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Pate a Choux – An Essential Recipe

Pate a Choux is an essential pastry recipe that is the base for many desserts; cream puffs, eclairs, gougères, churros just to name a few.  Use this batter to make light as a feather cream puffs filled with Vanilla Rum Pastry Cream.

a plaste of Cream Puffs

In a professional pastry kitchen we don’t reinvent the wheel for every single dish. We have a repertoire of what I’m calling, “essential recipes”. These are recipes that we use over and over again in various forms to create new variations on standard recipes.

A good Pate a Choux recipe is essential

Pate a Choux is an essential recipe because it forms the base of many other dishes. It’s not a one trick pony. Master this rather simple dough and you can make these cream puffs, but also chocolate eclairs, gougères, churros and some really fancy French pastries like a croquembouche, St. Honoré cake and Paris-Brest.

a plate of cream puffs sprinkled with sugar

Let’s geek out with a little baking science:

All baked goods rise because air in the batter or dough expands when heated. The air bubbles are trapped in a network of protein and/or starch and form the “crumb”. The air bubbles can be formed by different means for different recipes.

Physical manipulation of the ingredients creates air bubbles, as is the case when you use the “creaming” method for a traditional pound cake.  Chemical Leaveners and yeast will  react with water and other ingredients in the recipe and release carbon dioxide gas, which forms air bubbles in the batter or dough.

Pate a Choux is interesting because it is a big release of steam that creates the air in the batter. The high proportion of liquid and protein in this batter work together to create the special “crumb”, which is essentially a giant air pocket trapped in a crisp shell.

In the oven, as the outside of the cream puff begins to set, the batter inside still has lots of moisture. As the moisture heats up and forms steam, this pushes the batter out and forms the large air cavities that are just begging for a delicious filling.

Choux batter also has a high proportion of protein from the flour and eggs, which forms a strong shell around the air. The stronger the shell, the higher it can expand.

For cream puffs I want maximum crispness and maximum capacity for the creamy filling. For this reason I use high protein bread flour and extra egg whites in my Cream Puff batter.

To make a slightly softer and more tender choux pastry recipe you can use milk instead of water, 4 whole eggs instead of extra whites, and/or all purpose flour instead of bread flour.

When I make gougeres, those delicious little cheesy pastries, I like to make a slightly richer batter and will make those changes to alter the texture of the final product.

Once again, knowing the science behind the ingredients helps you create the art of a perfect baked good.

a plate of cream puffs made from pate a choux a cream puff on a plate

Watch the recipe video to see how to make Pate a Choux & Cream Puffs.

Pate a choux cream puffs

Pate a Choux – An Essential Recipe

Yield: 2 dozen puffs
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Bake Time: 20 minutes
Drying Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes

Pate a Choux is an essential pastry recipe that is the base for many desserts; cream puffs, eclairs, gougères, churros just to name a few. This recipe includes a Vanilla Pastry Cream filling for cream puffs.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (8 oz, 236ml) water
  • 1/4 cup (2 oz, 56g) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 tsp table salt
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (5.5 oz, 150g) bread flour (see note 1)
  • 3 large eggs plus 2 whites, room temperature, whisked (see note 2)

Cream Puff Filling

  • 1 recipe Vanilla Pastry Cream, chilled
  • 1 cup (8 oz, 236 ml) heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup (1 oz, 28g) powdered sugar

Instructions

  1. Combine the water, butter, salt and sugar in a saucepan. Bring the water to a full boil.
  2. Remove the pan from the heat and add the flour all a once. Vigorously stir the batter until the flour is absorbed and there are no lumps.
  3. Return the pan to medium low heat and continue stirring for 3 minutes. The batter will come together and form a smooth, cohesive ball.
  4. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the batter to a food processor fitted with a blade (if mixing by hand transfer to a mixing bowl). With the processor running, add eggs in a steady stream. Mix until the batter comes together.
  5. (If mixing by hand add the eggs in three batches. After each addition, stir vigorously until the batter comes together.)

