This is a big-bang-for-your-buck post, with a whole party-full of delicious food ideas! I’m including three “building block recipes,” which can be used alone, innovated in other creative ways, or put together to make for a super DIY dessert party! Recreate it for your BFF’s with the printable recipe cards at the bottom of the post.
Recently a friend approached me, looking for a fun, food-related activity for a small, “girls’ night in” get-together. She wanted something interactive and do-it-yourself, with lots of options, but based around something delicious and homemade.
We decided to offer fresh, made from scratch cream puffs, a.k.a. profiteroles. They are the perfect vehicle for all sorts of fillings and toppings, so we set it up like a little dessert bar for the guests to help themselves. All the girls had so much fun choosing their fillings and topping them with all different flavor combos!
She purchased strawberries, bananas, crushed/chopped nuts and candies, and different types of chocolates for drizzling and dipping, and I provided the cream puff shells, a fluffy, creamy filling, and my favorite homemade salted caramel sauce. Most everything can be made days or even weeks ahead, so it’s a perfect way to relax, enjoy your friends, and host a low-key party.
First I made the caramel, because it can keep in the fridge for a loooong time. I’ve never actually had it go bad, so I’m not exactly sure what the shelf life is, but it has lasted in my fridge for as long as a few months. Refer to this post for step by step instructions and photos. (It also makes a great homemade gift, in a jar with a cute label and pretty ribbon…)
Next I got a good start on the cream filling. It’s a lot like pudding! (Check out my work-in-progress pudding series: S’mores Pudding, and PB&J Pudding.) Only there is one little cheffy trick which sounds hard but you can totally handle- tempering eggs. Don’t worry, I’ll hold your hand and walk you through it!
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups milk
6 egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups cream
about 1 tablespoon powdered sugar, or to taste
It starts out just like a pudding: sugar, flour and salt in a pot, whisk to combine and get out any lumps…
…slowly whisk in the milk until it’s all nicely combined, and cook on the stove, stirring frequently, until thickened. While that’s going, separate the eggs.
Now for the tricky part: spoon a little of that hot, thickened milk mixture into the egg yolks, and whisk vigorously.
…and a little more… and a little more… and a little more…
The purpose of all of this is to cook the eggs gently and slowly, without scrambling them. Now that you’ve slowly brought the temperature up, you can pour the warmed eggs back into the pot with whatever milk mixture is left in there, add in the vanilla, and place it back on the stove to continue cooking.
Bring it up to a slow boil and let it bubble until it’s nice and thick.
Now strain it into a heat safe container, and press some cling film on the surface so it doesn’t form a skin.
The next step in the profiterole process is to make the shells. These are a classic French pastry called pate a choux, and they are so fun and interesting. (I know, I know, Nerd Alert!) The prep method is unlike anything else in the baking world, and they puff up and hollow out like magic.
This recipe is adapted from The Martha Stewart Cookbook Collected Recipes for Every Day.
Pate a Choux
1 cup water
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
Put the water, butter, salt and sugar in a big pot and melt it all together on the stove. Dump in the flour and whisk to combine.
Place it back on the stove and whisk it over the heat, until you start to see a little film forming on the bottom of the pot.
Put it in the mixer and start beating. Drop an egg into it while it’s going. Beat, beat, beat, until smooth and stretchy looking, then repeat until all the eggs are mixed in. PS- it smells really yummy 🙂
I piped my puffs with a pastry bag, but if you don’t have one, you can just drop it on a baking sheet by the teaspoonful, just like making chocolate chip cookies.
Here is how I like to fill my pastry bag. It keeps it neat and clean, just the way I like it, with nothing gumming up at the top edge of the bag.
Just turn the bag inside out over your hand. Scoop the choux into your pastry-bag-covered-hand. Turn it right side out and twist. You’re golden!
Preheat the oven to 425 and pipe out the shells. I made mine little, about an inch in diameter, so everyone could try several, with different sauces and toppings.
If they get little pointy tops, just pat them down with a wet fingertip.
Bake them for 10 minutes at 425, then 15 minutes at 375, then 8 minutes at 325.
Look how puffy!
And hollow inside…
…what a perfect place to tuck something delicious.
An hour or so before serving, just whip up some cream, with a little sugar, until fluffy.
Fold a little whipped cream into the eggy custard, to lighten it up.
And then add all that back into the whipped cream and fold, gently, to combine.
At this point I packed everything up and headed over to my GF’s house. When I got there, we set out all the toppings in little bowls: slivered almonds, chopped walnuts, toffee bits, crushed oreos… and melted some chocolate… and sliced some bananas… and warmed the caramel… and put the choux pastries and the filling into pretty serveware.
Girlfriend invited all our peeps up to the dessert bar to mix and match, drizzle and dip!
The choux puffs are eggy and chewy, and they just burst in your mouth with that sweet, soft, vanilla cream. The warm drizzles, juicy fruits, and crunchy toppings will bring you to new heights of dessert euphoria…
Here’s the highlight reel; some of my favorite combinatons:
Chantilly-stuffed Choux Pastry with Salted Caramel Drizzle and Toasted Almonds
Strawberry-stuffed Choux Pastry with Milk Chocolate Drizzle and Crushed Oreos
Banana-stuffed Choux Pastry with White Chocolate Drizzle and Toffee Bits
Banana hunk dipped in Warm Caramel with Peanut Butter Chips
Strawberry dipped in Melted Chocolate with Chopped Walnuts
Side note: if you want a cream puff party of your very own, but you’d like to simplify the prep, try offering your guests a few pints of different flavored ice creams and mini-scoops to fill their puffs, instead of the chantilly cream.
And be sure to check out this post for a perfect beverage pairing to serve to your Profiterole Party Pals…