Pâte à choux is a simple and versatile French pastry batter made from milk (or water), butter, flour, and eggs. It is typically piped and baked to a crisp, hollow shell that is perfect for filling with sweet or savory ingredients.
Even if you've never made pâte à choux, you've surely enjoyed it! It is the base for a number of common foods, like cream puffs, éclairs, and gougères, or even deep-fried cruller doughnuts and churros.
Like many classic baking and pastry techniques, perfecting pâte à choux comes with practice, though the steps are simple.
1. Heating the ingredients
Combine the liquid—water, milk, or both and the butter in a large saucepan and bring it to a rolling boil over high heat. Add the sifted flour to the mixture all at once and stir constantly with a wooden spoon over medium heat. At first, the mixture will be lumpy, but as you stir it, the dough will become smooth and eventually pull away from the sides of the pot, and a light film will form at the bottom of the pot. This will take several minutes, but is an important step that pre-gelatinize the starches in the flour.
2. Adding the eggs
Cool the flour mixture slightly before you add the eggs; otherwise, the eggs could overcook before the pastry even goes into the oven. Remove the pan from the heat or transfer the dough to a mixing bowl. Stir it until it is nearly at body temperature. Add the eggs to the flour mixture one at a time and stir until the dough is smooth before adding the next. You can stir the mixture by hand or in a stand-mixer on medium-low speed. Depending on many factors like type of flour and size of your eggs, you may need less or more eggs than a recipe calls for. At this stage, the pâte à choux should be stiff, but loose enough to fall slowly from a wooden spoon. If it is very difficult to pipe, it may need slightly more egg.
3. Piping and baking
A pastry bag and round tip are helpful for making even shapes, as for éclairs. For gougères, cream puffs, or profiteroles, you may prefer to simply drop the batter onto baking sheets with 2 spoons. Make regular, even shapes, spacing them about 2 inches apart. You may choose to trace circles or other shapes on a piece of parchment paper to use as a template (turn the parchment over so that you aren't piping onto the pencil or marker). For piping, use a light flick of the wrist to stop the flow of the dough for a clean finish.
For a very crisp, light, and dry pastry, lower the oven temperature after the initial puffing and browning and continue to bake until there are no beads of moisture visible on the pastry’s sides.
Pâte à choux can be baked one or two days ahead of use. Cool the baked items and store covered at room temperature (if is is humid, you may choose to refrigerate). When you are ready to use them, uncover and refresh the pâte à choux in a 350°F oven until they are crisp again. Allow them to cool again before filling.