If you're looking for a delicious, easy, and impressive dessert recipe, then look no further. These Italian cream puffs are made from a baked chioux pastry and filled with Italian pastry cream or sweetened whipped cream. Often called baked bignè, profiterole, or St. Joseph's Cream Puffs, they're a simple dessert that is sure to impress anyone who takes a bite!
What Are Italian Cream Puffs?
Do you like cream puffs? Until a few months ago, cream puffs didn't interest me much. That is, until I tasted these Italian cream puffs.
My mom's good friend, Filomena, created the filling for this heavenly dessert. You see, cream puffs are all about the filling!
The shell is pate a choux puff shell, and just about every recipe you'll see for the shells is the same. But what goes on the inside makes the world of difference. I've grown up eating them with pastry egg-based cream in the center. They were OK, but nothing spectacular in my book. The custard always seemed a bit heavy for the light chioux shells.
But these cream puffs? They are spectacular! The crisp, flakey chioux shell encases a luscious, airy Italian cream made from sweetened whipped cream and ricotta cheese. Oh. So. Good!
And the best part? They come together in about an hour. It truly doesn't get better than this!
Consider including these in your holiday menu or even as a special weekday or weekend treat for your family.
Why Are They Also Called St. Joseph's Cream Puffs
Italian cream puffs are traditionally a sweet treat enjoyed on Father's Day, which is also celebrated on St. Joseph's birthday (March 19). Through that connection, they have acquired the name "Bignè di San Giuseppe," which translates to St. Joseph’s Cream Puffs.
There are two types of bignè — baked bigne and fried bigne. I prefer the baked bigne because it's easier and a bit healthier than the fried version.
Key Ingredients for Cream Puff Shells
- Butter: Go with unsalted, and make sure it's at room temperature. Also, opt for grass-fed and organic, if possible. With something like this puff pastry that has so few ingredients, you want the quality of each one to be high.
- Water: One cup does the trick!
- All-Purpose Flour: Just one cup of flour; yes, one! This really just helps bind everything together.
- Salt: All you need is a quarter of a teaspoon to get the savoriness we're looking to balance out the sweet cream filling.
- Eggs: OK, these are the star ingredient of the cream puff shells. You'll need FOUR in total. They help make the pastries rich and decadent, yet light and fluffy. Like the butter, room temperature is best.
Key Ingredients for the Cream Puff Filling
- Heavy Whipping Cream: This serves as the cream base for the whipped filling. Make sure that not only the cream is cold, but that the tools (metal bowl and hand mixer attachments) you use to whip it are cold, too. This will speed up the whipping process.
- Vanilla: Again, go for high-quality pure vanilla extract; not the imitation stuff. Believe me, it makes a big difference!
- Cream of Tarter: This will help the whipped cream achieve and keep its peaks and airiness.
- Powdered Sugar: You can't have whipped cream without sugar! And fine powdered sugar is best because it will dissolve in the cream mixture.
- Ricotta Cheese: This takes the whipped cream filling to the next level. It adds a level of creaminess and richness that pairs perfectly with the heavy whipping cream, vanilla, and liquor. Perfetto!
- Italian Liquor: Sambucca or Amaretto are great liquors to use with this whipped cream puff filling, but you could omit it if you're serving anyone under 18.
Make Sure To Use High-Quality Ricotta in Your Cream Puff Filling
One of my family's favorite desserts is an Italian pastry called lobster tails. They're filled with a cream that is very similar — if not exact — to the filling in this cream puff.
Imagine our surprise when we tasted these cream puffs for the first time and discovered that we could make this cream filling at home — with a little guidance from Filomena, of course.
One word of caution: although these cream puffs are simple to make at home, you really MUST use a high-quality ricotta cheese. I tried making them with the garden-variety supermarket ricotta and unfortunately they were a major fail. The ricotta must be grain-free, smooth, and thick enough to stick to a spoon (think cookie dough consistency)
I've discovered an amazing source for ricotta called Fierro and Sons, located in Wilmington, Delaware. I asked them if they shipped their product, and the good news is they do! If you are a ricotta lover, please consider giving them a call. They will recommend one of their products based on your desired end use (impastata for canoli, whole milk for lasagne or these cream puffs, etc).
How To Make Italian Cream Puff Chioux Pastries
Would you believe me if I said that you can make these decadent Italian cream puffs from start to finish in under an hour? It's true! All you need is a little prep work and determination (and this recipe).
To make the cream puff pastries:
- Preheat your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Sift flour and salt together in small bowl ,and set aside.
- Melt the butter and water over high heat in a medium saucepan until the mixture reaches a vigorous boil.
- Reduce heat to medium low, and add flour and salt mixture.
