These easy-to-make cream puffs have light as air choux pastry filled with a rich and creamy vanilla pastry cream. Dusted with powdered sugar or dipped in chocolate, you will learn how to make these better than the bakery cream puffs from the comfort of your home.
Make the Pastry Cream: Fill a large bowl with ice water, then set a fine-mesh sieve over a medium bowl. Set both aside.
In a 3 to 4-quart saucepan, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch and salt. Whisk in the egg yolks until thoroughly combined and all of the dry ingredients have been incorporated. Then, whisk in the milk to combine.
Place the saucepan over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the pastry cream begins to noticeably thicken, about 4 to 8 minutes.
When it reaches this point, look for large bubbles to break on the surface. Once they do, whisk constantly for 1 minute, then remove from the heat.
Whisk in the butter and vanilla until melted and completely smooth.
Strain the pastry cream through the fine-mesh sieve into the medium bowl. Immediately press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming.
Place the bowl of pastry cream into the ice bath to cool for 30 minutes. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill for at least 4 hours or overnight.
Make the Pate a Choux (Choux Pastry): Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Place the water, butter, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan. Place over high heat and bring to a full rolling boil.
Remove from the heat and add the flour all at once. Using a wooden spoon or stiff silicone spatula, stir until the flour is thoroughly mixed in and no lumps remain, pressing and smashing the dough against the sides of the pan.
Bake the Puffs: Transfer the choux pastry to a piping bag fitted with a ¼-inch round piping tip (I recommend the Ateco #10). Hold the pastry bag at a 90-degree angle and apply downward pressure to pipe 2-inch wide puffs onto the parchment-lined baking sheets, ensuring that the puffs are 3 inches apart. Dip a finger in cold water and gently pat down any bumps or swirls sticking up on top.
Bake, rotating the sheets halfway through, until the puffs are golden brown and feel like and hollow, about 22 to 27 minutes. Turn off the oven.
Fill the Puffs: Place the chilled pastry cream in a pastry bag fitted with a ¼-inch round piping tip (again, Ateco #10 is perfect for this). Insert the tip of the bag into the hole you created on the bottom of the puff, and gently squeeze until filled (the puff will fill heavy and the cream will start to come back out of the hole on the bottom). Wipe off excess cream from the bottom and continue until all puffs are filled.
Alternative Filling Method: You can also slice the puffs in half horizontally and pipe (I love a large closed star tip for this - Ateco #853) the pastry cream onto the bottom half, and then cover with the top half of the puff. This is a pretty presentation but a bit messier to eat!
Optional Chocolate Glaze (if using): Place the chopped chocolate, butter, corn syrup, and salt in a medium bowl. Microwave in 15-second increments, stirring after each, until completely melted and smooth. Working one at a time, hold each cream puff upside down and dip the top in the glaze, then return to the tray. Repeat with all of the puffs. Allow the glaze to set at room temperature, about 20 to 30 minutes. Serve immediately.
Nutritional value is for 1 cream puff filled with pastry cream and topped with chocolate glaze.