Cream puffs are a classic French dessert consisting of choux pastry filled with a creamy filling. Traditionally, the filling is made with pastry cream, a rich custard-like cream made with milk, eggs, sugar, and flour. But what if you don’t have pastry cream on hand or simply prefer the taste and texture of whipped cream? Can you use whipped cream instead? Let’s explore the similarities and differences between these two fillings and see if substituting whipped cream for pastry cream in cream puffs is a viable option.
What is pastry cream, and how does it differ from whipped cream?
Pastry cream, also known as crème patissière, is a thick and custardy cream made with milk, eggs, sugar, and flour or cornstarch. It is cooked on the stove until it thickens, then cooled and used as a filling for pastries, cakes, and other desserts. Pastry cream has a rich and silky texture and a vanilla flavor, and it pairs well with fruits, chocolate, and other flavors.
On the other hand, whipped cream is a light and airy topping made with heavy cream and sugar. It is whipped with a mixer or whisk until it forms stiff peaks, then used as a garnish or filling for desserts. Whipped cream has a delicate and fluffy texture and a sweet, creamy flavor, and it can be flavored with various extracts or fruits.
One key difference between pastry cream and whipped cream is their texture. While pastry cream is thick and custardy, whipped cream is light and airy. This makes pastry cream a better choice for filling pastries and cakes, as it can hold its shape and provide a creamy, rich flavor. Whipped cream, on the other hand, is better suited for topping desserts, as it adds a light and fluffy texture without overpowering the other flavors.
Another difference between the two is their shelf life. Pastry cream should be used within a few days of making it, as it contains eggs and milk which can spoil quickly. Whipped cream, on the other hand, can be stored in the refrigerator for several days and still maintain its texture and flavor. This makes whipped cream a more convenient option for those who want to prepare desserts in advance or have leftovers to enjoy later.
The basic ingredients and recipe for making pastry cream
To make pastry cream from scratch, you will need:
- 2 cups whole milk
- 4 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
To make the pastry cream:
- In a medium saucepan, heat the milk over medium heat until it just starts to simmer.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, and flour until well combined.
- Gradually pour the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly to prevent scrambling the eggs.
- Return the mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until it thickens and comes to a boil.
- Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract or paste.
- Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, making sure the wrap touches the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming.
- Chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours before using.
How to make whipped cream from scratch
To make whipped cream from scratch, you will need:
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or other flavorings (optional)
To make the whipped cream:
- Chill a mixing bowl and whisk or beaters in the freezer for 10-15 minutes.
- Combine the heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla extract (if using) in the chilled mixing bowl.
- Whisk or beat on medium-high speed until the cream thickens and forms stiff peaks, about 2-4 minutes.
- Use immediately or cover and chill in the fridge until ready to use.
The pros and cons of using whipped cream instead of pastry cream in cream puffs
Now that we know how to make both pastry cream and whipped cream, let’s compare them and see if one is a better substitute for the other in cream puffs. Here are some pros and cons of using whipped cream instead of pastry cream:
- Whipped cream is lighter and less rich than pastry cream, which can be a good contrast to the buttery choux pastry.
- Whipped cream whips up quickly and easily, whereas pastry cream needs to be cooked and chilled beforehand.
- Whipped cream can be flavored with a variety of extracts, fruits, or other flavorings to match the flavor of the pastry or the filling.
- Whipped cream is less stable than pastry cream, meaning it can deflate or separate after a while, especially if left at room temperature.
- Whipped cream can be too sweet or too light for some tastes, whereas pastry cream has a more complex flavor and texture.
- Whipped cream doesn’t have the same thickness or stability as pastry cream, so it may not hold up well if piped or used as a filling in more elaborate desserts.
How to fill cream puffs with whipped cream
If you decide to go with whipped cream as your filling for cream puffs, here are some tips on how to do it:
- Wait until the cream puffs have cooled completely before filling them, to prevent the cream from melting or curdling.
- Cut a small slit or opening in the bottom of each puff with a knife or pastry tip.
- Insert a piping bag or plastic bag with a corner snipped off into the opening and fill with whipped cream, squeezing gently until it reaches the desired amount.
- Alternatively, you can use a spoon or a small spatula to fill the puffs with whipped cream.
- Refrigerate the filled cream puffs until ready to serve, to firm up the cream and prevent it from melting.
Tips for decorating and serving whipped cream-filled cream puffs
Once you have filled your cream puffs with whipped cream, you can further dress them up with some decorations or toppings. Here are some ideas:
- Dust the cream puffs with powdered sugar or cocoa powder for a simple yet elegant touch.
- Drizzle melted chocolate over the cream puffs for a decadent twist.
- Top each cream puff with a fresh berry, a mint leaf, or a candied nut for a pop of color and flavor.
- Serve the cream puffs on a platter or cake stand for a beautiful display, or pack them in a box or container for a portable treat.
Variations on whipped cream filling flavors, including chocolate, coffee, and fruit
If you want to experiment with different flavors of whipped cream besides vanilla, here are some ideas:
- Mocha whipped cream: add a tablespoon of instant coffee or espresso powder to the cream mixture before whipping it.
