Pate de choux

140g       bread flour

5g            salt

175g       water

122g       milk

125g       butter

25g         sucrose

200g       eggs about 4 large eggs

  1. Place the flour and salt in bowl and stir to combine. Set this to the side of your stove, you’ll need it momentarily.
  2. Place the water, milk, butter, and sucrose in a 2 quart pot with a heavy bottom. Set the pot over high heat, and cook, stirring to dissolve the sucrose and mix the melting butter, until the liquid comes to a boil.
  3. When the liquid comes to a rolling boil, reduce the heat under the pot to medium. Dump the flour in all at once, and begin stirring with a strong utensil. A wooden spoon is classic, but any strong heat proof spoon-like utensil will do. I use a professional grade heat proof rubber spatula with a rigid rubber end.
  4. You will notice the dough come together, and begin to pull from the sides of the pan, until it comes together into a blobby mass, with a few flour lumps here or there. You will now cook this blobby mass for 3 to 4 minutes over medium heat. Stir constantly, folding the blob over itself and mashing it against the surface of the hot pot. The pot will take on a doughy skin of it’s own, and with the extended cooking time, you will begin to worry about how you will scrub it off.
  5. This stovetop cooking is the most crucial step of making pate de choux. In this step, you are denaturing, or cooking the protiens in the flour. I’ve read that this step is to evaporate some of the water, but that is counterintuitive. If you needed to eliminate water, you would simply reduce the amount added in the first place. Rather, the amount of water added is necessary to hydrate the flour correctly, allowing the starches to swell, and the prolonged cooking is to ensure the starches swell and the protiens are denatured before they go into the oven.
  6. Long story short, don’t skimp on the stovetop cooking time!
  7. Now that your blobby mass of dough is cooked, transfer it to a stand mixer fit with a paddle attachment. Turn the mixer on to a medium low speed, number 4 on a kitchen aid.
  8. Begin adding the eggs, one at a time. You will see the dough break into large curds, then watch the paddle break the curds up smaller and smaller. After about a minute, the dough will come back together into a sticky homogenous mass. Once this happens, add the next egg and watch the magic all over again.
  9. The size of your eggs is going to make a difference in the texture and final result of your baked pate de choux. This is why I gave a gram weight. If your eggs are too large, begin by removing a yolk. If they are too small, make up the difference by adding a little white from another egg. I recommend shifting the balance towards egg whites because they contribute favorably to the crispiness of the pate de choux.
  10. Now your pate de choux is ready to be piped and baked, or fried, or poached. Once in the oven, the egg in the batter will begin to steam. Usually, steam escapes through the exterior of a baked good. However, because we have already cooked the protein in the flour, and swollen the starches, it will immediately form a skin when exposed to heat (think about the skin on a cornstarch set pudding). This means the steam generated by the moisture in the batter will have no place to go, and it will begin to inflate the dough. As the skin on the dough stretches, made flexible by the denatured protein in the flour, the starches begin to gelatinize, and the proteins in the egg coagulate. All this fancy stuff just means the shell hardens enough so it doesn’t collapse when the steam subsides.  It’ a pretty neat trick.
  11. In the oven, bake pate de choux first for a short period of time at a high temperature, 400 in a convection oven, or 425 at home. This causes a violent burst of steam and helps your puffs become their puffiest. Before the dough begins to burn, the temperature is reduced to a much lower temperature, 300 convection, or 325 at home, to continue baking long enough that the remaining moisture evaporates and the dough crisps, leaving nice hollow shells to fill to your hearts delight.
  12. Each shape you make will require different baking times. Just enough time at a high temperature so it puffs and sets, and a more forgiving extended period to dry the puffs out. If you are adding cheese and baking gougeres, take note, they are eaten whole without filling, and can be baked at 350 degrees the entire time, as a hollow chamber is unnecessary. Alternately, you can fry at 350 degrees for donuts and fritters, or poach in boiling water.