Cream cheese and cream puffs are two popular ingredients used in baking and desserts, but they are quite different in terms of their texture, taste, and uses.
What is Cream Cheese?
Cream cheese is a soft, mild-tasting fresh cheese made from milk and cream. It has a smooth and creamy texture and is often used as a spread for bagels and toast or as an ingredient in various baked goods like cheesecakes and frostings.
Some key characteristics of cream cheese include:
- Ingredients: The main ingredients are milk, cream, and an acid like lemon juice or vinegar to cause the curdling. Salt, stabilizers, and sometimes flavorings are also added.
- Texture: Cream cheese has a rich, smooth, and creamy texture. It is soft enough to spread at room temperature.
- Flavor: It has a subtle sweet, tangy, and milky flavor. Different brands can taste slightly different.
- Fat content: Regular cream cheese tends to have at least 30% milk fat. Low-fat varieties are also available.
- Types: There are a few varieties like whipped cream cheese, goat cream cheese, and flavored options like strawberry or herb cream cheese. But original is the most popular.
Cream cheese is an ingredient valued for its rich, creamy and spreadable texture with a tangy yet neutral flavor profile.
What are Cream Puffs?
Cream puffs are hollow pastries made from choux pastry dough. The dough puffs up when baked, creating an airy interior cavity which is filled with a sweet filling like pastry cream or whipped cream.
Here are some key cream puff characteristics:
- Ingredients: Choux pastry contains ingredients like butter, milk, water, flour, eggs, and sometimes sugar and flavorings like vanilla.
- Texture: Cream puffs have an ultra light and airy crisp pastry shell contrasting with a creamy interior filling.
- Flavor: The pastry dough itself has a slightly sweet, eggy flavor. The filling flavors like vanilla or chocolate provide most of the taste.
- Shape: Cream puffs can be round or elongated, small or large depending on the desired serving size.
- Uses: They are most often used for desserts but can sometimes be made savory and filled like appetizers.
So, cream puffs offer a unique combination of a crisp, puff pastry shell enveloping a rich, creamy filling.
Key Takeaway: Cream cheese is a creamy, tangy cheese used in spreads and baking while cream puffs are crisp, hollow pastries filled with cream.
Cream cheese and cream puffs share a few key ingredients but differ in their main components.
Cream Cheese Ingredients
The primary ingredients in cream cheese are:
- Acid like lemon juice or vinegar
- Flavorings (optional)
So cream cheese relies chiefly on dairy ingredients like milk and cream. An acid is required to trigger curdling and cheese formation.
Cream Puff Ingredients
A basic cream puff batter contains:
- Sugar (optional)
- Vanilla or other flavorings (optional)
So cream puffs use more pantry baking ingredients like butter, eggs, and flour to achieve their signature crisp puff pastry texture. Dairy is still included via milk and butter.
The fillings then determine additional ingredients based on the specific cream or custard used inside the puffs.
So while cream cheese and puffs overlap with milk and cream, puffs depend much more on staple baking components to form their unique exterior texture and structure.
Comparing Preparation Methods
In terms of preparation, cream cheese and cream puff dough are made completely differently.
How Cream Cheese is Made
Cream cheese is made by:
- Warming cream + milk.
- Adding an acid like lemon juice or vinegar to trigger curdling of milk proteins and separation of curds and whey.
- Draining the resulting curds.
- Salting, stabilizing, and flavoring the drained curds to form a smooth, creamy paste.
- Packaging and cooling the final cheese.
So cream cheese relies on a simple dairy curdling reaction to transform liquid milk and cream into solid curds which are then seasoned and packaged.
How Cream Puff Dough is Made
Basic cream puff dough is prepared by:
- Heating milk, water, butter, sugar, and salt to a boil.
- Adding flour and rapidly stirring to form a dough ball.
- Cooking the dough ball briefly to dry it out a bit.
- Transferring dough to a mixer and beating while adding eggs one at a time.
- Spooning or piping the dough to form small rounds.
- Baking the puffs until fully puffed and golden brown.
This process causes the eggs and flour to set into a solid dough while baking creates steam within the puffs to puff them dramatically upward.
So cream puff dough relies on classic baking techniques like batter formation, piping, and baking to achieve its signature light and crispy texture.
Cream cheese and cream puffs couldn't be more different when it comes to textures!
Cream Cheese Texture
Cream cheese has a:
- Smooth, creamy, and spreadable consistency
- Dense and rich texture
- It can be whipped for extra airiness
- Soft enough to spread at room temperature
These traits allow cream cheese to be spread onto breads and bagels or whipped into smooth frostings.
Cream Puff Texture
Cream puffs feature two very different textures:
- The exterior pastry shell has a crisp, thin, flaky texture that breaks apart easily into delicate shreds.
- The interior is filled with cool, creamy fillings like sweetened whipped cream or rich pastry cream to offset the crisp shell.
This contrast of textures is part of what makes cream puffs so exciting to eat!
The fillings themselves can also vary in consistency:
- Whipped cream is lighter and airier.
- Pastry cream is dense, thick, and rich.
- Mousses have an airy but smooth and creamy texture.
So cream puffs offer a range in textures depending on the choice of filling while cream cheese itself maintains a uniformly smooth and creamy profile.
The flavors of cream cheese vs. cream puffs also differ quite significantly:
Cream Cheese Flavors
Cream cheese on its own has:
- A subtle sweet flavor
- Slight tangy, acidic taste from the production process
- Milky, fresh dairy notes
Any flavorings added during processing also influence the final flavor like:
- Fresh herbs
- Smoked salmon
- Garlic and chives
But plain cream cheese offers only a mild, sweet dairy taste.
