Major confesh: I’m not a huge fan of chocolate. Yes, there are certain times when a piece of chocolate is necessary, but on the whole, I could do without it. Instead, I like sweets that aren’t overly sweet. Some of the reasons why I enjoy eating cream puffs are because they’re light as air, easy to assemble, and versatile. You can fill cream puffs with sweet or savory fillings. Pâte à choux (or choux paste)- the actual pastry- is also a chameleon. Pipe in different shapes and sizes and you have anything from eclairs, profiteroles, Paris brest (a cream puff ring), churros, or cheese puffs. You need to master this dough, basically. My Valentine’s Day Cream Puffs are great for any day, really. But, if your valentine is culinarily-challenged, or if you need a quick dessert to set the mood on Cupid’s day o’ luuuuuuvvvvv– this is your jam.
Pâte à Choux
I’m going to give you my tricks for success when preparing pâte à choux (pot a shoe), which translates to “cabbage paste”. These tricks aren’t isolated to this Valentine’s Day recipes, this is fundamental to the pastry as you know it. The first thing you need to know is that pâte à choux only requires five ingredients: water, butter, flour, eggs, and a bit of salt. The key to success when it comes to manipulating these ingredients into a bomb pastry is patience. Because the goal of a cream puff is for it to puff, you need to mix the dough just right. You also need to make sure you don’t whip it out of the oven too fast and cause all that puffiness to deflate.
First thing you need to do is heat the oven to four hundred twenty-five degrees. If you have two ovens, that’s a bonus because you’ll need to use one and turn it off. You can bake the next pan of pâte à choux in the second oven.
Creating a Homogenous Mixture
You’re going to make a paste on the stove, which means the best pan to use when making pâte à choux is a saucier, or a similar saucepan with sloped sides. Corners equal clumps of flour getting stuck, which will suck. The first step in making the paste is to create a homogenous mixture of water and fat. So, combine the water, butter, and salt in the saucepan and bring the mixture up to a boil over medium-high heat.
While you’re waiting for the water to boil, fill a bowl with your flour, grab a wooden spoon, and if you still have time, crack the eggs into a big measuring cup. Set all of this nearby so you can move quickly. You see how you can still make out the pats of butter? That’s not what we want.
As the mixture comes to a boil, the butter will begin to melt, however, still being able to identify the two means that the fat and water haven’t combined. In other words, it’s not ready to proceed. If you were to continue on with the recipe without allowing that fat to disperse in the water, you’d end up with a greasy, soggy cream puff because the fat would run out during baking. So, for now, give it a stir to encourage mixing.
After a while the water will begin to boil and will become murky and pale yellow in appearance. It is ready!
Dump it All IN!
Grab the flour and dump it in all at once, then begin stirring like mad. Because we’re not going to cook the mixture any further, we need to heat all of the flour in the boiling water to begin cooking off the raw, starchy taste. This step also thickens the dough, which we’ll later thin out with the eggs.
Stir, stir, stir until the flour pulls away from the sides of the pot and forms a ball. It’s going to give your arm a workout, just be prepared. The reason why we use a wooden spoon is to avoid burning our hand with a heat-conducting metal spoon. Metal spoons also have notoriously rigid edges, which makes using them to stir stiff batters a pain in the…hand. Once your flour-water mixture has balled up, spread it out into an even layer in the bottom of the pot and let it cool for about five minutes. Stir to encourage the dough to cool evenly, then spread it again to cool for an additional five minutes. Cooling the pâte à choux is important because, without doing so, we take the risk of curdling, and cooking, our eggs.
Adding the Eggs
Once the mixture has cooled a bit, begin adding the eggs, two at a time. The eggs are part of what will help our pâte à choux rise in the oven; steam is the most important element in the rising of the dough, though. I put my pot on top of a kitchen towel or pot holder to stop it from spinning like a top when I stir in the eggs. If you’re not up to vigorous and laborious stirring, transfer the dough to a stand mixer and use the paddle attachment to mix in the eggs (on low speed).
