Feel like a French pastry chef with this easy profiteroles recipe. Filled with Douglas fir creme patissiere, each classic, elegant profiterole can be piled high to form a croquembouche tower. This impressive dessert is sure to please folks of all ages and foraged foodies alike!
I see that look in my youngest daughter’s eyes when we watch The Great British Baking Show, cuddled together in my bed as our special treat. Her eyes positively sparkle with joy and wonder at all the amazing confections created by the contestants. It is perhaps the same look my parents saw in my eyes watching Martha Stewart create a croquembouche tower resplendent in spun sugar glory, in one of her first televised specials circa 1980-something. I think there are people that like to watch cooking shows, and there are people that dream in aroma, flavors, and textures of food.
Perhaps my littlest girl and I fall into the latter.
I never forgot my desire to make those elegant little profiteroles. So when my daughter giggled at the sound of “shoe paste” (the erstwhile pate a choux), I knew that it was time to create our own croquembouche tower. So while my tower is more of a pile, I find it no less impressive and oh-so-dreamy.
I have finally fulfilled a childhood desire while simultaneously sharing the joy of baking with my child — and with my own forage-y spin by way of creme patissiere filling infused with Douglas fir, orange and cinnamon. I like to snip the recent years growth of Douglas fir as those needles are more tender than older growth. If Douglas fir is not available to you, any edible fir, spruce, or pine will do. Make sure you’re tree trimming are contaminant and spray free. (Check out other winter foraging ideas to celebrate the season with this post from Grow Forage Cook Ferment)
What are Profiteroles?
Otherwise known as the cream puff, profiteroles are with a traditional French dough called pate a choux. Sounding far more sophisticated and difficult than they actually are — homemade profiteroles come together extremely easily and in very little time. Using only all purpose flour, salt, butter and eggs, the chances are that you might just have everything to make this easy profiteroles recipe right now. Very little technical skill or equipment is even required for this infamous French pastry.
How to Assemble a Croquembouche Tower
Again, sounding more fantastic than it is difficult — a croquembouche tower is simply a pile of homemade profiteroles stacked loosely in the shape of a Christmas tree or cone. Those feeling confident in their spun sugar work can use caramelized sugar to bind the profiteroles together and encase them in a sparkling web of shimmering sugar strands. Myself, I am content to merely pile the filled puffs atop an antique Depression glass cake plate and dust liberally with powdered sugar and garnish with sprigs of fir and pomegranate jewels. Humble, but sweetly presented, AND safe for little ones to participate in the assembly with no messy burnt sugar dishes to curse over later.
Elegant & Easy Profiteroles Recipe with Douglas Fir Creme Patissiere
Long time readers are probably quite aware of my love affair with the Douglas fir tree – showcased in recipes like these shortbreads, this frothy eggnog, and even a poached pear and frangipane tart. Douglas fir has a unique balsamic flavor that lends itself beautifully to holiday desserts. I infuse whole fat milk with Douglas fir, orange zest, and a cinnamon stick to create a festive and flavorful creme patissiere filling for my profiteroles. The custard part of of this recipe is the trickiest step — but it is far from a difficult task in of itself. This incredibly easy profiteroles recipe comes together in mere minutes and even has several child friendly steps to bring your little one in on. Both the creme patissiere and the profiteroles can be made a head of time (the puffs can even be frozen for future sweet and savory uses), saving the filling and assembling of the croquembouche tower for closer to serving time.
Elegant Profiteroles with Douglas Fir, Orange, & Cinnamon Creme Patissiere
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 stick unsalted butter 8 tablespoons
- generous pinch of salt
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 4 large whole eggs
Douglas Fir Creme Patissiere
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1/4 cup douglas fir needles or other edible conifer such as fir spruce or pine
- zest of one small orange
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1/4 cup organic sugar or honey
- 2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 whole egg
- In a small saucepan, melt together milk, butter, and salt and bring up to a scald, stir constantly over medium heat. Add the flour all at once and stir vigorously until a solid mass of dough is formed. Remove from heat.
- Add warm dough ball to a food processor or a mixer. While the mixer or processor is running at medium low speed add the four whole eggs one by one until a glossy, smooth dough forms.
- Transfer dough to a piping bag outfitted with a large holed tip, or simply to a large plastic storage bag with a small corner cut out. Pipe dough into 1 1/2" balls onto a baking sheets lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat leaving at least two inches between dough balls. With wet fingers, smooth the tops of the dough.
- Bake in a preheated oven at 425 degrees F for 18-20 minutes, until uniformly golden, rotating sheets halfway through baking. After baking, remove from oven and allow to cool on the tray for 10 minutes. After the 10 minutes, remove the puffs from the tray and poke a hole in the bottom of each with a skewer or a straw. Continue to cool on a clean dry dish towel. If not using immediately, profiteroles can be stored on in an airtight container on the counter for a day OR in the freezer for up to six months.
- In a medium sized bowl, wisk together egg yolks, whole egg, cornstarch and the sugar or honey. Set aside.
- In a small saucepan over medium low heat, simmer milk, fir needles, orange zest, and cinnamon sticks for 20 minutes, stirring frequently and watching carefully. After simmering, strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve.
- Very slowly pour the hot infused milk into the egg mixture while whisking constantly. Return the custard to the small saucepan and heat over medium low heat until the custard thickens and the first couple bubbles break the surface. Do not overcook. Remove immediately and pass the cooked custard through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap film or a disk of parchment. Refrigerate for at least four hours, or ideally 12 hours to ensure the creme patissiere is chilled through.
- To assemble
- Fill a piping bag or plastic bag outfitted with a small piping tip with the chilled creme patissiere. Squeeze the custard into the holes in the base of the profiterole puffs, just until the mixture starts to ooze out.
- Working in semi-concentric rings, stack the filled profiteroles in the shape of a tree or cone. Dust liberally with powdered sugar and garnish with sprigs of fir and pomegranate seeds.