Cream puffs. Oh my. I am thoroughly convinced we do not eat enough cream puffs in life. No way. We all need to change this immediately. I couldn’t even tell you the last time I had a cream puff. Éclairs, certainly and I even know when I last had a Paris-Brest (because that happens, am I right??) but a cream puff? No idea. What’s up with that? Éclairs are so refined, so pretty – just look at what L’éclair de Génie in Paris does with a humble choux paste – but cream puffs seem more informal, more casual, more fun. So in my one-woman quest to change this situation, today I present to you a dark, triple chocolate cream puff. Lent is a whole week away; get it in while you can. Yes indeed.
This started with the chocolate pudding I made last week. Deep, dark and creamy I had a bowl and immediately thought how good it would be in some sort of pastry. I’ve had chocolate éclairs on occasion and they’ve always been … ok. The problem has always been with the filling; chocolate pastry cream has always been on the light side, not chocolate-y enough. While cream puffs are typically filled with whipped cream or vanilla pastry cream, this pudding would be perfect; maybe even better. And I was right.
I’ve made plain éclairs and cream puffs before but never chocolate. Why is that? Should be easy enough – just add cocoa to the choux paste, right? I did something similar with churros a while back, which is just deep fried choux paste (and might I add, wonderful?) I did a little research and found a good Serious Eats article on the topic and in the end, given that their choux recipe was nearly identical to one I frequently use but with the addition of cocoa powder, I used it with a few minor tweaks. BUT … I used my dark chocolate pudding for the filling (with the addition of one more Tablespoon of cornstarch to make it a bit firmer) and rather than a ganache glaze (chocolate/cream), I used my cream puff glaze because I like the flavor, how it looks and it dries without being tacky to the touch. These details are important.
Choux paste is the batter used for éclairs, cream puffs and those wonderfully cheesy puffs, gougeres. The water (and/or sometimes milk) is brought to a boil with sugar, salt and butter then flour is added and the mixture is stirred very vigorously until a paste is formed. Then it’s cooked until a sort of light crust forms on the bottom of the pan. This is an important step to cook off some of the moisture within the dough and ensure a good rise. Then … the eggs are beaten into the mixture, one by one. This is what will create the steam and allow the dough to rise and puff while baking.
You can certainly do this last step with the eggs by hand with a wooden spoon for a really good workout or, if you’re lazy like me, you can let your mixer do the heavy lifting – I give directions for both below. At the very end they become chocolate with the addition of a couple of Tablespoons of dark cocoa powder. They bake up puffy, craggy and chocolate-y brown but I’ll be honest … the flavor isn’t overly chocolate. It’s just how it is. These aren’t brownies and they’re not meant to be so that’s where the pudding filling and the glaze deliver.
Together, the combination is pretty great. Chocolate puff, chocolate filling and more chocolate on top with the glaze. If you serve them right away, the puff stays nice and crispy. Refrigerate for a few hours and they sort of soften a little bit, which is how I like it. This might be a little wrong, some consider soft cream puffs a tragedy, but I like how all the components meld together.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: YES X 3. If you’re in need of a stress relieving activity, pâte à choux may be just the thing. Rather than lug the mixer out, do it by hand. The act of beating those eggs into the batter is a strenuous workout and you’ll feel good about making something on the decadent side. There’s also something wonderful about taking some rather boring looking, mushy dough, watching it puff up to 3x it’s size in the oven and into something else entirely. Then you stuff it with chocolate and slick it with more chocolate? Fantastic.