After the addition of the eggs, the mixture will separate into weird chunks. Sorry, but it’s true. You need to stir vigorously , until…
…it looks like a spongy paste. Once it looks like this- an indication that the dough has absorbed the eggs- you can add the next two eggs.
The process will repeat itself like this three (maybe four) more times, until all the eggs are mixed in. Funny thing about making pâte à choux is that, depending on where you are in the world (and what the humidity is like on the day you decide to make it) you may need one less egg. For the two final eggs addition, only add one initially. If it feels too stiff, yet, or if you see it’s dry like it was in the previous rounds, add the final egg.
The dough will be glossy and thin enough to pipe, yet will still hold its shape. You did it!!
Piping and Baking Tips
Piping the pâte à choux is pretty straightforward, but uniformity is key. Scoop the paste into a piping bag fitted with a 1M tip (or a large plain round tube tip). Pipe a circle of dough, about three inches in diameter, and one and a half to two inches high, onto a sheet pan lined with silicone baking mat or parchment paper.
Place the pan into that hot oven and bake the pâte à choux for fifteen minutes, or until the puffs are a golden brown on top, and they’ve started to puff up.
Once they’ve puffed and browned a little, reduce the baking temperature to three seventy-five and crack the door open a smidge. Just lowering the temp on the keyboard doesn’t reduce the temp in the oven. You need to release some of that hear by cracking the door open. This will prevent the cream puffs from burning as they complete their bake time. Don’t open the door TOO wide, either or that will cool the oven too fast and cause the puffs to deflate. Propping the door open until the oven beeps at me to “shut the door” works for me. If you don’t have an annoying oven, just count to twenty Mississippi. Bake for fifteen more minutes.
Once the puffs are a deep golden brown and puffed to all get-out, turn the oven off and prop the door open a smidge. Use a wooden spoon to hold the door ajar and allow the puffs to cool slowly in the oven. Removing them from that heat into a much cooler environment is a sure-fire way to end up with deflated puffs. Now, if you only have one oven and have more puffs to bake, quickly transfer the finished puffs to your microwave. Leaving them in that enclosed space will accomplish the same task- hopefully the pan fits!
Cool the puffs in the oven until you can remove the pan with your bare hand- about an hour. If you have the double oven, bake any more puffs in the second oven if you haven’t already done so.
Make the White Chocolate Ganache
White chocolate ganache is a fun addition to these cream puffs. I like it because it’s fancier than the traditional powdered sugar dusting they normally get, but it’s not as rich as a dark chocolate ganache would be. You can totally do a dark chocolate ganache, though. Use this recipe for it if you do. White chocolate ganache sets up thinner than the dark version, so I double-dip the cream puffs top to give it more coverage.
To make the white chocolate version, combine the white chocolate chips and heavy cream in the bowl of a double-boiler. You could also use a metal (or glass) bowl set over a saucepan filled with an inch or two of water if you don’t have a double-boiler. Bring the water up to a simmer.
Once you see steam escaping from under the bowl, start whisking the cream and chocolate together. That steam means the cream is nice and hot.
When the ganache is lump-free, remove the bowl from the heat and allow it to cool until it’s thick. Whisk every so often to ensure the ganache cools evenly. The ganache should be good to dip in an hour or two.
Whipping the Cream Filling
These Valentine’s Day cream puffs can be filled with anything from pastry cream to scoops of ice cream, but I prefer the traditional whipped cream. I suggest vanilla bean paste to flavor your whipped cream; however, if you want to experiment, feel free. Use your favorite extract or emulsion to flavor the whipped cream. You can also jazz it up, if you want to make it fancy. Use gel food color to tint the cream before whipping.
Freeze a metal mixing bowl for a half hour to get it nice and cold. A cold bowl will help your cream whip faster and thicker. Using a whisk, electric hand mixer, or stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, whip the cream and flavoring on high speed until the beaters begin leaving trails in the surface of the cream- about two to three minutes. Gradually add the sugar and continue beating for an additional three minutes.
