For a number of reasons, I've been in a bit of a funk lately. So when an email from Craftsy advertising their $20 off any class sale landed in my inbox, I thought maybe trying something new in the kitchen would be a fun and creative outlet. After browsing the site for a bit, I settled on the French Pastry Shop Classics course with an eye towards making homemade cream puffs for Mother's Day.
However, after watching the first few videos, I started rethinking things... I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, given that French cuisine is known for being a tad fussy, but with all of the piping of the pâte à choux and hand whipping of the Chantilly cream, I began wondering if homemade cream puffs were really worth all of the effort. (spoiler: they totally are!)
If it's not obvious by now, I'll just come right out and say it -- I'm all about simple and easy when it comes to cooking and baking. After thinking it over, I came to the conclusion that portioning out the pâte à choux with a cookie scoop and using a hand mixer for the Chantilly cream should work just as well. So I made a quick run to Walmart for some unbleached all-purpose flour and heavy cream to test my theory.
Pâte à choux is a unique dough in that it starts on the stovetop before being baked off in the oven. But don't be intimidated -- it's actually very easy to make. You'll find step-by-step instructions in the recipe below.
Once the dough was prepared, I used a 2-tablespoon cookie scoop to portion it out onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. This does make about a dozen monster-sized cream puffs, so if you prefer smaller portions, simply use a smaller 1-tablespoon cookie scoop -- no piping necessary!
Once the cream puffs were done baking, I sliced the top third off with a serrated knife and filled them with a simple Chantilly cream -- that's just a fancy way of saying sweetened whipped cream. I used my hand mixer to whip it up, but you could use a stand mixer or, in a pinch, whisk it by hand, as well.
If you don't have any on hand, I highly recommend picking up a bottle of vanilla bean paste. It will give you those beautiful flecks of vanilla bean seeds in your cream without all the fuss of slicing and scraping vanilla bean pods. Vanilla bean paste substitutes 1:1 for regular vanilla extract, so feel free to use an equal amount of that if you prefer.
While perhaps my easy cream puff recipe yields cream puffs that are slightly non-traditional in appearance, the time savings is totally worth it for me. AND I can assure you that they still taste every bit as good as a cream puff from a French bakery!
Cream puffs are definitely a delicacy that's best eaten very soon after they've been filled with the cream, but they will keep for up to 24 hours in the refrigerator. If you're making them for an event (or, say, for Mother's Day brunch), I recommend baking the shells a day in advance and then filling them shortly before the gathering.