Traditional recipes

Pâte à Choux: The Basis For Many Classic French Pastries

Pâte à Choux: The Basis For Many Classic French Pastries

The basis for many classic French pastries like profiteroles,croquembouches, éclairs, and the St. Honoré cake, pâte à choux dough is a light pastry dough that every chef must master. In French, the word choux (pronounced shoo) means cabbage, since the little balls of puffed-up dough resemble little cabbages. Not only for dessert, this dough can be transformed into a savory cheese puff or gougère. While classic pâte à choux is baked, other versions like churros and beignets are the same dough, but fried. Learning how to make this classic dough is essential for many sweet and savory dishes.

To make the dough, you’ll need a just a few ingredients: water, butter, salt, flour, and eggs. First, start by heating the water, butter, and a pinch of salt in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and add the flour. Stirring constantly, cook until the dough forms a ball and pulls away from the sides of the pan. There should be a thin layer of dough that forms on the bottom of the pan, when this is just golden brown, the dough is ready. Transfer to a mixer and beat with a paddle attachment on high to release steam. After most of the steam has escaped, add the eggs, one at a time.

Rather than being chemically leavened by using baking soda or baking powder, or a natural leavening agent like yeast, choux dough is leavened with steam, similar to puff pastry or a croissant. First the dough is baked at a high temperature and then at a low temperature. The initial high temperature is used to create the steam, thus making the dough rise.

After the dough is baked, you can cut each ball in half and fill them with ice cream or whipped cream. Since the dough is leavened with steam, you can also carefully poke a hole in the bottom and using a piping bag and small tip to fill each with sweet or savory filling. One of my favorite ways to prepare these is to add Gruyère and Parmesan cheese to the batter after adding the eggs, then filling each baked dough with a mornay sauce. These are delicate and flavorful appetizers that are elegant for any party.

Now that you know some basics for making the perfect pâte à choux, you’re armed with a classic dough to add to your repertoire that can be made into many sweet and savory appetizers and desserts.

Emily Jacobs is the Recipe editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @EmilyRecipes.


Recipe Summary

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 large eggs, plus 1 large egg white

Bring butter, sugar, salt, and 1 cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from heat. Using a wooden spoon, quickly stir in flour. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until mixture pulls away from sides and a film forms on bottom of pan, about 3 minutes.

Transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until slightly cooled, about 1 minute. Raise speed to medium add whole eggs, 1 at a time, until a soft peak forms when batter is touched with your finger. If peak does not form, lightly beat remaining egg white, and mix it into batter a little at a time until it does.


Classic Homemade Choux Pastry

Choux pastry (pronounced "shoo") is used for making beignets, cream puffs, éclairs, ​and gougères, among other things, and it's leavened entirely by steam, not by baking powder, baking soda, or yeast.

How this is accomplished is by baking the choux first at a high temperature to generate the steam, and then finishing at a lower temperature to set the pastry and brown the outside.

It's traditional to use a pastry bag, with the 1/2 inch plain tip, to pipe the choux dough onto your baking sheet. You could just spoon it out into little mounds, or for éclairs, shape the dough into little cylinders with your hands. But a pastry bag will definitely give you a nicer result.​

Note: The only slightly tricky thing about this recipe is that I've written it in a way you might not be used to seeing—which is to say, I'm using weights rather than volume measurements for the ingredients. This isn't very common in the U.S., but it will make it easier for you to use the right amount of everything, and your choux will turn out much better.

I've indicated approximate volume measurements for each, just to give you an idea, but you should definitely go by weight. This means you'll need a digital scale that can be set to grams.

Finally, it's important to use bread flour, not all-purpose flour or cake flour, so that the choux will have a good structure and not deflate.


Step #5: Pipe the dough

Now that the pastry dough is ready, choose your shape and if you want to bake or fry it. I recommend using a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip or star tip. Round is typically used for profiteroles, cream puffs, and eclairs. Star is used for Paris-breast and churros. If baking, make sure to pipe onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet about 2 inches apart.


