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Pâte à Choux

In honor of the evil co-worker who brought in mini cream puffs and eclairs, and left them in the break room (where I was tempted to bring the whole box back to my office, so I could eat them all), I'm posting my recipes for choux (pronounced "choo") dough, and pastry cream.

Pâte à choux is a batter that when baked, instead of producing lots of tiny bubbles that give it an airy texture, it produces one big bubble that expands and creates a hollow center in the pastry. This can be filled with all sorts of yumminess (it's a technical term) — sweet (pastry cream, whipped cream, ganache, etc.) or savory (chicken salad, crab meat, etc.).

The bread flour is listed by weight, since I believe that makes for a better baked product, however, I have included a rough volume measurement for those who prefer it.

Pâte à Choux
Source: The Restaurant School

Equipment Needed

  • Heavy saucepan and wooden spoon
  • Stand mixer with paddle attachment
  • Pastry bag fitted with a large plain pastry tip
  • Sheet pan lined with parchment paper

Ingredients

  • 1 cup water
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon sugar plus ⅛ teaspoon (for sweet fillings) OR 1 teaspoon salt (for savory fillings)
  • 5 ¾ ounces (1 ¼ rounded cups) bread flour (makes a sturdier pastry that won't collapse)
  • 4 large eggs plus the whites only of 2 more large eggs

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Bring water, butter, and salt or sugar to a boil in a heavy-duty saucepot over high heat. Add flour and work mixture together until it forms a ball. Continue working the mixture in the pot, until most of the moisture is boiled out. Poke your finger in the dough. It should be shiny (from the butter), but not wet from water. The dough will start to leave a film on the bottom of the pan.
  3. Transfer mixture into bowl of a standing mixer and let cool for 3 or 4 minutes.
  4. With mixer on stir or lowest speed add eggs, 1 at a time, making sure the first egg is completely incorporated before continuing.
  5. Once all eggs have been added and the mixture is smooth put dough into piping bag fitted with a plain round tip. The size of the tip will depend on the intended size of your finished product, but don't use anything smaller than half an inch.
  6. Pipe dough into golfball-size shapes (for small cream puffs), 2 inches apart onto parchment lined sheet pans. (TIP: Pipe a small dollop of dough directly onto the cookie sheet, then place parchment on top -- then the parchment won't lift off the cookie sheet when you pipe your cream puffs.)
  7. Continue with the remaining dough. When finished, dip your finger in warm water, and gently press down on the tops of the cream puffs, to remove the "hat" that forms when you lift the pastry tip away from the piped cream puff.
  8. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350 degrees F and bake for 10 more minutes or until golden brown. Once they are removed from the oven pierce with a paring knife immediately to release steam.

NOTE: Do not bake sheets of cream puffs and eclairs at the same time. Eclairs have a slightly longer baking time (10 minutes at 425, 12 to 15 minutes at 350). If you bake them at the same time, you'll either have slightly raw cream puffs and finished eclairs, or finished cream puffs and burnt eclairs.


Pastry Cream
Pastry cream is the traditional filling of eclairs (sweetened whipped cream being the traditional filling for cream puffs). It is a cooked custard.
Source: The Restaurant School

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups half-and-half (NOT fat-free)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons AP flour
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Bring half and half to simmer in heavy medium saucepan.
  2. Whisk sugar, eggs, egg yolk and flour in medium bowl to blend.
  3. Gradually whisk in hot half and half. Transfer back to saucepan.
  4. Whisk over medium heat until mixture thickens and comes to boil, about 5 minutes. Boil 1 minute to cook out the "raw flour" flavor.
  5. Pour into medium bowl. Stir in vanilla. Press plastic onto surface of pastry cream to prevent skin from forming.
  6. Cover; chill until cold, about 4 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.)
  7. When ready, spoon pastry cream into pastry bag fitted with small round tip.
  8. Insert tip into bottom of cream puff (or side of an eclair) and gently squeeze to push cream into pastry. The pastry is full when it feels heavy, and the tip pushes itself out of the pastry.
  9. Store filled pastries in the refrigerator, or freeze for up to 3 months, tightly sealed.
  10. Dust sweet-filled pastries with powdered sugar, or dip in ganache (below).

Ganache
Source: The Restaurant School

Ingredients

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 10 oz quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate

Directions

  1. Scald heavy cream. Pour over chocolate and stir until smooth.
  2. Dip tops of pastries into chocolate, and let sit on cookie sheet until set (or chill to set).

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