The Mysterious History Of The Classic Cream Puff

With the possible exception of "salty" and "scrumptious," are there any two adjectives in the English language more appetizing than "creamy" and "puffy?" Well, those are precisely the adjectives you would use to describe the cream puff. This classic dessert combines a pâte à choux pastry with a whipped cream filling infused with whatever flavor you desire. Once you've crafted a perfect sphere out of the dessert's signature cloudlike pastry, you're supposed to carve an X in the base, in order to ready the cream puff for filling (via Martha Stewart). In this situation, X doesn't just mark the spot — X hits the spot.

According to Days of the Year, National Cream Puff Day falls on January 2, but you can enjoy these sweet treats any time of year. However, before you stuff your face with a delectable dairy-filled dessert, you should know about its origins, which may go as far back as the 13th century.

French Queen Catherine de Medici and the cream puff

One of the most persistent stories surrounding the history of the cream puff centers on Catherine de Medici, the former queen of France, per LoveToKnow. Apparently, one of her cooks at France's royal court created the dessert for her. However, Catherine de Medici's involvement in the creation of the cream puff doesn't necessarily hold water — or rather, it doesn't hold cream. Though Medici certainly had a flair for the artistic, this accounting of the cream puff's history is probably a myth.

However, it's not unfair to say that the modern cream puff can be credited to the French culinary tradition. In around the same period as Catherine's reign as queen, pastry chefs throughout France and England also began experimenting with flour, water, and other ingredients to create different dough mixtures. When baked, these mixtures become the wonderfully light choux pastry that serves as the exterior for your cream puff. The word "choux" translates to "cabbage," so the pastry's name was derived from its resemblance to tiny versions of the vegetable.

The cream puff has a rich history

In the 1200s, several centuries before Catherine de Medici's personal court chef supposedly crafted the very first cream puff, a handful of culinary revolutionaries in southern France and Germany were stuffing puffed pastry dough with various cheeses (via LoveToKnow). This practice could be reasonably linked to the invention of the modern cream puff. The origin of the French term for cream puff, "profiterole," has a murky history, dating back to the early 1600s. The word eventually evolved to represent a roll that has been "baked under the ashes," per Days of the Year.

The first appearances of the cream puff in American history came in the 1850s. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "some hundreds" of "cream puff cakes" were sold daily in Brooklyn bakeries that year. Around the same time, the dessert hit the menu at Boston's Revere House Restaurant (via LoveToKnow).