Pronounced pat-a-shoo, pâte à choux is a pastry dough made with butter, water, flour, eggs and, for optional flavoring, sugar and salt. It’s the dough used for making the shells for cream puffs and eclairs. It is the same dough used for making churros. Pâte à choux is cooked on the stove top, mixed with eggs off the heat, piped (or dropped by spoonfuls) on a baking sheet then baked until risen, puffed, golden and hollow. Why do they turn hollow? Some chemistry thing—the high moisture content in the pastry results in a steam build-up during baking that pushes the dough up.
It’s easy enough to buy cream puffs and chocolate eclairs. Heaven knows almost every bakeshop sells them and there are even specialty shops that sell nothing but pastries made with pâte à choux. But if you like to putter in the kitchen and learn how to make them at home, it’s not mission impossible. The important thing to remember is to bake the shells at a low oven temperature so that they turn dry without getting too dark. Once you get comfortable with the procedure, you can wow your family and friends with home baked cream puffs or eclairs.
Here’s how to make the shells.
First, heat water in a pan. Add the butter, sugar and salt. Boil them all together until the butter is melted.
Remove the pan from the stove, add the flour all at once and mix with a wooden spoon.
Return the pan to the stove, continue mixing the dough over medium heat until the dough pulls away from the sides of the pan.
Transfer to a mixing bowl and beat for about a minute to cool the mixture. You can do this by hand but, trust me, it’s hard work so if you have an electric mixer, use it by all means.
Now add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.
After all the eggs have been added and incorporated, you should have a soft and sticky dough.
Line a baking sheet with non-stick paper. Pipe the dough into desired shape and size. Or drop by spoonfuls like I did. Keep the dough at least two inches apart as they will expand tremendously during baking.
Bake in a preheated 400F for 20 to 30 minutes.
The baked pastry shells should be dry to the touch and should sound hollow when tapped with a finger.
See the hollow centers? That’s what happens if you bake your pâte à choux shells correctly. You need those hollow centers to contain the filling.
Now, the printable recipe.
Preheat the oven to 400F.
Pour half a cup of water into a pan. Add the butter, sugar and salt. Heat until the butter melts.
Take the pan off the heat, dump the flour all at once and mix with a wooden spoon to combine.
Put the pan on the stove and, over medium heat, cook the dough with constant stirring until it pulls away from the sides of the pan.
Transfer to a mixing bowl and beat for about a minute to cool the mixture.
Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing after each addition. You should have a soft and sticky dough.
To make round shells, drop by teaspoonfuls, at least two inches apart, on a baking tray lined with non-stick paper.
Bake the pâte à choux shells at 400F for 20 to 30 minutes, depending on their size. The shells are ready when the surface is dry to the touch and sounds hollow when tapped with a finger.
Cool the shells on a rack before filling.