Choux Pastry Pâte à choux (Pat ah shoe)

Prep time: 30 minutes your first try, 20 minutes with practice
Bake time: 20 to 35 minutes (depending on size of the pastry)

This makes about 2 cups of choux paste, good for 40 small puffs or 12 larger ones.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup water
  • 6 tablespoons butter, cut in 6 pieces
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 1 beaten egg (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F (210°C).
  2. Place the water, butter, sugar and salt in a medium sized saucepan and place on medium heat. Remove from heat as soon as the butter has melted and the water is boiling.
  3. Using a wooden spoon, stir in all of the flour at once. Mix for at least two minutes and until the mixture is smooth, detaches from the sides of the pan, and forms a ball. The residual heat of the pan dries the dough as you are stirring.
  4. Add one egg and beat the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon until the egg is fully incorporated. Add the other three eggs, one at a time, in the same fashion. Each egg takes about a minute to be absorbed into the batter.
  5. You can use a pastry bag to form the pastries, or work with two spoons (one to scoop the batter and the other to slide it off the first spoon onto the tray). If you use a pastry bag, a 1/2 inch diameter tip is good for small puffs and a 3/4 inch diameter tip is good for large puffs. When forming the puffs, keep in mind that each one will at least double in size in all directions.
  6. Scoop or pipe the puffs onto a baking tray covered with parchment cooking paper. If you wish, use a pastry brush to lightly coat the tops of the puffs with beaten egg. This will give the puffs a lovely shiny and slightly crunchy finish.
  7. For small puffs, bake at 425°F (210°C) for 20 minutes. For larger puffs, after 20 minutes of baking, lower the oven temperature to 375° F (190°C), and bake 10 to 15 minutes longer. To insure that the inside of the choux pastry does not get soggy after baking, pierce each puff and return the tray to the oven that has been turned off. Leave them in the oven with the door ajar for 10 minutes.

How to master pâte à choux (for éclairs, gougeres and cute little cream puffs)

By Erin Jeanne McDowell
Published February 18, 2021 5:00PM (UTC)

(James Ransom / Food52)

Shares

This story first appeared on Food52, an online community that gives you everything you need for a happier kitchen and home – that means tested recipes, a shop full of beautiful products, a cooking hotline, and everything in between!

This original article was written to detail the process of specifically making crullers, a fried pâte à choux based pastry. For the February episode of Bake it Up a Notch, we took a deep dive into all things pâte à choux, and I wanted to update the article to discuss the broader scope of this process — one of my favorite pastry building blocks and baking standbys.

Pâte à choux should be on your "to bake" list. This classic pastry dough/batter hybrid is incredibly versatile: It's the foundation for tasty baked goods like éclairs, cream puffs, and gougeres. It can also be fried into light, crisp, and golden pastries like crullers or churros. But unlike many recipes with fancy French names, it's also fantastically achievable. The ingredient list is short, the procedure is relatively quick and can be pulled off without a lot of special equipment (though some comes in handy, if you've got it). Best of all, the method is easy to master once you understand the basics.

  1. The ingredients.
  2. Cooking.
  3. Mixing.
  4. Piping.
  5. Resting.
  6. Baking or frying.
  7. Finishing.
  8. Serving.

1. The ingredients.

Here's the good news: There aren't a lot of them. You'll need a liquid (typically water and/or milk), butter, flour, salt, and eggs. With that being said, several of these ingredients have a few variables to consider.

The first debate in pâte à choux world: Water or milk? Some folks swear that milk is the way to go. Others say don't waste milk — water does just fine. I've always used 50/50, so I'm pretty much toeing a neutral line on this argument. Essentially, the only real difference is that the additional fats, sugars, and proteins in the milk can promote more (and more even) browning of the choux when it's baked.

I like the browning results, but I also like how crispy choux products made with water are, which is why I opt for a combination — but water alone definitely works. Basically, if you've got enough milk in your fridge to spare some, I'd recommend using it. But if you've only got enough for two cups of morning coffee, skip it — your choux certainly won't suffer.

