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Pâté à Choux (pronounced “pat a shoo” in French), choux or chou means “cabbage” or “a rosette of ribbon or material”. Combining flour, butter, water, and lots of eggs, you can quickly make this wonderful dough with multiple uses. You’re probably most familiar with one use. In the shape of rosettes (cream puffs) and elongated, capsule-shaped (eclairs) are baked until the dough rises high, becomes dry, and the inside is hollow. Slice them open and you’ll find a little remanence of cooked egg. Then, fill them with things like pastry cream, custard, mousse, and more. However, pâté à choux is used to make other desserts and food as well. Let’s go over all of them!
When I think of cream puffs, I think of my childhood. My Sicilian grandmother lived in the Fishermen’s Wharf North Beach area in San Francisco. There was a famous Italian bakery there, Victoria Pastry, since 1914 (the year my father was born). It’s since relocated to another neighborhood. They make the best regular cream puffs filled with custard, which is the filling we most enjoyed. When ordering, they will ask you if you want whipped cream or custard. Recently, when speaking with one of their staff in their Marin County, California bakery, I learned that they use corn syrup to thicken their custard. That’s just not Italian and especially not French! It’s just a fast, inexpensive solution to a problem that will also speed up production. However, I digress. Let me get back to pâté à choux.
Dairy-Free Pâté à Choux
Before we get into other uses for this magical dough, let me explain how to make a dairy-free version.
Let’s use the Gluten Free Mini Cream Puffs Recipe as an example. To make this dough dairy-free, substitute the 4 tablespoons of butter with vegetable shortening. (I use organic.) However, because butter usually contains 16 – 17% water, additional water is needed in this recipe. One additional tablespoon should be enough, two is what it may take to get the dough to the consistency you’re looking for. See the Gluten Free Dairy Free Cream Puff Video for the correct texture. However, a little stiffer is not a problem. You just do not want it any thinner than you see in the video.
In addition to the lack of water in shortening, there is a lack of dairy. Milk proteins help brown baked goods. While the eggs will assist in browning, it doesn’t hurt to add an additional egg yolk. As we discussed in the lesson on eggs, eggs help baked goods brown.
Other bakers resort to using darker ingredients when making dairy-free pâté à choux. I’ve seen gluten recipes that call for whole wheat flour and gluten free recipes using sorghum flour. If you wanted to go that route, I would substitute one tablespoon of my all-purpose flour with teff flour (not ivory teff). You don’t need to add any additional xanthan gum to the flour mixture. There are so many eggs in this recipe, used as a binder as well as leavener, that a little less gum will not make a difference.
You can also add a tiny bit of extra color by replacing the white sugar with brown sugar. Usually, you have to be careful because brown sugar, especially dark brown sugar, will make baked good soft due to the higher molasses content. However, there is such a tiny amount of sugar in this recipe it really doesn’t matter. Also, sugar makes baked goods brown. If you’re using a sweet filling, you can slightly increase the sugar by 1 to 2 teaspoons. It will also make the crust a bit crunchier. So, you may need to reduce the baking time.
Don’t fret, though. You won’t have to figure out how to convert this recipe to dairy-free yourself. See the Gluten Free Dairy Free Cream Puffs.
Miniature cream puffs are called profiteroles. Because pâté à choux is not sweet, you can fill them with sweet or savory fillings. Profiteroles make the perfect appetizer. Sweet profiteroles make an excellent addition to a dessert buffet so that everyone may sample multiple desserts. You can even fill them and top them with different things.
A chouquette is a profiterole with a little extra sugar on the outside. Chouquettes are very small. They are about 2 cm in diameter prior to baking and contain no filling. You coat the tops with milk and sprinkle on pearl sugar. Their tops can also be dipped in chocolate or sprinkled with mini chocolate chips. You use the same pâté à choux recipe as in making profiteroles but bake them for less time since they’re so small.
To make craquelins, you pipe out small amounts of pâté à choux just as you would make profiteroles, but you top each one with a disk of chilled dough. The dough is made of flour, butter, and brown sugar. Then, the disk-topped profiteroles are baked until the disks crack apart as the profiteroles expand. The little pieces of crystallized sugar make for a sweet and crunchy topping once cooled. You can also add food coloring to the topping. They are quite a treat. After tasting my first craquelin I said, “Once you go cracked, you’ll never go back.”
When profiteroles are glued together using a sticky glaze and formed in the shape of a tree, it is called croquembouche.
