What is pâte à choux, you ask? Most of you have probably made its acquaintance at one time or another. It is the paste-like dough used for making the melt-in-your-mouth shells of cream puffs, éclairs, gougères, cheese puffs and profiteroles (puffs stuffed with ice cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce).
Once you understand the technique, making pâte à choux at home is easy. The hard part is choosing a filling for this versatile, airy dough.
Although delicious, don’t limit your puff’s potential by just using sweet, traditional fillings like pudding, cream or mousse. Get creative and stuff them with savory ingredients, such as salmon mousse or chicken salad.
Pâte à choux 1 cup water 1 stick butter 1 cup all-purpose flour 1 good pinch of salt 1 tablespoon sugar 4 large eggs
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine water, milk, butter and salt in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Stir occasionally, ensuring that the butter melts completely. When the liquid starts to bubble around the edges, add flour and stir vigorously to even out dry spots. Continue to stir as the dough begins to form. You will start to notice a skin forming on the bottom of the pan, and the dough will pull away from the sides as you stir. Once this happens, transfer the dough to the bowl of a stand mixer (or a regular bowl for a hand mixer).
Using the paddle attachment or a large wooden spoon, slowly mix the dough and allow it to cool slightly. Begin adding the eggs, one at a time, mixing well on medium speed after each addition, and scraping down the sides as you go. Once you’ve added the last egg, beat the dough vigorously for 15 seconds. Scrape the bowl down a final time, then beat again for at least 15 seconds on high speed, until the dough is consistently smooth, thick and slightly shiny.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Transfer the dough to a piping bag, or a Ziploc bag with the corner clipped off, and pipe the dough into 2-inch balls, leaving one inch of space on all sides. In a small bowl, combine one egg with 2 tablespoons of water. Apply the egg wash to the tops of the dough with a brush and bake in a preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown, rotating halfway through. Allow shells to cool on the baking sheets for at least 10 minutes. Use the tip of a paring knife to pierce the bottom of each puff to allow steam to escape. When ready to serve, slice off the tops and fill or use a pastry bag to pipe filling from the bottom.
Makes about 18 cream puff pastries or 30 gougères
Chocolate Mousse ¾ cups chocolate chips (semi-sweet, bittersweet or a combination) ¼ cup half and half ¼ teaspoon espresso powder 1 teaspoon vanilla 1 tablespoon brandy 1 cup heavy cream ¼ cup powdered sugar
In a 2-cup glass measure or bowl, heat chocolate, half and half and espresso powder for two minutes in the microwave. Stir until completely smooth. Cool to room temperature; stir in vanilla and brandy. Meanwhile, whip heavy cream with powdered sugar until peaks form. Fold chocolate mixture into whipped cream and chill until ready to use.
Makes 8 servings
Blue Cheese Walnut Gougères To pâte à choux dough, add ½ cup toasted chopped walnuts and ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper. Pipe quarter-sized balls onto parchment-lined baking sheets; brush with egg wash and press a chunk of blue cheese into the center of each dough ball. Bake 15 to 20 minutes until deep, golden brown. Serve warm.
Mix up your gougères recipes and try these variations: Pistachio and Parmesan, pecan and cheddar and gruyere and chive.
by T and Andy Price
T and Andy own Real Food Cafe on Sixth Street. They have been creating and serving their “made-from-scratch food with a wholesome flair” for more than 10 years.