The second ingredient worth weighing in on is the type of flour to use. Many recipes call for all-purpose flour, which works great. But some recipes (including mine) call for bread flour. I use it for a few reasons. For one thing, the higher protein levels in bread flour help give the choux more structure, helping to produce an ideal rise and crispness. These higher protein levels also play a role in moisture absorption during the cooking process.

Generally speaking, the higher the protein content in the flour, the more moisture it will absorb and the more moisture absorption in the batter, the more we're able to ensure a quick, even cooking process when making choux. That said, I mentioned how flexible this recipe is if you've only got all-purpose flour, still feel free to choux away! You can use it in equal measure, but just take care to check the final consistency well (more on that later).

The last ingredient is possibly the most important to the equation: the eggs. No matter how precisely you follow a recipe for pâte à choux, the eggs are the most delicate and finicky part. How many you need can — and will — vary depending on how much moisture loss occurs during the cooking process, as well as the size of the eggs themselves. As I often suggest when baking, the most accurate way to measure a recipe of this sort is to scale it out using weight (ideally grams). But just plan on having an extra egg or two on hand when you're mixing the batter to help you adjust the consistency of the batter, if needed.

The first step of preparing pâte à choux is the making of the panade on the stovetop. Think of the panade like a sort of pastry roux: It's the base of the dough, to which eggs are added to in the next step.

In a medium pot (you'll want to leave room to allow yourself some vigorous stirring space), bring the milk and/or water, butter, and salt to a boil. I opt to use a pretty gentle heat here — it's important to avoid scalding. Stick to medium or medium-low and just know it may take a little while. Once you've brought your liquid and fat mixture to a boil, add your flour all at once (side note: I find the action of dumping the flour into a pot of boiling liquid, stamping it down, and watching it turn into a paste incredibly satisfying). This process sets the stage for everything that is to follow. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture forms a ball around your spoon.

As we alluded to above, pâte à choux contains a proportionately high level of moisture, much like popover or pancake batter. But unlike those products, baked goods made with pâte à choux have a crisp exterior and a firm structure because of the unique nature of this moisture absorption and a two-step cooking process which activates different properties in the batter.

The first step of cooking gelatinizes the starches in the batter, meaning the starch granules take in water at a higher rate than if they weren't heated, and the structure of the granules essentially disintegrate and become pliable and flexible. Then, during the second cooking (that is, baking for pastries like éclairs or cream puffs frying for things like crullers), the moisture is released in the form of steam, which creates one large air bubble. That bubble expands and expands until the structure of the pastry sets, leaving the interior hollow.

So at this stage of the process, the paste will be slightly sticky to the touch, but will resemble more of a dough than a batter. In addition to the formation of the dough ball, look for a film to form at the bottom of the pan — this is the sign that the starches in the flour have absorbed the liquid effectively and have gelatinized.

In the next steps of the pâte à choux process, the eggs are incorporated into the base mixture. I like to transfer the paste to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. It is absolutely possible, however, to mix your pâte à choux by hand. If you opt to do so, I suggest transferring it to a heat-safe bowl to help it start to cool slightly before you start adding the eggs. Then, use a wooden spoon or silicone spatula to beat in the eggs by hand.

Some recipes will tell you to let the paste cool for five minutes or more so that you don't scramble the eggs when you add them. I've never followed this rule, and word (from my Instagram followers) shows I'm not alone! I turn my mixer on low speed and mix it for about one minute to help cool the dough down a little before introducing the eggs I start by adding them in a thin stream to help bring things to a more regulated temperature. But if you're scared, let the pâte à choux chill out in the bowl for a few minutes or so before you begin the next step.

Here's how you do it: Crack the eggs into a container with a spout (like a liquid measuring cup), but keep a couple extra eggs nearby, uncracked. With the mixer running, pour the eggs into the mixer in a few additions, each time adding the liquid in a slow, steady stream, and mixing on medium speed until fully combined. Don't be tempted to add the eggs too quickly—think of this process as making an emulsion. The egg yolk helps emulsify the fat (butter) with the gelatinized flour to form one smooth dough. The protein in the eggs also promotes stability, and the albumen in the whites promotes drying out come bake time (i.e. crisper choux)!

