These fluffy, light and creamy little sweet treats called "Choux à la Crème" - or French Cream Puffs - are a Classic French dessert made from Choux Pastry Buns filled with a luscious Pastry Cream. They are perfect to be enjoyed with your afternoon tea or to be served for a special occasion!
Why we love this recipe
You just couldn't do more classic French Pastry than a delicious Choux à la Crème! A deliciously light and airy Cream Puff Bun filled with a luscious Pastry Cream and topped with a crispy Craquelin Topping.
Just like their cousins Profiteroles, these individual bites are always a crowd-pleasing treat. They are perfect to serve for an afternoon tea party, birthday party or on a dessert table for the Holidays.
Don't be intimidated by Choux Pastry - with some basic techniques and a few tips, you'll soon be making Choux Buns just like the French!
What is a Chou 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
You will find many different recipes for Choux, including different fillings, toppings or even Choux Pastry recipes.
The Choux I made here are basically Choux Buns with Creme Patissiere (that I made lighter by adding some whipped cream - but that is optional) and Craquelin Topping
See my Coffee Choux Buns Recipe for another version of the classic Choux à la Crème!
Basic Choux Pastry Recipe (Pâte à Choux)
To make French Cream Puff Pastry, you will only need 5 ingredients:
- Water: can be replaced by milk for a richer flavour, or a mix of 50% Water, 50% Milk
- Unsalted Butter: what gives the Choux a deliciously rich texture
- Caster Sugar: aka Fine White Sugar
- Plain / All Purpose Flour: needed to give the buns their structures and puff
- Eggs: one of the most important ingredients of this recipe, as it is the one that will make the choux puff in the oven
Did you know that you could make Savoury Choux Pastry? Check out my recipe for Cheese Gougères!
How to make Choux Pastry step by step
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.
You can ready more about Choux Pastry, including step by step photo instructions, in my Choux au Craquelin recipe.
Craquelin Topping for Choux
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.
The Craquelin is completely optional here, and you can absolutely skip this part if you want a quicker recipe.
These small disk of pastry are made out of 3 simple ingredients:
- Plain / All-Purpose Flour: your basic baking flour
- Sugar: I used Brown Sugar but you can also use a sugar with a thicker grain like Raw Sugar. I don't recommend using White Sugar as you want the caramelisation brown sugar provides when baked.
- Unsalted Butter: needs to be very soft, at room temperature - but not melted.
How to make Craquelin
These 3 basic ingredients 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.
You can read all about the Craquelin Topping here, including tips, tricks and troubleshooting!
Choux a la Creme 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.
Pastry Cream Ingredients
You will only need 5 basic ingredients to make Pastry Cream:
- Milk: I highly recommend using Full Cream Milk for the best cream texture and flavour, but I have made Pastry Cream with a Non-Dairy Milk and it works too.
- Vanilla Bean: a simple way to add lots of flavours to the cream. I used Vanilla Paste here instead as it is a much cheaper ingredients. Can be replaced by Vanilla Extract, but it never brings as much flavour as a bean or paste.
- Caster Sugar: or fine white sugar
- Egg Yolks: required to create that super luscious, creamy texture
- Cornstarch: what will help the cream thicken. Can be replaced by Plain Flour.
- Butter: optional addition for an even richer cream.
Once your Creme Patissiere is ready, you can use it as is or make it even lighter by adding whipped cream to it (making it a "Creme Legere" or "Creme Princesse").
Depending on my mood, I either stick to the basic Pastry Cream or add the whipped cream to it. With the addition of the whipped cream, a Creme Patissiere will be more stable - and easier to pipe in a Choux Bun sliced in half.
How to make Crème Patissière
It all happens on the stove:
- Heat up the Milk and Vanilla in a small pot on low heat. In the meantime in a separate bowl, whisk together the Egg Yolks and Sugar, then add the Cornstarch.
- When the Milk starts to simmer, pour it over the other ingredients in the bowl while whisking (to temper all the ingredients), then transfer it back into the pot on stove, always on low heat.
