If you have sweet tooth, I bet you love French pastries. So far, I have never met anyone who love sweets but dislike a good French pastry. Delicious éclairs, citrusy madeleines, colorful fruit tarts, and delicate macaron cookies all sound mouth watering. Now, there are many French bakeries in Boston area, including Paul Bakeries from Paris. If you live around Boston, you can easily purchase those delicious French pastries. However, even though many American people enjoy eating the French pastries, when it comes to making a French pastry from scratch, it can sound a little bit (or very) intimidating.
Fortunately, I was trained by an extremely talented French chef, Chef Delphin Gomes, when I was at Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. I gained a solid understanding of the science behind baking and the skill sets for me to survive in the commercial kitchen when I was in CSCA. What’s the first French pastry we learned when we were students? Pate A Choux! It may not sound familiar to you, but I’m sure you’ve had a cream puff, éclair, churros, Gougere, Paris-Brest or profiterole.
Typically, Pate A Choux dough contains butter, water, flour and eggs. Most of people have those ingredients at home. Now, go to check our your pantry and fridge. It’s very likely you have all those ingredients, and you can start to make Pate A Choux right away. I have my Pate A Choux recipe as one of my pocket recipes. It is so easy to memorize. You just need to remember, “one one one one four.”
Ingredients for Pate A Choux Dough
- One stick of butter (8 oz) used a bench scraper to cut it into small pieces
- One cup of water
- One cup of flour
- One pinch of salt
- Four eggs
Directions to make Pate A Choux
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C).
- Bring butter, sugar, salt, and 1 cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from heat. Using a wooden spoon, quickly stir in one cup flour all at once. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until mixture pulls away from sides and forms a ball.
- Transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until slightly cooled, until you don’t see any steam. Raise speed to medium; add whole eggs, 1 at a time, until a soft peak forms when batter is touched with your finger. If peak does not form, lightly beat the fourth egg, and mix it into batter a little at a time until the mixer is smooth, shiny and pipable.
- With a pastry bag fitted with a start piping tip, pipe dough onto cookie sheet in 1 1/2 x 4 inch strips.
- Bake in the preheated oven until hollow sounding when lightly tapped on the bottom. Cool completely on a wire rack.
When you pipe the pate a choux dough into the éclair shells, it is very helpful to have a template underneath your parchment paper. See example below.
I would suggest you use a star piping tip. Some chefs would suggest you use a round piping tip and then use a fork to create the pattern on top of the shells. According to my master, Chef Delphin, “There is no point to pipe and fork it.” With his French accent, sometimes it sounds like “fxxk” it. I remember we all found it hilarious! Delphin held very high standards for his students. If we didn’t pipe it right, he would ask, “What are you piping? Is this dirt?” (He meant poop) Then, he would use a bench scraper to scrape the non-perfect éclair shells so the student had to start again. It has been many years since I took his Pate A Choux class. Every time when I teach my students, including children, or when I pipe the éclair shells, I still hold the same standard as Delphin. It has to be perfect.
Some chefs cut the éclair shells into halves and then pipe the fillings. It doesn’t look very elegant. Delphin’s method is to punch two small holes underneath the éclair shells and then pipe the filling into the shell. I’ve made éclairs with several pastry chefs, and I still find Delphin’s method the best. An éclair without being cut into two halves looks so much more polish.
We typically use pastry cream as fillings for éclairs. You can be creative. For example, the mascarpone cream from my eggnog macaron recipe. Please see my previous blog post, as it will work very well too! Here is my recipe of pastry cream:
Ingredients for Pastry Cream Filling
- 2 cups whole milk
- 6 egg yolks (can use pasteurized yolks) ( 3 ounces yolks)
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Directions to make Pastry Cream Filling
- In a medium saucepan, heat the milk over medium heat.
- In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks and granulated sugar until light and fluffy.
- Add the cornstarch and whisk vigorously until no lumps remain.
- Whisk in 1/4 cup of the hot milk mixture until incorporated.
- Whisk in the remaining hot milk mixture, reserving the empty saucepan.
- Pour the mixture through a strainer back into the saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until thickened and slowly boiling.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the butter and vanilla. Let cool slightly.
- Cover with plastic wrap, lightly pressing the plastic against the surface to prevent a skin from forming.
- Chill at least 2 hours or until ready to serve. (The custard can be made up to 24 hours in advance. Refrigerate until 1 hour before using.)
Ingredients for Ganache
- 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
- 1 cup heavy cream, boiling
Directions to make Ganache
- In a medium bowl, pour the boiling cream over the chopped chocolate and stir until melted.
Once you have the basic pastry cream, you can always flavor it to your liking. For example, you can add some espresso powder and coffee extract, you can add some melted chocolate, or you can add some delicious alcohol, such as Grand Marnier or apple brandy. You can also use different kinds of chocolate to make your chocolate ganache. Just remember the right ratio is 1:1. One part of chocolate and one part of heavy cream. You can use white chocolate, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, bittersweet chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate. I would highly recmmond using high quality chocolate for baking, such as Valrhona or Callebaut.
After you have all the elements for éclairs ready, it’s time to assemble the éclairs! First, punch two small holes underneath the éclair shells. And then pipe pastry cream into the shells. Last, dip top of each éclair into chocolate ganache; let excess drip off before turning over. Transfer to a wire rack to allow ganache to set.
As I mentioned before, Pate A Choux is versatile dough. We can use it to make different kind of sweet and savory pastry. Stay tuned! I will share more pastry we can make from the same dough! Isn’t it amazing? I am going to teach a series of baking class at Culinary Underground. We will tackle Pate A Choux on the third class. You can register for the current class here. There is only one spot left for this session.
We also offer an intermediate baking series at Culinary Underground, you can register here. There are six spot left so go register. Don’t worry if you don’t take the basic series. I will guide you through it!
If you’d want to learn how to make this elegant French pastry at home, book a cooking class with me at Cooking Beautiful Lee. I’d love to teach you in your home! Book a private, in-home class with me now.