Once the eggs have been fully incorporated, stop the mixer to check the consistency of the pâte à choux. Dip the paddle into the choux and lift it up — it should form a V shape, eventually breaking off from the batter in the bowl, hanging off the paddle and holding the V. If it breaks off too quickly or is just generally stiff, you need to add more eggs. Start with one, whisking it and gradually adding it in the same fashion as before, then test for the V again. This will probably be enough, but if not, use part of or the whole second egg. Hopefully this trick will ensure you don't end up with a too-dry choux (which is hard to pipe and also won't brown or crisp as nicely, and may even be dense instead of light and hollow).

Why is this extra egg sometimes needed? Several factors contribute to the texture of the choux each time you make it: How long the liquid takes to come to a boil on the stovetop, and how much evaporation occurs. How quickly the mixture cooks on the stovetop once the flour is added. Even environmental concerns like cold, dry ambient temperature or increased humidity can play a role. Looking for the right visual cue in that final texture allows you to easily adjust the consistency so you get the right texture every time.

Most pâte à choux recipes call for piping the choux into its final shape before baking or frying. This is one of the trickier parts of working with pâte à choux for most folks — but it's nothing to fear. Start by checking out my Piping 101 and Pâte à Choux episodes of Bake it Up a Notch for some guidance that will have you piping like a pro in no time. I think the biggest fear for most people with piping is that it won't look "right" or "even," but practice really does make the difference with skills like these!

In the case of pâte à choux pastries, proper piping will lead to the correct shape, as well as even and uniform rise while baking. Itcan also contribute to the evenness of finished results, especially in baked preparations. Whatever you're making, be it crullers, cream puffs, or éclairs, aim for evenness in shape, size, and placement on the sheet tray. You can even draw guides (like evenly spaced lines for éclairs or tracing circles for cream puffs) on the parchment paper, then flip the paper over on the baking sheet. You'll be able to see the guides but no ink comes in contact with the choux. It also helps if the parchment paper is adhered to the baking sheet do this by putting a small amount of choux at the corners of the parchment to weigh it down. This way, the paper doesn't move around as you pipe.

Cream puffs are piped as mounds of pâte à choux. You can use a round pastry tip or just the cut opening of the pastry bag. Hold the bag perpendicular to the baking sheet, and begin to apply pressure the idea is for the batter to flow out over the initial point of contact, creating a rounded shape. Continue to apply pressure until you achieve the size you were going for, then stop applying pressure. Use a flick of the wrist in a quick circular motion to help break the connection from the pastry tip to the cream puff.

Éclairs are piped as thick lines of pâte à choux. I usually like to pipe éclairs four inches long, so before I start, I draw straight lines four inches apart on my parchment paper to serve as guides. When you're piping, move in a line between the guides, applying steady pressure as you go and taking care to keep the shape as straight as possible. When you reach the size you're aiming for, stop applying pressure to the bag, and move the tip quickly in the opposite direction than which you were originally piping. This will help break the connection between the tip and the éclair.

To pipe crullers, you'll want to use a star tip inside a pastry bag to make the signature ridges. Cut three-inch squares of parchment paper and pipe the dough onto each square in a round (you can trace circles onto the bottom of the parchment as a guide if you want). Pipe the choux into a round on the parchment, aiming for a pretty wide round with a hole in the center. Stop squeezing just before you reach the beginning of the circle and let the batter remaining in the tip fall to the circle, finishing the rounded shape.

It is possible to smooth out any imperfections on a pâte à choux pastry, like a little excess batter mounded on top of a cream puff, or an air bubble on the edge of an éclair. Just dip your finger in cool water and use it to smooth the imperfection before baking.

This is a step I learned in pastry school that I find is worthwhile — but it is totally optional! Allowing the piped pâte à choux to rest before baking allows a slight skin to form on the surface of the raw pastry, and hence helps with a more even rise during baking.

If you're baking your pâte à choux, you can just let it rest for the time it takes the oven to preheat: 10-ish minutes, and up to about 30 minutes max. When frying pâte à choux, the rest has an additional purpose of helping the pastry keep its shape better, and the help of chilling or freezing might be used. For my cruller recipe, for example, I like to freeze the piped crullers on the parchment before frying, meaning much more pronounced signature ridges!

6. Baking or frying.

Baking (Éclairs, Cream Puffs, Gougeres, Etc.)

Pâte à choux is typically baked at a higher temperature, from 375 to 400°F. This helps the pastries rise quickly, creating a big steam bubble in the center of the pastry, which will make it hollow inside.Typically, the choux is egg washed before baking. The main goal is to bake the pastries until they are evenly golden brown in color, the structure is set, and the pastry is very crisp.

But for extra-crispy, extra-special choux pastries, here's a trick from my favorite instructor in pastry school: Bake the pâte à choux until it just begins to turn lightly golden and the structure is set, but the exterior is not fully browned or crisp — five to 10 minutes before the end of the final bake time (shorter for bite-size treats like gougeres, longer for larger pastries). Remove the sheet pans from the oven and allow the pastries to cool on the baking sheet to room temperature. Then, return the cooled pâte à choux to the oven and bake until fully golden and very crisp, finishing out the expected bake time in the recipe.

For some reason, this process makes the pâte à choux brown very evenly all over — the same color on the sides as on the tippity top — like, fantastically, perfectly evenly. I don't know why or how (but oh, how I want to — food scientists out there, lend me an ear!). But I know it works. For the record, pâte à choux will still be delicious and look pretty good if you skip this step. But the rewards of super-crispy, super-brown pastries are absolutely minimal extra effort.

One other thing to keep in mind when baking pâte à choux is venting the baked pastries to keep them crisp. When baking is finished, use the tip of a paring knife to cut a vent in the side or base of the pastry to allow steam to vent out as the pastry cools. This helps to ensure extra crispness as the last of the steam hiding inside the pastry will escape through the vent.

Frying (Crullers, Churros, Etc.)

Fry crullers in 350 to 360°F oil. If you've frozen them first, you can remove them from the parchment. If you haven't, leave the parchment on — the crullers will release from it as soon as the structure sets and then you can just pull the paper out of the oil.

You'll want to fry these pastries until very golden brown, between three and six minutes per side, depending on the size of the pastry. When fried properly, your crullers will have a lightly crisp exterior and a soft, slightly hollow interior if you under-fry them, they'll be doughy instead of crisp. Once they're totally cooked through, transfer them to a wire rack set on a sheet tray lined with absorbent paper towels, and allow to cool completely before glazing and digging in.

7. Filling and finishing.

Pâte à choux pastries can be finished with anything from pearl sugar, sanding sugar, or powdered sugar to a variety of glazes and toppings. For filled pastries, you'll typically find custard or cream based fillings inside — things like pastry cream, whipped cream, or even a combination of the two. Other fillings, like fruit, jam, ganache, caramel, and the like can also be used.

Filled pâte à choux pastries are allowed to cool completely before the filling is added. The easiest way to fill a pâte à choux pastry like an éclair or cream puff is to cut it in half horizontally, then spoon or pipe the filling inside. The leveled-up way is to pipe the filling in through an entry point — often on the base or side of the pastry. I typically use a skewer, paring knife, or the handle of a small spoon to make a hole in the center of the bottom of the pastry or on the side.

When you're ready to fill, use a round piping tip or a Bismarck tip — a long pastry tip specifically made for filling pastries — to insert the filling into the choux. Since you can't really see the filling inside, the best way to tell if it's full enough is to feel its heft the filled pastry should feel significantly heavier than when it was empty. If you fill too much, the filling may burst out of a weak/thin spot in the pastry — so keep a close eye!

Most pâte à choux pastries are best the same day they are made — especially fried or filled versions. It is possible to keep the pâte à choux plain (fully baked but unfilled and ungarnished) and refresh it to re-crisp the pastry. You can bake your pastries and store them in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 48 hours, or freeze them for up to three months. Then, when you're ready to serve them, place the pastries on a parchment-lined baking sheet and re-crisp them in a 350°F oven to allow them to dry out before filling and serving. For most pastries, this should take five to 10 minutes (less for smaller pastries, longer for larger ones).


