“Pastry-making…is one of the most important branches of the culinary sciences. It unceasingly occupies itself with ministering pleasure to the sight as well as the taste.” So said Mrs. Isabella Beeton in The Book of Household Management, first published in 1880.
A rather staid way to describe the near-magical creation of a glistening, chocolate-glazed caramel tart, or the conjuring of delicate squares of thyme-scented shortbread, no?
There is nothing staid about pastries, of course, and that has much to do with what is arguably the most important ingredient in the art and science of baking: butter.
The term pâté a choux means “cabbage paste” in French, referring to both the dough and to the bumpy, rounded shape of this beloved pastry.
Really a cross between a dough and a batter, pâté a choux is a “twice-cooked” paste of butter, eggs, flour and water (and often milk). The water, butter and flour are first mixed in a saucepan and then stirred over heat until the dough forms into a ball. Then eggs are beaten in one at a time and the paste is piped or spooned into mounds. The second cooking comes in the oven, where the dough puffs, firms up on the inside and is transformed into firm, near-hollow containers. Cooled, cut in half and filled with whipped cream-—or any number of sweet or savory fillings—classy, classic choux puffs belie their humble name.
Although the process is not difficult or time-consuming, each step—and each ingredient—is important. Butter gives the choux pastry its characteristic flavor and crispy-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside texture. High-fat butter, like Organic Valley’s European-Style, is a good choice because it has less moisture, which can cause the puffs to collapse. Eggs provide structure and leavening, as well as the rich egginess of the interior. All-purpose flour gives gluten-based body—not too much, as bread flour would, and not too little, as would cake flour.
Technique matters, too. Here are several tips to help ensure perfect puffs:
Click here for a Cream Puff recipe.