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These cream puffs turned out pretty fancy looking considering I used to stuff them with chocolate snack pack puddings, freezer burnt ice cream, or pretty much anything I could find at my parent's house because I was a high schooler who didn't have to buy groceries. Something I now have a love/hate relationship with. If only I could pick out all the groceries and have somebody else pay for it, I'd be living the dream but sadly, my love of expensive, sugary gluten free processed food has to be kept in check by my wallet.
Although I'd like to say I ditched the shelf stable puddings because my taste has matured, I really just had to find an alternative filling since I can't eat dairy anymore. And since gluten is off limits too, that meant I needed an entirely new recipe.
No problem though! Or so I thought. I took an excessive amount of cooking classes in high school and when we learned how to make cream puffs, I jotted the directions down on a piece of notebook paper. It turned out to be fool proof and I always reached for that paper anytime I needed to make cream puffs. They were never soggy, never collapsed, never had to cut any slits in them or adjust the oven temperature partway through. They were always perfect.
I'd see that handwritten recipe every time I opened my recipe folder but paid no mind to it because of my gluten intolerance and dairy allergy. I was looking at it not long ago and decided I'd like to try to make a gluten free, dairy free version and share it on the blog. I'd start with that recipe and modify it as needed. Nope. By the time I was ready to work on it, the recipe was nowhere to be found. I don't understand how I can see something in the same place for years and not need it then it just disappears off the face of the earth the moment I decide I can't go another day without cream puffs.
How badly did I want cream puffs you ask? You didn't ask? I'll tell you anyway. I wanted them so bad that I tried making them from memory (adjusting for the GF DF ingredients) and ate so many batches of failed attempts that by the time I figured it out, I was so sick of eating cream puffs that I could barely look at them without feeling a bit nauseous. Then I ate (and thoroughly enjoyed) the perfected batch because they were so dang good!
Figuring out the filling was actually the easier part. I wanted to make a vanilla nutmeg flavor because that's one of my favorite flavor combinations. I typically flavor my pancakes and waffles with vanilla and nutmeg and think the smell of that coming from the kitchen in the morning is one of the most inviting, irresistible smells ever. To make the custard dairy free, I based it off of my creme brûlée recipe which uses full fat coconut milk.
The pâte à choux part is actually what caused me to make this recipe five times. I had it the perfect texture but it browned too much. Then it was browned just right and under baked inside. I tried several oven temperatures, baking times, and altered ingredients until they finally came out right. Since the dough is so finicky, I actually recommend Bob's Red Mill GF 1 to 1 baking flour for this recipe. Over the years, I've tried several 1 to 1 flours and I feel this one behaves the most like regular wheat flour. There was one other brand that had worked really well in other recipes but I can't remember which brand it was anymore. I think my grocery store sold out or stopped carrying it and that's when I started trying other brands. But definitely stick with the Bob's Red Mill for this recipe unless you have another brand that always works in baked recipes.
Delicate golden cream puffs filled with a vanilla nutmeg custard. Although these are gluten free and dairy free, they are just as good as the original!
For the filling:
- 4 egg yolks
- 1 can full fat coconut milk
- 3 Tbsp honey
- pinch of salt
- ¼ tsp nutmeg
- 1 vanilla bean
For the pâte à choux:
- Make the custard a day in advance so it has time to set. You may also choose a different filling if you prefer. See notes for details and ideas.
- To make the custard, start by whisking 4 egg yolks together in a heat-safe bowl. Set aside.
- In a small sauce pan, whisk together coconut milk, honey, salt, and nutmeg. Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and use a knife to scrape the insides out into the sauce pan. Add the scraped vanilla bean to the pan as well to extract more flavor.
- Warm the mixture over medium heat while occasionally whisking. Allow the mixture to heat until hot but not boiling, about 10 minutes. You want to see steam begin to rise from the sides of the pan.
- As soon as the mixture is heated, immediately remove the from heat. Remove the vanilla bean with a slotted spoon or tongs.
- Slowly pour a small amount of the heated mixture into the egg yolks while constantly and vigorously whisking. You're wanting to bring the temperature of the eggs up gradually so the texture stays silky and doesn't resemble scrambled eggs. Once you've added enough of the pan contents to get the egg mixture feeling warm to almost hot, pour this back into the hot saucepan, again continuously whisking.
- Put the saucepan back over the heat and allow it to simmer and thicken slightly. I like to leave mine back on the heat for a few minutes so I know the eggs are cooked all the way but remember to stir it often. The thickened mixture can trap heat at the bottom and cause it to burn.
- Allow the custard to cool then pour into an airtight container. Place a layer of plastic wrap over the top of the custard (to prevent a skin from forming), put the lid on the container, and transfer to the refrigerator so it can set up overnight.
- Once your custard is set or if you're using a different filling that's completely ready, begin on the choux dough. Preheat oven to 375ºF and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Add water and dairy free butter to a saucepan over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, stir in the sugar and salt then bring to a boil.
- Dump all the flour into the boiling mixture at once and stir until it forms a ball of dough. Remove from heat and let cool slightly, about 5 minutes or so.
- Transfer dough to the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. Beat in one egg and make sure everything is well incorporated before adding a second egg. (The third egg will be for the egg wash so hang onto that for now.) Note that traditionally this mixture should be smooth but it's near-impossible with the gluten free flour. As smooth as possible will work just fine.
- Transfer mixture to a piping bag and pipe about 2 tablespoons of dough into mounds 3 inches apart on the baking sheet.
- Lightly wet your finger and smooth down any peaks/unevenness on the tops of the dough. Whisk the remaining egg and lightly brush onto each mound of dough.
- Bake 30-35 minutes. Try not to open the oven door until you're ready to check them at 30 minutes. When they are done, they will be puffed up and golden brown. If you slice open one to test, the inside should be airy, not soggy. If they have moisture remaining inside, they will collapse as they cool. Once you are sure they're done, transfer them to a cooling rack.
- After the pastries have completely cooled, fill the inside with the custard (or your choice of filling) using a piping bag. Enjoy immediately as these won't keep!
If you prefer to not make your own custard filling, there are some alternatives you could use instead. I haven't tried these before but I found a few dairy free instant puddings on Amazon. You could even buy the vanilla instant pudding and add nutmeg to make it similar to this recipe, just easier. If you need even easier than that, I also spotted this almond milk chocolate pudding at Natural Grocers the other day. The other option is to make these profiteroles instead of cream puffs. Just slice them open and fill them with dairy free ice cream then freeze. Of course, if you can enjoy dairy products, there are even more possibilities such as whipped cream, pastry cream, traditional ice cream, frozen yogurt, or any flavor of pudding.