- Keep whisking until the cream starts to thicken and reaches a boil. Whisk for another 30 seconds to 1 minute, then remove from the heat. Directly transfer into a shallow pan covered with plastic wrap touching its surface and place in the fridge to cool down completely.
For more information about how to make Pastry Cream, including step by step instructions and lots of tips, read my Crème Pâtissière recipe.
Recipe FAQs & Troubleshooting
None of the obvious ones, actually! Choux Pastries are made without Baking Powder, Baking Soda or Yeast. It entirely relies on the steam released by the raw eggs in the oven to puff out the pastries.
It is hard to precisely pinpoint one reason that would explain why your Choux a la Creme deflated, as it could be a combination of a few different things. Why did your Choux Pastry not Rise or Deflated? Here are a few potential answers:
- Too much or Not Enough Eggs in your Choux Pastry Batter: you might need a little bit more or less Eggs than the quantity instructed. Always check the batter consistency to know if you need more (or less) eggs.
- Batter not cooked enough (thus not dry enough) on the stove - too much moisture in the batter
- The Choux a la Creme were not baked for long enough
- The oven door was open for too long during the baking time
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.
How to store Cream Puffs
It depends if the Choux are already filled with the Cream or not. The Pastry itself can be kept at room temperature in an air-tight container.
The Creams should always be kept in the fridge as they contain dairy and eggs.
Once combined together (Choux + Filling), your Choux à la Crème should always be kept in the fridge, and eaten as quickly as possible as they will start to become soggy.
Can you fill Cream Puffs ahead of time? Yes, you can, but then I recommend doing it within a day of being served.
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.
How long can you I 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). That includes Choux au Craquelin, so you do not have to worry about the craquelin topping.
Can you freeze these Choux?
Can Cream Puff Shells be frozen? Absolutely!
If you want to prepare Choux Creme 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.
- 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.
How to defrost Cream Puffs
If the Choux Buns are frozen unbaked: 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.
With Choux Buns frozen once baked, leave them thaw at room temperature for an hour. If they seem soggy, place them in the oven for 5 minutes to dry out.
More Classic French Dessert Ideas:
- French Buckwheat Crêpes
- Easy French Apple Cake
- Sablé Breton Cookies (Salted Butter Cookies)
- Rustic Apple Galette
- Spiced Red Wine Poached Pears
- Easy Cherry Clafoutis
- French Triple Chocolate Tart
- Double Chocolate Bavarois Cake
- Easy French Apple Tart
- Strawberry Tartlets with Custard
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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
Vanilla Pastry Cream
- 500 ml (2 cups) Full Cream Milk
- 1/2 teasp. Vanilla Paste - or 1 Vanilla Bean
- 4 Egg Yolk
- 30 gr (2 tbsp) Caster Sugar
- 30 gr (1/4 cup) Cornstarch
- 200 ml (3/4 cup + 1 tbsp) Heavy / Thicken Cream (Optional)
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. 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.
- Place the Milk and Vanilla Paste in a small pot and heat up on low heat until it simmers.
- While the milk is heating up, in a separate bowl whisk together the Egg Yolks and Caster Sugar. Add the Cornstarch and mix to combine.
- Pour the warm Milk over the Egg Yolk, Sugar and Cornstarch while whisking, then transfer it all back on the pot. Place back on the stove on low heat while continuously whisking until the cream starts to thicken. Cook for another 30 seconds after the cream reaches a boil, then remove from the stove.
- Tranfer into a shallow pot and cover with plastic wrap touching the surface of the cream. Place in the fridge to cool down completely, about 30 minutes to 1 hour.
- Optional: for a lighter cream, whip the Heavy Cream (see note 3) until it reaches stiff peaks. Gently fold it into the cool Pastry Cream and place back in the fridge to set for 30 minutes before using.
Assembling the Choux
- Carefully slice each Choux Bun in Half. Place the cool 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. (see note 4)
- 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.
- You need to use a cream that has at least 30% fat in it to be able to whip it. Any cream with a lower fat content will not whip.
- You can also fill the Choux from the bottom to "hide" the cream: make a small cute on the bottom of the Choux and place the piping bag in it. Gently press to release some cream until you feel a resistance.