How to Make Pate a Choux & Fill Eclairs and Cream Puffs

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[This is Part 2 in a two-part tutorial series that I put together to illustrate how to make pastry cream and how to make pâte à choux dough for cream puffs and éclairs. If you missed the first part, feel free to go back and read Part 1: Pastry Cream.]

Éclairs and cream puffs are one of my favorite desserts. My mom used to go to a bakery and pick some up for me each time I would visit as a special treat. I am ashamed to say that I *may* have once thrown an adult temper tantrum when I realized that the number of éclairs I was planning to take back with me had diminished by a noticeable number and I was not the one who had eaten them. I’m serious about my desserts, folks! Since I had previously conquered pastry cream and made it a number of times since, I felt that it was finally the perfect time to master pâte à choux and whip up those delicious pastries that I love so much.

I had been intimidated by pâte à choux for quite a while, and had always shied away from trying it. It seemed so… delicate. So… fussy. Imagine my shock when I made it for the first time and found it to be… simple. Gorgeous puffs of dough emerged from the oven. No drama. Beginners luck, perhaps? I’m still not sure, but I’ve never encountered problems with the dough and have found the recipe and method I’m going to share with you to be virtually foolproof. Okay, you made the pastry cream – now it’s time to create the pastries!

Once again, I am using the same recipe that was used when I first made éclairs and cream puffs, so if you’d like a commentary and photo-free recipe to print, I suggest heading over to that post.

IMPORTANT NOTE: When I did this tutorial I was making cream puffs for an order, so I doubled the recipe. That’s why you may see twice as many ingredients in the pictures as what is called for in the recipe.

Part 2: Pâte à Choux

This recipe makes enough for 24 cream puffs or 8 éclairs.

The ingredients:

2 large eggs plus 1 large egg white
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces
2 tablespoons whole milk
6 tablespoons water
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, sifted

1. Beat the eggs and egg white in a measuring cup or small bowl; you should have 1/2 cup (discard the excess). Set aside.

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2. Bring the butter, milk, water, sugar, and salt to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring once or twice.

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When the mixture reaches a full boil (the butter should be fully melted), immediately remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the flour with a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon until combined and the mixture clears the sides of the pan.

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Return the saucepan to low heat and cook, stirring constantly, using a smearing motion, until the mixture is slightly shiny, looks like wet sand, and tiny beads of fat appear on the bottom of the saucepan, about 3 minutes (the paste should register 175 to 180 degrees on an instant-read thermometer).

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3. Immediately transfer the mixture to a food processor and process with the feed tube open for 10 seconds to cool slightly. With the machine running, gradually add the eggs in a steady stream. When all the eggs have been added, scrape down the sides of the bowl, then process for 30 seconds until a smooth, thick, sticky paste forms.

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(If not using immediately, transfer the paste to a medium bowl, press a sheet of plastic wrap that has been sprayed lightly with nonstick cooking spray directly on the surface, and store at room temperature for up to 2 hours.)

4. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 425 degrees. Spray a large (18 by 12-inch) baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray and line with parchment paper; set the pan aside.

5. Fold down the top 3 or 4 inches of a large pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip to form a cuff. [If you don’t have a 1/2-inch plain tip, you can cut  a 1/2-inch hole off the bottom of a disposable pastry bag or large ziploc bag.] Hold the bag open with one hand in the cuff and fill the bag with the paste. Unfold the cuff and push the paste toward the tip of the pastry bag.

A Note on Filling a Pastry Bag: I have always found that using a tall glass to hold the pastry bag while I fill it with dough, icing, melted chocolate, etc. makes it much easier and less messy.

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For cream puffs: Twist the top of the bag and pipe the paste into 1 1/4- to 1 1/2-inch mounds on the prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 1 to 1 1/4 inches apart. Use the back of a teaspoon dipped in a bowl of cold water to even out the shape and smooth the surface of the piped mounds.

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For éclairs: Twist the top of the bag and pipe the paste into eight 5 by 1-inch strips, spaced about 1 inch apart. Use the back of a teaspoon dipped in a bowl of cold water to even out the shape and smooth the surface of the piped strips.

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6. Bake 15 minutes (do not open the oven door), then reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees and continue to bake until golden brown and fairly firm (the puffs and éclairs should not be soft and squishy), 8 to 10 minutes longer. Remove the baking sheet from the oven. With a paring knife, cut a 3/4-inch slit into the side of each puff and on the top of each éclair to release steam; return the puffs to the oven, turn off the oven, and prop the oven door open with the handle of a wooden spoon.

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Dry the puffs and éclairs in the turned-off oven until the centers are just moist (not wet) and the puffs and éclairs are crisp, about 45 minutes. Transfer the puffs and/or éclairs to a wire rack to cool completely. (The cooled puffs and éclairs can be stored at room temperature for up to 24 hours or frozen in a zipper-lock plastic bag for up to 1 month. Before serving, crisp room-temperature puffs in a 300-degree oven 5 to 8 minutes; crisp frozen puffs/éclairs 8 to 10 minutes.)

7. When ready to serve:

For puffs: Use the tip of a paring knife to make a small X in the side of each puff, about halfway between the top and bottom. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch plain tip with the pastry cream and then pip some pastry cream through the X in the side of each puff. (Fill each puff until the pastry cream starts to ooze out the side.) Top with chocolate glaze or sifted powdered sugar.

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For éclairs: With a paring knife, cut around the sides of each éclair to remove the top third. Dip the top of each éclair into the glaze, shaking off any excess, and transfer the tops to a wire rack to dry. Spoon 3 to 4 tablespoons of pastry cream in the bottom of each éclair. Once the glaze has set, set the tops on the éclairs and press gently to secure. [You could also use a long, narrow pastry tip (such as this) and use the same method as cream puffs, piping in pastry cream from each end.]