Recipe 1 of 61: Pâte à choux / Choux paste
I first heard of Jacquy Pfeiffer when I watched “Kings of Pastry” about five years ago. Back then, I wasn’t really into baking yet, but I was still blown away by how talented the pastry chefs were. When I decided to start this journey, it took me a LONG time to narrow down what book I would bake from first. I really debated between him and Rose Levy Beranbaum’s “The Baking Bible”. I decided on Jacquy because I honestly hadn’t heard much about him compared to Rose Levy Beranbaum. Plus, an entire book of pastries sounded extremely difficult, yes, but also extremely delicious, challenging, and fun. I went with him because I really wanted to push myself. Jacquy is the cofounder of the French Pastry School in Chicago, the only pastry school in the United States dedicated entirely to pastry. Why would I not want to learn from the best of the best??? So here we are, and here is the first post of my journey!
Jacquy Pfeiffer starts his book out with equipment and ingredient essentials. I honestly normally skip this chapter in recipe books and go straight to the recipes because in most recipes books, I already have everything I’d need; however, you’d better believe I read each and every word! He recommends a lot and for specific reasons. Like I said in my first post, I actually started this journey in 2017 but stopped. I purchased about 40% of the items I needed then. The rest I had planned on buying as the recipes called for them. There are a few ingredients where he highly recommends a specific brand, and I’ll explain why I decided to go with his suggestions as the recipes include them.
The below picture shows my list of things I needed to buy in 2017…
Since 2017, I have purchased about 80% of these items.
The first chapter, French Pastry Fundamentals, includes pretty easy recipes for a baker, such as Sugar Icing Glaze, Egg Wash, and Simple Syrup (I’m not including those recipes). It also includes pâte à choux. Pâte à choux (pronounced pat-ugh-shoe) is a light, airy dough that is cooked on the stove then baked in the oven and used to make éclair shells, cream puffs, and many many other fantastic desserts. It can be pretty finicky if you don’t know what you’re doing. The ingredients have to be incorporated correctly and at a specific time, and if your oven temperature is off even in the slightest, they can either end up pretty doughy or burned. I would know. Lucky me, I’m a perfectionist. Which means that recipes aren’t just done once. They’re done until they’re done correctly. A blessing and a curse…I’ve made cream puffs in the past, so I already knew how to make pâte à choux; however, Jacquy’s recipe tops them, and his tricks of the trade helped me perfect them. I now include it in my favorite recipes of all time.
***I checked with Jacquy’s publishing company, and I’m not legally allowed to write posts with Jacquy’s entire recipe book as they don’t permit use of author’s materials on open to public, social sharing websites (I assumed that, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask anyway). What I plan on doing for each recipe I make is to include photos, written out and very basic instructions with no actual measurements of ingredients, how difficult it was to make, the time it took me, and rate the taste. I also plan on writing one thing I learn from each recipe, whether big or small. If you want the recipe, you’ll have to buy his book, which you won’t regret!
Pâte à choux
Difficulty: 4/5 back in 2017, 1/5 in 2020
Taste: Honestly, pâte à choux doesn’t have much flavor, which is why filling is always added. It’s like slightly salty, light and puffy airy dough? I’d probably give it a 2/5 on its own, but with filling 5/5.
How long it took me: 30 minutes to prep, 45 minutes to cook/add eggs/bake, total time approx 1 hour, 15 minutes*
*I want to note that the directions in his book are long. Pâte à choux is actually a really short recipe; however, his details are incredible and help out so much. The first time you make pâte à choux, it will take some time; however, once you get the hang of it, I promise it’s really simple and won’t take half the time the next time you make it. I promise! Pâte à choux is such a necessary recipe to know in order to make many of the delicious pastries that I love, and I promise it is worth your time 🙂
The first and most important instruction, really for any recipe ever, is to read the directions…and then read them again. For Jacquy’s recipes, I read them four times completely though prior to starting anything. Also, prep every ingredient ahead of time. Personally, I put them in order on the counter of when I’ll use them-it makes it SO much easier, especially when making a new recipe. This gets rid of a ton of stress because your ingredients will be available at the exact moment you need them!
To make pâte à choux, you start out with mixing milk, water, butter, sugar and sea salt in a medium pan. Have it come to a full boil. This makes a difference-don’t wait only until it just starts bubbling. Bring to a FULL BOIL. Once that happens and everything is fully incorporated, the next step is to add sifted flour in one fell swoop. This has to be done all at once and then immediately whisked vigorously so that the mixture comes together. There’s only about 30 seconds to do this-after that time, everything should be a nice, uniform mass.
