Pâte à Choux
A former student contacted me this week asking if I taught her the croquembouch when she was in school. After I got over the shock that she could have possibly forgotten that life-altering lesson, I decided to post it here for those of you ready for a challenge. It is technically a wedding cake, but because it is ‘tree’ shaped, it often turns up during the holidays.
There are three stages to the recipe, and it can easily be made over several days. (I strongly recommend this strategy for stress control.) The first step is Pâte à Choux, which I have posted a number of times before. It is a classic recipe and a standard skill for all pastry chefs. But don’t let that intimidate you. Use it to make the puffs, and then fridge or freeze for up to two weeks if necessary.
The next step is Pastry Cream (aka Crème Pâtissière), which has also appeared here before. The puffs are filled with the pastry cream, then each puff is glued together with caramelized sugar. The piece should be served shortly thereafter, as sugar is not super-glue, and does lose its strength after a while.
First things first …
There are several crucial stages of Pâte à Choux preparation. When the flour is added to the water, it must be cooked over heat for about 3 minutes. This gives the flour a chance to be fully absorbed, and strengthens the gluten. When this step is short-cut, the dough simply will not puff.
The eggs must be added one by one, off the heat. This step is best done by hand. Excess friction from an electric mixer can easily turn your paste into soup, which cannot be formed properly. If your batter should become runny, it cannot be thickened by simply adding raw flour. Remember, the flour needs cooking and absorption time. You have to start over … sorry.
The process of stirring in the eggs can be strenuous, but it doesn’t have to be done quickly. Take your time and rest in between eggs if your arm begins to tire. Slow and steady wins the race.
2 cups water
5 oz.(1-1/4 stick) unsalted butter
1 TB. sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt
1-2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 egg yolk
1 TB. cream
- Preheat oven to 400˚F.Coat a baking sheet with pan spray, and line it with parchment paper.
- In a large sauce pan combine water, butter, sugar, salt, and bring to a boil. At the boil, add flour and stir vigorously with a sturdy spoon for at least 3 minutes until all the flour is absorbed and the mixture resembles mashed potatoes. (Use some muscle!) Remove from heat and cool slightly. Add eggs, one at a time, blending each one thoroughly before adding the next.( This is the hardest part! Don’t wimp out!) Once eggs are in, this batter can be used for an number of recipes, including cheese puffs (a/k/a gougere), cream puffs, éclairs and profiteroles.
To Make Puffs:
Preheat oven to 400˚F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a small ice cream scoop, scoop dough, flatten base, and evenly space on prepared pan. Make an egg wash with egg yolk , cream, and a pinch of salt, and brush it lightly on top of each puff. Bake at 400˚F until puffed and golden brown, about 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 325˚F and cook until firm and dark brown, about 10 minutes more. Cool completely before filling with pastry cream. To hold, pack into zip-loc bags and freeze. Before filling, defrost by spreading onto a baking sheet and giving a quick refresh in the oven at 350 for 5 minutes.
Nex time … filing and gluing.