Pâte à choux, or cream puff pastry, is versatile dough that is used as a base for many sweet and savory treats. Strictly speaking, it is more like a thick paste that is made by adding flour to boiling water and butter to form a sort of roux to which eggs are then added. The resulting dough, called panade, should be light, with a smooth and shiny appearance and sticky consistency.
This dough is unique in that it is cooked twice: first on the stovetop, and then piped into different shapes on a sheet pan and baked. Pâte à choux does not contain any chemical leaveners or yeast and relies on the moisture from the eggs to produce the steam, which causes the dough to rise. The dough is initially cooked at a high temperature to create the steam and then, the temperature is turned down to cook the dough thoroughly.
The pâte à choux dough has many uses.
- Cream Puffs: Pâte à choux dough, when baked in mounds, become hollow in the center and is easily filled with pastry cream, whipped cream, or custard and often garnished with chocolate, caramel, or powdered sugar.
- Profiteroles: Traditionally, profiteroles are small cream puffs filled with ice cream.
- Éclairs: Basically oblong-shaped cream puffs.
- Croquembouche: Traditional French cake for weddings and other special occasions made with vanilla pastry cream-filled cream puffs “glued” together by caramel to form an elegant conical shaped tower garnished with more caramel.
- Paris-Brest Cake: Named to commemorate the Paris-Brest-Paris bicycle race. It is a baked ring of pâte à choux, resembling a bicycle wheel, filled traditionally with praline-flavored cream.
- Gateau San Honoré: You know this is going to be complicated because it is named after the French patron saint for bakers and pastry chefs. It consists of a cake base made with pâté brisée topped with a ring of cream puffs dipped in caramel. The center of the cake is filled with St. Honoré cream, made with pastry cream lightened with beaten egg whites or whipped cream.
- Gougères: Made with pâte à choux mixed traditionally with grated Gruyère cheese, but may be made with other cheeses and herbs mixed in the dough.
- Pommes Dauphine: Deep-fried, crisp potato puffs made by mixing mashed potatoes and savory pâte à choux dough. Usually served as an accompaniment to red meats or chicken.
- Parisian Gnocchi: Essentially pâte à choux dough is boiled quickly, topped with cheese, and baked. It’s the perfect combination of pastry and pasta.
I must admit I got lazy making my cream puffs and éclairs, as I used the same pistachio pastry cream to fill them both. My original intention was to make éclairs, but I decided to pipe some rounds for cream puffs, just for fun. I found the recipe from my all-time favorite blog, Cafe Fernando. Check it out and you’ll see why. It has the most gorgeous photographs of the most gorgeous and mouth-watering foods and beautiful writing. This blog is in its own class. While I followed the dough recipe exactly, I found the addition of the cornstarch in the pastry cream somehow off-putting, so I made the pistachio cream from King Arthur Flour’s website. I have provided both recipe links for you below.
I love how easy the dough came together after adding the flour and how shiny and smooth it becomes after the addition of the eggs. Personally, I prefer the look and feel of éclairs, but it’s definitely easier to fill the cream puffs. I had a bit of trouble getting the éclairs to stand up straight after I had cut them in half and filled them, but as you can see it was only a minor issue. As for the pistachio cream, I only added about 1/3 of the whipped cream to keep the thicker consistency.
I followed both recipes as exactly as written, so I won’t be reprinting it here. I am only providing the links to the original recipes.
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Other pistachio recipes you might like: