Pâte à choux, filled with possibilities
Pâte à choux (pronounced pat-ah-choo) is the paste-like dough used for making the crispy shells of cream puffs, éclairs, gougères, and profiteroles, as well as some savory applications like gougeres and Parisian gnocchi. Shown here with three fillings (vanilla bean pastry cream, chocolate ganache, and strawberry rhubarb jam), the choux puffs are the prefect vehicle for almost any smooth filling.
Keep clicking to learn how to make your own pâte à choux at home!
All photographs: Lauren Weisenthal
1. Start on the stovetop
In a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat, combine water, milk, salt, and butter (cut into pieces). Stir occasionally, ensuring that the butter melts completely. The liquid will begin to simmer and bubble around the edges.
2. Add the flour, stir the dough together
When the liquid starts to simmer, add the bread flour and stir vigorously. Your goal is to keep the dough moving and even out the dry spots without having too much liquid evaporate in the pan. Continue stirring as the dough begins to form, about one minute.
3. Stir some more
Once the dough comes together, continue to stir it vigorously for another 2-3 minutes. You will begin to notice a skin forming on the bottom of the pan, and the dough will start to pull away from the sides as you stir. This indicates that enough of the liquid has evaporated, bringing the dough to ideal consistency. Once this happens, transfer the dough to the bowl of your mixer (or a regular bowl, for those without).
4. Cool the dough
Using the paddle attachment or a big wooden spoon, slowly mix the dough, exposing it to air to help it cool. This important step prevents the eggs from cooking on contact, which causes streaking. Touch the dough: it should feel warm, but not hot.
5. Add the eggs, one at a time
Once the dough has cooled, start adding the eggs one at a time, mixing well on medium speed after each addition. Wait for the dough to absorb each egg completely before adding the next, or the dough will not absorb the eggs completely, which affects the rise of the puffs when baking. This step may also be done by hand, using a wooden spoon.
6. Scrape down the sides
As you add the eggs, stop mixing and scrape down the sides of the bowl whenever you notice that the dough is sticking. By the addition of the third egg, the dough will appear broken, like slimy scrambled eggs. Don’t worry, this is normal; continue mixing and allowing time for each egg to completely incorporate.
7. Finish mixing
Once you’ve added your last egg, beat the dough vigorously for at least 15 seconds, until it is very smooth, with very few air pockets. The smoother the dough, the more air will get trapped during baking, ensuring that they rise. Scrape the bowl down a final time, then beat again for 15 seconds or longer on high speed. The dough will be very smooth, dense, and elastic.
8. Prepare to pipe
To fill a piping bag without making a mess, set a large cup or container on your work surface (I like quart-sized takeout containers) and line the container with a piping bag (you can also use a ziploc bag, just clip off the corner to pipe). Fold the edges of the bag over the sides of the container. This frees up both your hands for holding the bowl and spatula.
9. Glue the parchment to the sheet
Pipe a small dollop of dough into each corner of the baking sheet, then adhere parchment to the sheet, using the dough as glue. This will keep the parchment in place as you pipe the pâte à choux.
10. Pipe even shapes
Pipe the pâte à choux into 2 inch balls, leaving one inch of space on all sides. Try to keep the size as uniform as possible, to ensure the entire sheet bakes at the same rate. Pull the bag away when you finish piping by whipping it in a small circular motion and lifting up.
11. Make and apply egg wash
Combine 1 egg and 1 teaspoon salt in a bowl and whisk together vigorously for 1 minute, until the mixture is lightened and homogenous. Use a pastry brush to coat each shape with the egg wash. For round puffs, I like to use the brush to flatten out pointy tops. Brushing with egg wash creates a pretty, shiny skin on the choux; doing without makes it look dry and dull.
12. Bake until golden brown
Bake the puffs in a preheated, 400°F oven until they are puffed and golden brown, 20-25 minutes (baking time will vary with size and shape of dough). Rotate halfway through baking to ensure they bake evenly. Allow the puffs to cool for 10 minutes on the baking sheet before filling, otherwise they will be too fragile to handle.
13. Pipe with desired filling
Once the puffs have cooled, use a pairing knife to bore a small hole into the puff, just big enough for inserting the a pastry bag tip. Ensure that you make an insertion deep enough to reach the air pocket inside to make it easy to pipe in fillings. Squeeze the bag to fill, until the filling leaks out a bit.