The next step is to place the pan back on the stove and cook it for another minute*, stirring the entire time, until it’s “dry” and begins to make a sort of hissing sound while sticking to the bottom and congealing in a lump (doesn’t that sound yummy? lol).
*This minute is important as it cooks the protein in the flour that was added. If you didn’t cook the protein out, the flour would taste raw. When you cook flour, it gives it a nutty and deeper flavor that really adds to dishes. Also, apparently raw flour can make you sick. Flour comes from grains that grow in the ground obviously, and the FDA is concerned about how they may be exposed to a variety of bacteria; however, I’ll be honest, I don’t listen to the FDA when it comes to stuff like that-I am 100% someone who eats cookie dough and cake batter raw. Not ashamed. I’ve been doing it for over 25 years and haven’t gotten sick once, so…moving on.
Next, we move over to the mixer. Plop the dough into the mixer and mix for about 30 seconds, with the paddle attachment. The last ingredient to pâte à choux is eggs. This is also the most important step of making pâte à choux. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating on medium speed until each is FULLY incorporated into the dough before adding the next one. Once you’ve added a couple eggs, make sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl so everything is incorporated correctly. Add the remaining eggs following the same procedure.
Now is time to decide if you’ve added enough eggs so the pâte à choux is at the right consistency. This takes time to know. I had to make the choux pastry three different times before I FINALLY got it right. If the consistency is right, when you pull the beater out, the dough sticking to the paddle should hang down in a V shape.
The left picture is after two eggs. It needed more liquid. The middle picture is after three eggs, just about right, but not quite. It should hang down a bit more than that. The right picture is perfect. I wouldn’t add any more egg to this, it’s JUST on the verge of being too much egg; however, this one came out perfectly light and puffy in the oven.
***If your dough doesn’t hang down in a V shape, you can add a very small amount of egg or a little warm milk, but be careful doing that because you can’t fix a soupy choux pastry. Not even by adding flour. It doesn’t work. I tried…if it’s soupy, you have to start over, and that just plain sucks.
Once you’ve got your dough to the right consistency, transfer it to a pastry bag fitted with a 3/8-inch round tip and pipe away! Always brush the surface of choux pastry evenly with some egg wash. Egg wash is made of egg, heavy cream, milk and salt. Jacquy recommends making a small impression on the surface with the tines of a fork, which helps the pastry to rise evenly.
TIP: Do you have nips on your pastry? Jacquy doesn’t say this extremely easy tip in his book, but just put your finger in some warm water and dab it onto the nip. All gone!
***As pâte à choux is used in many recipes, pipe however your recipes asks. Jacquy has a few pages after the directions on how to make pâte à choux that explain how to pipe correctly. I highly highly recommend purchasing his book for all the extra knowledge you’ll get. For example, there is a different way to pipe for every. single. recipe! Whether it be cream puffs, éclairs, macarons, or Paris-Brest, each is piped uniquely and necessarily that way.
Once placed in the oven, he recommends baking until the pastries rise, about 10-12 minutes. Mine took 13 minutes because every oven is different! Once they’ve risen, you actually lower the oven temp and then bake them again, long enough to form a crust so they’ll hold their shape and dry out completely. Otherwise they’re doughy, as shown in the left photo below. No thanks. Jacquy recommends 25-45 minutes for the “second” bake, depending on the size of the pastries. As ovens are always different, watch your oven when it gets close to that time. For example, cream puffs I found were perfectly golden as shown in the right photo after baking about 30 minutes, opening the oven door to let steam out, then leaving them in a couple more minutes.
The left cream puff wasn’t quite done-you can see that it looks too wet inside. The right cream puff is perfect. The choux pastry is done when they’re dark golden brown on the outside and hollow with a little moisture in the middle.
So…What did I learn from this recipe? The importance of eggs and how quickly they can change a recipe into something magical. I also learned from his pages of instructions how to correctly pipe cream puffs, éclairs, salambos, and Paris—Brest. All of these are upcoming recipes! I also learned that it is possible for Tim and I to eat 60 cream puffs in two days…
Is this a blog series? If not, it should be. I would love to read the next installment on this subject.
Yes, the plan is to bake through entire recipe books-I’m currently baking through “The Art of French Pastry”, by Jacquy Pfeiffer. There are 61 recipes total I plan to complete from his book 🙂 Thanks for following along!