A profiterole is a type of pastry, often better known as the cream puff. It shouldn’t be confused with pastries made with filo dough, which can be called puff pastry. Instead, the average profiterole is made with a type of dough called choux pastry, which is a combination of flour, butter, eggs, and water. Usually, this mixture is spooned onto or piped onto baking pans in a round shape, and then baked until browned. The interior of the choux pastry has a soft scrambled egg-type center that is removed before the pastry is filled.
Typically a profiterole always refers to a sweet pastry, and not to other choux pastries that might be filled with savory ingredients. Almost invariably, the cream puff is filled with ingredients like whipped cream, custard or ice cream. Choux dough in baked round form can be used as an excellent holder for things like chicken salad, but then it is not considered a profiterole.
There are many variations of profiteroles. Filling, as previously mentioned, may vary from sweet whipped cream to ice cream. Different toppings may be enjoyed also, and most commonly thick chocolate glaze tops cream puffs. It isn’t necessary to use chocolate though and cooks can get creative. They could top the cream puff with more cream, add fruit sauce to the top, sprinkle the top with powdered sugar or drizzle caramel on it. For variety in the middle of the puff, people can add sliced fruit in addition to cream, though too much fruit may make the pastry soggy.
The profiterole may be served alone, or it can be incorporated into other desserts. One such dessert is the croquembouche. It is a high cake that is made from layers of cream puffs, which get progressively fewer in number so the cake has a pointed shape at the top. Each cream puff is filled with pastry cream and the cake is held together with caramelized sugar. This is an impressive dessert that takes quite a bit of time to make, and is usually reserved for special events like weddings.
Another dessert, just as complex as the croquembouche and relying on profiteroles, is the St. Honore cake. This is a stunning combination of choux buns filled with cream, rum soaked cake, custard and puff pastry. It also features caramel or caramelized sugar over the profiteroles, which gives them a tasty exterior crunch.
Though desserts like the croquembouche and the St. Honore cake take much work to create, profiteroles are actually fairly simple to make, and almost any cook can turn out excellent cream puffs. Most of this is because choux pastry is very easy to make, and fillings may require little to no work depending upon choice. Finding cream puffs at bakeries is fairly simple work too, and may be the best idea when time is short.