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.
Emily Jacobs is the Recipe editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @EmilyRecipes.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Place the water, butter, and pinch of salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low and add the flour all at once. Stir constantly until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan and forms a ball. Cook until a thin layer forms on the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat and pour the mixture into a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on high to let the steam out, about 3-4 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing one completely, before adding the next. At this point, you can cover the dough and refrigerate it for up to two days.
Place the dough in a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch tip. Pipe the pastry onto a parchment-lined baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Profiteroles and gougères should be about 1-inch wide circles and 1-inch tall; éclairs should be 3-to-4-inchs long and 1-inch tall.
Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees F and bake for 10 more minutes or until golden brown without any more white spots. Use a skewer to prick one or two holes in each one to allow the steam to escape; transfer to a rack and let cool to room temperature.