You can add cheese to pâté à choux and pipe them individually, attach them to each other to form a ring, or pipe the dough as one single ring. Whichever you do, these cheesy appetizers are called gougère. Traditionally Gruyère cheese is used. Ideally, the cheese you use should be hard. You want hard, dry cheese because you bake this dough a long time in an effort to make the pastry dry. You don’t need soft cheese adding additional moisture. So, stick with Gruyère, Parmesan, Asiago or Manchego cheese. If making a ring, once baked, you fill the center with dip. There are a number of fillings for profiterole-sized gougère. Try something as simple as tuna salad or contemporary as goat cheese and Parmesan with fresh minced herbs.
Beignet (pronounced ben yay), in New Orleans is donut-like (made from dough similar to biscuits containing yeast) and deep-fried. In France, beignets are made from pâté à choux and deep-fried. Be sure to fry them until they are crispy. However, even under fried, they are an amazing pastry.
Churros, deep-fried dough dusted with cinnamon-sugar, popular in Mexican cuisine, is also made using pâté à choux. They are the same as French Beignets but they are shaped like a hot dog, elongated and slender. Using a star tip for piping creates thin edges and grooves. Those pointy edges make them crisper on the outside. You can even rotate the piping bag as you pipe the dough to create twisted churros.
French Crullers (Twisted Donuts)
Also made from pâté à choux, French crullers, known as twisted donuts in America, are also deep-fried similar to churros, but in a donut ring form. I have not yet tried the pâté à choux recipe that I use for my cream puffs to make gluten free French Crullers. Instead, I created this recipe which does not call for my All-Purpose Gluten Free Flour Blend.
St. Honoré Cake
Victoria Pastry also makes an amazing version of St. Honoré cake, where the top border is decorated with profiteroles and the base of the cake is made from Puff Pastry. The base is covered in chocolate, which is topped with custard or pastry cream. (You see, once the chocolate sets, it prevents the pastry cream from making the puff pastry dough soggy.) You can use a thick Chocolate Ganache.) On top of the pastry cream lies two layers of Sponge Cake sandwiching a filling of custard or Pastry Cream. Consider thickening the pastry cream with unflavored gelatin as listed as an option in the recipe. When using pastry cream as a cake filling, it really helps to have a more solid form.
The entire cake is frosted with Homemade Whipped Cream.
This cake is heavenly but labor intensive. I suggest making it over several days. You can begin with the round puff pastry base. Be sure to place it somewhere safe as it is delicate and flaky. It can easily break in the freezer if someone moves it around too roughly. (It happened in my household despite the label reading “Fragile.”)
Next, make the sponge cake, slice, and freeze it as well. Next, make the pastry cream or custard, which may be refrigerated for a day or two in advance.
Make the ganache or melted chocolate at any point. You can freeze the base without chocolate or with. Just make sure to baste the puff pastry base with chocolate ganache and refrigerate until it sets prior to assembling the cake.
The whipped cream may be made that morning and refrigerated.
When you’re ready to assemble the cake, defrost your parts and put it all together. Just prior to assembly, lightly baste the tops of the two cake layers with rum, if desired.
Victoria Pastry’s official description is, “Our St. Honoré is made with a Vanilla sponge cake (rum soaked) on a thin, chocolate, custard-smeared napoleon layer, with vanilla custard filling, whipped cream filling and frosting, and topped with mini vanilla custard-filled puffs.”
The photo above clearly shows custard as the filling, not whipped cream, but they are known for using either in many of their cakes and pastries. (As a side note, Victoria Pastry will often insist on adding a buttercream edge on the top of cakes if you ask for a custard topped cake.)
Dairy-Free: Use Dairy-Free Egg-Free Pastry Cream if needed. Also, see the Dairy-Free Puff Pastry Recipe. Just note that you cannot use a non-hydrogenated shortening like Spectrum or margarine. Margarine contains too much water and Spectrum does not have that structure quality that hydrogenated shortening and palm oil contains. Currently, the only other alternative I offer is coconut oil. I do, however, want to experiment with the use of Spectrum shortening and gum. Also, see the Dairy Free Egg Free Pastry Cream. (Consider thickening it more with the same gelatin and water as mentioned in the traditional pastry cream above. Alternatively, if you don’t like using gelatin, try adding 1 tablespoon arrowroot powder or cornstarch with the dairy-free milk. You can add more as desired. Instead of using dairy-free whipped topping on your St. Honoré cake, consider Buttercream using dairy-free margarine.
