How to Make Pate a Choux is a simple step by step tutorial and recipe for making perfect choux pastry for cream puffs, cheese puffs, and eclairs with only 5 ingredients!
Bonjour! I greet you in French, because my kitchen was transformed into a French bakery yesterday. I made something very special, which is coming to you Thursday. For now, we’re going to focus on the main attraction — pate a choux, or choux pastry. You may think it’s way too fancy, but it just seems fancy. It has a fancy French name (pronounced “pat-a-shoo”), which sort of sounds like a sneeze now that I think about it. A fancy, French sneeze. 🙂
Pate a choux is a great thing to know how to make because it’s so versatile. Think eclairs, cream puffs, profiteroles, cheese puffs….ahh, the possibilities. You can fill them with pastry cream, whipped cream, mousse, or ice cream (like my Mint Chocolate Mocha Profiteroles), or go completely savory by adding grated cheese to the dough for cheese puffs (like my Gruyere Parmesan Puffs), or fill them with a great chicken salad…or spinach dip. Endless possibilities.
I grew up loving eclairs and cream puffs way before I’d ever been to France. There’s something about the crisp pastry with that cool cream…it’s irresistible. I’d never made pate a choux until I went to culinary school, and it was one of my favorite units. I graduated over a year ago, and pate a choux is still something that I make on a semi-regular basis. Obviously it makes some really special dishes for entertaining and holidays that aren’t soon forgotten. 🙂
Pate a choux takes 5 ingredients — yes, only 5! And you’ve got them all on hand all the time. And you know what else? You can totally memorize the recipe so you can make it anywhere you go. My cooking instructor helped us remember it in 1/4’s:
1 cup water
4 ounces unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour (or brown rice flour for gluten-free)
That’s about the easiest recipe to remember that I can remember.
So let’s get this pastry party started!
Add the water and butter in a medium saucepan and heat on low until the butter has melted. Once it’s melted, turn up the heat and bring to a boil.
Remove the pan from heat and add the flour all at once. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the flour is completely incorporated. The flour will immediately absorb the water, and the stirring helps develop the gluten, giving us a nice, elastic dough.
Once the flour is incorporated, place the pan back over medium heat and stir vigorously to dry out the dough, until the dough forms a cohesive mass around the spoon and leaves a film on the bottom of the pan, about 1-2 minutes.
It’s time to add the eggs, but since the dough is really hot, we need to cool it down or the eggs will scramble (wince!). You can either leave the dough in the pot to cool on it’s own and beat the eggs in a little at a time with the wooden spoon, or use my preferred method here, which is to place the dough in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix it for a minute or two on medium speed until it’s cooled slightly, then with the mixer running constantly, add the beaten eggs about 2 tablespoons at a time, making sure the egg is fully incorporated before adding more. When you’re out of egg, you’re done. 🙂
And congratulations — you’ve got yourself some beautiful, silky pate a choux dough! I told you it was easy. 🙂
Whether you’re making puffs or eclairs, you’ll want to draw a little template on some parchment paper so the sizes are uniform. For example:
If you’re doing cream puffs, you can use a 2 1/2″ biscuit cutter to draw circle on the parchment, with about 2-3 inches between each one to leave room for your puffs to…well…puff. You can pipe the dough with a 1/2″ round tip, or make them nice and rustic by spooning the dough onto the templates. I like to go rustic for these.
If you’re doing eclairs, draw rectangles about 1″ wide by 3-4″ long, with 2″ in between, and definitely pipe the dough with a 1/2″ tip.
Tip! Turn the parchment upside down so the writing doesn’t transfer to the dough.
Another Tip! If you have a little pointy tip after piping, smooth it out with your finger or a lightly oiled butter knife.
You’ll get about (2) baking sheets full, so bake them in the top and bottom thirds of the oven at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes to get them to puff nicely, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and rotate the pans from top to bottom and front to back. Bake another 20 minutes to finish of the baking. After that, I learned in school to remove the puffs or eclairs from the oven and cut small slits toward the bottom of the pastry on each side to let some steam out. Turn off the oven and place them back in for 10 minutes to dry out a bit, and you’ll have some nice, crispy, golden brown pastries.
The hardest part for you will be deciding what to fill your pastries with. Are you gonna go sweet, or are you gonna go savory? Decisions, decisions. At least you have your pate a choux mastered, so you can try out all kinds of new variations. Your kitchen has been transformed into a French bakery now, too. 🙂
- 1 cup water
- 4 ounces (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup all purpose flour (or brown rice flour for GF)
- 4 large eggs, beaten until whites and yolk are completely combined
- Position the oven racks to the top and bottom thirds of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees.
- Make templates for your puffs or eclairs on parchment paper, turn the parchment over so the writing doesn't transfer to the dough, and place on (2) baking sheets.*
- Place the water, butter, and salt in a medium saucepan and heat over low heat until the butter has melted completely. Increase the heat to medium and bring to a full boil. Remove from heat and add the flour all at once, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon until incorporated and the dough forms a cohesive mass around the spoon.
- Place back over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, for 1-2 minutes, until the dough leaves a thin film on the bottom of the pan.
- Place the dough in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on medium speed for 1-2 minutes or until the dough has cooled slightly.
- With the mixer running constantly, add the egg about 2 tablespoons at a time, making sure it's fully incorporated before adding more. Repeat until all of the egg has been mixed in.
- If making puffs, pipe or spoon the dough onto the templates -- if eclairs, definitely pipe it. Smooth out any pointed tips with your finger or lightly oiled butter knife. I used a ½" round piping tip.
- Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees, rotate the pans from top to bottom and front to back, and bake an additional 20 minutes. Turn off the oven. Remove the baking sheets from the oven and cut small slits toward the bottom of the pastry on both sides. Place back in the turned off oven to dry out for an additional 10 minutes.
- Fill with pastry cream, whipped cream, mousse, or savory foods like chicken salad or spinach dip. Enjoy!
*For puffs, make 2½" circles with a biscuit cutter in the same fashion as the eclairs, with 10 per sheet, with a minimum of 2-3" between.
The dough can be made up to 4 hours in advance and piped onto the parchment, covered with plastic wrap, and refrigerated until ready to bake.
Once baked, the puffs or eclairs can be frozen before being filled and stored in the freezer in a zip top bag for up to 1 month. Re-crisp in a 375 degree oven until warm and crisp, and cool before filling.
The puffs are best when served the day they're filled, as the longer they sit the soggier they will get from the creamy filling. Leftovers can be stored in an air tight container for up to 2 days.
Recipe adapted from Tante Marie Cooking School, San Francisco, CA, and The Art & Soul of Baking by Cindy Mushet.