Choux Pastry

Baking

Choux pastry, or pâte à choux, is the pastry you need for cream puffs, profiteroles, and eclairs. Unlike conventional pastry, the dough is cooked in a pan before it’s baked, to allow the gluten in the flour to gelatinize and absorb more water.

My chocolate almond profiteroles

I’m still keeping the tradition of recipe first, blathering later, so that’s happening.

The recipe for pâte à choux is ridiculously simple, and comprises only four ingredients: butter, water, eggs, and flour, although most variations these days also add salt (including these because salt improves everything and that is a hill I will die on). When in doubt, just remember the choux ration of 2:1:1:2 – two parts liquid, one part flour, one part butter, two part eggs, by weight, not by volume. You can add sugar for sweetness, or swap half of the water with whole milk for a more tender, richer pastry. I tend to keep my recipe to the basics because I like the crisp texture of a traditional profiterole, although I will occasionally add 1 to 2 teaspoons of white sugar if I’m not making a particularly sweet filling (in which case, I will omit the salt). As long as you have the basic four ingredients down, you can customize these tasty shells to your heart’s content.

But anyway, this recipe yields between 20 – 30 cream puffs, depending on how big you pipe them, and roughly 15-20 profiteroles/eclairs, again depending on size.

Before you start, preheat your oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or two if you’re making eclairs), and brush the paper with water. This will add more steam to the bake for sturdier, more well-risen shells. I also tend to use a silicon baking mat that I use for macarons underneath just as a guide for size, but it’s pretty easy to get consistent size once you get the hang of it.

The ingredients listed below are provided with both volume and weight, and although I almost always insist on weight when baking, since choux pastry is so simple and only has one ingredient whose weight can dramatically vary even if the volume is the same (flour) and the other is determinate on other factors that can affect how much or how little you use (eggs), it’s not really necessary to measure these by weight.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup water (or 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup whole milk) (8 ounces/200 grams)
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced (4 ounces/110 grams)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted (4 ounces/110 grams)
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature, beaten in a separate bowl (8 ounces/200 grams)

Optional:

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract

Equipment:

  • Medium saucepan
  • Rubber spatula or wooden spoon
  • Silicone whisk or handheld beater or standing mixer
  • Medium bowl, preferably glass, if you’re not using a standing mixer
  • Piping bag with large open round piping nozzle (or just cut the tip off of the bag if you can’t be bothered), or a large open star nozzle for eclairs, if you like.

Optional:

  • Spray bottle filled with water
  • Kitchen scissors, for eclairs

Preheat oven to 425°F. Heat the milk and the butter in the saucepan over medium heat until it begins to simmer, stirring so that the butter melts completely. Once the mixture starts to simmer, turn the heat down to low and chuck in all the flour at once and stir with the rubber spatula. The dough should come together pretty quickly, but the point of cooking the mixture is to gelatinize the gluten in the flour, so cook for a few minutes more, pressing the dough against the sides of the pan and scraping it back together until it leaves a thin skin on the bottom of the pan.

Transfer the dough into the medium bowl or the bowl of your standing mixer, and press it against the sides. This will help cool the dough a bit faster, which you’ll need to do for at least a few minutes before you add the eggs, or they’ll scramble before you can mix them in, which is gross.

Once the dough has cooled, it’s time to add the eggs. This is where people tend to go wrong when making choux pastry, because how much egg you add is almost entirely dependent on factors you can’t control, including humidity, temperature of the room, or if you have slightly more or less flour (especially if you went by volume instead of weight, which is totally fine). So this is when it’s imperative to add a little at a time, and mix with either the standing mixer, handheld beater, or a whisk, until fully incorporated before adding more. The dough should take on a glossy, smooth appearance, and a pipeable consistency. If you scoop up some batter with a spatula and let some drop off and it leaves a triangle shape on the batter left on the spatula where it separated, you’re ready to go. Transfer to a piping bag and fix with an appropriate nozzle.

On your prepared baking sheet(s), pipe 1-1/2 inch circles, 3 inch rounds, or 4-5 inch long tubes (use the scissors to snip off the pieces of dough). If you’re making cream puffs or profiteroles, wet the tip of your finger and smooth out the inevitable little peak at the top of each bun left by the piping bag. If you have a spray bottle, lightly spritz the buns from a height to diffuse the water and let it mist over the tray. Otherwise, with a pastry brush, brush water in the spaces between the dough.

