Why It Works
- Light brown sugar imbues the craquelin top with caramel flavor.
- Poking holes in the baked choux au craquelin allows steam to escape and creates an opening for easy filling.
- Returning the baked choux to a turned-off oven helps keep them crisp.
Choux au craquelin may sound fancy but they're really just dressed-up cream puffs. The craquelin, a simple cookie-like dough consisting of sugar, butter, flour, and a pinch of salt, is rolled out, cut, and perched on top of piped choux and the two are baked together, producing pastry puffs with a crackly appearance, crunchy texture, and a buttery, sweet bite.
For the craquelin, we tested different types of sugars: granulated, dark brown, and light brown. Granulated sugar gave the craquelin a sandy texture that lacked a depth of flavor, while the deep molasses-y notes of dark brown sugar overwhelmed the delicate choux. We found that light brown sugar was the best choice, imbuing the baked choux with a rich copper color and a pleasant caramel flavor.
Making the craquelin itself is an easy process; mix softened butter and light brown sugar in a bowl until creamy, add flour and salt, and then continue mixing until a dough forms (this can also be done in a stand mixer). Then you roll out the resulting dough between sheets of parchment paper, chill it, and cut out rounds. The dough is forgiving, so if the craquelin becomes too soft to handle while you’re stamping out rounds, quickly pop it back in the freezer for several minutes to let it firm up. You can even gather the leftover scraps, re-roll it, and cut out new rounds to save for a future batch.
For the choux base, which employs our foolproof technique, we prefer using water; no milk or sugar is needed because the craquelin provides the choux with all the color development, crispness, and sweetness it requires. When piping the choux, aim for a two-inch wide base (you can draw circles on your parchment if that helps; see instructions for that in the note below). Once they’re all piped, gently cap each choux with a round of craquelin.
Once baked and cooled, you can enjoy the choux au craquelin as-is (they’re great as an afternoon snack) or fill them with thick pastry cream, fluffy whipped cream, or velvety crème légère for a stellar dessert.
As we mentioned in our recipe for cream puffs, there are two ways to fill choux au craquelin: a “piped-in” option and a “sandwich” option. The piped option involves making a small hole in the bottom of each choux and then piping the filling inside, which results in an even distribution of pastry cream or crème légère. The sandwiched version requires slicing each choux in half with a serrated knife, then piping the filling onto the bottom half before closing the "sandwich" with the top half. The choice is yours (we’ve included steps below for whichever you pursue); both options are excellent.
- 4 ounces (1/2 cup; 115g) light brown sugar
- 4 ounces (1 stick;115g) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, and softened to about 68°F (20°C)
- 4 ounces (about 1 scant cup; 115g) all-purpose flour, sifted
- 1/8 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use half as much by volume
- One recipe Choux Pastry (made with water), transferred to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain round tip
- One recipe vanilla, chocolate, or lemon pastry cream, or one recipe crème légère, transferred to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch plain round tip (see note)
To Make the Craquelin Top by Hand: In a medium bowl and using a flexible spatula, mash together brown sugar and butter, then stir until smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes.
Add flour and salt, thoroughly mixing until no dry flour remains and a damp, crumbly meal has formed, about 2 minutes.
Alternatively, to Make the Craquelin Top in a Stand Mixer: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the brown sugar and butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes.
Scrape down the bowl and beater with a flexible spatula. Add flour and salt, then beat on medium-low speed until no dry flour remains and a damp, crumbly meal has formed, about 2 minutes.
Using your hands, bring dough together to form a ball (it will be a bit sticky but do not add extra flour). Place a sheet of parchment paper on a work surface and set dough on top. Shape dough into a roughly 6- by 8-inch flat rectangle.
Cover with a second sheet of parchment paper. Using a rolling pin, roll out dough into a 1/8-inch-thick rough rectangle 1/8 inch thick (it should be about 12-by-14 inches in size); reposition both sheets of parchment paper as needed to minimize creasing. Transfer dough, along with parchment paper, to a rimmed baking sheet and freeze until cold, about 5 minutes (or refrigerate until cold, about 15 minutes). Meanwhile, line a second baking sheet with parchment paper.
