Choux au craquelin may sound fancy but they’re really just dressed-up cream puffs. The craquelin, a simple cookie-like dough consisting of sugar, butter, flour, and a pinch of salt, is rolled out, cut, and perched on top of piped choux and the two are baked together, producing pastry puffs with a crackly appearance, crunchy texture, and a buttery, sweet bite.
For the craquelin, we tested different types of sugars: granulated, dark brown, and light brown. Granulated sugar gave the craquelin a sandy texture that lacked a depth of flavor, while the deep molasses-y notes of dark brown sugar overwhelmed the delicate choux. We found that light brown sugar was the best choice, imbuing the baked choux with a rich copper color and a pleasant caramel flavor.
Making the craquelin itself is an easy process; mix softened butter and light brown sugar in a bowl until creamy, add flour and salt, and then continue mixing until a dough forms (this can also be done in a stand mixer). Then you roll out the resulting dough between sheets of parchment paper, chill it, and cut out rounds. The dough is forgiving, so if the craquelin becomes too soft to handle while you’re stamping out rounds, quickly pop it back in the freezer for several minutes to let it firm up. You can even gather the leftover scraps, re-roll it, and cut out new rounds to save for a future batch.
For the choux base, which employs our foolproof technique, we prefer using water; no milk or sugar is needed because the craquelin provides the choux with all the color development, crispness, and sweetness it requires. When piping the choux, aim for a two-inch wide base (you can draw circles on your parchment if that helps; see instructions for that in the note below). Once they’re all piped, gently cap each choux with a round of craquelin.
Once baked and cooled, you can enjoy the choux au craquelin as-is (they’re great as an afternoon snack) or fill them with thick pastry cream, fluffy whipped cream, or velvety crème légère for a stellar dessert.
As we mentioned in our recipe for cream puffs, there are two ways to fill choux au craquelin: a “piped-in” option and a “sandwich” option. The piped option involves making a small hole in the bottom of each choux and then piping the filling inside, which results in an even distribution of pastry cream or crème légère. The sandwiched version requires slicing each choux in half with a serrated knife, then piping the filling onto the bottom half before closing the “sandwich” with the top half. The choice is yours (we’ve included steps below for whichever you pursue); both options are excellent.