Puffs)
Craquelin Topping (optional)
- 40 gr (3 tbsp) Unsalted Butter
- 20 gr (1 1/2 tbsp) Brown Sugar
- 50 gr (1/3 cup) Plain Flour
Choux Pastry (Pâte à Choux)
- 125 ml (1/2 cup) Water
- 60 gr (1/4cup) Unsalted Butter
- 1 tbsp Caster Sugar
- 75 gr (1/2 cup) Plain Flour
- 2 Eggs
Craquelin Topping (Optional)
- Melt the Butter and set aside to cool down.
- In a small bowl, mix the Flour and Brown Sugar. Pour over the melted Butter and stir with a fork or a small spatula until completely combined.
- Place the dough between two sheets of baking paper and spread as thinly as possible with a rolling pin. Place on a flat tray and transfer in the fridge to set for about 30 minutes.
Choux Pastry (Pâte à Choux)
- Place the Water, Butter and Sugar in a medium size pot on medium heat.
- When the butter has melted, drop in the Flour at once. Using a wooden spoon, stir the dough until combined then keep working the dough to remove as much moisture as possible (see note 1). Keep on stiring until a thin pellicule forms at the bottom of the pot.
- Transfer into a large bowl (or the bowl of your Mixer) and leave to cool down for about 15 minutes.
- Beat the eggs together in a seperate bowl. Slowly start to add the mixed eggs into the rest of the choux batter, a little bit at the time. Mix well until the eggs have been fully incorporated before adding a little bit more (it is easier to do this step with a Stand Mixer). The pastry should be fluid and shiny, not too liquid or too hard (see note 2).
- Preheat your oven on 180'C / 350'F and grease the bottom of a baking tray (wipe any excess of grease with a paper towel).
- Place the Choux Pastry in a piping bag with a large round nozzle. Pipe small mounds of pastry, leaving room between each choux as they will puff in the oven.
- Optional: Take the Craquelin out of the fridge. Use a small cookie cutter, about the size of each choux, to cut out the craquelin and place them over each choux.
- Put in the oven for 20 minutes or until puffed and golden, then open the oven door to let the steam out and directly re-close it. Leave them to bake for another 10 to 15 minutes (see note 3). If they Choux are not baked enough, they will fall down once cold.
- Transfer the Choux on a cooling rack and leave to cool down completely.
Putting the Choux together
- Prepare the Pastry Cream and leave in the fridge to cool and set for at least an hour.
- Carefully slice each Choux Bun in Half. Place the Crème Patissière / Pastry Cream in a piping bag with a star nozzle. Fill each Choux with the Pastry Cream then place the Choux lid back on top of the cream.
- Optional: sprinkle some Icing Sugar over the Choux to finish them.
- Press the dough again the sides of the pot to dry it out as much as possible using the wooden spoon or spatula, . If the dough is not dry enough, it will not puff in the oven.
- It is important to check the consistency of the batter before adding all the eggs; sometimes the choux will need a little bit more or a little bit less eggs. To know that the choux batter has the right consistency and you can stop adding more eggs, place a finger against the batter and lift it up. Holding your finger straight (parallel to the ground), the pastry should slightly fall back to form an oval. If the pastry looks too stiff and doesn’t fall back, add a little bit of egg. If the batter look to be super runny, you have added too much eggs.
- Another technique to make Choux is to leave the oven door slightly opened during the second part of the baking. To do so, use a wooden spoon to keep the oven door slightly open