Remove top sheet of parchment paper. Using a 2-inch round cutter, stamp out 18 pieces of craquelin. Working quickly, transfer craquelin rounds to the prepared baking sheet in a single layer, and return to freezer; you may need to slide an offset spatula under the cut-outs to loosen them from the parchment paper. If desired, craquelin dough scraps can be re-rolled out, chilled, and cut into new rounds (see Make Ahead section for more on holding extra, uncooked rounds).
Adjust oven racks so that one is in upper-middle position, the other is in lower-middle position, and preheat oven to 375°F (191°C). Line two aluminum baking sheets with parchment paper. Pipe a small amount of choux paste under each corner of parchment paper (the dough acts as a glue and keeps the paper in place as you pipe).
Holding the filled pastry bag at a 90° angle, apply steady downward pressure and pipe a 2-inch-wide choux (see note). To stop piping, cease applying pressure and swirl pastry tip away. Continue to pipe choux about 3 inches apart, for a total of 9 choux. Repeat with second tray. Top each choux with a craquelin cut-out, making sure it’s positioned parallel to the floor of the baking sheet, then press down slightly to ensure it adheres to the highest point of the piped choux. Bake both trays, switching racks and rotating trays front to back after 20 minutes, until choux au craquelin are puffed, deeply golden brown, and feel hollow when lifted, about 30 minutes total. For sandwich-style choux au craquelin, proceed to the next step; for piped-in choux au craquelin, proceed to step 11.
To Fill Sandwich-Style Choux au Craquelin: Turn off oven. Let trays rest in oven with oven door partially open for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely, about 15 minutes. Using a serrated knife, slice each puff in half to create a top and bottom "bun.” Transfer your choice of filling (see notes section below for filling instructions) to a pastry bag fitted with a 3/4-inch star tip. Working with one at a time, begin piping with steady pressure to generously fill the bottom half of each choux. Cover with the top half of each choux. Repeat until all choux au craquelin are filled. Serve immediately.
To Fill Piped-In Choux au Craquelin: Working quickly, while choux au craquelin are still hot, gently insert the tip of a paring knife into the underside of each choux and rotate in a circular motion to create a small hole about 1/4 inch in size, then return to tray. Set both trays in the turned-off but still warm oven with the door partially open for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely, about 15 minutes.
Working with one at a time, insert tip of pastry cream–filled bag into hole in each choux and begin piping with steady pressure until filled (you can tell because the choux will feel heavy and pastry cream will start to overflow the hole). Wipe away any excess pastry cream. Repeat until all choux au craquelin are filled. Serve immediately.
rolling pin, round cutters, disposable pastry bags
If you want to make sure that each puff is the right size, you can prepare a template ahead of time. Take one sheet of parchment paper and, using a 2-inch round cutter as a guide, trace 9 circles that are 3 inches apart. Flip paper upside down and set it on the baking sheet. Repeat with a second piece of parchment paper.
To enjoy the choux au craquelin unfilled, you can skip poking holes in the bottoms. Once both trays are done baking, simply turn off the oven and leave the door partially open for 30 minutes (Step 9), then serve immediately.
For Sandwich-Style Choux au Craquelin
If you're making sandwich-style choux au craquelin, you'll need a greater volume of filling than this recipe provides. There are several ways to arrive at the right amount:
- Pastry cream: Make a double batch of any of the pastry cream recipes (or make a batch each of the different flavors).
- Whipped cream: In a large mixing bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine 2 cups heavy cream, sugar to taste, and a splash of vanilla extract. Whisk by hand or mix at medium speed until thick peaks form (peaks should not be loose or stiff in structure).
- Crème légère: Make a single batch of crème légère.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Filled and unfilled choux au craquelin are best consumed on the day they’re made.
Uncooked craquelin cut-outs can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month.
To store unfilled choux au craquelin, wrap them tightly in plastic and place in an airtight container; they can be kept frozen for up to 1 month. To refresh, preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Transfer frozen choux au craquelin to a sheet tray and reheat until crisp, about 5 minutes. If filling, let cool at room temperature first before doing so.