There’s something about choux paste that is both merrily absurd and very much miraculous. With a preparation that seems to defy pastry logic, a wicked but sensual challenge lays ahead to perfect this tricky treat!
You cook a paste of water, butter and flour over the stove and then furiously beat eggs into the irredeemable mess looking dough. But with some love and patience, and the blessing from your mixer paddle, the dough comes together into a glossy, golden thick lava. When baked, it inflates into gloriously hollow ornaments, perfect for filling. It’s no wonder choux paste inspires goofy desserts like the towering, pyramidal croquembouche, the bicycle-tire-shaped Paris-Brest and the special Cygnes pâte à choux, shimmering swans that are magical for the most special occasions.
With its almost impossible flexibility, pâte à choux can be used to make profiteroles, croquembouches, eclairs, French crullers, beignets, St. Honoré cake, Indonesian kue sus, and gougères. A chef by the name of Panterelli invented the dough in 1540. He used the dough to make a gâteau and named it Pâte à Panterelli. Over time, the recipe of the dough evolved; a pâtissier in the eighteenth century, created what were then called Choux Buns or Pâte à Choux, as they resemble cabbages – choux in French.
Pâte à Choux
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup whole milk
Pinch granulated sugar
3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
1/2 cup bread flour
2 to 3 large eggs
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the water, milk, salt, granulated sugar, and butter in a 4-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan, set it over medium-high heat, and bring to a boil. The butter should be completely melted by the time the mixture boils.
2. Remove the saucepan from the heat immediately. Add the bread flour all at once and incorporate it thoroughly with a wooden spoon.
3. Return the saucepan to the stove and cook over medium heat for about 3 minutes to dry out the paste. Keep the paste moving, or it will burn. The paste will dry out and leave a thin film on the bottom of the saucepan.
4. Remove the saucepan from the heat and transfer the paste to a large mixing bowl. Mix with an electric mixer set on low speed for about 2 minutes to release some of the steam.
5. Continue to mix and slowly add the eggs 1 at a time, incorporating well after each addition. After you have added 2 eggs, check the consistency by scooping a large amount of the paste onto a wooden spoon. Hold the spoon horizontally about 1foot above the bowl and watch as the batter falls from the spoon back into the bowl. If it is pale yellow, smooth, moist, slightly elastic, sticky, and takes 5 to 7 seconds to fall into the bowl, it is ready. If it appears rough, dry, and falls into the bowl in 1 big ball, it needs more eggs. Add another egg and check the consistency again after it is well incorporated.
6. Transfer the pastry to a bag fitted with a small coupler. Pipe about 1/2 tablespoon of the pastry into a mound on the prepared baking sheet, spacing pastry about 1 1/2 inches apart.
7. Brush the top of each mound with water. Bake until the puffs are golden brown all over, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, transfer to a wire rack, and let cool completely.