These dreamy salted caramel cream puffs will turn you into a baking superstar and make your loved ones ask for more. Learn how to plan ahead and achieve this totally doable baking project!
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I firmly believe cream puffs can be one of the most delicious joys in a food lover’s life. If you’ve had a freshly prepared cream puff, you know what I’m talking about. The tiny format, the irresistibly crunchy shell, the sweet filling that bursts all over the place when you take a bite and forces you to lick the cream off your fingers… all these tiny things add up to what makes cream puffs so unforgettable.
Unfortunately, because of so many factors, including even staffing challenges and work schedules, the cream puffs you buy in pastry shops or even in restaurants are way too often prepared in advance and stored for days before you get to enjoy them. This means the cream puff shells are inevitably soft and sometimes humid, not crunchy as they should be. If you’ve never enjoyed cream puffs any other way, you can’t know what you’re missing. But if you’re a pastry nerd like me, you’re disappointed with every bite.
In a perfect pastry world, cream puffs would be prepared à la minute, that is, upon order. All the components can be made in advance, which means a cream puff can be assembled within seconds before serving. I know of one pastry shop that does this—and it is, incidentally, my favorite pastry shop in Québec—Patrice Pâtissier in Montreal. This pastry shop is renowned for many things, but they really do take cream puff making to a whole other level. The shop has the one cream puff du jour displayed under a glass dome, and if you order one, you must wait for a few minutes while a chef assembles it just for you. Believe me, biting into such a carefully prepared puff is pretty life-changing. But it’s sad in a way because the vast majority of the cream puffs you’ll have after this one will be disappointing! (First-world problems, I know.)
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Needless to say, preparing cream puffs to order requires a level of commitment and love for the treat that not every shop or restaurant has or can afford. But I’ve got good news for you: making cream puffs at home gives you all the pleasure of that freshly prepared cream puff, with the added pride of knowing you’ve made them yourself.
And I’ve also got great news for you: cream puffs are a project you need to carve out time for, yes, but making them doesn’t involve frustrating pitfalls or complicated techniques. It’s a straightforward process you can achieve even if you’re not an experienced pastry maker. And the final, wonderful news is that once you’ve learned how to make choux pastry, you’ll be able to make so many other delightful treats: chocolate éclairs, cheese puffs (gougères), and so many more French classics will now be within reach.
These Salted Caramel Cream Puffs might very well be the very best dessert I’ve ever created. Don’t just take my word for it: everyone who’s tasted these bite-sized masterpieces has sighed this same statement in delight, all while cleaning every last drop of that addictive salted caramel sauce off their plates. And the next question is always, “Can I have another one?”
A few components are involved in making these cream puffs, but most of them can be prepared in advance over several days, which allows you to break down the process and make it more approachable. (Refer to my printable preparation plan below to get started.)
Making these Salted Caramel Cream Puffs also means you’ll be making salted caramel twice: once to incorporate in the whipped cream filling and a second time to produce that irresistible, glistening sauce. Though making caramel from scratch might sound intimidating, don’t worry, I’ll walk you through it—you don’t even need a thermometer to make it, either!
I believe these Salted Caramel Cream Puffs could become the most spectacular dessert you’ve ever made, too. To serve, you can set them on a beautiful plate or pile them high as a quasi-croquembouche. However you choose to serve these cream puffs, you’re sure to create an impression!
The biggest pressure point when making caramel is knowing when to take it off the heat. Cook caramel a few seconds too long and you’ll burn it. The good news is that caramelizing the sugar is the very first step, so if you mess it up, you can simply start over without spoiling other ingredients.
With practice, you’ll know exactly when your caramel is ready. The more caramel caramelizes, the more it develops savory notes, which is what makes it so irresistible. My recipe for these Salted Caramel Cream Puffs requires you to make a dry caramel; that is, you’ll be cooking that sugar without any other liquid involved. This requires you to whisk throughout and to keep a constant eye on the process, which is key to caramel success.
You should pull caramel off the heat a few seconds before you think it’s ready. That’s because the caramel will keep cooking and getting darker even for the few seconds that elapse before you whisk in the heavy cream, which stops the caramelization process.
If this is your first time making caramel, you should pull the sugar off the heat when it has the color of light maple syrup or golden corn syrup. Pulling the sugar off too early is better than too late because the worst thing that will happen is that your caramel will have a milder flavor. With experience, you’ll dare to keep the caramel on the heat for just a few more seconds to bring it right to that savory edge and create a life-changing caramel you’ll become addicted to.
No, you don’t need a thermometer to make either the salted caramel cream or the salted caramel sauce required in this cream puff recipe! Refer to the detailed instructions below to learn how to make salted caramel sauce without using a candy thermometer.
Adding gelatin to whipped cream creates stabilized whipped cream, a pastry term that simply means your whipped cream will remain firm and fluffy for up to 24 hours. Stabilizing—or adding gelatin to—whipped cream also means it won’t “weep,” that is, release water that would wet your precious cream puff shells.
Making stabilized whipped cream is super easy: all you need to do is to melt a bit of gelatin into water, then mix this into the salted caramel cream mixture before whipping. Refer to the recipe below for detailed instructions.
If you plan to assemble the cream puffs and serve them within 2 hours, you can omit the gelatin. The salted caramel whipped cream won’t have time to change texture within such a short timeframe.
Choux craquelin is a simple dough made of butter, brown sugar, and flour. This dough is then rolled thin and cut out into rounds that are then placed over the cream puffs right before baking.
