The basis for many classic French pastries like profiteroles,croquembouches, éclairs, and the St. Honoré cake, pâte à choux dough is a light pastry dough that every chef must master. In French, the word choux (pronounced shoo) means cabbage, since the little balls of puffed-up dough resemble little cabbages. Not only for dessert, this dough can be transformed into a savory cheese puff or gougère. While classic pâte à choux is baked, other versions like churros and beignets are the same dough, but fried. Learning how to make this classic dough is essential for many sweet and savory dishes.
To make the dough, you’ll need a just a few ingredients: water, butter, salt, flour, and eggs. First, start by heating the water, butter, and a pinch of salt in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and add the flour. Stirring constantly, cook until the dough forms a ball and pulls away from the sides of the pan. There should be a thin layer of dough that forms on the bottom of the pan, when this is just golden brown, the dough is ready. Transfer to a mixer and beat with a paddle attachment on high to release steam. After most of the steam has escaped, add the eggs, one at a time.
Rather than being chemically leavened by using baking soda or baking powder, or a natural leavening agent like yeast, choux dough is leavened with steam, similar to puff pastry or a croissant. First the dough is baked at a high temperature and then at a low temperature. The initial high temperature is used to create the steam, thus making the dough rise.
After the dough is baked, you can cut each ball in half and fill them with ice cream or whipped cream. Since the dough is leavened with steam, you can also carefully poke a hole in the bottom and using a piping bag and small tip to fill each with sweet or savory filling. One of my favorite ways to prepare these is to add Gruyère and Parmesan cheese to the batter after adding the eggs, then filling each baked dough with a mornay sauce. These are delicate and flavorful appetizers that are elegant for any party.
Now that you know some basics for making the perfect pâte à choux, you’re armed with a classic dough to add to your repertoire that can be made into many sweet and savory appetizers and desserts.
Emily Jacobs is the Recipe editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @EmilyRecipes.