- Chocolate whipped cream: fold in some melted chocolate or cocoa powder after the cream has been whipped.
- Raspberry whipped cream: puree some fresh or frozen raspberries and fold them into the cream along with some sugar.
- Lemon whipped cream: add some lemon zest and juice to the cream mixture and whip as usual.
- Mint whipped cream: infuse the cream with fresh mint leaves before whipping it, or add some mint extract and green food coloring.
Creative ways to use leftover whipped cream in other desserts or drinks
If you have some leftover whipped cream after filling your cream puffs, don’t let it go to waste! Here are some ideas on how to use it up:
- Top some fresh berries, waffles, or pancakes with the whipped cream for a quick breakfast or brunch.
- Use the whipped cream as a frosting for a cake or cupcakes, or as a filling for a layer cake.
- Whisk it into some hot chocolate or coffee for a creamy and indulgent beverage.
- Freeze it in ice cube trays or popsicle molds for a refreshing and creamy treat.
Frequently asked questions about using whipped cream in place of pastry cream for baking purposes
Here are some common questions and answers about substituting whipped cream for pastry cream in baking recipes:
- Can you use whipped cream instead of pastry cream in other desserts besides cream puffs?
- What is the shelf life of whipped cream?
- Can you stabilize whipped cream to make it last longer?
- What are some alternatives to pastry cream or whipped cream for cream puffs?
Yes, you can use whipped cream as a filling or topping for cakes, pastries, pies, and other baked goods. Just keep in mind the pros and cons we discussed earlier.
Homemade whipped cream can last in the fridge for up to 3 days if covered and stored properly. After that, it may lose its texture and flavor and become runny or sour.
Yes, you can add some gelatin, cornstarch, or cream cheese to the whipped cream to make it more stable and longer-lasting.
You can use other fillings such as custard, chocolate ganache, fruit compote, or buttercream frosting, depending on your preference and skill level.
Expert tips for making perfect homemade whipped cream every time
Finally, here are some tips from baking experts to help you achieve the best whipped cream possible:
- Make sure your cream is cold, preferably from the fridge or freezer, to help it whip up faster and better.
- Use a chilled mixing bowl and whisk or beaters to keep the cream cold and prevent it from heating up and melting.
- Add the sugar and flavorings gradually, tasting as you go, to avoid over-whipping or making the cream too sweet or dense.
- Stop whipping the cream as soon as it forms stiff peaks or holds its shape, to avoid over-beating and curdling the cream.
Alternative fillings for cream puffs besides pastry or whipped cream, such as custard, mousse, or frosting
If you want to get creative with your cream puffs and try other fillings besides pastry or whipped cream, here are some ideas:
- Custard filling: similar to pastry cream, custard is a creamy and thick filling made with eggs, milk, sugar, and flavorings such as vanilla or chocolate.
- Mousse filling: a light and fluffy filling made with whipped cream, eggs, and chocolate or fruit puree.
- Pudding filling: a smooth and creamy filling made with milk, sugar, cornstarch, and flavorings such as vanilla or caramel.
- Frosting filling: a sweet and buttery filling made with powdered sugar, butter, and flavorings such as cocoa, coffee, or cream cheese.
How to troubleshoot common problems when working with whipped cream or pastry cream in baking recipes
Lastly, here are some common issues that may arise when using whipped cream or pastry cream in baking recipes, and how to fix them:
- My whipped cream is runny or won’t whip up properly.
- My pastry cream is lumpy or curdled.
- My cream puffs are soggy or deflate quickly.
This may be due to the cream being too warm or not using enough sugar or stabilizers. Try chilling the cream and equipment, adding more sugar or stabilizers, or starting over with colder cream.
This may be due to the eggs being scrambled or not stirring the cream enough. Try straining the cream through a sieve, whisking it vigorously, or starting over with a new batch.
This may be due to overfilling the puffs, not letting them cool completely, or storing them at room temperature for too long. Try filling the puffs less, letting them cool completely before filling, or refrigerating them until ready to serve.
Comparing the nutritional value of pastry and whipped creams for health-conscious bakers or consumers
For those who are watching their calorie intake or trying to eat healthy, here is a comparison of the nutritional value of pastry and whipped creams:
- Pastry cream (per 1/4 cup serving):
- Calories: 95
- Protein: 3 grams
- Fat: 4 grams
- Carbs: 13 grams
- Whipped cream (per 1/4 cup serving):
- Calories: 105
- Protein: 0 grams
- Fat: 11 grams
- Carbs: 2 grams
- As you can see, whipped cream has more calories and fat than pastry cream, although it has fewer carbs and less protein. However, both creams should be consumed in moderation as they are high in sugar and saturated fat.
Final thoughts on whether substituting whipped cream for pastry cream is a viable option for your specific baking needs
In conclusion, substituting whipped cream for pastry cream in cream puffs is definitely possible, but it depends on your taste, preference, and skill level. Whipped cream is lighter and easier to make than pastry cream, but it may not hold up well in certain desserts or baking applications. Pastry cream, on the other hand, has a more complex flavor and texture, but requires more time and effort to prepare. Ultimately, the choice is yours, and you can always experiment with different fillings and flavors to find the one that works best for you and your baked goods. Happy baking!