Baking Lessons: Pâte à Choux

I recently enrolled in a Pastry Fundamentals class at the San Francisco Cooking School. I’m no stranger to baking, but I figured it would be a good exercise to get some professional training and pick up a few new skills.  Plus, the fundamentals of pastries are the basis of ice cream, so this can only help my scoop scoring endeavors.

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Week one ‘s lesson focused on Pâte à Choux, that lovely fluffy-light pastry dough used to make cream puffs, éclairs, profiteroles, and so many other delectable things filled with cream, custard, ice cream, and even cheese.

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With just a few hours to get through the agenda for class, we are off and running right away, starting by assembling our pastry cream so it could go in the fridge to chill while we make and bake our pastries.

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Milk, butter, water and salt are heated in a saucepan. Flour is slowly mixed in next to begin to form a dough, and eggs are slowly added one by one to form a creamy paste.

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The paste goes into pastry bags fitted with an appropriate tip (a star tip for puffs and profiteroles, a straight tip for eclairs) and you pipe the paste as evenly and consistently as possible onto two parchment-lined baking sheets. Tip: spray the pan with cooking spray before laying down the parchment to help avoid slipping.

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Eclairs should be straight lines of paste, as pictured on the left, and puffs and profiteroles little round twists, as pictured on the right.

Slide the trays the oven and bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then lower to 375 degrees and cook for another 15 minutes. Once they are a glorious golden brown, remove from the oven and prick a hole in each to allow air to escape and return to the oven, leaving the heat off and the door open, to allow them to dry for another 15 minutes or so. Remove from the oven again and place the pans on wire racks to cool completely.

Yes, this whole process takes some patience! But when all is said and done, it’s worth it, because now here comes the fun part. Fill your puffs with cream, your profiteroles with ice cream, or your eclairs with pudding or cream.

Add some chocolate glaze or powdered sugar for good measure, and enjoy!


Pâte à Choux: Cream Puffs, Eclairs and Profiteroles

Servings: makes about 10 eclairs, 30 profiteroles, or 15 cream puffs

Ingredients

½ cup whole milk

½ cup water

6 Tbls unsalted butter, cut into pieces

¼ tsp kosher salt

1 cup all-purpose flour

4 large eggs

Instructions

Note: make any pastry cream or pudding either in advance or prior to starting the Pâte à Choux so it can chill while you bake.  See below for a vanilla pastry cream recipe.

In a saucepan, combine milk, water, butter and salt. Heat over medium-high heat until the liquid comes to a full boil. Remove the pan from the heat, add the flour all at once, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon until blended.

Return the pan to medium heat and continue stirring until the mixture leaves the sides of the pan and forms a ball.

Transfer the dough to a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed to release some of the heat (about 2 minutes). When the dough has cooled slightly, add 1 egg and beat on medium-high speed until incorporated. Add the remaining 3 eggs one at a time, occasionally scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. After each egg is added, the mixture will separate and appear shiny, but should return to a smooth paste with vigorous beating.

Position two racks evenly in the oven and preheat to 425°F.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Fit pastry bag(s) with an appropriate tip, using a star tip for cream puffs or profiteroles and a large plain tip for eclairs.  Fill the bag(s) half-full with the batter.

Pipe out logs for eclairs or mounds for profiteroles (small) or cream puffs (larger), spaced 1 – 2 inches apart. Make sure to put all the same size and shape on the same tray so they bake evenly. Refill pastry bag and continue piping until all batter is used.

Bake the puffs for 15 minutes, until just starting to turn golden. Then reduce the heat to 375°F and continue baking until dark golden brown, approximately 15-20 minutes more.

Remove from the oven and immediately prick the side of each with the tip of a sharp knife or skewer. Return to the oven, leaving the oven door open to allow the puffs to dry out for about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and leaving the pastries on the pans, transfer the pans to wire racks to cool completely.

For cream puffs: cut each puff pastry in half or create or a small hole on the underside. Pipe vanilla pastry cream, whipped cream, or pudding into the puff.  Dust with confectioners’ sugar or drizzle with chocolate sauce, as desired.

For profiteroles: slit each puff horizontally almost through and fill with a small scoop of your favorite ice cream. Drizzle with chocolate, a dollop of whipped cream, or any other toppings as desired.

For eclairs: cut a hole in one or both ends of the pastry, depending on how large they are. Pipe in pastry cream or pudding. To glaze, dip the top half of the puff in warm chocolate glaze. Place on a wire rack to allow the glaze to set, about 20 minutes.

NOTE: Baked pastries can be frozen for up to six months and thawed when ready to fill and serve.

Original recipe from: San Francisco Cooking School


Vanilla Pastry Cream

Servings: makes about 3 cups

Ingredients

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup whole milk

½ cup sugar, divided

Pinch of kosher salt

½ vanilla bean, split

3 Tbls cornstarch

6 large egg yolks

2 Tbls unsalted butter, cold, cut into pieces

Instructions

In a saucepan, stir together the heavy cream, milk, half the sugar, and salt. Split and scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean with the back of a paring knife and add the pod and seeds to the cream mixture. Warm over medium-low heat until gently simmering, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

In a heatproof bowl, whisk together the remaining half of the sugar with the cornstarch. Then whisk in the egg yolks. Slowly pour about half of the warm cream mixture into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly.

Use a rubber spatula to scrape the yolk mixture into the saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking vigorously until the custard has thickened and glossy, about 3 minutes.

Remove from the heat and stir in the butter until melted. Pour the pastry cream through a medium-mesh sieve onto a half sheet (18″ x 13″) pan lined with parchment paper. Spread out a bit across the pan, but not to the edges. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the custard and seal around the edges, making sure there are no air pockets. Place pan in the refrigerator and chill until cold.

Note: The pastry cream can be kept covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Original recipe from: San Francisco Cooking School

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