Pate a choux is the fancy French name for what we usually call eclair or cream puff batter. Choux means cabbage in French, and when baked the dough does resemble little cabbages. Mon petit choux (“my little cabbage”) is a term of endearment, though it can refer also to the choux or chou, a pastry, and I think you’ll agree it’s more endearing to be called a pastry than a vegetable.
Besides cream puffs and eclairs, these puffs make a snazzy appetizer when filled with a savory mixture (which is why I’m making them today; I’ll be filling these with artichoke & olive salad and curried turkey salad). They are used in the making of Gateaux-St. Honore, croquembouche (simpler than it sounds, and it will impress the hell out of your guests), beignets, and can be varied infinitely as a dessert by different fillings and toppings.
Pate a choux is incredibly easy to make – if you follow the not-difficult instructions. I once read an article by a food writer who got a complaint from a reader. She had made his recipe for pate a choux and it was a disaster. He couldn’t figure it out. He re-read the article, re-read the recipe, re-tested it. There was nothing wrong with it. He called the woman and asked her to describe what happened when she made it. “What happened when you put the eggs in?” he asked. “Oh,” said she, ” I didn’t have butter or eggs, so I left them out.”
And so, dear reader, if you leave out the butter and eggs, this is likely to be a disaster.
PATE A CHOUX
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup flour
- 4 eggs
Before you start making the batter, turn the oven to 450 and let it preheat thoroughly. This is vital.
Bring water to the boil in saucepan, add butter and salt, and stir until butter has melted.
When the butter has melted, dump in the flour all at once.
Beat the flour into the water until it balls up and becomes smooth. Remove the pot from the heat.
One at a time, break the eggs into the paste. Beat each egg in thoroughly until it is fully incorporated before adding the next egg.
The batter will look broken, but keep beating it and the eggs will gradually blend in.
When all eggs are beaten into the batter, continue to beat until you have a thick, shiny batter.
Here I am making very small puffs to be filled with savory mixtures as an appetizer, so I spooned 1 teaspoon of batter onto a ungreased cookie sheet. For larger puffs, such as for cream puffs, use 1 tablespoon batter and space 2″ apart on baking sheet.
Bake at 450 for 20 minutes, then turn the oven to 350 and bake another 20 minutes.
Remove puffs to a cooling rack to completely cool before slitting them open and filling.
If you use a pastry bag, you will have more uniform results. You can make a bastardized pastry bag with a sturdy plastic bag (like a zip-lock) by putting the choux batter in it, then snipping off one corner of the bag.
You can make elongated puffs for eclairs by smoothing batter out on the baking sheet with a butter knife.
The batter can also be carefully dropped by spoonfuls into hot oil and deep-fried for beignets.
Add 3/4 cup grated sharp cheese after the eggs are beaten in, and bake as directed for gourgeres, which are delicious served warm as is with soup, or can be made into tiny ham sandwiches.
You can freeze unfilled puffs and bring them out when needed; re-crsip them in a hot oven for a few minutes if necessary. They’re good to have on hand if you might need to have an appetizer or dessert on short notice – which happens a lot at this time of year.