Cream puffs filled with vanilla ice cream and topped with hot chocolate sauce — who first came up with this wonderful idea? It turns out that profiteroles have a long and complex history. Apparently a 16th-century Italian chef named Popelini, who worked for Catherine de Medici, wife of the French king Henri II, was the first to think of putting a filling inside cream puffs. (Whether or not he actually invented the puffs is not clear). Various brilliant French chefs later added savory fillings, whipped cream and, eventually, ice cream. And then an unsung genius added the hot chocolate topping.

Profiteroles / Profiteroles

I first tasted profiteroles at a Paris restaurant called Le Procope, which funnily enough was founded by another Italian chef, Procopio of Sicily, who is credited with introducing ice cream to France. This was about a century after Popelini moved to France. Having tasted profiteroles, of course I had to try to make them. They are prepared with a dough that is cooked on the stove top, hence the original French name of this pastry: pâte à chaud (heated dough), which later segued into pâte à choux (dough for cabbages, because to the French cream puffs look like mini-cabbages). This in turn has segued into a French endearment, ‘Mon petit chou,’ which does not mean ‘My little cabbage,’ but rather, ‘My little cream puff.’ And indeed, when you open your oven door to find your mounds of dough puffed up and golden and round as cabbages, you may find yourself crying out, with warm feelings of endearment, ‘Ah, mes petits choux!’

The Everyday French Chef will be back on Monday. Happy cooking!

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5 Responses to Profiteroles

  1. Henrik says:

    Do you actually have a source for the origin of profiterole? If yes, could you please let me know? Thanks!

    • Meg says:

      Hi Henrik. Good question. Am on vacation right now but I’ll look into it next week and get back to you. All best, Meg

    • adeena says:

      hello! i was wondering the same thing.

      • Meg says:

        Adeena, thank you for reminding me about Henrik’s question. Here is the answer, at long last. The term ‘profiterolle’ was used in the 16th century to mean a tip, or ‘little profit’, given to chamber maids. The gratuity took the form of small rolls of bread cooked in the embers and served in soup. Over time, people began filling the small rolls with savory delicacies like sweetbreads. Then, once cream puffs were invented, the dish evolved again, with royal pastry chefs filling them with fruit jelly. It was not until the 19th century that profiteroles began to resemble the current version, when the great chef Antoine Carême began stuffing cream puffs with whipped cream or pastry cream. It is not known who was the first to fill them with ice cream and top them with melted chocolate, as they are served today. I owe this information to Philippe Urraca, a celebrated French pastry chef who wrote a book on the subject. I hope this satisfies your curiosity! All best, Meg

  2. Ann Mah says:

    Yum! My favorite dessert. Actually, I love pâte à choux in all sweet and savory forms.

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