We’re making Cream Puffs today, but first we’re taking a hard left on “How To Make Pâte à Choux Lane.” Buckle up. It’s going to be a delicious ride.
My love for pastry cream has been well documented, but I still haven’t introduced you to another one of my pastry loves: pâte à choux.
For those who haven’t been properly introduced, pâte à choux is a pastry dough that when baked, makes a crispy shell with a hollow yet custard-like interior. It’s the dough used to make eclairs, croquembouche and, today, cream puffs.
Ahhh cream puffs. You glorious creation, you. Essentially, cream puffs are golf ball sized balls of pâte à choux that are filled with some sort of filling. Redundant and vague, I know. Stick with me.
Often times, cream puffs are filled with whipped cream, sometimes fruit comes to the party and on very special occasions ice cream. However in my humble (and unwavering) opinion, cream puffs filled with pastry cream are as close to heaven as you will ever get in this cruel world.
They’re like a tiny bomb of pastry cream in a crisp, pâte à choux wrapping. Speaking of…
… Pâte à choux is one of those weird pastry recipes where there aren’t super strict guidelines on ingredient quantities or cooking times. It’s more about feel and sight, but don’t fret! We’ll go through making pâte à choux step by step, so you can make it just like the pros.
First, melt milk, sugar, salt and butter and bring to a boil. Add in flour. Stir with a spatula until the flour absorbs the liquid.
Keep stirring until a skin forms on the bottom of the pan and a spoon stuck into the center of the dough can stand up on its own. Extra bonus points if you see oil droplets form on the bottom of the pan.
The purpose of this process is to cook out a lot of the moisture in the dough so it has its signature crisp exterior. If you don’t cook out enough of the water, your pâte will be soft and can deflate once removed from the oven. Not good.
To the mixing bowl we go!
Transfer the dough to the bowl of a stand mixer and beat out some of the heat for a minute or two. Add eggs one at a time, making sure each egg is fully incorporated before adding another. The picture above is after three eggs.
You’ll notice that this recipe calls for 4-5 eggs. Whaaa? But how can that be??
Oh I’ll tell you how!
This dough needs to be dry enough that it’ll crisp up in the oven but moist enough that it can easily be piped and retain its custard-like interior walls when baked.
However much moisture was cooked out of the dough on the stove determines how much moisture needs to be reintroduced with eggs, and this can vary from batch to batch.
Two good indicators that the dough is the correct consistency is when the dough seems loose enough to pipe but firm enough to hold its shape or when it falls off of a spatula or paddle attachment in a “V” shape (as seen above).
However “the stretch test” is my favorite way to tell when choux dough is ready.
Take some dough between your index finger and thumb. If when you spread your fingers apart, the dough stretches to create an elastic string almost like gum, it’s good to go!
If it breaks before you can fully stretch your fingers apart it needs more egg.
Sometimes when I know that my dough is close but not quite there, I’ll whisk an egg and add it a small portion at a time. There’s no going back once the dough is too runny so add your eggs with caution.
Transfer your carefully made dough to a piping bag. Since we’re making cream puffs, pipe 1 1/2 inch rounds of dough onto a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet.
Whisk the remaining egg or crack another to make a quick egg wash and brush a thin, thin layer over the puffs, trying to smooth out any edges as much as possible.
Do as I say not as I do, because I didn’t do a great job of this! All those ridges you see turn into strange cracks in the baked puff rather than a smooth shell.
Bake at 375F for 20-25 minutes or until hollow and golden brown.
Well, hello gorgeous!
Allow to cool completely before piercing a hole in the bottom of the puff, I use a handy-dandy chopstick, and fill with pastry cream.
From here, you can top the cream puffs with a dusting of powdered sugar, chocolate ganache or a super simple glaze like I did.
It really doesn’t matter how you top them though. The combination of the light pâte à choux shell with the sweet vanilla pastry cream is a combo that can’t be beat!
- 1 ½ cups whole milk
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 4 egg yolks
- ¼ cup sugar
- 2 ½ Tbs. cornstarch
- 1 Tbs. unsalted butter
- 1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup whole milk
- 1 Tbs granulated sugar
- ¼ tsp salt
- 4 Tbs unsalted butter
- 1 ¼ cup all purpose flour
- 4-5 large eggs
- 1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
- 1 Tbs light corn syrup
- 1-2 tsp hot water
- In a medium pot over medium heat combine the milk and the first amount of sugar. Stir until the sugar melts, and allow milk to scald.
- While that heats, whisk together cornstarch and the remaining sugar. As the milk starts to steam, combine the cornstarch and sugar to the egg yolks. Whisk vigorously until smooth.
- When the milk is nearly boiling, temper it with the yolks.
- Return the mixture to the stove and cook over medium-low heat. Whisk continuously as the cream starts to thicken. Occasionally stop whisking to check if it’s boiling. The pastry cream is done when it starts to boil, and the bubbles pop in the same place.
- Remove from the heat, and stir in butter and vanilla until fully incorporated.
- Pour pastry cream into a casserole dish or sheet pan. Immediately cover with plastic wrap (with the wrap touching the cream) and allow to cool on the counter. Once cool, store it in the fridge until needed.
- Preheat oven to 375F. Prepare two sheet pans with parchment or nonstick mats.
- Combine water, milk, sugar, salt and butter over medium heat. Stir until melted and bring to a boil.
- Add flour. Stir until flour absorbs all the liquid. Continue stirring and cook for 3 more minutes or until a skin forms on the bottom of the pan and a spoon can stand up straight in the dough.
- Transfer dough to the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. Beat out some of the heat on low speed for a minute or two.
- Add eggs one at a time, making sure to beat the egg in completely before adding the next one. How many eggs you’ll need depends on how much moisture was originally cooked out of the dough on the stove top. Stop adding eggs when the dough is pipeable, shiny, creates an elastic string when stretched between your thumb and index finger and falls off your spatula in a “V” shape.
- Transfer dough to a piping bag. Pipe 1 1/2-2 inch balls on prepared pans.
- Using the remaining egg or cracking open another, whisk egg and brush a thin, thin layer of egg wash over the puffs, smoothing out any ridges.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes or until hollow and golden brown.
- When both the pastry cream and choux has cooled, pierce a small hole into the bottom of the puffs.
- Using a piping bag fitted with a small tip, pipe pastry cream into the cream puffs. Fill with as much pastry cream as possible but be careful not to bust the puff open.
- Stir together the glaze ingredients. Adjust with water until the glaze is a thick, opaque consistency. Dip the tops of the cream puffs into the glaze.
- Allow the glaze to dry before serving or just dive on in.