Essentially, craquelin helps creating rounder, more uniformly shaped cream puffs. The way it works is that the butter in the mixture melts and “fries” the top of the puffs, which controls the development of the puffs during baking. This creates perfectly round cream puffs.
No, you don’t. Though making craquelin isn’t difficult at all, it is the kind of “next-level” technique you can skip over if this is your first time making cream puffs or if you don’t mind if your cream puffs are perfectly imperfect.
Quite simply, craquelin dough is very soft and difficult to handle at room temperature. Freezing craquelin also slows down its melting process during baking, allowing the cream puff to fully puff up to its beautiful potential.
Cream puffs can basically be any size you want. These Salted Caramel Cream Puffs are generously sized and can be eaten in 2 to 3 (messy) bites. You can of course create smaller, one-bite cream puffs: simply make sure to decrease the baking time accordingly.
My favorite hack to create perfectly sized cream puffs in a snap is to use a cookie scoop. This tool allows you to easily control the amount of dough you use and quickly creates cream puffs that are exactly the same size.
This recipe for Salted Caramel Cream Puffs uses a ¾ oz (1 ½ tbsp) cookie scoop.
Cream puffs are baked through and ready to come out of the oven when they’re dark golden brown all around—that is, down to the bottom of the puff. This tends to take longer than you might expect; cream puffs might look perfectly puffed and golden after 20 minutes; but if the base is still blonde when you pull the puffs out of the oven, they will likely collapse while cooling instead of retaining their beautiful round shape.
Cream puffs that have been filled with caramel whipped cream and dipped into salted caramel sauce should be enjoyed within an hour or two. The cream puff shell will start softening past that, and you’ll slowly but surely lose that irresistible contrast between the crispy shells and the creamy center.
However, most of the cream puff components can be prepared in advance; the cream puff shells can even be frozen! This means you will only need to do the final assembly shortly before serving. This spreads the work over time, makes the project more approachable, and removes all the pressure from the project. If one of the components doesn’t work exactly how you expected it to, you won’t feel like you’ve spoiled tonight’s dessert! You can simply start over and get everything ready before the big day.
Both craquelin and cream puff shells can be frozen.
Preparing craquelin in advance means you’ll save some time when comes time to bake the shells. Cut-out rounds of craquelin can be kept frozen for up to 1 month. (Refer to the recipe below for detailed freezing tips.)
The baked cream puff shells can also be frozen for up to 1 month. Bake the shells as indicated, then let them cool to room temperature. Place all the cream puff shells on a baking sheet, then place the sheet in the freezer for at least 3 hours or overnight.
Once the shells are frozen hard, gently transfer them to an airtight container (the frozen shells are very fragile and can break easily if they’re not handled with care.) You can keep cream puff shells frozen for up to 1 month.
Thawed cream puff shells will be soft and sad. To return thawed cream puff shells to their freshly baked flavor and texture, preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C). Place the cream puff shells on a baking sheet. Bake for 7 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely to room temperature. (This will return the cream puff shells to their crisp, freshly baked state.) Proceed with filling the cream puffs as indicated in the recipe below.
SAVE A PDF COPY / PRINT THIS PREP PLAN
Up to 1 month in advance:
Up to 2 days in advance:
Up to 4 hours before serving:
Up to 1 hour before serving:
Never made pâte à choux before? In my detailed video class, you will learn how to make pâte à choux, and then discover how to turn this one dough into chouquettes, cream puffs, profiteroles, éclairs, and gougères, or savory cheese puffs. Along the way, I’ll provide helpful tips to help you be successful on your first try, and demonstrate many variation ideas. My fun class will quickly allow you to master a new skill, that will in turn allow to create impressive puffed treats. Watch now!
Check out the class trailer for a sneak peek into what you’ll learn in the class:
Tell me how you liked it! Leave a comment or take a picture and tag it with @foodnouveau on Instagram.
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Author: Marie Asselin
This was a wonderful cream recipe that our entire family enjoyed. I will be making this again soon. Happy Holidays!
Thanks Heidy, happy these puffs delighted your family!
What an amazing dessert fit for the holidays! I love the salted caramel topping and how it adds the perfect balance of sweet and salty. So delicious!
These caramels are so cute and delicious and YES so perfectly salty and sweet! When you have a minute and wrap them too, they make for a fantastic homemade gift.
I made these for a dinner party and they were a hit! Your directions were quite easy to follow.
Thanks Brianna! Happy the recipe worked well for you. A dinner party is a perfect occasion for these chic puffs!
Well worth the time and effort.. though quite hard to wait for a the full cooling time to elapse. Love salted caramel all the time!
But the reward…!! Doesn’t a bit in one of these delightful puffs make it all worth it? 😍
I have always been intimidated by the process of making cream puffs! You are making it look so very easy and I feel like I can make them myself. It’s a great post and I LOVE the step-by-step photos.
Thank you so much! Cream puffs can be quite a breeze to make, once you get the hang of whipping up choux pastry. All you need is a bit of time on your hands!
These cream puffs are amazing and that filling is not overly too sweet and so good
Thanks Linda, happy you loved them!
I made these yesterday and LOVED them! They were relatively easy to make and so, so addictive! I’m going to make them again for Christmas.
These salted caramel cream puffs are so perfect for Christmas! Move over, yule log! 🙊
These cream puffs were so delicious! I made them for our anniversary and we both loved them. Thank you!
Such a romantic dessert to make for an anniversary! Happy these puffs made your day a bit more delicious.
OMG, these salted caramel cream puffs look amazing! I am super excited to make these. Thank you for sharing this recipe!
You’re gonna love them, Ramona!