Wanna Be a Great Baker? Master Pâte à Choux First

Welcome to Baking 1-2-3, by associate food editor Claire Saffitz. Each month, she’ll guide you through a three-step baking process. The first recipe is for the beginners out there, the second for intermediate-level bakers, and the third recipe is for the experts. Today…pâte à choux!

An important question for the bakers out there: Has anyone been watching The Great British Baking Show? If you have, we should talk. (Also, that sounds about right—I typically “discover” pop culture six months to five years after the rest of the population.) If you haven’t, keep reading.

TGBBS is a show on PBS and it’s the best cooking show I’ve seen in a very long time. Amateur bakers from around the UK compete in a series of challenges that test their creativity, technical ability, time management, and prowess in all things baking. Some of the recipe challenges I had to Google—have you ever heard of povitica or prinsesstårta? I hadn’t either. But one recent challenge asked the bakers to make one of the cornerstones of French pastry, so-called pâte à choux, or cream puff dough. It’s a simple recipe but many of the bakers struggled, making me realize it’s the perfect preparation for Baking 1-2-3.

Pâte à choux is a mixture of simple ingredients—flour, water, milk, eggs—but the proper technique is essential. Unlike other doughs, the pastry is pre-cooked on the stovetop before being enriched with eggs, piped, and baked. Pâte à choux is also perfect for this column because it’s a versatile recipe that forms the base of so many other more complicated ones. The dough needs little more than a sprinkling of pearl sugar to stand alone as chouquettes, but can be combined with other techniques and components to make everything from cream puffs to profiteroles to savory gougeres to croquembouche. But the classic cream-filled, chocolate-glazed éclair—one of my personal favorites—is the final recipe this month.

Chocolate éclairs, the ultimate pâte à choux mastery.

Let’s review the levels. Level 1 is a recipe for basic choux puffs, or chouquettes, topped with pearled sugar and eaten plain. Or, you can fill them with lightly sweetened whipped cream, and voila, you have fancy-sounding choux Chantilly. Level 2 adds a recipe for vanilla pastry cream, used to fill the plain choux and make choux a la crème. Every cook should have a reliable pastry cream recipe in his or her repertoire, and this is it. You’ll use it over and over again a hundred different ways. Level 3 is all-out pastry case-style chocolate éclairs. Instead of circles, you pipe the pâte à choux into logs to make the classic éclair shape. Melted chocolate is mixed into the basic pastry cream to make a creamy chocolate filling. The third and final recipe is a chocolate fondant glaze to give a professional finish to your éclairs. It’s not terribly difficult, but it’s not a piece of cake, either.


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&rsquos 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.

Let&rsquos 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 &ldquocrumb&rdquo. 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 &ldquocreaming&rdquo 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 &ldquocrumb&rdquo, 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.


La Religieuse: “The Nun”

The name means “nun” in French, and by most accounts this pastry takes its name from a resemblance, however oblique, to a nun in a habit. The religieuse is constructed of two choux pastry cases filled with crème pâtissière (confectioner’s custard), a large one on the bottom and a smaller one on top, traditionally iced with a chocolate or coffee nappage and joined together with buttercream. Often, the buttercream icing is delicately piped to look like ruffles. At my local bakery, however, they’re pretty “low church”—but even sans ruffles, you risk succumbing to the sin of gluttony when these magnificent gourmandises are around.

a coffee religieuse from my local bakery © 2011 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved

If you’ve read my primer on French pastry, you know that choux pastry, or pâte à choux, is one of at least nine or ten different pastry doughs or batters used in French baking. Contrary to a popular misconception, however, choux pastry is not puff pastry the consistency and appearance of the finished product are different. It is not “flaky” like puff pastry, which results from many layers of dough. Instead, the high water content in choux pastry batter vaporises during cooking and causes the pastry to puff. It’s a relatively simple batter made only from water, eggs, flour, and butter, and it contains no leavening. Here’s a good recipe for choux pastry for anyone looking to make their own religieuses.

