These days, I’ve fallen in love with pâte à choux.
This special dough, which I only just learned to pronounce, is used to make cream puffs, eclairs, profiteroles, gougères (savory cheese puffs), and zeppole, (the Italian version of beignets typically made on St. Joseph’s day).
The best part about this dough is not only its delicious puffiness, but how wonderfully easy it is to make. It’s also unlike other pastry because you mix your flour, butter, milk and water over heat, essentially cooking the dough before you even bake (or fry) it.
After it comes together and dries out a bit, you pull out the electric mixer, (your arm will thank you), and add eggs.
And somehow through the magic and wonder and science that is baking, you go from little dough blobs to beautiful puffy delight.
Filled with pastry cream. Or ice cream. Or even savory filling like goat cheese and herbs. Be creative and impress your friends.
Courtesy of Dorie Greenspan
Makes about 24 large or 50 small puffs
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup water
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 large eggs, at room temperature
Bring the milk, water, butter and salt to the boil in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan. When the mixture is boiling rapidly, add the flour all at once, reduce the heat to medium and, without a second’s hesitation, start stirring the mixture like mad with a wooden spoon. The dough will come together very quickly and a slight crust will form on the bottom of the pan, but you have to keep stirring – vigorously – another 2 to 3 minutes to dry the dough. At the end of this time, the dough will be very smooth.
Turn the dough into the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or, if you’ve still got some elbow grease left, you can continue by hand. One by one, add the eggs to the dough, beating until each egg is thoroughly incorporated. Don’t be discouraged – as soon as you add the first egg, your lovely dough will separate. Keep working and by the time you add the third egg it will start coming together again. When all the eggs are incorporated, the dough will be thick and shiny and, when you lift some of it up it will fall back into the bowl in a ribbon. The dough will still be warm – it’s supposed to be – and now is the time to use it.
Using about 1 tablespoon of dough for each puff, drop the dough from the spoon onto the lined baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches of space between each mound of dough.
Slide the baking sheets into the oven, bake for 15 minutes, then rotate the sheets from top to bottom and front to back. Continue baking until the puffs are golden and firm, another 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer the cream puffs to a cooling rack.
Once cooled, fill with pastry cream using a piping bag or by slicing each puff in half horizontally like a sandwich. You can also fill them with ice cream and top with chocolate to make profiteroles. Or add a cup and a half of grated cheese after the eggs to make gougères. To be even more adventurous, you can fry the dough to make beignets or zeppole.
Keeping: You can spoon out the dough and either bake it immediately or freeze it. To freeze, spoon the dough in mounds onto parchment-lined baking sheets and slide the sheets into the freezer. When the dough is completely frozen, remove the balls from the baking sheets and wrap them airtight. They can be kept in the freezer for up to 2 months and don’t need to be defrosted before baking.