The cream should be stiff. If you find the cream has separated, you overmixed. You may be able to salvage it by adding more cream and re-whipping on a lower speed for one minute. If it’s too far gone, completely curdled, just use it to make butter.
Fill and Decorate the Valentine’s Cream Puffs
Grab a serrated knife and use it to cut off the tops of the puffs. It’s going to be closer to the top third of the puff, as opposed to half and half. Think of it as the cream puff’s hat.
If you find that the interior of the puff has a section, just press it down to create a well. Don’t pull anything out because it will usually result in a hole in the puff where the cream will ooze out. Try to keep the “hats” with their matching puffs for aesthetics.
Dip the tops of the puffs into the thickened ganache and allow the excess ganache to run back into the bowl. Place the top onto a cooling rack set over a parchment lined sheet pan to catch drips. If you’re in a hurry, pop the tray into the freezer to get the ganache to harden a little quicker. Dip the tops in ganache a second time to get a nice thick coverage. Repeat the drip-freeze deal.
After your tops’ ganache has set, decorate them with a big pinch of sprinkles. This totally optional, but how cute is it?!?!?
Finally, fill a another piping bag (fitted with a 1M star tip) with the vanilla whipped cream and pipe a generous amount of the cream into the middle of each puff.
The thing about cream puffs is that you can’t fill them until you’re ready to serve them- you should know that before you fill them. The moisture in the cream will seep into the pâte à choux and will cause it to become rubbery. My tip is to bake only what you’re going to eat that day. The great thing about pâte à choux is that you can pipe it and freeze the dough before baking. Once the dough is frozen solid, you can transfer it to a freezer food storage bag and keep it in the freezer for up to six months. If you’d rather not freeze the dough, bake them as instructed and let them cool down completely before packing them into plastic storage bags and keeping them in the fridge. They’re good refrigerated (uncut and unfilled) for a week. Just crisp them in the oven for five minutes at three-fifty before cutting.
After you fill the puffs with any type of filling, the clock starts ticking. If you absolutely have to fill them ahead of time, just keep the in the fridge with the understanding that they longer the wait, the soggier they will be. In other words, don’t be complaining to me!
Guess What Ya Got Now?!!?
Valentine’s Day Cream Puffs!!!! Yes, you most certainly do!!
They’re just so freaking classy, aren’t they? They’re not overly rich or heavy in any way. They are pretty big, you won’t look cute taking a bite out of it, but who cares?
This dessert is one of my go-to sweets when I have guests who aren’t chocolate lovers. I’ll be sure to share other recipes that show you all the great ways you can use pâte à choux in your kitchen- you’d be shocked at how versatile it is.
Of course I had to do some QC to make sure it was still legit. It was legit. Too legit to quit, in fact. Pin this for next week and wow the hell outta your Valentine with your skills.
**This post contains affiliate links. To find out what that means to you, please read my disclosure page**
Valentine's Day Cream Puffs
Begin a day ahead or early in the day.
Pâte à choux
- 2 cups water
- 6 oz (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 10 large eggs
White Chocolate Ganache
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 11 ounces white chocolate chips
Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream
- 1 quart heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or other flavoring)
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
Preheat your oven(s) to 425°F. Line two sheet pans with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.
Place a metal mixing bowl into the freezer to chill for making the whipped cream later.
Make the Pâte à choux
In a saucier, or a similar saucepan with sloped sides, bring the water, butter, and salt to a rolling boil over medium-high heat.
When the butter has dispersed into the water and the mixture appears murky and pale yellow in appearance, add the entire amount of flour to the pot.
Stir the flour into the water-butter mixture with a wooden spoon until the flour pulls away from the sides of the pot and forms a ball.
Once the dough has balled up, spread it out into an even layer in the bottom of the pot and let it cool for 5 minutes. Stir it after 5 minutes to encourage the dough to cool evenly, then spread it again to cool for an additional 5 minutes. Cooling the pâte à choux is important in order to prevent cooking the eggs.
Once the mixture has cooled, stir in the eggs, two at a time. *At this point, you can also transfer the dough to a stand mixer and use the paddle attachment to mix in the eggs (on low speed).