The religieuse reportedly had its origins in the mid-nineteenth century, like many other pastries made from pâte à choux like the éclair. The pastry batter itself has a much longer history. The first iteration of the batter was invented in 1540 by Panterelli, the Florentine chef of the Florentine queen of France, Catherine de’ Medici. Over time, successive pastry chefs refined the recipe: the pâte à Panterelli eventually became pâte à Popelin (used to make Popelins, little buns in the shape of a woman’s breasts), which subsequently became pâte à choux when the eighteenth-century pastry chef Avice changed the recipe to create his new pastries called choux because they resembled little cabbages (“choux” in French). The father of haute cuisine, Marie-Antoine Carême (perhaps the first-ever “celebrity chef”), made the final refinements to the recipe in the early nineteenth century. I’m not sure why the batter wasn’t subsequently renamed for him, except that perhaps pâte à Carême might be a little confusing, given that Carême is the French word for Lent. In any case, it seems no one thought it appropriate to further tinker with the recipe used by the “King of Chefs, and the Chef of Kings,” and the pâte à choux used today is the same one used by Carême almost two hundred years ago.

Now, back to the Religieuse

According to one version of the story (the accuracy of which could not be confirmed by the original author), it was Carême’s newly improved choux pastry batter that the Parisian pâtissier Frascati used to create a pastry that would become his legacy to gourmands the world over. (By the way, what is it with all these Italians?!) In 1855, after days in his pastry kitchen, he succeeded in creating the first-ever religieuse, though it’s unclear exactly when the name was first applied. It is clear, however, that by 1929 the name had stuck, and these iced, custard-filled double cream puff delicacies would henceforth evoke the image of obese nuns.

Ladurée’s violet religieuse © Ladurée

Above, I said that the religieuse is traditionally iced with a chocolate or coffee-flavored icing. Nevertheless, various pâtissiers have whipped up some very enticing variations. Ladurée, a world-famous Parisian pastry shop (particularly known for its macarons), has introduced such exotic varieties as rose, violet, orange blossom, raspberry anise, and caramel mango. Hmm, I think a visit to Ladurée is long overdue for me—I obviously haven’t done enough field research for this post!

But there you have the story of the religieuse, one of my favorite French pastries. Stay tuned for another delicious story in a week or two. In the meantime …

Bon appétit !
… and don’t forget to go to confession!


Recipe Notes & FAQs

  • Why has my pastry collapsed? There are several reasons this could happen, including the dough being too runny or removing them from the oven too early/ opening the oven door too early. If the dough is too wet, then AVOID adding raw flour to the dough. Instead, make another ½ batch of dough at the right consistency and allow it to cool, then add, bit by bit, to the runny dough until the correct consistency is achieved.
  • Why does my pastry have lots of cracks/ is shaped oddly? This is usually down to two issues- the pastry has lumps in it, or it was baked at too high of a temperature. Make sure you sift the flour into the dough and that the salt/sugar fully dissolve to avoid this.
  • If you have issues with the pastry collapsing after removing it from the oven once baked, you can allow it to cool for a while in the oven before removing. Leave the door cracked open slightly.
  • You can use all water instead of a mixture of milk ad water, though this will lead to less flavorsome pastry.
  • Eclairs are more likely to collapse than puffs. To avoid this, you can use bread flour for eclairs an AP flour for profiteroles/puffs.
  • Make a savory version by adding cheese to the dough. Around ½-1 cup of cheese added after the eggs and mixed in will be more than enough.
  • You can substitute the water with other more flavorful liquids—for example, vegetable stock, fruit or vegetable juice, etc.
  • Feel free to flavor the dough with herbs and spices.
  • For extra crisp pastries, sift some confectioners sugar over the dough before baking. This will inhibit the puffing slightly but will make for crisper, sturdier pastry.


Watch the video: Cuillère Gourmande - La pâte à choux (January 2022).