Is There A Difference Between Profiteroles And Cream Puffs?

You're in a French bakery, and the comforting aroma of freshly baked pastries greets you. A few desserts catch your eye, but you're trying to decide between ordering the cream puffs or the profiteroles for an upcoming gathering. These golden and tempting pastries share the same foundation: Choux pastry, a light French dough made from butter, flour, and eggs that puffs up when baked. And, when baked correctly, the interiors are usually hollow, perfect for a generous filling.

So, what makes cream puffs different from profiteroles? The main distinction lies in the filling. You can find profiteroles stuffed with various fillings both sweet and savory, and ice cream is a popular choice since its coldness contrasts with the warm crispness of the dough. It's also common to find chocolate or caramel sauce drizzled over these pastries. 

Cream puffs, on the other hand, while sharing the same choux base as profiteroles, usually house a luscious pastry cream rich in custardy flavor. While vanilla is a popular flavor, the custard can also be flavored with matcha, chocolate, milk tea, or really anything. The tops of cream puffs are often dusted with confectioners' sugar, though it isn't rare these days to find cream puffs with a chocolate shell or a crispy and sweet craquelin crust.

Other distinctions

Though they are sometimes referred to interchangeably, there are differences between the two pastries. While the filling is the biggest distinction, there are also nuances between cream puffs and profiteroles in terms of their shape and presentation. Cream puffs are typically round and plump, resembling little golden clouds, and the luscious pastry cream filling makes them a tad heavier in the hand. Their sizes can vary significantly depending on the baker. Cream puffs bigger than one's palm are not unusual these days. 

Profiteroles, though also round, tend to be slightly smaller (and daintier) as well as more uniform in size. They're designed to hold just the right amount of ice cream or other filling without becoming unwieldy. When served in desserts like the famed croquembouche, profiteroles are often piled high in an impressive tower held together by threads of caramel, sugary syrup, or chocolate.

So, when choosing between cream puffs and profiteroles, consider the filling, the presentation, and the occasion.