Pastries are not the only thing you can make with pate a choux. You may be familiar with Italian gnocchi or potato gnocchi, small pasta-like dumplings. (See all Gnocchi Recipes.) They often have a chewy texture. Parisian (meaning of Paris origin) gnocchi, popular in France, is made of pâté à choux dough and turns out fluffy. The only other gnocchi or dumplings I have ever had that are as fluffy as the Parisian version is spätzle. However, spätzle is shaped differently than Parisian gnocchi.
When making Parisian gnocchi, be sure to dry out the dough thoroughly after adding the flour. You want to create a firm dough.
The Science of Baking Pâté à Choux
How do you make pâté à choux?
Before you begin, ensure that you’ve lined your baking sheet(s) with a silicone baking mat(s). If you don’t have one, try using two to three sheets of parchment paper. Using one sheet really overbakes the bottoms.
Of course, you’ll preheat your oven as well. It is important that it be nice and hot. (More about that below.)
First, you bring water (or milk, if using) and butter to a boil. It is best to use a stainless steel saucepan or anything that is not non-stick. You may add a tiny bit of salt, which brings out the few flavors of the dough. Add a tiny bit of sugar for savory fillings and a little more for sweeter ones. Then you stir in the gluten free flour blend. The more water you use, the easier stirring goes. However, you need to cook out some of that water, if you use a lot. So, to remove the excess water, you cook the dough over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the dough begins to stick to the bottom of the saucepan a little. The bottom of the pan will look furry. That’s when you know it’s ready for the next step. Next, you allow the dough to cool some in a bowl, maybe five minutes. I like to cool mine for 2 minutes in the stainless steel bowl of my mixer. Then, using the balloon/whisk attachment, on high speed, run the mixer, allowing hot steam to escape. After it’s cooled some, you add one egg at a time, mixing after each addition passed the point of the egg being incorporated into the dough. You want to beat in as much air as you can. I run my 350-watt KitchenAid for 2 minutes after I add each egg when making a full recipe. The dough is now ready for piping and baking.
Are there tricks to piping the dough?
If you’ve never piped a thing in your life, you’ve waited too long! Don’t be scared. You can even practice with something you don’t care about like shaving cream or whipped cream. However, if you mess up piping choux pastry, you can simply scoop it up and place it back in your piping bag.
You can buy a piping device so that you don’t have to spend money on disposable piping bags. They come as inexpensive as plastic decorators to stainless steel. However, they don’t hold much dough or whipped cream. You can also purchase reusable piping bags. However, disposable piping bags come in different sizes. The 12-inch bags are perfect for my pate a choux recipe. Just keep in mind that you’ll need larger bags for piping something like baguettes. Disposable bags make baking so much easier and faster. When all else fails, use a gallon-sized zipper storage bag.
For piping bags and storage bags, just add whatever tip you plan on using to the inside of the piping bag. (A tip is not mandatory for this dough.) Tuck the bag inside of the tip to prevent dough from squeezing out of the bag, if you’ve already cut off the tip of the bag.
If the tip has not been cut off, no tucking is required. You can place the bag in a tall glass and cuff the bag around the top of the glass, as you would when lining a garbage bag inside a garbage can. You can also cuff the bag around your hand with your fingers forming the letter “C”, while pretending that you’re holding a glass. Fill the bag with the dough and twist the top sealed. Cut off the tip of the bag, if not already done. Now, you’re ready to pipe!
When piping choux, keep the bag vertical, straight up and down. Begin about 1/4-inch away from the surface of your lined baking sheet. Lightly apply pressure to squeeze out the dough. Stop squeezing prior to removing the bag from the dough you just piped. Remove the bag quickly, with a jerking motion as to prevent a long trail of dough or long tip. Go back with a wet fingertip to smash down any tips on the dough to prevent them from burning.
Then, they’re ready to bake! Baking gluten, as well as gluten free, profiteroles requires a high rise and long enough baking to dry out the dough.
How do I get the dough to rise quickly and high?
When baking, the higher the heat, the faster the rise. So, if you bake your pastry dough at a higher temperature at the beginning of the baking cycle, you’ll get a faster rise. Higher temperatures also help ingredients brown more. This is especially useful for dairy-free baking.
Once that high rise is achieved, it will collapse if you simply remove it from the oven. Next, you need to bake the dough long enough and at a low enough temperature to allow the dough to set.
