What’s common about eclairs, profiteroles, croquembouches, cream puffs, crullers? They are all made with ‘Pâte à Choux’ (or choux pastry for us commoners 😉). It’s another staple in the French kitchen. It’s pronounced “pat a shoe” – “pâte” means paste and “choux” means cabbage — the name comes from the resemblance to little cabbages when the puffs come out of the oven.
The consistency of choux paste is somewhere between a batter and dough and can be piped into any shape – round puffs or long eclairs or thin churros. When the liquid in the paste evaporates in the oven, the pastry puffs up creating a hard outer shell and a hollow interior. This interior becomes a perfect canvas for any filling of choice – pastry cream, whipped cream, ice cream, lemon curd. Yum 🙂
If you look at ingredients, they are very basic and all are the usuals available in you pantry – flour, water/milk, butter, and eggs. Water or milk? Some swear by milk, some are fine with water while making the paste, though with milk you get an even browning of the choux. Both result in delicious tender choux, so it’s your choice. I go with all milk.
The amount of eggs is the tricky part of the recipe and the only point where you need to be careful in an otherwise simple recipe. Depending on the humidity and how much moisture is left while cooking flour, you may need a little less or little more egg every time you make the paste. So how do you decide how much egg is sufficient? Beat all your eggs together and add in 4 parts. After the third addition, check the consistency of the paste and decide if you need a little more or a whole lot more of egg to add. What is the right consistency of paste? It should be smooth pipable consistency and when you scoop some paste on your spatula and drop it, it’ll form a “V” shape on your spatula for few seconds before dropping back into the bowl. That’s when you know you have enough eggs, adding more will result in a wet dough and will be tough to pipe and cook.
It’s also important to add the eggs gradually. We’re making an emulsion at the core of it – egg yolk helps emulsify the fat from butter with the flour to form a smooth paste. Protein from egg whites promote stability and also promotes drying out of choux when heated inside the oven.
A pro tip – halfway through the baking, open your oven door for couple seconds to let out any steam. Also, once the pastries are baked, take out your tray and poke a small hole in the side or base of your eclair/puff and put them back in a shut-off oven. This will let out the steam trapped inside and help them dry out properly.
The original recipe is by renowned French pastry chef Eric Lanlard.
4 eggs, regular sized
160 ml water
80g unsalted butter, cubed, room temperature
100g all-purpose flour – sifted
1. In a small bowl, break all 4 eggs and whisk them slightly. Keep it aside.
2. In a saucepan, add water and butter. Put the saucepan over low-medium heat and heat until the butter melts and water boils.
3. Switch off the heat and add the sifted flour. Mix it well with a wooden spoon or spatula until it comes together in a big lump.
4. Take it back to low heat and cook it while continuously stirring until the mixture forms a ball around your spoon. Also look for a film formed at bottom of the saucepan – this indicates that the starches in flour have absorbed the moisture well. Transfer it to a large bowl and let it cool slightly.
5. Start adding your eggs little at a time in a thin stream. This way you’ll slightly increase the temperature of eggs and won’t scramble them with sudden heat. With an electric mixer or stand mixer or a wooden spoon/spatula, whisk the egg into the mixture. It’ll initially look like it’s not mixing well and the dough is breaking apart but keep at it and it will come back together. Add some more egg and continue mixing.
6. Be careful during your last addition, start with just a little and add only till you reach the right consistency. (It should be smooth pipable consistency and when you scoop some paste on your spatula and drop it, it’ll form a “V” shape on your spatula for few seconds before dropping back into the bowl.)
7. The choux paste is ready. Pipe them into puffs or eclairs or crullers and proceed according to the recipe.