Make homemade chocolate cream puffs with this small batch cocoa choux buns recipe. One batch yields 10-12 chocolate choux pastry buns that you can fill with chantilly or chocolate cream. The ultimate elegant dessert to enjoy after a meal or as a small treat with your afternoon coffee, cream puffs are always a good idea (like Paris!).
Coming from north-western Italy, there is no dessert option that sounds more elegant to me than cream puffs. Mini choux buns filled with a variety of creams are a staple at every pastry shop in my region. They go by the name of bignole and they are the standard kind of thing you bring over when you’re invited for dinner. Or when you’re visiting a friend and you want to bring a small treat. You stop by a pastry shop and buy a small tray of these goodnesses.
I grew up with the thought that bignole – and choux pastry in general – is complicated stuff. Nobody makes it from scratch, you always get your fix from a pastry shop. Until the day I decided to try my hand at it and discovered that choux pastry is not that difficult at all. As long as you follow the recipe, but that should be the golden rule that applies to all kinds of baking, right? So are you ready to make a small batch of chocolate cream puffs?
Please notice that these ingredients only apply to the cocoa choux pastry and do not take into consideration any filling. For filling suggestions read below.
Find detailed quantities in the recipe card at the bottom of this post. The recipe is set in metrics but you can click to convert into US customary in the recipe card.
Cocoa choux buns recipe
- Add the water and butter to a saucepan and set on medium heat. Give it a stir to help the butter melt and remove from the heat when it reaches boiling temperature. Sift in the flour and salt and whisk by hand until incorporated. Set the saucepan back on the stove on medium heat and cook for 1-2 minutes – this is meant to evaporate any excess liquid. It should easily gather into a ball. Remove from the heat and let the mixture cool for 15 minutes.
- Crack the egg in a bowl and whisk it by hand. When the mixture has cooled pour in the egg and whisk by hand until incorporated.
- Add the cocoa to the mixture and whisk in until homogeneous. Cocoa tends to clump up so it can be helpful to sift it.
- The batter is ready when smooth and uniform, with no cocoa lumps. Transfer it to a piping bag with a round aperture. Mine’s fitted with an 806 Ateco tip (Wilton 12) but if you don’t have a wide round piping nozzle just cut the bag so that you have a hole of 1 cm in diameter.
- Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Pipe each bun holding the piping bag at a 90° angle from the tray and working your way up making slight circular movements (a terrible explanation to basically say: recreate the shape of the poo emoji). Wet a finger with water and smooth down the peaks to create a round top. Make sure to space out the buns enough so they have room to double in size as they bake. One batch should yield 10-12 puffs, depending on the size you go for. Strive to make them all about the same size for even baking.
- Bake in the preheated oven at 180°C (350°F) fan-forced for 25-30 minutes. Regular choux pastry takes a golden hue when ready, so it’s a little more difficult to judge cocoa choux buns as they’re dark from the start. As a general rule smaller ones will only need 25 min, but if you’ve piped them slightly bigger (10 instead of 12) you may need to go for a whole half hour.
- Turn off the oven and let the choux buns sit inside with the door slightly ajar for another 10 minutes. Only after that time you can take them out, transfer to a cooling rack and let come to room temperature.
How to make chocolate cream puffs
Choux pastry buns are excellent to make homemade cream puffs. Let the puffs cool completely before cutting and filling them! The most common filling is whipped cream, and that is extremely sensitive to room temperature. Anything over room temperature may make the cream melt or go runny, ruining your creation.
Gently run a serrated knife across the middle through each bun dividing them in half horizontally. Place each “cap” next to its “base”. Fill a pastry bag with your desired filling and pipe a small amount of filling into each bottom. Gently place the cap on top of the filling, making sure not to press it down.
You can add as much cream as your puff will hold, but remember that the additional weight of the cap may cause the cream puff to tip over. To avoid this I recommend to try filling one and adding the cap to check if the puff holds or if it overbalances. If it feels stable, go ahead and fill the others as much. Dust the top of the puffs with powdered sugar or more cocoa powder.
Larger cream puffs can hold more filling, as they obviously have a larger base. Remember to strive for a balanced filling-to-bun ratio: choux pastry is very light but rather dry. I like to eat cream puffs in 2 takes: first the cap with half of the cream, then the rest.
Cocoa choux buns filling
Basic choux pastry has no sugar (as for the salt it’s just a pinch), so it’s very neutral in taste. This means that it’s a very versatile pastry that can work in both sweet and savoury preparations. Cocoa is mostly associated with chocolate, so for these cocoa choux buns I would recommend to go with a sweet filling.
It’s worth to keep in mind that the addition of cocoa powder adds a slight bitterness to the choux buns. So if you choose to go for a very simple whipped cream filling, make sure to sweeten it. A good ratio is 1 heap tsp icing sugar per deciliter of cream, but you can taste test as you whip and add more sugar to taste. If you add a little vanilla you will have a simple chantilly cream.
For the ultimate chocolate cream puff fill the buns with chocolate whipped cream frosting. For a fruitier note you can use the filling from my raspberry cream puffs. Dark chocolate and raspberries are a nice match, after all – think of raspberry chocolate cheesecake or raspberry chocolate balls.
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Chocolate choux pastry buns
- 60 ml water
- 30 g butter
- 35 g flour
- pinch of salt
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
- Add water and butter to a saucepan and set on medium heat. Stir to melt the butter. Remove from the heat when it reaches boiling temperature.
- Sift in the flour and salt and whisk by hand until incorporated. Set back on the stove on medium heat and cook for 1-2 minutes in order to evaporate any excess liquid. It should easily gather into a ball. Remove from the heat and let cool for 15 minutes.
- Crack the egg in a bowl and whisk it by hand. When the mixture has cooled pour in the egg and whisk by hand until incorporated. Sift in the cocoa and whisk in until homogeneous. When smooth and uniform, transfer it to a piping bag with a round aperture.
- Line a baking tray with baking paper. Pipe each bun holding the piping bag at a 90° angle from the tray and working your way up making slight circular movements. Wet a finger with water and smooth down the peaks to create a round top. This batch should yield 10-12 buns.
- Bake in the preheated oven at 180°C (350°F) fan-forced for 25-30 minutes. Smaller buns (if you've piped 12) will need 25 min, larger ones (if you've piped 10) need 30.
- Turn off the oven and let the choux buns sit inside with the door slightly ajar for another 10 minutes. Only after that time you can take them out, transfer to a cooling rack and let come to room temperature. Slice open and fill only when they have cooled completely.