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, then drop the temperature to 350°F and bake for a further 10. Make sure that you can see into your oven to check them without opening the oven door, or you’re playing with fire, because the thinness of the pastry means it can burn quickly if you don’t watch it. Do not, and I cannot stress this enough, open the oven door while they’re baking, or you will ruin them. Choux pastry does not have any rising agents – the only rising agent is the steam that’s released from the water absorbed in the dough. Opening the door will cause that steam to escape, and you’ll have lost it for good – the buns will collapse and you will be sad.

Once the buns are baked to a golden brown, take them out and pop them onto a cooling rack. CAREFULLY, while they’re still hot, flip them over and make a small incision with the tip of a knife at the bottom of each. This will allow your buns/profiteroles/eclairs to dry out on the inside and crisp up, plus the incision will make it easier for you to pipe in your filling. Let them cool all the way down before filling with custard, whipped cream, or créme diplomat (my personal favorite). If you want to fill the bigger treats with ice cream, cut them in half instead, fill as usual, and sandwich back together. Cover and store for up to three days. Like they’ll last that long, amirite?

Necessary backstory:

I love cream puffs. I know, cheesy clichés and what have you, but they’re absolutely a major staple of my childhood and were the pastry that made me want to become an amateur baker. There’s a bakery in my hometown of San Jose that is famous (to me) for their eclairs and cream puffs, and when my mother and I lived up the street, it was a tradition at least once a month to snag a pink box full of these whipped cream-filled delights. This bakery offered the more traditional pastry cream filling, but I preferred whipped cream, until I learned that you could combine the two and put that inside them instead. Game changer.

But far more importantly than a popular bakery, my Nonni used to make cream puffs every weekend when I came to spend them with her as a child. Even after she was diagnosed with cancer, she would still faithfully have a batch of these little treats, with some strawberries, ready for me when I arrived. She passed away when I was ten, but even now, 24 years later, I can’t eat a cream puff without thinking of my Nonni. I made my first homemade batch of these for my mom’s birthday last year as a tribute to her mother, my grandmother, with the Chantilly whipped cream filling and dark chocolate topping we’d both remembered so fondly of Nonni’s cream puffs.

I’ve learned a lot about baking since that first batch, and I’ve gotten a little bolder in my flavor combinations, but to me, a cream puff isn’t complete without a chocolate ganache topping, especially since the fillings tend to be sweet and caramel and powdered sugar just make them sweeter. But my favorite thing about cream puffs, profiteroles, and eclairs is they’re so versatile, it’s incredibly easy to customize them with whatever flavors you like, so if you’re looking for your own signature bake, this is a great place to start.

Lemon Cheesecake Macarons

Baking

Full disclaimer: I am not a professional baker. I’m not even a great baker. If I were on the Great British Bake Off, I’d be the one who got eliminated on Week 1 because I’d never heard of the technical challenge and basically everything I ever made would be chocolate cake, even during Biscuit Week.

That having been said, this is a baker’s journey blog. You’ll learn with me, you’ll laugh at my failures, and you’ll appreciate the fact that I don’t start recipes off with a detailed autobiography. Like, this is it. Check out this sexy picture of finished macarons, and then RIGHT AFTERWARDS, there’ll be instructions on how to make them.

I absolutely did not add filters and fancy effects to this picture at all.

You’ll be using 4 eggs and 3 lemons total across two recipes here, just as a heads up.

For the macaron shells:

  • 3 egg whites (brown egg whites froth up better, and it’s best to separate them the day before so they dry out a bit more. Save the yolks for curd) at room temp.
  • 1/4 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1 cup sifted almond flour, superfine
  • 1 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar, also sifted
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 3 drops yellow liquid food coloring, or 1 drop gel. Gel is often better because you don’t want to add extra moisture.

Beat the egg whites in a clean glass or metal bowl. Make sure there’s no oil or residue of any kind, because it can deflate your meringue. Beat on high until frothy, then start gradually incorporating the granulated sugar until it’s all dissolved, and your meringue makes stiff peaks, then beat in the zest and food coloring. Don’t worry about overbeating too much, because it’s really hard to do with meringue, but try to beat the meringue, zest, and food coloring until it’s all incorporated, and no longer than that. Sift in the flour and confectioner’s sugar together, and then mix with a clean rubber spatula, folding gently so you don’t deflate the egg whites. Best practice is to scrape up around the edge of the bowl and then down the center, alternating sides until your batter can make a figure 8 when it drips off the spoon in sandy ribbons without breaking.

