A basic method to open many doors
Named for the little cabbages the baked puffs of dough resemble, pâte à choux
is incredibly versatile. Five basic ingredients come together quickly to form a dough that transforms in the oven or fryer to light, crispy puffs or into rich unctuous dumplings when dropped into boiling water or broth. I can’t imagine hosting a party without gougeres – golden brown orbs rich with Gruyere cheese and nutmeg. And who doesn’t love a cinnamon sugar-crusted churro?
Master this basic method and you’ll open the door to a host of recipes, both savory and sweet.
Pâte à choux
1 cup water
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
5 eggs (one cup of beaten eggs)
Bring the water and the butter and salt to a boil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the flour all at once and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the dough becomes smooth and pulls away cleanly from the edge of the pan as you stir it.
While beating vigorously (you can do this by hand or with a mixer), add the eggs one at a time to the flour-butter mixture until thoroughly incorporated and the mixture is smooth. This mixture can be used immediately (recommended when making large baked puffs) or stored in an airtight container in the fridge for two days or frozen for up to a month (totally fine for small puffs and dumplings).
~To make cream puffs or éclairs: Scoop or pipe about three tablespoons of choux dough into mounds for cream puffs or into log shapes for éclairs, spacing them about three inches apart to give them room to expand. Bake at 375 degrees for 30-35 minutes until golden brown. Once cool, slice in half with a serrated knife and fill with whipped cream and a dusting of powdered sugar (for cream puffs) or with pastry cream and a layer of chocolate icing (for éclairs).
~To make gougeres: add a clove of minced garlic, a dash of freshly grated nutmeg, and a pinch of cayenne to the butter and water mixture before adding the flour and proceed with the recipe. After all the eggs have been incorporated and the mixture is smooth and has cooled slightly, add four ounces grated gruyere cheese and mix well. Drop spoonfuls onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes until golden brown and crisp. Gougeres are a blank canvas. Customize them to suit your taste. Try swapping out the gruyere for sharp cheddar and crumbled bacon or fresh herbs and crumbled feta.
Make ahead: Baked gougeres and cream puff/éclair shells can be frozen in zip-close freezer bags for up to a month. When ready to serve, crisp up the shells on a baking sheet in a 375-degree oven for 5 minutes. Serve gougeres warm. Cream puff/eclair shells should be thoroughly cooled before filling.
~To make choux dumplings (aka Parisian gnocchi): Fill a pastry bag or zip-close freezer bag with choux dough (add a couple tablespoons of chopped parsley and a handful of grated parmesan cheese to the dough if you like). Over a pot of boiling salted water, squeeze the pastry bag with one hand and use a knife or kitchen scissors to cut off ½-inch-long pieces of dough into the boiling water with the other hand. The dumplings will drop to the bottom of the pot then float back up when they are done cooking. You can also choose to simply drop small spoonfuls of dough into the boiling water – your dumplings will not look as pretty, but they will still be delicious. Scoop out the floating dumplings with a slotted spoon and transfer them to a parchment-lined baking sheet to cool. The dumplings can be prepared up to this point and refrigerated for up to two days in the fridge.
When ready to serve, brown some butter in a heavy-bottomed skillet. Add the chilled choux dumplings and sauté until lightly browned.
~To make rich chicken soup: Saute diced onion, carrot, celery and some minced garlic in a little butter and season with salt. Add two quarts of chicken broth and bring to a boil. You can also add 2 cups of shredded, cooked chicken if you have it, but honestly the dumplings are so rich you don’t really need it. Following the method above for choux dumplings, cut or drop bits of dough into the boiling broth and simmer until the dumplings float. Top with minced parsley and serve.
~To make churros: Place 1 cup sugar and 1 tablespoon cinnamon in a brown paper bag and set aside. Transfer choux dough to a piping bag fitted with a large star tip or a zip-close freezer bag with one corner cut out. Fill a deep, heavy-bottomed pot with at least three inches of neutral frying oil like canola. Heat to 350 degrees (use a deep fry or candy thermometer to check the temperature). Carefully pipe three- to four-inch-long segments of dough into the hot oil (or simply drop spoonfuls of dough into the oil). Cook, turning once, until golden brown and puffed. Remove the churros from the hot oil and drain briefly on paper towels before tossing in the cinnamon sugar. Serve warm.