To Make Cream Puffs

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F convection or 400°F regular. Line a 1/2 sheet pan with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Put a dab of batter into the four corners of the pan to stick the parchment to the pan.
  2. Scoop the batter onto the sheet pan, spaced about 2" apart. Use a wet fingertip to tamp down any points on top of the batter rounds. Bake until well puffed and golden brown, about 20 minutes
  3. Remove the puffs from the oven and turn off the heat. Use a small paring knife to form a small hole in the bottom of each puff. Return the tray to the still warm (but turned off) oven and allow the puffs to dry for at least 30 minutes.
  4. Cool to room temperature before filling (see note 3).

Filling

  1. Whip the cream with the powdered sugar. Fold the cream into the pastry cream in two batches. Don't overstir! Scoop the cream into a pastry bag fitted with a small, plain tip. Pipe the filling into the cream puffs, making sure each puff is completely filled.
  2. Refrigerate until serving. Sprinkle with powdered sugar just before serving.

Notes

1. If measuring by volume use the "dip & sweep" method.

2. Save the extra yolks to make pastry cream filling.

3. The baked puffs or eclairs freeze very well. Pack them into freezer bags (don't overcrowd or crush) and freeze for up to a month. To use, line the frozen puffs on a sheet pan and heat in a 350°F oven for 5 minutes. Cool and fill.

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Cream puff filled with pastry cream

Pastry Cream

Yield: 2 cups
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes

Vanilla Pastry Cream is an essential baking recipe. Use it to fill cream puffs or eclairs. Add chocolate or bananas for a cream pie filling. Put it under fresh fruit in a tart shell, or between layers of puff pastry for napoleons. One essential recipe, so many possibilities.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (8 oz, 240 ml) whole milk
  • 1/3 cup (3 oz, 84g) granulated sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons (.75 oz, 20g) corn starch
  • 2 tablespoons (1 oz, 28g) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons (.3 oz, 10g) dark rum (optional)

Instructions

  1. Place the milk, sugar and salt in a small sauce pan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add the seeds and pod to the milk. Heat over medium high until scalding.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl use a hand whisk to combine the eggs, yolks and cornstarch until smooth.
  3. Whisk the scalding milk into the egg mixture, then return the custard to the pan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and just begins to boil.
  4. Immediately strain the pastry cream back into a the bowl. Add the butter and rum. Stir until the butter is melted.
  5. Cover with waxed paper or buttered parchment directly on the surface and cool to room temperature, chill several hours or overnight until completely cooled and set.

Notes

Variations: To make chocolate pastry cream, add 4 oz of chopped semi sweet chocolate with the butter and rum. Stir until all the chocolate is melted.

To make coffee pastry cream add 1 Tbsp of espresso powder to the scalded milk.

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Did you make this recipe?

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Philip Belton

Sunday 15th of September 2019

tried your recipe for pate a choux to make cream puffs 1.used all the ingredients as described in your recipe 2.followed the instructions to a tee 3 1st time baked to dough at 400 for 20 min's as the recipe called for puffs raised shut off oven poked a hole in bottom of he puffs placed back in oven for 30 min's. 4. opened up 4 puffs there was hardly any room for the filling.

1a, second time followed steps 1 & 2 as above 1b. 2nd time baked dough at 400 for 30 min's puffs raised shut off oven poked hole in bottom of the puffs placed back in oven for 30 min's open up 4 puffs again still hardly any room for the filling.

2a. third time followed steps 1 & 2 as above. 2b .3rd timed baked dough at 400 for 40 min's puffs raised--shut off oven poked hole in bottom of the puffs placed back in oven for 30 min's again open up 4 puffs again still hardly any room for the filling

so could you please tell me what I could be doing wrong have and electric oven-- also using 2 different oven thermometer to get the right temp and they both show 400

Eileen Gray

Wednesday 18th of September 2019

Generally, the amount of puff you get is more about how the batter is mixed than about the baking (unless the temp or time is widely off). If you watch the recipe video you can see how the batter looks at each point in the process. Make sure to return the batter to the heat after the flour is added. You see in the video that the batter will form a ball when the pan is shaken.