Cream Puff Flavors
Cream puff shells tend to have:
- A slightly sweet flavor
- Eggy, custard-like taste from the egg-enriched dough
But the fillings again provide most of the flavor:
- Sweetened whipped creams taste lightly sweet and creamy.
- Fruit custards offer fruit flavors like lemon or chocolate.
- Pastry cream provides an extra creamy, eggy, vanilla flavor.
- Savory versions can offer cheese, seafood, or herb flavors.
And external toppings like fruit glazes or chocolate drizzle also allow for sweet or fruity flavors.
So while cream cheese itself is relatively neutral in flavor, cream puffs offer versatility through their fillings and toppings to range from sweet to savory.
Comparing Common Uses
Cream cheese and cream puffs differ quite a bit in their common uses as well due to their very different forms and flavors.
Cream Cheese Uses
Cream cheese is very commonly used in:
- Icings and frostings: Cream cheese helps create smooth, creamy frostings and fillings for cakes and cupcakes.
- Cheesecakes: It's the star ingredient in rich, decadent desserts like New York-style cheesecake.
- Dips and spreads: It can be whipped with herbs, spices, vegetables etc. to make dips for crackers and chips.
- Bagel spreads: Cream cheese is popularly paired with fresh bagels for breakfast or brunch.
Its creamy, tangy flavor profile helps provide richness and moisture to both sweet and savory dishes.
Cream Puff Uses
Cream puffs are classically used for:
- Desserts: They most often play a starring role in elegant plated dessert presentations.
- Pastry platters: Cream puffs are included in assorted pastry platters alongside items like eclairs, petit fours, and fruit tarts.
- Garnishes: Their light, crisp texture makes them excellent garnishes for adding height and visual appeal to plated desserts.
- Petit fours: Smaller cream puff rounds are perfect for petit four trays.
And while more rare, cream puffs can also be prepared savory as:
- Appetizers: Filled with seafood mousses or savory custards for passed hors d'oeuvre.
- Side dishes: Larger puffs served alongside dinner entrees.
So cream puffs are most often positioned as elegant and delicate dessert or pastry items.
Key Takeaway: Cream cheese is used in frostings, dips, cheesecakes, and spreads while cream puffs are classically used for plated dessert presentations.
Comparing Nutrition Facts
Nutritionally speaking, cream cheese and cream puffs vary significantly as well.
Cream Cheese Nutrition
Cream cheese nutrition facts for a 1 oz / 28g serving include:
- Calories: 100
- Fat: 10g
- Carbs: <1g
- Protein: 2g
So cream cheese is quite high in fat coming from the dairy cream. It also contains a small amount of protein, while being very low in carbs.
Cream Puff Nutrition
Typical nutrition info for a 3 inch cream puff is:
- Calories: ~300
- Fat: 12g
- Carbs: 30g
- Protein: 4g
Cream puffs are still relatively high in fat, but they contain far more carbs coming from their pastry shell and sugar-sweetened fillings. Their airy nature also means that while seemingly delicate, they pack a calorie punch.
So cream puffs are more well-rounded treats with carbs, fat, and protein all accounted for.
Key Similarities and Differences
Let's quickly summarize a few of the major points of comparison and contrast between cream cheese and cream puffs:
|Contains dairy (milk, cream)
|Contains dairy (milk, butter)
|Has subtle sweet flavor
|Pastry shell has slightly sweet taste
|Used in baking/desserts
|Primarily used for desserts
|Made by curdling milk with acid
|Made by baking flour + butter dough
|Has smooth, creamy, spreadable texture
|Crisp, flaky puff pastry shell
|Neutral, fresh, tangy flavor
|Filling provides predominant flavor
|Used for frostings, fillings, dips
|Used for elegant plated desserts
|High in fat and protein
|Higher in carbohydrates
Can you fill cream puffs with cream cheese?
Yes! Filling cream puff shells with whipped cream cheese makes a delicious sweet-savory treat. The smooth, tangy cream cheese provides a nice contrast to the crisp choux pastry.
What's better, cream cheese frosting or cream puffs?
This depends on the context. Cream cheese frosting is divine for frosting carrot cakes, red velvet cakes, and more. But cream puffs make excellent plate-worthy desserts for special occasions and can be filled with cream cheese frosting!
Do you bake cream cheese?
Directly baking plain cream cheese can cause it to weep or break. So it's better added to cheesecake or pastry fillings rather than baked alone. But baked goods featuring it like cream cheese brownies or pound cakes taste delicious.
Can you freeze cream puffs?
Yes! Freeze unfilled cream puff shells then thaw before filling. Filled cream puffs don't freeze as well.
Is cream cheese healthier than cream puffs?
Cream cheese is lower in sugar and carbs than cream puffs. But cream puffs typically have fewer calories in a single serving. So cream cheese can be part of a healthy diet while cream puffs are more of an occasional treat.
Cream cheese and cream puffs have vastly different characteristics from their ingredients and textures to their preparation methods, flavors, uses, and nutrition profiles.
Cream cheese acts as a creamy, tangy dairy element that can be whipped into dips, frostings, fillings, and cheesecake batters to provide moisture, richness, and subtle flavor.
Cream puffs, on the other hand, deliver an elegant crispy, hollow pastry encasing sweet or savory fillings ranging from fruit creams to chocolate custards and beyond, making them ideal for plated dessert presentations.