Happy New Year, again! AND, happy National Cream Puff Day. Can you guess how I will be celebrating?
Cream puffs. Doesn't that pairing of words just send a shiver of joy through your heart? There's no bad part about these sweet treats: a light as air pastry puff, piped or filled with rich, sweet cream. They are a Good Thing.
We've been enjoying cream puffs in the USA since at least 1851, but they were probably around before that, just going by different names. They're closely related to the French profiterole, and from my reading on the subject, it's likely that cream puffs are a mere adaptation of the profiterole.
The concept for these sweet treats is said to have gotten to France when Caterina de’ Medici, wife of Henry II of France, brought the recipe over from Italy (or, more likely, one of her servants brought over the recipe!). But she ought not be considered the inventor: cream puff-esque pastries are documented in Europe as early as the 1300s.
The word "profiterole", which goes back as early as the 1600s, is said to translate roughly as a "roll baked under the ashes". I wouldn't take this too literally--I would guess that this means the profiteroles were probably baked in the residual heat of an oven as it cooled, when the fire was reduced to ashes. But that is just a guess on my part.
Regardless, the cream puff concept remained alive and well in Europe, and in the 1600s the dough was commonly referred to as "choux" pastry, because of the resemblance of the puffs to little mini cabbages. ("Chou" = cabbage).
By the 1800s, profiteroles were a commonplace item in France and England, often gracing upper-class tables, and created in fanciful shapes (swans, etc).
The concept came over to the US with settlers at some point, and my guess is that this is where "cream puff" and "profiterole" began to take slightly different paths. For me, a profiterole is basically a cream puff, but always with a vanilla cream and chocolate on top, whereas a cream puff could have just cream filling, or include various flavors of filling and/or icing. So, that is to say, a profiterole is a cream puff, but a cream puff doesn't have to be just a profiterole.
These days, cream puffs are a commonplace item on dessert menus and in bakeries. Not quite as common as cupcakes or chocolate chip cookies, so they feel a little special when you come across them. In my opinion, cream puffs are best served like cannoli: filled to order, and enjoyed immediately.
Like many other food holidays, pinpointing exactly how and why January 2 was designated National Cream Puff day, and by whom, seems a bit elusive. But really, are you going to argue the chance to enjoy a cream puff? I'm not.
Five bits of cream puff trivia:
The world’s largest cream puff was created and presented at the Wisconsin State Fair. Weighing in at 125 pounds, it was made by Dave Schmidt and Team Cream Puff. Apparently, cream puffs have been a tradition at the fair since 1924.
The Wisconsin State Fair also has a celebrity cream puff eating contest.
Something called the bossche bol exists in the Dutch city of Den Bosch. It is a huge profiterole-style cream puff, coated all over with chocolate.
Gougères are basically savory cream puffs.
Beard Papa is an international cream puff chain. They have well over 60 locations in the US, and internationally (as widespread as Guam, El Salvador, and Indonesia!).
Three Cream puff recipes:
Classic cream puffs, easy to follow recipe via King Arthur Flour
Strawberry Cream Cheese Cream Puffs: an easy recipe and an entry in the Bake-Off a while back. on CakeSpy.
Cream puff cake. YES! Via The Domestic Rebel.