Other great pate a choux recipes: Bacon Cheddar Gougeres, Chocolate Churros, Chouquette
Eight years ago: Khachpuri (cheesy Georgian bread)
Seven years ago: Blood Orange Marmalade
Six years ago: Chocolate Ganache Tart
Five years ago: Chocolate Malt Pots de Crème
Four years ago: Chocolate Snack Cake
Three years ago: Chocolate Crème Filled Cupcakes
Two years ago: Flourless Chocolate Cookies
Last year: Chocolate Mint Brownie Ice Cream Sandwiches
TRIPLE CHOCOLATE CREAM PUFFS – choux paste slightly adapted from this recipe
makes 8 cream puffs
While you can certainly transfer the choux paste to a piping bag with a large round tip, it’s very easy to simply use a large soupspoon to scoop the batter onto the sheet pan. The shapes will be a bit more irregular and less “perfect” than a piped puff, but I rather like the rustic flair of spoon forming. This recipe makes eight large puffs but you can make them smaller if you like.
for the chocolate pudding filling:
dark chocolate pudding – recipe here (for cream puffs, I’ll usually add an extra Tablespoon of cornstarch to make it a bit firmer for this use)
for the chocolate pâte à choux:
½ cup water
5 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup + 1 Tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour (9 Tablespoons)
3 large eggs, cold
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 ½ Tablespoons cocoa powder
for the chocolate glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
3 Tablespoons dutch process cocoa powder, sifted
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 Tablespoons water
- for the chocolate filling: If you haven’t already, make the chocolate pudding for the filling and refrigerate overnight with plastic wrap pressed over the surface to prevent a skin from forming.
- For the pâte à choux: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425°F.
- Line baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mat. (note: once the choux paste is made, a few dabs under the parchment will help keep it in place. If using a silicone mat, this won’t be necessary as the mat has enough weight to stay in place.)
- In medium saucepan, heat water, butter, sugar, and salt over medium heat until simmering.
- Quickly add flour and with wooden spoon, quickly stir until mixture comes together and pulls away from the sides of pan.
- Continue to cook and stir for about 1 minute more (a film will develop on the bottom of the pan).
- By hand:
- Remove pan from heat and let the choux paste cool for about 3 minutes, stirring frequently to release steam.
- With a wooden spoon, vigorously whisk in first egg and the vanilla until completely incorporated.
- Beat in the remaining eggs, one at a time, until the paste is smooth.
- Add the cocoa and stir until smooth.
- With a mixer (standing mixer with the paddle attachment or hand mixer)
- Add the choux paste to the bowl and mix on medium-low until you no longer see steam coming up from the bowl, about 3 minutes.
- On medium, mix in the first egg and the vanilla until completely incorporated.
- Add the remaining eggs, one at a time, until the paste is smooth.
- On low, add the cocoa and mix until smooth.
- To form and bake: as mentioned above, place small dabs of the choux paste in each corner of the sheet pan, under the parchment paper then press the paper in place to hold in place (not necessary if using a silicone mat.)
- Using two soupspoons, drop 8 equal portioned mounds of choux paste onto prepared pan, spacing evenly, and no less than 2” apart. Try to go high rather than wide. If the mounds are unevenly shaped or have tails, use slightly damp fingers to smooth any rough edges.
- Bake until completely puffed, 15-20 minutes.
- Reduce heat to 375°F and continue to bake until shells are firm, about 15 minutes more.
- Remove pan from oven and with a small knife, carefully make a small slit in the side of each puff to release any steam.
- Turn the oven off. Return the pan to the oven with the door propped open (with a wooden spoon or folded pot holder), and let puffs dry, about 25 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the oven and let the puffs cool completely before filling.
- For the glaze: In a small bowl, sift the powdered sugar and cocoa.
- In a small saucepan, heat the water and butter until melted.
- Combine with the sifted cocoa/sugar and whisk until smooth
- To fill: with a serrated knife, slice off the top 1/3 of each puff. If there’s any soft dough on the inside, remove so that the shells are fairly hollow.
- Place the tops to the side and spoon the chocolate pudding into bottom shells.
- Glaze the puff tops by either dipping into the bowl of glaze or spooning on top and smoothing evenly to cover.
- Put the glazed tops on top of the filled puffs. The glaze will set fairly quickly. Once assembled, refrigerate if not serving immediately.
- Making ahead: these will hold, refrigerated, for about a day but the puff will soften over time. It may be better to keep the elements separate and fill/glaze an hour or two before serving. Personally, I like them best once they’ve sat for a few hours but that’s just me. The puffs can be made a day or two ahead and re-crisped in a 350°F oven for 5 minutes. Let cool completely before filling.