After each addition of eggs, the mixture will separate into weird chunks. Continue vigorously stirring until it looks like a spongy paste- an indication that the eggs have been absorbed. Add the two more eggs.
Repeat the egg addition step 3 (maybe 4) more times, until all the eggs are mixed in. Depending on the humidity, you may need one less egg.
When stirring in the two final eggs, only add one at a time instead of two. If it feels too stiff, yet, or if you see it's dry like it was in the previous rounds, add the final egg.
The dough will be glossy and thin enough to pipe, yet should still hold its shape.
Pipe, Bake, then Cool the Pâte à choux
Scoop the paste into a piping bag fitted with a 1M tip (or a large plain round tube tip).
Pipe 12 circles of dough- about 3" in diameter, and 1 1/2"-2" high- onto a sheet pan lined with silicone baking mat or parchment paper.
Place the pan into oven and bake the pâte à choux for 15 minutes, or until the puffs begin to take on color, and have puffed up.
Reduce the oven's temperature to 375°F and crack the door open a little bit (to drop the temperature quickly). Hold the door open for 20 seconds, then close it.
Bake for an additional 15 minutes.
Once the puffs are a deep golden brown and puffed, turn the oven off and prop the door open slightly- use a wooden spoon, if necessary, to keep the door ajar.
Allow the puffs to cool slowly, for one hour, in the oven to avoid deflating the puffs.*
Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the puffs to cooling racks to cool completely.
Make the White Chocolate Ganache
Combine the white chocolate chips and heavy cream in the bowl of a double-boiler (or set a metal bowl set over a saucepan filled with an inch or two of water). Bring the water up to a simmer over medium-low heat.
Once steam starts escaping from under the bowl, whisk the cream and chocolate together until smooth and glossy.
Remove the bowl from the heat and allow it to cool, on the countertop, until it's thick (about 1 1/2-2 hours). Whisk every so often to ensure the ganache cools evenly.
Make the Vanilla Whipped Cream
Using an electric hand mixer, whip the cream and flavoring on high speed until the beaters begin leaving trails in the surface of the cream- about 2-3 minutes.
Add the sugar to the cream gradually and continue beating for an additional 2-3 minutes, or until the cream if stiff (holds peaks when the beaters are removed from it).
Fill and Decorate the Valentine's Cream Puffs
Use a serrated knife to cut off the tops of the puffs. If you find that the interior of the puff has a section, just press it down to create a well.
Dip the tops of the puffs into the thickened ganache and allow the excess ganache to drip back into the bowl. Place the top onto a cooling rack set over a parchment lined sheet pan to catch drips.
If you're in a hurry, pop the tray into the freezer to get the ganache to harden a little quicker. Dip the tops in ganache a second time to get a nice thick coverage. Repeat the drip-freeze step.
After your tops' ganache has set, decorate them with a big pinch of sprinkles, if desired.
Finally, fill a clean piping bag (fitted with a 1M star tip) with the vanilla whipped cream and pipe a generous amount of the cream into the middle of each puff.
Serve immediately, or store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.**
*If you only have one oven and have more puffs to bake, quickly transfer the baked puffs to your microwave. Leaving them in that enclosed space will accomplish the same task-if the pan fits!
**Cream puffs shouldn't be filled until you're ready to serve them. The moisture in the cream will seep into the pâte à choux and will cause them to become rubbery. My tip is to bake only what you're going to eat that day.
To Prepare for Storage:
- Pipe the pâte à choux onto a prepare sheet pan and freeze the dough before baking. Once the dough is frozen solid, transfer it to a freezer food storage bag and freeze for up to 6 months.
- If you prefer not to freeze the dough, bake them as instructed and allow them to cool completely before transferring them to plastic storage bags. Store them in the refrigerator (uncut and unfilled) for 1 week. Crisp them in the oven for 5 minutes at 350°F before cutting.
Need more recipes to make Valentine’s Day sweeter?
Try your hand at these: