Pâte à choux, or choux paste, is a paste made of flour, water, butter, and eggs — it’s slightly thicker than a batter, but not quite as thick as a dough. It’s pronounced “pat a shoe,” although neither patting or shoes has anything to do with it. “Pâte” means paste and “choux” means cabbage — the name comes from the resemblance to little cabbages when the puffs come out of the oven.
The paste is thick enough that it can be scooped or piped into almost any shape you can think of, from the aforementioned puffs to éclair shells to thin straws. They contain no yeast or other leavening; instead, as the liquids in the paste evaporate in the oven, they puff up the pastry, creating a hard outer shell and a nearly hollow interior.
On its own without any embellishment, pâte à choux is pretty bland tasting; it’s rarely served on its own. Either other ingredients are added to the dough to make it more flavorful (like the cheese for making gougères!), or the baked puffs get filled with pastry cream, ice cream, or another tasty filling.
Back before the holidays, I was asked by our local Kneaders Cafe and Bakery to participate in a pâte à choux holiday pastry class. The goal was to teach participants how to carefully make the all too intimidating French pastry puffs – with a little pumpkin spice flair.
Unfortunately, the class was cancelled and I was not able to learn the tricks of the trade.
However, I did a little bit of my own research, decided this winter would be perfect for a LEMON version (yes, of course), and went to town.
“Making the dough for pâte à choux is a three-step process: First, the dough is made by adding flour to hot water and milk; then the dough is cooked on the stovetop for a few minutes to dry it out and cook the flour (which makes them taste better); and finally, the eggs are beaten into the dough in a mixer. If the dough is ready, it will hold its shape when scooped, and look soft, creamy-colored, and very smooth. If you scoop up a little bit with your spatula and let it slide back into the bowl, it should leave behind a little “V” of dough on the spatula.
Some days, you’ll need only three eggs. Other days, all four of them. It all depends on the humidity in your house and the kind of flour you’re using that day.
Baking the pâte à choux is also a three-step process. You start with the oven at high heat to help the pastries puff, then you lower it slightly to help them cook and to give them some golden color, and finally you lower the oven a third time to dry the pastries out.”
Fresh Lemon Pâte à Choux
8 Tbs. butter, melted
1/2 cup Easy Lemon Curd
1 cup water
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
3-4 large eggs
1 large egg yolk, mixed with a tablespoon of water, for the egg wash (optional)
cane sugar, to top, if desired
unsweetened cocoa powder, if desired
Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment or baking mats.
Bring the butter, Easy Lemon Curd, water, and salt to a rolling boil. The butter should be completely melted by the time the water comes to a boil. If not, reduce the heat until the butter has melted to avoid too much water evaporating, then bring it back to a boil.
Take the pan off the heat and add the flour all at once. Stir vigorously to form a dough. Make sure all the flour is worked into the dough and no more dry flour remains. Once ready, the dough will resemble silky smooth (not lumpy) mashed potatoes.
Place the pan back over medium heat. Stir the dough, mashing it against the sides and bottom of the pan and then gathering it up into a ball again with a silicon spatula — this dries out the dough and cooks the flour. Some starchy buildup on the bottom of the pan is normal. Continue cooking the dough for 3 to 5 minutes. The dough is ready when it pulls away from the sides of the pan to form a ball, the surface looks shiny and glossy, and it’s thick enough that you can stand a spoon upright in the middle.
Transfer the dough to the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle or whisk attachment. Beat on medium-low speed until the dough is just warm to the touch. The outside of the bowl should also be just slightly warm to the touch. Alternatively, you can cool the dough by hand with a stiff spatula.
With the mixer on medium-low, add the eggs to the dough in four separate additions. (This can also be done by hand with a stiff spatula.) As each addition is worked in, the dough will at first become stringy and goopy, then will form back together into a soft dough. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed between each addition.
After the third addition, check the dough before adding the fourth. When the paste is ready, the dough should be soft, creamy-colored, and very smooth. It should also hold its shape when scooped. If you scoop up a little bit with your spatula and let it slide back into the bowl, it should leave behind a little “V” of dough on the spatula. Add the fourth egg, or just half of the fourth egg, if needed.
Portion the dough onto the baking sheet: Scoop the dough out onto the baking sheet. You can also transfer the dough to a piping bag to pipe specific shapes. The dough can be made into nearly any size or shape. Space the puffs slightly apart on the baking sheet.
Brush the tops of the puffs with egg wash (optional). Then sprinkle with raw sugar, if desired.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, then turn down the oven temp to 375 degrees. Bake another 18 to 20 minutes (exact baking time will depend on the size and shape of your puffs). Bake until the puffs are slightly puffed, golden-brown in color, and dry to the touch. They will detach easily from the parchment and feel hollow and light when you pick them up.
Lower the heat to 300 degrees and dry out the puffs: Continue baking the puffs to dry them out another 15 minutes or so. If you break one of the puffs open, it should not be wet or eggy on the inside; bake a few more minutes as needed.
Transfer the puffs to a cooling rack and poke each one with a toothpick or the point of a paring knife. This releases any lingering steam from the inside and helps prevent the puffs from getting soggy.
Once completely cool, the puffs can be filled or used for any recipe, or dusted with cocoa powder. Unfilled puffs can be kept in an airtight container for several days, or frozen for up to 3 months.