A cream puff is a dessert made with choux pastry dough and a filling such as whipped cream, custard, or ice cream. The light, airy pastry dough pairs with the heavier dairy product to make a rich, dense, flavorful dessert which is often dressed with chocolate or caramel sauce. The recipe for choux pastry is relatively simple, and it serves as the base for a variety of desserts including profiteroles, eclairs, and beignets. Once the basic puff pastry has been mastered, cooks can experiment with a variety of cream puff fillings and sauces.
The cream puff dough is a unique type of pastry dough, because it is cooked before baking to form a thick paste. It also has a high water content, which steams the pastry as it cooks, causing it to puff up dramatically. The cream puff is characterized by large airy pockets enclosed by thin layers of dough when it is made well. While many consumers associate the cream puff with desserts, cooks can also make savory fillings and use cream puffs as appetizers.
To make choux pastry, sift together one half cup each flour and sugar along with a quarter teaspoon of salt. Set these dry ingredients aside and heat one half cup water and one quarter cup butter in a heavy saucepan, until the mixture boils. Remove from the heat and stir in the dry ingredients to form a thick dough which will start to pull away from the sides of the saucepan. Transfer the dough ball to a mixing bowl, and stir it so that it cools slightly. Slowly add two beaten eggs to the mixture, stirring until the choux has reached the consistency of a thick paste. Spoon blobs of the paste onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet, and bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit (205 degrees Celsius) for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 degrees Celsius) and bake for another half hour, until the pastry puffs up and turns a rich golden brown.
Turn the heat off, but leave the pastries in the oven to cool. It is generally a good idea to take one out and slice it open to make sure that the pastry isn't raw in the middle, since the dough will collapse if this is the case. Once the pastries have cooled, you can transform them into cream puffs by slicing them in half and filling them with ingredients, or by injecting cream into them. The sweet pastry pairs very well with a more savory sauce such as raspberry coulis or a dark chocolate sauce. If they are not going to be eaten right away, the cream puffs can be refrigeration for up to one day before use.