Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pate a Choux

(Updated: For a step-by-step recipe for pate a choux check out this post!)

The second unit we conquered was pate a choux, or cream puff dough. This has probably been my favorite unit so far. I mean, profiteroles, eclairs, cheese puffs...does it get any better than that? 

There are lots of methods for making pate a choux. Some use the food processor, others cook the flour and water mixture for 2 minutes, 3 minutes. I've tried other recipes before, but have never gotten the results I wanted.

Until now.

This is by far the best method I've ever used. Like I would expect anything less from a school specializing in French methods.

First, you place water, butter, and salt in a saucepan over high heat. You want the water to boil just as the butter is melting so that neither evaporates, so cut the butter into cubes. When the mixture boils, remove it from the heat and stir in bread flour all at once using a wooden spoon. Return the pan to the heat and cook the paste to dry it out. A thin film will form on the bottom of the pan and the paste will start to come away from the sides. Cook it for about a minute, total. (Sidenote: to clean the pan with the leftover film in it, return it to the heat and scrape off the film as best you can with a wooden spoon).

Drop the paste into a mixing bowl and paddle it on medium speed to release steam. It is ready when very little steam is left. This will take a minute or two. 

Add eggs, one at a time with the mixer on until the dough has absorbed enough liquid. Depending on the humidity, your flour, etc. the numbers of eggs you need may vary from day to day. There are 3 ways to test the readiness of your dough: the ribbon, the trench, and the hook. 

The trench test is the easiest to use. Once you think you have added enough eggs (or maybe just before you think so), run your finger through the batter to make a trench. The trench should fill in, but do so slowly. If it fills in too quickly, you've added too much egg. If it doesn't fill in at all, try adding half an egg, and then test again. Add the other half if necessary.

Once your batter is made, pipe it into whatever shape you want, egg wash, and bake*. 

 Choux piped into small rounds and baked. The tops are sliced off and they are "filled" with vanilla ice cream and topped with chocolate sauce. My mouth is watering just thinking about it


These, I thought, were just a little silly. As our assistant Chef-Instructor put it, they are very French. The batter is piped into shapes for the wings and neck and head and baked. Once baked, each swan is assembled using a filling of pastry cream, sweetened whipped cream (Creme Chantilly) and fruit. We used pineapple. Not the best tasting dessert, but they look kinda cute, especially in a flock!

Gateau St. Honore
St. Honore Cake

This is a very traditional French dessert, that you don't see much of nowadays. The base is a disc of pate brisee topped with rings of pate a choux dough piped in several circles around the edges, and then baked. Separately, pate a choux is piped into rounds (like with the profiteroles) and baked. They are then filled with Creme St. Honore*, and one side is dipped in caramel, which is then purposely left to harden on a flat surface.

*Creme St. Honore is something used specifically for this pastry. It's essentially a vanilla custard, thickened with gelatin, and lightened with an Italian Meringue. There is a special pastry tip used to get the distinct pattern on the top of the gateau.

The filled choux rounds are then "glued" to the outer edge of the brisee disc with more caramel, and the center of the gateau is filled with more Creme St. Honore. 


We spent the last day of the unit making these adorable little towers. They are the traditional wedding cake in France, but more modern couples are beginning to request American-style cakes instead. They were really fun to make and decorate. 

Ours was technically hollow, since our choux rounds were empty, not filled with pastry cream as they usually are. To serve a croquembouche, rounds are broken off the pyramid and about 3 are served to each guest. Since ours were just for display, we left them empty. 

We also used a special croquembouche mold to ensure we all had nice pyramids. A croquembouche can be assembled freehand, but it is much more difficult to get the perfect shape. It is easier to ensure all your puffs are evenly spaced, though.

Looking down into our mold once we were finished.

Of course, this was a multi-step process, which is why we took a full day to make them. First, choux is piped into rounds and baked. The inside of the molds are oiled and caramel is prepared. Each choux puff is dipped in caramel and then into decoration (or left plain with just caramel). We used cocoa nibs, dessicated coconut that had been colored blue and pink, and white pearl sugar. This process an be challenging and dangerous. It is necessary to continue to heat the caramel so it is the proper working consistency and doesn't get too thick or stringy. As you continue to cook caramel, it gets darker and darker, and can be very easy to burn, which results in a really unpleasant color and bitter taste. Not only did we have to be careful that our caramel didn't burn after multiple reheatings, we also had to be careful not to burn our fingers! Boiling sugar to caramel stage means it is well over 250 degrees. And when boiling hot sugar makes contact with your skin, it sticks. Having an ice bath nearby for quick first aid is ESSENTIAL. 

Once all the puffs are decorated, one is placed in the very bottom of the cone. This becomes the top once it is turned out. From there, the side of each puff is dipped in caramel and then placed inside the cone, and stuck to the puff right below it, forming circles that gradually fill the whole mold. One the entire mold is filled, caramel is drizzled inside to provide extra stability for the structure. The caramel is allowed to set for a few minutes and then it's time to unmold!

Thankfully, my mold was oiled well, and the caramel hadn't hardened too completely, and my croquembouche came out without a hitch!

With some extra batter, we piped the designs and baked them separately, attaching them to the final product with caramel. There are a lot of ways to finish a croquembouche, but my favorite is with a veil of spun sugar. Sadly, I don't think they trusted us enough to go around flinging hot sugar around the kitchen.

All the croqumbouches from our class! Mine is the one all the way to the left.

Oy. That's enough pastry for one day. Now I have a tummy ache. 

*A note on baking pate a choux. Again, there are various methods, but here's the way we do it. Preheat your oven to 500 and put the batter in. Turn off the oven and bake the choux for 15 minutes. Turn the oven back on to 350 and continue to bake until the choux is baked through. It should be well browned with no white spots. Check the bottom and look into any cracks to make sure they are thoroughly baked. Turn the oven off, and open the door slightly to let the choux dry out for 5-10 minutes more. 


  1. Ummm your croqumbouche is by far the best!! I am requesting that for thanksgiving. :)


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