Cream puffs and I have a complicated history. One of the main tasks of my first bakery job was filling the case with cream puffs and éclairs. As you might imagine, I got more than a little tired of them. There was a time when I didn't want to look at a cream puff, much less eat one. The good news? I know cream puffs.
When I set out to make a gluten-free pâte à choux (that's the dough for cream puffs, éclairs, and other desserts like profiteroles and French crullers), I knew what I wanted: a dough that puffed up in the oven and was light. Who wants a heavy cream puff? Since wheat-based pâte à choux dough relies on gluten-rich bread flour, with 12-13% protein, I wondered how gluten-free pâte à choux would work. Pretty well, it turns out. By replacing bread flour with a blend of rice flour and potato starch, I was able to create a dough that behaves, looks, and tastes exactly like the dough I worked with in the bakery.
Pâte à choux is a cooked dough. You boil the milk with butter on the stovetop, and as soon as the mixture reaches a boil, you stir in the flour mixture. In just seconds, a dough forms in the pot. This thick, sticky dough is transferred to the bowl of a stand mixer, where you mix in the eggs one at a time. The finished dough is then piped into shapes.
To fully mimic wheat-based pâte à choux, I needed to change more than just the flour. Traditional pâte à choux is made with either water or milk—I found that for gluten-free pâte à choux, the flavor of whole milk was essential. I also added a little baking powder to the dough, an ingredient you'd never find in a traditional pâte à choux. It helps my gluten-free version to reach the same light, airy heights as its gluten-filled cousins.
Getting Ready to Bake
The key to making pâte à choux is setting up your kitchen fully before you begin. Since you are working with a hot dough, you'll want to move quickly from the stovetop to your stand mixer. Before starting, get out all of your equipment:
- a stand mixer fitted with a flat paddle attachment
- a rubber spatula
- a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper
- a piping bag fitted with a large round tip (I used round tip #808)
- a small bowl of water for smoothing out the tips of the piped shapes.
Cream puffs can be filled with any sweet cream, but I like to use homemade vanilla pudding. I simply slice off the top third of the cream puff, spoon my filling into the center, and then replace the top. A light dusting of powdered sugar is a nice way to finish them.
- For the Filling
- 2/3 cup milk
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 4 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 large egg yolk
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- For the Pâte à Choux
- 3 ounces (3/4 cup) white rice flour
- 1 1/2 ounces (1/4 cup) potato starch
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 5 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup milk (2% or whole)
- 3 large eggs
- Powdered sugar, optional
Prepare the Filling: Combine milk and sugar in a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat until mixture reaches a gentle boil. Reduce heat to low. Meanwhile, a small heatproof bowl, vigorously whisk together heavy cream, cornstarch, and egg yolk. In a slow and steady stream, whisk heavy cream mixture into hot milk. Increase heat to medium. Cook, whisking constantly until pudding thickens, about three minutes.
Remove pot from heat. Whisk for one minute. Add vanilla extract and stir to combine. Pour pudding into an 8x8-inch pan or medium bowl. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the pudding. (This will prevent a skin from forming.)
Refrigerate filling for four hours or overnight. Filling should be cold before filling puffs.
Make the dough. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Set out a rubber spatula, a pastry bag fitted with large tip and a small bowl of water.
Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 375°F. In a small bowl, whisk together white rice flour, potato starch, salt, and baking. Set bowl near the stove.
In a small (2 quart) heavy-bottomed pot, combine butter and milk. Heat over medium-high heat until mixture boils. Add dry ingredients, all at once, and quickly stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until a dough forms and pulls away from the sides of the pot. This will happen quickly. Transfer dough to the waiting stand mixer.
Mix dough for one minute on medium-high speed. (This cools down the dough slightly so the eggs won’t cook when you add them to the dough.) Add eggs, one at a time, mixing thoroughly between each addition. Do not add the next egg until the first egg is completely combined.
Turn off mixer and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Turn mixer back on and mix dough for one minute. The pâte à choux dough should be creamy and smooth.
Fill pastry bag with dough. Pipe into equal mounds, about two tablespoons each. (You can pipe these bigger or smaller depending on your taste. Just try to make each mound about the same size.) Use wet fingertip to gently press down point of each mound.
Bake until golden brown and puffy, 18-20 minutes.
Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool. Repeat with remaining dough.
Using a serrated knife, slice off top 1/3 of the cooled cream puff. Fill with chilled pudding. Replace the top and sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired. Serve immediately.