Pate a Choux : G-d Bless You!

Eclairs may just be the perfect French treat.  Crisp flaky pastry shell, sweet cream center, healthy dose of chocolate topping.  Not too sweet, not too filling, just the right amount of indulgence.  Even health fanatic Big N can’t resist the alluring eclair.

Baking an eclair is fairly simple, though a little time consuming.  Start to finish you’re investing about 3 hours, but when those 3 hours are up you’ll look at your 1/2 dozen eclairs and which you’d doubled the recipe.

Eclairs, cream puffs, profiteroles, and gougeres (cheesy puff balls) all start with a French basic, the Pâte à Choux (gesundheit), which roughly translates to “cabbage paste.”  I believe the French call it cabbage paste because cream puffs look like little cabbage rolls after they’re baked.  Don’t ask me why, I didn’t name it.  Funny name aside, pâte à choux is a fairly versatile dough to have in the arsenal and not that complicated to make (no rolling, turning, chilling, rolling, turning, chilling, like other French pastries).   Pâte à Choux recipe follows.

What you do with your pâte à choux is up to you.  (You like all this rhyming?)  Stuff it with Chantilly Cream and you have cream puffs.  Add strawberries (and basil?) or blueberries (and lemon zest?) and you have a more exciting puff.  Add pastry cream and loads of chocolate on top and you have an eclair.  Add hazulnut flavored pastry cream and some almonds and you have a Paris-Brest (created and named in honor of the famous bike race from Paris to Brest, France).  Add some gruyere to your dough and you have gougeres, which make a nice pre-dinner roll.  Lots of possibilities.  Pastry and Chantilly Cream recipe follows (for cream puffs and eclairs).

My eclairs were delectable and my cream puffs divine.  More butter straight to my thighs (only 3 more weeks of baking class, then back to the treadmill).  But don’t take my word for it.  When Big N took the rest of my cream puffs to work (we can’t eat all this sweet stuff or we’d go mad!), here’s what a lucky taster had to say:

“The blueberry pastry was fantastic!  This was as good or better than the best I’ve had in Europe or the best restaurants in the US.

It had a perfect texture, was not too sweet and very pleasureful to eat. Perfect treat!”

And he speaks French! High praise indeed.  Compliments make me beam. :-)

Eclairs cream puffs and espresso

Next up: Quiche! Blueberry pies, and lemon curd tarts! Oh my.

Pate a Choux: Eclair & Cream Puff Paste

Serves 12
Prep time 15 minutes
Cook time 1 hour
Total time 1 hours, 15 minutes
Meal type Dessert

Ingredients

  • 6 oz Bread flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 4 oz Butter (Unsalted)
  • 8 oz Water
  • 10 oz Eggs ((about 5, but best to weigh out))

Directions

1. Combine water, butter, and salt in a sauce pan and bring to a rolling poil.
2. Remove from heat and add flour, all at once. Stir quickly until dough forms a ball in the bottom of the pan. You’re ready when the dough coats the bottom of the hot pan and starts to stick, about 2 minutes.
3.
Transfer the dough to a mixer with the paddle attachment. Mix on low (setting 2 on the Kitchenaid) until the steam stops rising and dough has cooled slightly. Turn mixer on medium (setting 4) and add eggs one at a time until each egg is mixed in.
4.
Mix until dough becomes a smooth paste and passes the “finger test.” Put a little dough between your thumb and forefinger and start to pull apart slowly. If your fingers can separate and the dough still remains together in a line, you’re ready and it’s elastic enough. If it splits apart before your fingers spread apart, keep mixing.
5.
Place dough into pastry bag and pipe in shapes: 3 inch long rods for eclairs (moving pastry tip in a circular motion to create a thicker rod, see photo), and 2 inch circles for cream puffs (moving pastry tip in rising "pinwheel" motion).
6. Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes, then lower the oven and bake at 375 until the puffs are well browned and crisp, close to 1 hour.
7. Fill with desired filling.

Pastry Cream: Eclair Filling

Serves 12
Prep time 10 minutes
Cook time 10 minutes
Total time 20 minutes
Meal type Dessert
Region French

Ingredients

  • 8 oz Sugar
  • 32 fl oz Milk (Whole)
  • Melting Chocolate (Use chocolate that hardens, like tempered or chocolate wafers)
  • 1/2 oz Vanilla extract (or 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped)
  • 2 1/2 oz Corn Starch
  • 2 oz Butter (Unsalted)
  • 4 Egg Yolks
  • 2 Eggs

Note

Adapted from Le Cordon Bleu's recipe

Directions

1. In large sauce pan, heat 4 oz (half) of the sugar and the milk until it scalds (small bubbles up sides of pan and a little foamy on top).
2. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and yolks, corn starch, and the rest of your sugar until it’s smooth.
3. Temper the hot mixture with the cold: add the hot milk liquid to the egg and corn starch mixture a small amount at a time so it doesn’t cook your eggs. When the mixture is warm enough you can add the rest.
4. Put the mixture back in your sauce pan and on medium heat, continue stirring until it thickens. Do not stop stirring or it will burn. After about 5 minutes the cream mixture will thicken and boil. When it looks thick enough, remove from heat.
5. Place in separate pan, cover with wax paper (so it doesn’t form a crust on top) and cool until ready to use.
6. To fill eclairs: cut out small round hole in bottom of eclair (save the piece you cut out). Put cooled pastry cream in a piping bag fitted with a medium round tip (Ateco # 804 or smaller). Put tip in hole you cut out and squeeze to fill eclair. Stick the piece you cut out back in the hole (the sticky cream will hold it in place).
7. Melt tempered chocolate or chocolate wafers over a double boiler until just melted (do not burn and be careful that your bowl and all utensils are dry because water makes chocolate "seize" and that's bad). Turn the filled eclair over and dip top in the melted chocolate. Let dry until the chocolate hardens.

Chantilly Cream: Cream Puff filling

Serves 12
Prep time 5 minutes
Meal type Dessert
Region French

Ingredients

  • 12 oz Heavy cream
  • 2 oz Powdered Sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Vanilla extract

Note

Adapted from Le Cordon Bleu's recipe

Directions

1. In an electric mixing bowl, combine all ingredients.
2. Using the whisk attachment, whisk on low, then gradually increase to high. Whisk about 2 minutes until stiff peaks form but do not over mix. (Stiff peaks: take your whisk attachment out and turn it upside down. If the cream left on the whisk falls over and looks like an ocean wave, you’re at medium peaks. If it stays in a little point like a little snow capped mountain, you’re there.) Chill until ready to use.
3. To fill cream puffs: take a serrated knife and slice off the top third of each cream puff (make sure you keep the pieces you sliced off together with their bottoms so you remember which top belongs to which bottom). Fill pastry bag with chantilly cream fitted with a star tip. Pipe cream in concentric circles until you have a nice mound of cream. Add berries or other flavorings if you wish. Put cream puff top back on. Dust each cream puff with powdered sugar.

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