Choux paste, or pate a choux (paht ah shoo), is a versatile dough that should be in every home cook’s arsenal. Light, puffy, and finely textured, it’s neutral, lightly eggy flavor is the perfect vessel for stronger flavors, both sweet and savory. Many classic pastry favorites utilize choux paste, and once you learn how easy it is to make, you’ll never need to stress about last-minute requests for appetizers or dessert. Made by heating butter and water, then adding flour to the water and cooking it before beating in eggs, choux paste puffs up to three times its original size when baked, with steam creating a hollow in the middle of the pastry that can be filled with pastry cream, whipped cream, or whatever strikes your fancy.
Need ideas for how to use choux paste? Use it to make cream puff shells and then fill them with pastry cream or whipped cream. Fill them with a scoop of ice cream and drizzle with chocolate sauce for profiteroles, or omit the sugar and beat in a good Gruyere for gougeres (cheese puffs), or even fill them with a savory smoked salmon and cream cheese filling and garnish with dill for brunch.
8 tablespoons (1/2 cup or 4 oz.) unsalted butter
1 cup water
Pinch kosher salt
2 teaspoons sugar (leave this out if you are making a savory choux paste)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. In a medium saucepan over high heat, heat the butter, water, salt, and sugar. Bring to a simmer and cook until butter is melted. Lower the heat and then add the flour, all at once, and stir vigorously until the flour is fully incorporated and the dough forms a ball as you stir.
3. From here, you’ll start to notice a thin film of dough on the bottom of the pan. That’s good. Scrape it back into the dough as you stir for another minute or two, then remove the pot from the heat.
4. Now, you have two options: you can beat in the eggs by hand, one at a time until fully incorporated, and get the shoulder workout of a lifetime, or you can transfer the dough to a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (NOT THE WHISK, FOLKS!) and let it do the work for you. Either way, you need to incorporate each egg one at a time until it is totally worked in. Around egg #2, your dough might look like a horribly wet conglomeration of dough shards and egg, but add that third one and it’ll get better. After the last egg, then continue to beat the dough until shiny. If you’re doing this by hand, it may take a while; by mixer, give it a couple of minutes on medium.
5. Now, here is the fun part: for cream puffs, you can use either a pastry bag and tip or a spoon to create small mounds on your parchment-lined baking sheet. Remember, this stuff puffs to about three times its size, so leave plenty of room for expansion and don’t make them too big, unless you are going for an entree-sized cream puff. Alternately, you can pipe thick lines, about 5″ long, of the choux paste if you’d like to make eclairs.
6. Baking time will vary depending on the size of your puffs, but my eclairs and large cream puffs are usually done in 35-40 minutes. You’re looking for them to be golden brown, to feel light when you pick them up, and to sound hollow when you lightly tap them. Remove them from the oven and, using a toothpick, prick 2 or 3 holes in each to let steam escape. Once cool, fill and top them as desired. You’ll want to serve them soon after to avoid sogginess.
Though choux paste is best baked and eaten on the same day, you can bake your shells and then freeze them for up to a couple of months, then reheat them in the oven when you are ready to use them.