3A: Pâte à Choux

Pâte à choux, or choux paste, is the dough used to make cream puffs, eclairs, gougères, and pretty much an infinite variety of other delicious things. It’s the only pastry dough that’s made with hot ingredients. (In fact, choux, “cabbage,” probably was originally chaud, “hot.”) Normally you want to keep the fat cold while you handle the dough. With pâte à choux, you start the dough in the saucepan by mixing flour, water, and butter over heat until the dough comes together. Then you put the hot dough into the stand mixer and beat it until it cools to 140℉. At that point, you begin adding eggs. The hotter the dough is when you begin adding the eggs, the more eggs you can add. The problem, of course, is that you risk cooking the eggs.

Mixing the dough is merely the first challenge. The second challenge is piping it, but that gets easier with practice.

Chef Sharon demonstrating piping techniques for various shapes

Chef Sharon demonstrating piping techniques for various shapes

To pipe eclairs that are the same size, you fold a sheet of parchment paper into a grid so you have some guidelines to follow.

Folding the parchment paper gives you guidelines for piping eclairs

Folding the parchment paper gives you guidelines for piping eclairs

The next hurdle is baking. Moisture in the pastry turns to steam and puffs the puffs. The puffs have to be baked completely so they dry out and become light and crisp. This also gets easier to judge with practice.

Cooling puffs

Cooling puffs

Paul, the assistant, made gougères. The dough is flavored with cheese and, in this case, garlic and parsley. Gougères can be filled or not. They’re excellent for hors d’oeuvres.

Gougères cooling

Gougères cooling

One student made swans. I intend to try making these at home.

A swan filled with chantilly cream and decorated with berries

A swan filled with chantilly cream and decorated with berries

Cream puffs and eclairs are traditionally filled with pastry cream and topped with poured fondant. Fondant is a supersaturated sugar solution that is cooled and then whipped. Before it’s whipped, it’s clear; whipping incorporates air, which makes it white.

Beating fondant; some clear drips of unbeaten fondant are visible on the bowl

Beating fondant; some clear drips of unbeaten fondant are visible on the bowl

You can add flavoring, which also typically adds color, such as chocolate. Poured fondant is soft and spreadable and sets to make a very smooth and shiny coating.

Cream puffs with white fondant

Cream puffs with white fondant

Profiteroles are like cream puffs but filled with ice cream.

Profiteroles

Profiteroles

Paris-Brest is choux paste piped into a ring. You split the ring and fill it with pastry cream. These were invented in honor of the Paris-Brest-Paris bicycle race; they represent bicycle wheels.

Paris-Brest. The one on the left is filled with hazelnut pastry cream; the one on the right is filled with vanilla pastry cream.

Paris-Brest. The one on the left is filled with hazelnut pastry cream; the one on the right is filled with vanilla pastry cream.

Religieuses are two cream puffs that are stacked and decorated to look like nuns.

Religieuses (nuns)

Religieuses (nuns)

Divorces are two cream puffs with different fillings, traditionally one coffee pastry cream and one chocolate pastry cream, set side by side. I have no idea where the French come up with these things.

Divorce on a plate

Divorce on a plate

St. Honoré, so far as I can tell, is an exercise in wretched excess. On a base of puff pastry, you pipe rings of choux paste; then you bake that. You also make puffs. You fill the puffs with pastry cream and dip them in caramel. Then you fill the base with more pastry cream and decorate it with the cream puffs. My teeth hurt just thinking about this.

St. Honoré

St. Honoré

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About linguina

For most of my life I've loved to read and to make stuff. My mother says I taught myself to read when I was 4, and I never looked back. I also liked fooling around in the kitchen, but my mother wasn't really into cooking, so I learned a lot of that on my own, too. My sister and I had the Betty Crocker New Boys and Girls Cookbook (1965), and naturally I had to make the Enchanted Castle Cake. I learned how to bake bread when I was 14, and I bought a copy of the Joy of Cooking when I was 17. My aunt and uncle gave me Mastering the Art of French Cooking for my 19th birthday, and the first thing I made was soufflé. I've always been more of a baker than a cook, though. When our niece used to visit us during her breaks from college, she'd get me to show her some cooking things (including soufflé, of course!), but I kept having to tell her, "This is just how I do it. I have no idea if it's the right way." Finally, I took a basic cooking class, and that changed my life. After that class, I signed up for a 4-day baking class at King Arthur Flour. That's when I knew I was really a baker. Now I'm taking the professional pastry program at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. With this training, I'll become a pastry chef.
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One Response to 3A: Pâte à Choux

  1. Annie Wynn says:

    “I have no idea where the French come up with these things.” I love the French for these things!

    I have GOT to stop reading your blog before lunch. I want profiteroles instead of a sensible meal!

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