Yesterday, we said that we had plans for the chocolate pastry cream we showed you how to make. And, while we might have hinted at something involving puff pastry, this post doesn’t involve puff pastry at all. Instead, we’re going to scratch up a batch of one of the easiest pastry doughs imaginable: Pâte à Choux. Literally, it means cabbage paste, for the little cabbage-shaped puffs that result when baking.
If you don’t know about Pâte à Choux, we’re guessing that a little light bulb just appeared over your head. After all, pastry cream, and now dough that puffs. Hmm. Could it be that this is the dough with which to make cream puffs? Yes, one and the same, Cream puffs, éclairs, savory Gougères, Parisian Gnocchi; they all come from this simple and useful “cabbage paste.” We’ll be using this dough for cream puffs and mini éclairs.
This recipe comes from The Joy of Cooking, by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker, probably the most useful cookbook ever written.
Makes about 5 dozen small puffs.
Set those hens free! Make sure the ones that lay your eggs eat bugs and grass and peck on the ground and run around like chickens, because, if you want real eggs that taste like eggs, they should be from real chickens that act like chickens. It’s that simple. Butter is unsalted, as always. We’ve read several places that dairies use better (fresher) cream for unsalted butter, since that’s all you taste, while salted butter is made from lesser quality cream, because the salt will cover up imperfections. We don’t know if that’s true, but we don’t really like having others salt our food.
Procedure in detail:
Mise en place. Measure out and combine the flour, salt, and sugar. Measure out the milk and butter and put it in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Get those eggs to room temperature. Good.
Preheat oven to 400°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking mats.
Boil milk. Place the saucepan over medium-high heat and bring the milk to a boil, stirring constantly.
Add flour. Once the milk is boiling, dump in the flour; yes, all at once, right into the middle of the pan. Now, stir like crazy. At first the dough will be ragged, but it will come together in just a minute. Then stir for just a bit longer until the dough no longer sticks to the sides of the pan, about 1 minute.
Cool. Take the dough off the heat and let it cool for 2 minutes. If you want, you can transfer the dough to a stand mixer with the paddle attached, just as we did for the gougères; it’s easier than mixing by hand, but you have to clean up more. Your choice. In the future, we might go with the mixer.
Add eggs. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring one in completely before adding the next. While you’re stirring, the dough will look as though it’s separated, but don’t worry; it’ll all come back together.
Pipe. Here again, you get a choice. You can pipe the puffs, as we show in the pictures, or you can spoon it out into mounds. Piping makes for more uniform puffs, but it’s not necessary. If you pipe, fit a piping bag with a large star tip, put all the dough in the bag, and pipe out little mounds. Use a moistened fingertip to push down the tails that form. If you want, you can get creative and make small logs for mini éclairs or large logs for full-size éclairs.
Bake. Slide the sheets into the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Lower the temperature to 350°F and bake for about 25 minutes more. You want the sides of the puffs to be quite firm; otherwise, you’ll have a soggy interior.
Cool. Let the puffs cool completely on the baking sheets.
Fill. We don’t have a tip for filling (a Bismark tip), so we simply sliced our puffs in half with a serrated bread knife, piped in the pastry cream, and closed them up. A spoon would have worked, too, but we need all the practice we can get with a pastry bag.
Who doesn’t like cream puffs? Plus, they’re really easy to make, non? Now, if you don’t want to make the pastry cream (although we strongly suggest that you should), you can slice these puffs in half and fill them with a bit of ice cream for profiteroles; after all, they use the same dough. We give Pâte à Choux five stars because it’s so easy, and so versatile. Everyone should have a go-to version for quickly whipping up that little smackerel!