Pâte à choux is the French pastry dough used to make all sorts of delicious (easy) and impressive (easy) desserts. Did I mention that the dough is easy to make? No yeast. No kneading. No hours of chilling, rolling or folding. Simple and few ingredients. Don’t let the word “dough” scare you. Make and bake. And then fill with whatever your heart desires.
Often choux dough is used for sweet pastries. Think profiteroles (cream puffs with ice cream), éclairs (filled with pastry cream), etc. But there are lots of savory applications, too, like gougères, a little appetizer of baked choux pastry with cheese.
Way back in the day when us three kids were young, my mom used to play the card game, Bridge. When it was her turn to host, she would sometimes make cream puffs, but filled them with baby shrimp salad, instead. It was my Mom who taught me how to make choux, and she learned from the fabulous Ms. Better Crocker.
Across scores of cookbooks, most pâte à choux recipes are very similar. Equal parts liquid (milk or water) and flour, plus butter. The most important thing to remember is to let the dough cool slightly before adding the eggs. Otherwise, the eggs will scramble and ruin the dough. Whether you use a hand-held or stand mixer, or even a food processor, it’s best to beat (or process) the dough to release some of the heat prior to adding the eggs.
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“Pat My Shoe? What?!” (Pâte à choux French pastry dough)
- 1 cup flour
- 1 cup water or milk (or half of each)
- 2 tablespoons extra milk for brushing the dough
- 3 large eggs, plus an egg yolk
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- Pinch of kosher or sea salt
- Pre-heat oven to 400F (200C)
- Over medium-heat, bring water (or milk), butter, and salt to a boil in a medium sauce pan
- Once boiling, add the flour to the sauce pan all at once. Quickly stir with a wooden spoon until all the flour is incorporated. Keep stirring until the dough forms a rough ball and pulls away from the sides of the pan. This should take about 30 seconds
- Transfer the dough to a large mixing bowl (or food processor) and let it cool for a few minutes
- Beat (or process) the dough for about 20 seconds to release more heat. Then, while beating (or processing), add one egg at a time. It will look messy at first, but with enough beating it will come together
- The next step depends on how you are using the dough
- Are you making profiteroles (puffs)? On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat, form a rough ball using an 1/8 to a 1/4 cup of dough, depending on how large you want each puff to be. These will greatly expand in the oven so space them 3-4 inches apart
- Are you making éclairs? Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat. Fill a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch piping tip with the dough. Pipe out equal sized straight lines (usually about 3-4 inches) with 2 inches between each line, giving the dough room to expand. A 1/2 inch tip will make large eclairs
- Using your finger, gently brush each choux ball or éclair with a little milk. This will flatten any unwanted bumps in the shape of the dough and the protein in the milk will help the choux to brown
- Bake for 15 minutes at 400F (200C), then reduce the temperature to 350F (180C) and bake for another 35 minutes. When deeply golden brown, they are done
- Turn off the oven but leave the puffs or eclairs in the oven. Crack the door open with a wooden spoon. Let the oven cool completely before removing the puffs or eclairs. Choux tends to be overly moist in the middle, so the drying time in the oven helps. Obviously, don’t burn your house down… if you believe you shouldn’t use a wooden spoon to keep the oven door ajar after baking, then use something else, like a metal spoon
- Cut each puff in half horizontally and gently remove any excess choux in the middle. You only want the shell
- Fill with your desired filling (sweet or savory)