Pipe the macarons in small circles on parchment paper, holding the nozzle fairly close to the surface so you can push the batter into a neater circle, or just blob it in the center so that it smooths itself out. Whichever’s easier. Blobbing means that it’s harder to get uniform size, but you usually get a better shape, and vice versa with piping the circles yourself. Once piped, lift and tap the baking tray firmly once or twice so any larger air bubbles pop, otherwise your macarons will puff. Pop any bubbles you see on the surface with a toothpick so you have a smoother finish.

Preheat oven to 285F. Let the tray sit somewhere dry for 30-60 minutes until the batter has formed a skin, so that when you touch the surface, none of the batter transfers to your finger. Bake the macarons for 15 minutes. After that, turn the oven off and let the cookies continue to dry out in the oven for about a half hour or so, watching them to make sure they don’t brown. After that, cool them thoroughly before removing them from your pan. If they’re still sticking, which I have a problem with more often than not, stick them back in the oven for a few minutes to dry them out more. The point of the oven isn’t so much to bake the cookies as it is to dry them out at low heat, and the zest from the lemon adds moisture that needs more time to dry out.

For the lemon curd:

  • 4 egg yolks (you’ll need an extra if you saved the ones leftover from the cookies)
  • 1/3 – 2/3 cup granulated sugar, depending on how sweet you like your curd
  • Zest and juice of 3 lemons
  • Pinch of salt
  • 6 tablespoons of room temp, unsalted butter

Use a double boiler, or place a glass bowl over a saucepan with a couple of inches of simmering (not boiling!) water. Add sugar to the bowl first, followed by the egg yolks to protect them from the direct heat of the bowl, and mix until well combined before adding the juice. Remember kids, sugar prevents premature coagulation (lol) and mixing it with yolks before adding the juice results in a smoother curd. Add the juice and whisk together, and then stir continuously for 10 minutes until the curd starts to thicken up. If it’s not thickening, turn up the heat a bit, but not too high, and make sure that you keep stirring so the eggs don’t scramble. The curd should coat the back of a spoon.

Once that’s done, take the curd off of the heat and add the butter, stirring until it’s dissolved. Cover the curd with clingwrap that touches the surface so that the curd doesn’t form a skin, then chill in the fridge. It’ll thicken up more as it cools, so don’t stress if it’s still somewhat runny. This will also give you more lemon curd than you need for this recipe, but I’m of the belief that lemon curd should be a staple in every household because it’s goddamned delicious and you can dip the cookies in it for EXTRA LEMONY GREATNESS.

For the cheesecake filling:

  • 8 oz room temp cream cheese
  • 2 tablespoons of milk
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar, plus whatever you need to make it pipeable

Combine all three ingredients in a bowl with a mixer on low until the sugar is dissolved, then beat at high speed to make it fluffy. If you need it to stiffen up, add more confectioner’s sugar a couple tablespoons at a time until you reach a pipeable consistency. Chill in the fridge to allow it to firm up.

ASSEMBLY!

Match up your cookies as best you can in pairs. Transfer the cheesecake filling to a piping bag with a star tip for some RAZZLE DAZZLE and pipe a circle of filling on half of the cookies. Fill in the empty space with a dollop of lemon curd, then sandwich with the other half of the cookies.

Stack and store in the fridge for at least a day before serving for EXTRA AWESOMENESS.

EXTRA!

So I promised that the biography bit wouldn’t be at the top before the recipe because that’s annoying as hell. It’s like signing up for a class and the teacher spends the hour romanticizing her Live Laugh Love tour in Italy where she learned to fall in love with the simplicity of a margherita pizza and also a panty-dropper named Ezio who wrote Italian sonnets and built shelters for homeless kittens with his bare masculine but still tender hands. This teacher is also just supposed to be teaching you business math, but the deposit on the class is non-refundable.

The story behind these macarons is that I like lemon-flavored dessert. I learned how to make macarons because my best friend is a lot fancier than I am and she asked me to do so one day, so I did. I started off with strawberry cheesecake ones because aforementioned bestie hates lemon-flavored dessert, but it’s basically her only flaw, so she gets away with it. They did not turn out great, but they didn’t suck, and that basically cemented the notion that I was no longer a terrible baker (she and I can tell you some stories. Well, no, I’d rather not because they’re terrible). Then my oldest niece got super into macarons thanks to that little adventure, so I had to get better at them. I’m not a great macaron baker by any stretch of the imagination – my chocolate ones need work because they always end up too soft, and my pistachio ones need better decorating. But the lemon ones were the first ones I made that turned out successfully, so I’m pretty proud of this recipe. I’ll tweak it in the future as I learn more about the not-so-subtle art of macaroning, but for now, if you try these, let me know if you have feedback or suggestions for improvement.

Lemon-flavored dessert is awesome, Hava.