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Pâte à Choux

The perfect pâte à choux pastry is crisp on the outside and just a bit creamy in the center.
difficulty:
yield:

Makes about 1½ pounds of paste, enough for 24 (3-inch) round puffs or 12 larger pastries

time:

About 30 minutes (for the paste only; baking time not included)

introduction

By all accounts, the French were still eating with their hands when Catherine de Medici arrived from Florence with a fork in hers, as well as a retinue of chefs and pastry chefs, to become the bride of King Henry II. In addition to the storied génoise (whole-egg sponge cake) that her kitchen contingent brought from Italy (Genoa, get it?), one of Catherine’s pastry chefs produced a new type of pastry that required both cooking on the stove and baking. The pastry rose impressively in the oven, tasted like heaven, and had hollow centers that could be filled with luscious things. Once Marie-Antoine Carême, the father of French cuisine, got his hands on that recipe it became French, ultimately taking the name pâte à choux, and the rest, as they say, is calories. Go get ’em, Carême!

This beautiful, crisp, light, and airy pastry is one of the triumphs of la grande cuisine française. And to think that it’s cooked in a saucepan! How weird is that? The boiling gelatinizes the flour and vigorous stirring forms a gluten matrix into which the eggs, which leaven the pastry to amazing heights, are beaten. Baking pate à choux nearly flips the lid on cream puffs, and éclairs need to be stroked with the tines of a fork so that they settle down and stay smooth in the oven.

This extraordinary paste can be baked, fried, or poached and used in sweet or savory preparations. It makes profiteroles, classic petit fours, éclairs, and myriad other hollow baked shapes, but it also makes churros (fried), gnocchi and dumplings (poached), and gougères (savory).

For our basic choux paste formula, we use three different Anson Mills flours, including a small percentage of rice flour for crispness. And while it is pure folly to pretend to reinvent the wheel when discussing formidable pastry recipes, we think these are really some the very best pâte à choux specimens we have ever tasted! Lucky that our flours offer flavor and performance.

Baking Notes

When I (Kay) revisit classic French baking formulas to translate them with Anson Mills ingredients, invariably my first stop is the pages of Rose Levy Beranbaum’s cake or pie book. Rose trained with Lenôtre, at whose concession in KaDeWe Berlin I had the good fortune to work. Even were that particular connection not in place, Rose’s recipes honor French technique and presentation but acknowledge and appreciate differences in American ingredients in ways that are honest without compromising the integrity of the original. Her recipes work magnificently! I confess that when I read her choux paste recipe and noted that Rose herself references Shirley Corriher, I felt comfortable appropriating Rose’s baking techniques and timing for my own recipe. However this recipe is not the same as hers. Rose does not work with Antebellum-style flours as we do at Anson Mills. But it would be disingenuous of me not to give her a shout out here. Thanks, Rose!

A number of pâte à choux preparations that we have tasted in restaurants or bakeries—be they éclairs, profiteroles, or whatever—represent failures of freshness or technique. This is not a pastry that demonstrates patience with humidity and under- or overbaking. Restaurant profiteroles are frequently overbaked—or perhaps baked ahead and oven-crisped pre-service—rendering their exteriors tough and their interiors dry. The textural balance is critical to a perfectly baked pastry—particularly those eaten on their own, as in the photo above. Central to the enjoyment of choux pastries is that they are eaten when fresh and that they are filled only moments before serving. Other recipes will tell you how convenient it is to freeze and reheat pâte à choux pastries. Do not believe it! If you are serving these at home, as we assume you are, do not bake the pastries ahead or freeze them.

equipment mise en place

For this recipe, you will need a digital kitchen scale, a medium bowl, a 2-cup glass measuring cup, a whisk, a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan, a wooden spoon, and a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or a food processor).

  1.  

    Sift together the pastry flour, bread flour, and rice flour into a medium bowl. Combine the whole eggs and egg whites in a 2-cup glass measuring cup and whisk lightly. Pour the milk and water into a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan and add the butter, sugar, and salt. Set the pan over high heat and bring the liquid to a full boil, stirring once or twice; the butter should be fully melted by the time the liquid begins to bubble. Pull the pan off the heat and dump in the sifted flours all at once. Return the pan to medium-low heat and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon (fig. 1.1); the mixture will form a paste and gather into a ball (fig. 1.2). Continue to cook, stirring continuously and vigorously, until a sandy residue coats the bottom of the saucepan and the paste begins to glisten with tiny beads of fat, 2 to 3 minutes. 

  2.  

    Turn the paste into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or into a food processor bowl (fig. 2.1). Run the mixer on low speed for 10 or 15 seconds to cool the mixture slightly; if using a food processor, pulse 10 to 15 times. With the mixer or processor running, begin adding the egg a little at a time, as if making a mayonnaise, allowing the egg to incorporate into the paste before adding more (fig. 2.2); scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. When all of the egg has been incorporated, the paste will be smooth and glossy (fig. 2.3). The pâte à choux is now ready to use. 

    1. 1.1
    2. 1.2
    1. 2.1
    2. 2.2
    3. 2.3