These classic cream puffs are topped with a delicious craquelin and filled with traditional French pastry cream and vanilla bean whipped cream. These vanilla bean cream puffs are almost too pretty to eat.
There is something so elegant about French pastries. Their presentation is beautiful, and their flavors are simply satisfying. I never feel like I have overindulged because of the light and airy layers used. And cream puffs are no exception. Like many other French pastries, they are made from pâte à choux (a dough that requires only six simple ingredients) and filled with a variety of fillings ranging from homemade whipped cream to chocolate ganache or even lemon curd.
These vanilla bean cream puffs have four components that all come together to deliver a lovely flavor with a balance of textures. They begin with my pâte à choux dough baked with a layer of craquelin, a thin disc of cookie dough, right on top. It melts in the oven to form the perfect crackly top and add a delicious flavor. For the filling, I have used a layer of French pastry cream topped with a layer of vanilla bean whipped cream. These vanilla bean cream puffs are sure to impress your family and friends.
What you need to make vanilla bean cream puffs
Digital scale (or measuring cups and spoons)
Baking sheet pans x2
2-inch round cookie cutter
Large star pastry tip
Large round piping tip x2
Pâte à choux. A traditional French dough used to make a variety of pastries. It requires six simple ingredients and transforms from mixture to finished product with the steam created from its high moisture ingredients.
Butter. Always use unsalted butter in baking. Butter adds a richness to the pastry cream and is a crucial ingredient in both the pâte à choux and craquelin.
All-purpose flour. All-purpose flour adds the perfect tenderness to the pâte à choux and craquelin. It is also a thickening agent in the pastry cream.
Light brown sugar. Adds a sweet flavor to the craquelin and also contributes to its texture.
Vanilla extract. Always use PURE vanilla extract. It will give you the best flavor.
Milk. Milk acts as a thickening agent in pastry cream. Always use whole milk (or you could even use heavy cream for a richer flavor) because low-fat milk will not thicken the pastry cream.
Sugar. The sweetener used in the pastry cream. Just a bit goes a long way.
Vanilla bean. Adds a lovely flavor to the pastry cream and whipped cream. You can use your favorite variety of vanilla beans (I prefer Madagascar or Tahitian vanilla). If you do not have a vanilla bean, you can substitute two teaspoons of pure vanilla extract.
Cornstarch. The cornstarch helps thicken the pastry cream. Using too much cornstarch in a recipe can leave a bad aftertaste. Therefore flour is used in conjunction with the cornstarch to thicken the mixture.
Eggs. The pastry cream is made with egg yolks. It gives a richer flavor and creamier texture as opposed to using whole eggs.
Heavy cream. Always choose heavy cream or heavy whipping cream for the perfect homemade whipped cream. Do not use whipping cream as it has less milk fat and will not produce beautiful, stiff peaks when beaten.
Powdered sugar. The sweetener used for the vanilla bean whipped cream.
How to make craquelin
- Mix ingredients. Place all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Begin beating and increase speed to medium. Mix until combined and the mixture looks like coarse meal.
- Roll dough. Turn out the dough onto a large piece of parchment paper and top with an additional piece of parchment. Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough to 1-2mm thick (you can also separate the dough and do this in two parts).
- Freeze dough. Transfer the dough to the freezer for an hour. You can also make this dough ahead of time.
How to make pastry cream
- Heat ingredients. In a medium saucepan, combine milk, butter, sugar, and vanilla over medium heat. Bring mixture to a boil.
- Mix ingredients. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together cornstarch, flour, sugar, milk, and egg yolks until combined.
- Temper eggs. Off the heat, pour half of the milk mixture into the egg mixture while whisking vigorously. Pour the mixture through a sieve into the saucepan with the remaining vanilla mixture. Return to medium heat and bring to a boil while whisking constantly. Allow the pastry cream to cook for 1 minute.
- Cool. Transfer pastry cream to a plastic-lined sheet pan. Spread into an even, thin layer and place plastic wrap directly on top. Refrigerate until cool to the touch.
Tips and takeaways
- For a lightened filling, you can make a vanilla bean diplomat cream. Fold a 1:1 ratio of the pastry cream with the whipped cream. Alternatively, you can do a 2:1 ratio of pastry cream to whipped cream. Careful though not to overmix. You do not want to deflate your whipped cream.
- If using one type of filling, you don't have to cut the tops of the cream puffs. You can use a smaller pastry tip and poke a hole in the bottom of your cream puff to fill.
- To get a head start on these vanilla bean cream puffs, make the pastry cream and craquelin up to three days in advance.