October 14, 2010

Pate a Choux

Cinnamon-and-sugar-dusted pate a choux puffs.
Pate a choux. First of all, the word just looks fancy. (Well, it definitely does if you have all the proper accents, but I'm sadly not aware of how to render them on my computer.) Say it--it surely sounds fancy. It even tastes fancy. Why, then, is pate a choux so easy to make?

I first came across this recipe in Michael Ruhlman's book Ratio. I was struck by the way he described it: "Choux paste can be made start to finish using a saucepan and a sturdy wooden spoon," though he recommends a stand mixer for a better puff. "Either way," he continues, "the water takes longer to boil than it does for you to actually make the choux paste, so there's no excuse for not making pate a choux preparations at home."

That there is no excuse becomes even more obvious when you realize that once you have your choux paste, you can make eclairs, cream puffs, profiteroles, churros, gougeres, even gnocchi and more. In the book, Ruhlman gives a general ratio for each basic recipe, whether it's pancake batter, bread, or mayonaise. Working from that ratio, you can easily scale the recipe for how many servings you want AND, my favorite part, tailor the recipe to fit your taste.

You can fill the airy inside of the puffs with cream or ice cream!
Ruhlman also gives you tons of ideas of how to adapt the basic recipe. I like the idea of knowing what exactly makes a muffin a muffin, so that I can tweak that muffin recipe however I so desire. There is a great freedom in that knowledge. I think most professional and advanced cooks have this understanding of ratios within them. And now, with this handy book, we all can work from that place.

I think it's all very exciting---especially the pate a choux. I've been thinking about it since I first read the recipe months ago. I finally got around to making it last night and it certainly is easy. I wanted something quick, so I made the basic sweet preparation and dipped the dough in cinnamon-sugar before baking. This was my cheater version of churros. Cutting corners has never tasted so delicious.

Now that I've familiarized myself with the basic prep, I'm dying to make gougeres (cheese puffs), cream puffs or profiteroles. I can't wait to knock the socks off some dinner guests with a fancy dessert that really was a cinch to make. Next time I'm definitely taking it to a higher level.

Ruhlman's basic ratio for pate a choux is 2 parts water: 1 part butter: 1 part flour: 2 parts egg. That translates to:

Sweet Pate a Choux
  • 8 ounces (or 1 cup) water
  • 4 ounces (or 1/2 cup or 1 stick) butter
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt*
  • 1 tablespoon sugar*
  • 4 ounces (or a very scant cup) flour
  • 8 ounces (or 4 large) eggs
Dough after incorporating the flour.
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. In a small saucepan, bring the water, butter, salt and sugar to a simmer over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and add the flour. Sir quickly. The flour will absorb into the water to form a dough. Continue to stir for 1-2 minutes, to cook the flour and cook off some of the water.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat. Let the pate a choux cool slightly--we don't want the eggs to cook when we add them, though the choux should still be pretty warm. 
  4. Add the eggs one at a time-- quickly stirring until each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next. It will seem at first that the eggs will not incorporate, but keep mixing until they do. You can do this in the saucepan, or you can transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. (The last method results in more dishes to wash, but will produce a superior rise in the pastries.)
  5. On a baking sheet (lined with parchment for easier clean up), drop small (tablespoon to golf ball-sized) portions of dough spaced about 2 inches apart. I rolled the balls in cinnamon-sugar, but if you are making profriteroles or cream puffs, you may not want to do that.
  6. Bake for 10 minutes in your preheated 425 degree oven. Turn the heat down to 350 degrees and cook 15-20 minutes more, until they are a toasty, golden brown and are cooked all the way through. Cool on the pan or a cooling rack and serve room temp (or chilled and filled with ice cream!) 
Makes 20-24 puffs, or about 8 servings
 *For savory pate a choux, increase the salt to 1/2 teaspoon and skip the sugar.


  1. I can't wait to make this when I finally get my stand mixer... Looks like a great tasty treat to inject with cream.

  2. You could easily use an electric mixer as well. I am really excited to try them filled with something delicious!The gougeres are suppose to be pretty amazing, too.


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