Pate a Choux, the Protean Pastry
Pâte à choux, pronounced (pat-a-shoe) is one of the most versatile and adaptable doughs within your classic French pastry arsenal. In fact, I think many would be surprised to find out that some of their favorite dishes, sweet or otherwise, are actually created from choux dough.
To elucidate: take your basic pâte à choux; when baked in the oven they are transformed into what we call cream puffs or profiteroles. Which can be filled with endless variants of sweet or savory fillings. Pipe the same dough instead into 3 or 4 inch long lines, bake, and behold the eclair. Deep fry balls of choux and cover in powdered sugar, there’s your beignet. Mix with cheese and you’ve got gougéres. Mashed potatoes render the crispy savory pommes dauphine. The list, unlike the writer, is virtually inexhaustible.
The Three Faces of Choux
France is recognized and often revered for their long-standing obsession with food. As a disciple of the same denomination, so to speak, I will be the first to admit that some of this reverence is justly deserved. However, if the stories are to be believed, pate a choux, though spawned in France had an Italian creator-one Panterelli, executive chef for the royal Italian court of the Medicis.
When Catherine de Medici was given in marriage to the Duke of Orleans, who was later to become Henry II, King of France, she brought with her not only the usual retinue of lackeys but included the familial kitchen staff in its entirety. And so Panterelli found himself in France cooking in a strange land among strange chefs. Perhaps in an effort to establish his superiority in the kitchen, Panterelli created his dough, perhaps he lost a bet, maybe, like so many dishes it was created by accident. No matter the catalyst, Panterelli created a revolutionary kind of dough, one that was baked twice, once on the stove top and again in the oven. With paternal pride, he dubbed his creation pâte à Panterelli, fashioning this most primal form of choux dough into a large filled cake.
Years later, pâte à Panterelli was revamped by the licentious chef Popelin. Unwilling to break the trend, Popelin named the individually sized buns after himself and through some artful kitchen manipulation involving blueberries, caused them to resemble women’s breasts. This is arguably the change that skyrocketed Panterelli’s quotidian dough into the popular dessert that found its way into kitchens and pâtisseries across Europe.
The dough went through another name change by the mid-eighteenth century thanks to the pastry chef, Avice, who seemingly had produce on the brain more often than anatomy. Insisting they resembled little cabbages, Avice bestowed upon them their current moniker pâte à choux, choux being the French word for cabbage. The inoffensive if somewhat banal brand stuck and today we think brussel sprout instead of boobie.
“Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity.”
Suffice it to say that choux dough is possibly the most versatile dough ever created so it stands to reason that you should have a reliable recipe that is not only easier to make than the classic technique but produces an arguably better product.
This recipe includes the technique for making the sweet topping commonly seen on choux buns called craquelin. This is a totally optional step and one that should be left out entirely if your pate a choux is destined for a savory use. However not only does it elevate the taste and texture of a normal cream puff but it renders a rounder more aesthetically pleasing bun.
Pâte à Choux
Pâte à Choux (Cream Puffs)
½ cup water
½ cup whole milk
8 Tablespoons butter, unsalted
1 tsp salt, kosher
2 tsp sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
4 Tablespoons butter
⅓ cup brown sugar
½ cup + 1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
For the Choux Craquelin
Add all ingredients to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment.
Blend until the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated and starting to pull away from the walls of the processor and form a cohesive dough.
Pour the Craquelin out onto a sheet of parchment paper and using your hands, press together into a flattish square. Cover with another piece of parchment and using a rolling pin, roll out very thin. Transfer to a baking sheet and freeze until ready to use.
For the Pâte à Choux
In a saucepan bring the water, milk, butter, salt, and sugar to a boil.
Immediately remove from heat and add in the flour.
Using a wooden spoon stir vigorously. Return to medium-high heat and cook continuing to stir briskly for 1-2 minutes. The dough should begin to pull away from the sides and form a ball in the pan, and a film should develop on the bottom of the pan.
Transfer the dough to the bowl of a standing mixer and using the paddle attachment mix on low until cooled (5-7 minutes). Add in the eggs one at a time, thoroughly combining each egg into the mixture before adding the next. Keep mixing until the dough gets quite thick and stiff.
This is the traditional method for making pâte à choux, however, if you have a Vitamix or some other high powered blender I would suggest an alternative approach. After cooking your flour, milk, butter mixture on the stove top instead of transferring the dough to the bowl of a standing mixer transfer it to your blender. Allow to cool for ten minutes or so then using a spatula press the dough over to one side so the blades and bottom of at least half the blender is visible. This is a thick dough and allowing space for you eggs makes it much easier on the blender. Now add in all your eggs and blend until smooth. Your end product should be thick enough to hold its shape when piped and ultra smooth. If it’s not thick enough just blend it a little longer it will be. Since I discovered this method it’s the only way I make pâte à choux and the results have been perfect every time.
Transfer to a pastry bag fitted with a large, plain, round tip and pipe out 12 large choux ( I did 40g each and got 15). These are quite large once baked so if you’d like something a little more delicate feel free to do something more along the lines of 15g for each.
To Bake the Choux
Preheat your oven to 450℉
Remove the craquelin from the freezer and using a small round cookie cutter cut out enough disks for each, placing them carefully on the center of each choux.
Place in the center of your oven and bake for 5 minutes.
Turn down the heat to 350℉ and bake an additional 30 minutes. Then leaving the oven door slightly ajar allow the choux to cool in the oven for another 15 minutes. Remember if making smaller choux to shorten your baking time!
Remove from the oven and let cool completely before filling.