Recently I shared a tutorial on how to make pastry cream, so the next natural step was to make pâte a choux. Pâte a choux is a basic cooking technique, something that is relatively simple to assemble, and can be used in a variety of sweet and savory applications. The most well-known use of pâte a choux for sweet recipes is of course the cream puff or eclair. Pâte a choux puffs can be filled with any number of things - ice cream for profiteroles, pastry cream for eclairs, cream for cream puffs - and personally I think these applications show off the buttery, lighter-than-air texture best. But the base dough can also be used to make savory things like cheese puffs, often referred to as gougères, and also lend themselves ncely to a variety of herbs and spices.
Duck fat cream puffs with vanilla bean whipped cream, made using the iSi Gourmet Whip Plus
For the purposes of our photo shoot and tutorial, we made pâte a choux two ways. I made it the traditional way (took direction from another Dorie Greenspan recipe!) with pastry cream, and the Local Root store manager Bryce made them with duck fat and vanilla whipped cream. We tried both - and while equally delicious, the duck fat cream puffs had a certain something you couldn't put your finger on that made them really interesting and unique.
Cream puff dough in the making
When we set out to make these cream puffs, I did a lot of research to see what techniques and tips people around the web have shared that I don't necessarily practice myself. What I found is that there are the core steps to making pate a choux that you have to accomplish (right ingredients, right process), but techniques vary. Some recipes call for water, others call for milk. Some recipes are done 100% stove top, others incorporate the work of a food processor. So instead of giving you a step-by-step myself, I'm going to refer you to a few outside sources that I think do a remarkable job of showing, telling and explaining the whole process.
First up, Michael Rhulman shared a video recipe on his blog. While the video itself is very rough and unrefined, his technique is simple and approachable, making the pâte a choux process seem completely do-able to any chef, whether home cook or kitchen professional.
Food and Wine has a lovely slideshow tutorial that clearly depicts the process using photos instead of video, accompanied by a simple, straight-forward recipe.
Brown Eyed Baker and Steamy Kitchen both have step-by-step instructions with accompanying photos to help you through the process in great detail. Brown Eyed Baker takes the food processor approach for her recipe, while Steamy Kitchen offers up a wonderful list of things you can do with pâte a choux.