- Stir until the mixture pulls away from sides of pan and forms a ball. Remove from heat.
- Add eggs one at a time, beating vigorously between each addition with a hand mixer.
- Pipe chioux dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet to yield 12 round, evenly shaped puffs.
- Bake at 450 for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 for an additional 20 minutes. Make sure the puffs are golden brown before turning off your oven, or else they will deflate into themselves.
- Turn off oven when they are finished baking, and let the puffs cool for 5-10 minutes with the oven door slightly ajar.
How To Make Italian Cream Puff Filling
For the Italian whipped cream-ricotta filling, follow these instructions:
- Combine heavy cream, vanilla, cream of tarter, and powdered sugar. Whip until soft peaks form, and set aside.
- Mix remaining ingredients — ricotta and liquor — in a separate bowl.
- Gently fold the ricotta mixture into the cream mixture until well incorporated, but not heavily mixed. Don't deflate the peaks or air you've incorporated into the cream.
This cream reminds me greatly of a pastry shop in Utica, New York, called Cafe Canole. The owners studied baking abroad in Italy and then came home and opened their own pastry shop. Everything they make is to die for and taste like authentic Italian pastries.
How To Assemble Your Italian Cream Puffs
- Gently cut the puff pastries in half.
- Fill each puff generously with the whipped cream and ricotta mixture using an ice cream scoop or a piping bag with star tip to pipe filling inside.
- Top with the remaining half of the chioux pastry, dust with powdered sugar, and enjoy!
How To Store, Freeze, and Reheat Italian Cream Puffs
- To Store: Allow cream puff pastries to completely cool and the center to dry out a bit before you fill with the whipped cream and ricotta mixture. Once they're filled with the cream, they must be refrigerated in an airtight container, and will keep for 2-3 days. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving, not before refrigerating.
- To Freeze: Freeze cooked and filled cream puffs for several weeks in a freezer-safe container or Ziplock bag. You can also freeze the whipped cream and ricotta filling up to a month ahead of time.
- To Reheat: Enjoy cold or allow them to come to room temperature before eating. But be careful to not let the cream puff filling melt or lose it's airiness.
More Italian Dessert Recipes To Try
If you liked these Italian cream puffs, then you'll love these other Italian dessert recipes:
Italian Cream Puffs
For the shells:
- ½ cup (113.5 g) butter
- 1 cup (236.59 g) water
- 1 cup (125 g) all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon (¼ teaspoon) salt
- 4 (4) eggs
For the filling:
- 2 cups (476 g) heavy whipping cream (do not substitute with light cream here)
- 2 teaspoon (2 teaspoon) vanilla (divided 1 tsp, plus 1 tsp)
- ¼ teaspoon (¼ teaspoon) cream of tarter
- 2 ½ cups (300 g) powdered sugar (divided, 1 ½ cups plus 1 cup)
- 1.5 lbs (680.39 g) ricotta cheese (artisan variety, see note)
- 1 teaspoon (1 teaspoon) liquor such as Sambucca or Amaretto (optional)
For the shells:
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees
- Sift flour and salt together in small bowl and set aside
- In a medium sized saucepan, melt the butter and water over high heat until the mixture reaches a vigorous boil
- Reduce heat to medium low and add flour/salt mixture all at once
- Stir until the mixture pulls away from sides of pan and forms a ball
- Remove from heat and add eggs one at a time, beating vigorously between additions (I used a hand mixer for this)
- Using a piping bag or cookie press, pipe dough onto parchment-lined baking sheet (2.5 inches in diameter will yield 6 very large puffs; 1.25 inches in diameter will yield 12 puffs)
- Bake at 450 for 15 minutes then reduce heat to 350 for an additional 20 minutes
- Ensure your puffs are golden brown before turning off oven or they will deflate/fall!
- When they are finished baking, turn off oven and let the puffs cool for 5 to 10 minutes with the oven door ajar.
For the cream filling:
- In a medium size bowl, combine 1 cup heavy cream with 1 teaspoon vanilla, ¼ teaspoon cream of tarter, 1 cup powdered sugar and whip until soft peaks form.
- Set aside.
- In another bowl, mix remaining ingredients (1 cup heavy cream, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1.5 cups powdered sugar, all ricotta, and liquor [optional])
- Combine both mixtures together
- Cut puffs in half and use ice cream scoop to fill each puff generously with the cream mixture or use piping bag with star tip to pipe filling inside (will do this next time!)
Use high quality ricotta that is not watery or grainy. The supermarket variety cannot be used unless it is dried out (drain over cheese cloth in refrigerator overnight or up to 1 day). As an example, ricotta is thick enough if it sticks to the spoon when the spoon is inverted and does not drop off.