Playing With Pâte à Choux

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a post about a particular food item, and I whipped up a batch of Pâte à Choux yesterday, so I thought I would write about it. Because choux pastry, as it’s also known, is really quite easy and fun to make (I have a friend with a five year old daughter who whips up a pretty mean batch of choux paste).

And it’s very flexible. Once you’ve made it, you can use it to make sweet or savory puffs of all sorts: Fill with jam, whipped cream, puddings, macerated fruits, citrus curds, savory creams, stew, whatever. Top with nothing, chocolate ganache, confectioner’s sugar, spice mixes, etc. (Some things I’ve made in the past include carrot-ginger puffs, blood orange cream puffs, Indian-style savory eggplant puffs, and chocolate eclairs.)

It’s also one of those things that people tend to think is badass, so when you bring cream puffs or eclairs to a party/potluck/what have you, they will attract attention. Or you can be like me, and just eat them all. (Hey, I invited my dad over, but he was making lunch or some such nonsense and didn’t want to come.)

Yesterday I made mango creampuffs. I was going to do them with coconut cream, but I didn’t have the right stuff for that, so I just did whipped cream. (Another alternative to coconut cream would be ginger cream, which I think would be outstanding.)

Image description: A copy of the Joy of Cooking, lying in the sun, open to the page with the choux paste recipe. A measuring cup and tablespoon measure are lying on the page. Behind the cookbook, a carton of milk, an egg, a salt shaker, and a stick of butter.

I like to get everything squared away before I start to confirm that I have everything I need ready to hand. I ended up making a quarter recipe of choux pastry because I didn’t want to end up with a glut of creampuffs. As described, the recipe made five creampuffs; you can scale up very easily!

I started by bringing two tablespoons of milk, two tablespoons of water, a pinch of salt, and two tablespoons of butter to the boil.

Then I added a quarter cup of flour and stirred it very quickly in to make a thick paste. The Joy of Cooking specifies using a wooden spoon for this, so I did; presumably they don’t want metal because it can be reactive, but I imagine a silicone spatula would be ok.

I immediately dumped the paste out into a bowl so that it would stop cooking, and allowed it to cool for a few minutes, occasionally stirring it to make sure that it cooled evenly.

Then I added an egg. I don’t really know how to veganize this recipe because the egg seems pretty critical to how they set up in the oven; if any vegans here have made pastry puffs, what did they do?

And beat it. For a while. I forgot to grab a snap of the last stage, when it was even and smooth and a bit shiny. So here’s a picture of it partway through, when it is all chunky and gloppy.

Then I plopped blobs out onto a baking sheet (the photo did not come out well) and stuck the pan in a preheated 400 degree Fahrenheit (205 C) oven to let them cook; they usually take around 15 minutes, but you go until they are golden brown, whenever that happens.

While the blobs were cooking, I beat some cream for the filling, and minced some mango.

Tip: To prevent things from getting soggy, if you use fresh fruit as a filling, chop it and stick it in a colander or sieve for a little while to allow some of the fluid to drain.

All done! The next step is to poke little holes along the sides (or underneath, which I will get to in a moment) and then to let them cool in the oven.

You need to let them cool in the oven or otherwise this will happen:

This poor little guy got shocked with cold air when I opened the oven. As a result, it collapsed. If you let creampuffs cool in the oven, two things happen: They get a chance to solidify as they cool, so they will not collapse, and they dry out, which prevents them from getting soggy and is critical if you are not using them right away.

If you are planning on doing filled whole creampuffs, let them cool in the oven for about 10 minutes, and then gently lift them (you may need a spatula to coax them off the sheet) and poke a hole in the bottom of each one. You can use that hole to insert a pastry tip to squirt filling in. If you are slicing the creampuffs in half (like for eclairs), poke the hole in the side so that it will be covered up when you cut through.

If you’re not going to be using your creampuffs right away, you have two options: Let them cool completely (partly in the oven, partly on a tray on the counter), stick them in an airtight container, and either A. Stick them in the fridge to fill that day or B. Stick them in the freezer to fill at some point in the next week.

I, however, was not interested in waiting. As you can see, I dusted the creampuffs with confectioner’s sugar when I was done to make them look a little dressier.

They were very tasty.

It took me around 40 minutes from start to finish (hauling out the Joy of Cooking to devouring creampuffs, in other words). The cool thing about creampuffs is that you can do some stuff ahead of time; for example, you can prepare creampuffs and the filling/s you are going to use early in the day, and assemble them later. As a general rule, it’s a good idea to eat them as quickly as possible after they are assembled, but there’s no law saying that you can’t get everything ready to go and then wait a few hours.

Let your imagination run wild with fillings. I tend not to like stuff which is really sweet, so I kept the sugar in this very toned down. A tiny bit in the whipped cream, and then the sugar topping. You can go the other way and get incredibly sweet, and you can do all kinds of fun stuff with filling. Basically, if it can fit in there, you can do it.

If people do end up getting inspired and making some pastry puffs, I’ve love to see photos! And hear about what you did for fillings. Just drop a link to a post or photo in the comments.

2 Replies to “Playing With Pâte à Choux”

  1. I would be shocked if she doesn’t have a recipe for choux pastry; she can probably make it with one hand tied behind her back!

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