In our humble opinions, travel is barely worth it without the fulcrum of food on which to rotate. How else do you organize your days, plan your countries, learn about a culture? Our chef Johnny has gathered experience in countries all over the world and wants to introduce you to a phrase that I only learned how to spell or pronounce mere days ago: PATE A CHOUX. It’s going to change your Moveable Feast experience—
Chef Johnny, take it away!
Pâte à choux, pronounced like the slogan of a petting zoo for sneakers (marinate on that joke for a second), is beloved the world over– and if you love pastry, you gotta become friends with it. Even my hometown of Milwaukee has its famous state fair cream puffs, which is (as you may already know) super sweet whipped cream sandwiched between two airy, buttery, and eggy choux “puffs.” Also: you buy them in dozens. You can buy them individually but… c’mon.
This pastry is the backbone of éclairs and gougères (we’ll have a verbal pronunciation lesson in the castle, don’t fret). This half-dough/half-batter concoction can also be used for Mexican churros or even a light, potato-less gnocchi. It gets its name from the cabbage-like shape it takes when it balloons up in the oven (the Germans refer to them as “wind bags”). Even funnier? The French call fried dollops of pâte à choux covered in powdered sugar “nun farts.” #comedy
Now why are these little farts so popular and how’d they get so many different names? The answer lies not only in their versatility but also in their relative ease of making. It’s a simple two step process: first cook butter, water, and flour together until it forms a dough Then beat in some eggs! That’s it. You’ve made pâte à choux! As simple as it is to make this culinary powerhouse, the science behind it is quite complex. In short: usually in baking, steam escapes through the exterior of the pastry. However, since the protein in the flour has already been cooked, the dough will immediately form a skin when exposed to heat. And all that steam is all dressed up with nowhere to go—so it just parties inside the dough, which inflates as it bakes. The best part? The starches begin to gelatinize and the eggs coagulate so the shell hardens enough to not collapse when the steam subsides. WHOAH.
The recipe I’m about to give you is the most absolute basic recipe to make the dough. The coolest secret this recipe has is that as soon as the paste is made you can freeze it and save it for a different time and a different application with virtually no change. We used this all the time in my restaurant, mostly for making Parisian gnocchi, but occasionally the cooks would just deep fry little bits and snack during the day.
Pâte à choux
1 1/2 cups water
6 oz butter cut into small cubes
1 tea. salt
2 cups. sifted flour
Bring the water, butter and salt to a boil on medium high heat in a large heavy bottom sauce pan. The second the mixture comes to a boil, turn the heat down to medium, make sure the butter has melted, and add all of the flour at once. Stir constantly with a spoon until steaming and smells nutty, about 5 minutes.
Let the mixture cool slightly and transfer the paste to a stand mixer with the paddle attachment (or do this part by hand). With the mixer on a very low speed add the eggs one at a time. Making sure that each is fully combined before adding the next one. You’ll notice that every time you add an egg the whole thing will curdle and look strange. Don’t worry though, it’ll come back eventually. When it does is when you should add the next egg. If the dough is too dry add one more egg. Transfer the dough to a piping bag or plastic bag and let rest for 30 minutes max at room temp.
At this point you can freeze the dough! But right now I’d like to give you the instructions for making tiny little shells that you can pipe full of whatever you please or scoop some ice cream into.
Grab yourself a cookie sheet and put small amounts of the paste into each corner. Press some parchment paper down on each corner as you cover the cookie sheet with it. This will stop paper from warping in the oven as the pastries become to light to weigh it down or if you have a convection oven
Preheat the oven to 425F or 400F for convection.
Use your piping bag to make 2″ mounds of the paste separated by 2″. Alternatively just use a spoon to drop dollops or some wet fingers to make little rounds. If you use a piping bag, use a wet finger to push down in the peak of the dollop so the thin part doesn’t burn in the oven.
Place the pan in the oven and cook for 10 minutes. Turn the heat down to 300F and cook for 20 more minutes. Take a puff out– if it deflates, cook another 10 minutes. If it just feels a little gummy inside cook for another 5 minutes.
Congrats! You’ve done it!
Now where the fun part comes in. Maybe you use some milk instead of all water. Maybe you wanted to add a touch of sugar. Maybe you wanted to deep fry it instead of bake it. Or my favorite, before you add the eggs, mix in some herbs cheese and Dijon mustard. Pipe into boiling water and make little rumblings or deep fry those and have a cheesy puff! Yum.
Can’t wait til France to chow down on dainty pastries? We don’t blame you. Try your hand at baking them yourself, and if you need more help… we’ll have a lesson at the Moveable Feast Provence retreat—get yourself a spot before it fills up!