They're little puffs of choux pastry -- crisp on the outside, tender on the inside. While cream puffs are usually served for dessert, they are more versatile than that. You can serve savory cream puffs as a first or main course, or as appetizers. Buy the cream puffs ready made and filled, unfilled or make them yourself. Although tricky to make, you only need flour, butter, eggs and water to make them from scratch.
Whipped cream, custard, ice cream, sweetened ricotta cheese and chocolate mousse fill cream puffs fabulously. Fill them right before serving to keep the puff crispy. Savory fillings include decadent seafood concoctions, such as lobster thermidor -- a mixture of lobster, cream, egg yolks and brandy. Other savory choices include creamed spinach, chicken salad, salmon mousse and jambalaya. Savory fillings can be hot, cold or room temperature. Add grated cheese to the cream puff mixture right before baking for an extra dose of flavor for savory fillings.
Set the filled cream puff on a sauce that complements the filling. If the filling is sweet, the sauce should be as well. Sweet sauces include fruit purees, such as raspberry, peach or apricot. Or, try classic chocolate, caramel, butterscotch or mocha. Use two sauces and swirl them around the cream puff to make a design. Savory cream puffs benefit from a sauce as well. Pair a remoulade sauce with shrimp. A garlic mayonnaise complements chicken. A bechamel sauce adds buttery richness. Bearnaise goes well with a beef filling. Put salsa in a blender and use as a sauce for Tex-Mex puffs.
Add berries or slices of fruit as a garnish. Chocolate curls are another option. Drag a vegetable parer across a chocolate bar to create luscious curls. Use a fresh sprig of mint, lemon verbena or lavender for dessert cream puffs. Garnish savory cream puffs with one of the ingredients from the filling. For example, set aside a shrimp from a seafood filling. Hook the shrimp over the side of the cream puff. Fresh herbs, julienned vegetables or thinly sliced citrus are other options.
Cinnamon, cocoa powder and powdered sugar top off sweet cream puffs. Sprinkle right before serving. Savory fillings could use a dash of paprika, coarsely ground pink peppercorns, chili powder or finely ground spices. Don't overpower the dish with the topping, just a hint will do.