Recipe by Sarah Phillips; Food styling and photos by Kelly Hong © 2-15-2015 Sarah Phillips CraftyBaking.com
Variations: Savory Eclairs; Pate a Choux Dough and Filled Cream Puffs
In French, choux means cabbage because it derives its shape when the dough is piped and baked into cream puffs. The goal in making the perfect cream pastry puff is to have the finest crispy crust, the lightest interior, and an even and golden browned shape. Making the Pâte à choux dough properly is the single most critical factor in any successful recipe. The dough is really a stable emulsion of fat and water, formed with the help of the yolk's emulsifiers. This recipe is used to make the Pomegranate Pistachio Chocolate Eclairs!
PASTRY RECIPE HELP
Many recipes for Pâte à choux dough vary, but this is the one I use because it is no fail! Always pay attention to what the choux pastry dough looks like - it should be creamy and smooth so it can be piped and hold its shape. It is important to make sure it is not dry when you cook it; after all the eggs are incorporated, the dough should be stiff enough to hold a peak when a spoon is lifted out of it, but still be somewhat moist. It should not be leaching oil from the butter.
Pate a Choux Dough:
3/4 cup cold water
8 tablespoons butter, 4 ounces; can be cold from the refrigerator
2 tablespoons sugar
Pinch salt; SARAH SAYS: Salt will help keep the Pâte à choux from cracking so do not leave it out!
1 cup (about 5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour; spoon into measuring cup and level to rim; or more if needed
4 large eggs, must be close to room temperature; or more if needed
1 large egg
1 teaspoon cold water
STEP I: HEAT THE OVEN AND PREPARE THE PANS. MAKE THE PATE A CHOUX DOUGH.
Heat the oven and prepare the pans:
1. Position two oven shelves, one in the upper and the other in the lower-middle levels of the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
SARAH SAYS: A convection oven is ideal for choux pastry, yielding a more uniform color and puffiness. If using, bake at 50 degrees lower than the temperatures stated above.
2. Line two baking pans, each with nonstick baking mats or a sheet of parchment paper, using dabs of choux dough at each corner to glue the paper down.
Do NOT grease the pans; the grease will cause the dough to flatten. DO not use nonstick pans, either.
Make the pate a choux dough:
1. Combine water, butter, sugar and salt in a 2-quart heavy bottomed saucepan. Place it over medium heat.
2. Cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until the butter melts and the liquid is brought to a rapid boil. Immediately remove the saucepan from the heat
3. Immediately sift in the flour all at once.
4. Beat with a wooden spoon until smooth.
5. Return the saucepan to medium heat and cook for about 3 to 5 minutes, beating constantly with a spoon. This is to evaporate all excess moisture from the mixture.
While you cook the paste, flatten and turn the dough against the sides of the pan, drying the paste as much as possible.
The dough will form a cohesive ball in the center of the pan even after a few strokes. Note that the bottom of the pan will be lightly filmed with the paste which you shouldn't scrap while cooking..
Cook and stir until the mixture holds together and begins to leave the sides of the pan clean, leaves the spoon clean, and leaves a thin film on the bottom of the pan (unless you are using a nonstick pan).
SARAH SAYS: Avoid overcooking the paste and letting the fat separate out from the butter.
6. Transfer the paste, without scraping the bottom and sides of the pan, to a 2- to 3-quart bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer.
Fit the mixer with a paddle attachment and beat on the lowest speed for 1 minute or until it cools slightly before you add the eggs.
7. Add the eggs; they should be close to room temperature.
With the mixer on low, add them to the one at a time, beating well after each addition, to prevent the mixture from breaking and separating.
The dough will appear slippery at first but will become sticky and then smooth again as you continue to mix. The dough will be warm.
6. After all the eggs are incorporated, stop the mixer, and the dough should hold its shape and be stiff enough to hold a peak when a spoon is lifted out of it.
It will also still be somewhat sticky from the eggs.
When you have added the last egg, pinch off a small bit of dough with your thumb and index finger, and pull it apart. If it stretches between your thumb and finger, it is at a good consistency.
If it breaks apart right away, add another egg and beat to incorporate. If the dough is too soft, it will spread out when formed; add a teaspoon of flour at a time to the mixture and beat on low to stiffen.
STEP II: PIPE THE PATE A CHOUX DOUGH. BAKE THE ECLAIRS.
Proceed as quickly as possible so the Pâte à choux dough is still warm when it enters the oven. Cold choux pastry will also be stiff and harder to pipe.
1. Scrape the dough into a piping bag fitted with a Wilton #12 round tip.
2. Pipe out the dough into approximately 4-inch long strips, trying to keep them of even thickness along the length. Keep them about 1-inch apart.
NOTE: Pipe two rows of éclairs, staggering the rows, as seen in the picture below. If you want a guide while piping your éclairs, draw lines on the underside of parchment paper before you put it down.
3. Brush the tops lightly with an egg wash made of an egg beaten with water.
NOTE: The end of the éclairs will have a little “tail”, brushing on the egg wash AGAINST the tail, will help pat down it down, making a more uniform éclair.
4. Take a fork and draw the tines lightly down the length of each éclair, scoring the top. This will help the éclairs expand evenly in the oven.
5. For best results, bake the dough immediately after it's formed in a well-preheated oven. This will ensure the greatest expansion and lightness.
If you have more dough than you need, form and bake all of it and freeze the excess finished éclairs. Baked and cooled shapes may be frozen. Wrap them tightly after they have cooled.
Bake the formed choux dough:
1. Place the filled baking sheets in the upper and lower-middle shelves of the oven.
2. Bake until the éclairs are beginning to puff up and take on color, about 10 minutes.
3. Lower the temperature to 350 degrees F, rotate the pan, and prop the oven door open slightly with a wooden spoon.
Bake for about 15 minutes more or until the éclairs have turned golden brown. To check, a wooden skewer inserted into the center from its bottom should come out dry.
SARAH SAYS: A properly baked éclair retains its puffy shape, with a hollow interior with an outside that is crisp and fairly dry, with an all over golden color. When broken apart, it should have a slightly moist crumb on the inside. However, if they are removed from the oven too soon, the structure of it has not solidified, and it will collapse. However, when you think they are done take one out of the oven and check it by breaking open and checking the interior walls. If wet and eggy, return to the oven as necessary. Remove when done and cool on a wire rack.
4. IMPORTANT: After removing the pastries from the oven, immediately puncture them on the bottom with the tip of a wooden skewer or sharp knife to allow steam to escape. Remove the stick or knife.
This will prevent sogginess. Place them on a wire cake rack to cool.
At this point you can fill them, or store them in the freezer for up to 2 weeks before using. Wrap the baked shells tightly after they have cooled. Let them defrost completely before using.
Omit sugar, decrease the butter to 6 tablespoons (3 ounces). Proceed as directed, above.