While I wouldn’t use this next trick to make pâté à choux, I think you should know about this. You can always get an immediate and higher rise using a preheated baking sheet. This is why a pizza stone works so well in cooking pizza dough. The stone gets very hot. However, you have to be aware of how brown and crisp the bottom of your baked goods will be.
In addition to heat, water or other liquids also make baked goods rise higher. Watch out though. Adding too much liquid to a recipe can make it rise higher and then fall. Sometimes it’s necessary to add additional water to the dough on the stove to get a smooth dough. (This was the case in the dairy-free cream puffs recipe.) Then, you have to cook some of the water out by continuing to stir until the dough leaves a film on the saucepan. That’s a sign that it is just right. However, I didn’t want to add that extra liquid for just any level of a baker to have to decide when to stop cooking it. So, I left it thick and instructed everyone to use a blender or food processor to cream the dough. That is one stiff dough! To do it properly, add at least 2 tablespoons additional water compared to what is in the recipe. Then, cook it out until it is similar in texture as shown in the video.
Why do I have to cook out the water? I thought water made baked goods rise more?
I will discuss in a future lesson how water and other liquids make batters and dough rise higher. However, this is not what you need in the case of cream puffs. Because cream puffs are made up of a lot of eggs, water is not your friend. We use the eggs for leavening. You want to create a dough that can stand on its own without collapsing. You do not want anything resembling a batter. If your dough is runny, you will end up piping out pancakes and they won’t rise much.
What makes it hollow?
The very same hot temperature that makes the dough rise quickly also helps create that hollow center, much like popovers. Then, a lower temperature allows the dough to dry out, which stiffens the shell and prevents it from collapsing. However, if you have too much water (or milk) in your dough, your cream puffs will not rise enough.
What makes the dough brown?
As covered in an earlier lesson, egg yolks help baked goods brown as does dairy. However, this dough has so many eggs, it can almost brown the same without the dairy, as evident in the Dairy Free Cream Puffs Recipe. However, when making Gougère, the dough browns much more due to the cheese. High fat combined with dairy brown very well too. Adding sugar to the dough also aids in browning. The more sugar, the more browning. However, if you use too much sugar, you’ll end up with a very crunchy dough.
Fillings for Cream Puffs and More
A perfect filling for profiteroles, cream puffs, and craquelins is chantilly, sweetened whipped cream with either vanilla bean or chocolate. See the recipes for Chocolate Chantilly or Vanilla Chantilly. You can even add homemade cherry liqueur to sweetened whipped cream. Chantilly is perfect because it is light. These delicate pastries cannot withstand too heavy of a filling. However, my favorite filling is Pastry Cream, which is as heavy as pudding. You can also make a Dairy-Free Pastry Cream. Because pastry cream is heavy, you’ll need to judge whether your pastry can withstand its weight. You can also use chantilly with a little pastry cream added to it, which makes a form of Bavarian Cream (this recipe uses baked custard). Usually, Bavarian cream contains gelatin and is not baked. You can also mix a little pastry cream with whipping cream to make a wonderful substitute. I like to add gelatin to pastry cream and then combine it with Sweetened Whipped Cream or Chantilly. Have you ever tried ice cream-filled cream puffs? The possibilities are almost endless.
The possibilities for savory fillings are endless. Check out a couple here.
So, now you know just about every possibility that pâté à choux brings. Think about what you’d like to make and the flavors that you’d like to join. Get creative. You don’t have to stick to traditional fillings or toppings either. Perhaps you’ve seen chocolate ganache on top of cream puffs but really like caramel instead. Maybe you’d prefer the chocolate ganache to the inside of the profiterole instead of the top. When making profiterole appetizers, perhaps adding ground cardamom to the dough is more preferable to your tastes or culture. Use your imagination and have fun!
Keep in Mind
Looking at the syllabus for this course, you’ll see that the next lesson, Lesson 7, is all about pastry cream. So, maybe you’ll be able to use some pastry cream in one of your assignments in this lesson. The pastry cream lesson is short as well as the assignment.
If you’ve never successfully made cream puffs, start with the Mini Cream Puffs Recipe. Then, once you have that down successfully and your cream puffs turn out high, hollow, and delicious, move on to another recipe in the below list. Feel free to make just half a recipe of pâté à choux. They all freeze well once baked.
Gluten Free Craquelin Cream Puffs (with Dairy Free Options)