Let’s learn to make classic choux pastry (or pate a choux in French) for show-stopping desserts like classic eclairs, cream puffs, profiteroles, craquelin, or savory appetizers like gougères.
Perfect choux pastry yields light and billowy pastries with crisp shells and airy hollow interior ready to be filled with all kinds of delicious fillings!
Classic eclairs is one of my favorite childhood treats! My mom used to make it all the time, not only for us, kids, but also for her friend’s little store.
You see, even in the 90s, when things were scarce in Mongolia, eclairs were doable, because it requires such simple pantry ingredients!
Butter, a tiny bit of sugar (and that’s optional too!), salt, flour, and eggs are all you need to make this amazingly versatile pastry dough.
In today’s post, we’ll discuss not only the entire recipe, step by step with lots of visuals, but we also tackle those frustrating issues like flat, deflated shells, too many uneven cracks, soggy doughy pastries, etc.
It’s a long one, so grab a cup of coffee and let’s talk all things choux pastry (pronouced shoe pastry).
And if you ever were intimidated to make eclairs, I’m here to help you to master this classic choux pastry, so you can treat your friends and family with classic French desserts like cream puffs, eclairs, Paris-Brest, just to name a few possibilities, any time!
My hope for this post is to teach you how to make a perfect choux pastry, to prevent common mistakes that lead to common problems (ugh, collapsed eclair shells!), and to inspire you to create the most beautiful and delicious treats.
So, first things first…
WHAT IS CHOUX PASTRY?
Choux pastry (or pate a choux, in French) is a twice cooked pastry dough made with butter, flour and eggs. This rich egg-based pastry dough rises into airy, light and crisp pastry, thanks to the steam evaporated during baking. Classic choux pastry is also very versatile and perfect foundation to so many desserts and appetizers.
HOW TO MAKE CHOUX PASTRY?
Now, let’s go through each step and discuss do’s and don’ts to avoid common issues with choux pastry.
Slowly heat water, butter, sugar and salt over medium low heat, stirring occasionally. The goal is to melt butter and dissolve sugar and salt before the mixture comes to a boil. Why? Because if the mixture is boiling rapidly and butter isn’t melted yet, too much water will evaporate and the ratio of wet and dry ingredients will be off. And you need that moisture to create steam and help the pastry puff up during baking.
- Be patient and heat the mixture low and slow. Once the butter is melted and sugar is fully dissolved, turn the heat up and bring it to a boil.
- Make sure sugar and salt are fully dissolved. If sugar and/or salt are not dissolved completely, your pastry will crack unevenly during baking.
- Don’t boil the mixture for too long, or you’ll evaporate too much water and get the ratio of wet and dry ingredients off.
Once the mixture comes to a boil, remove from heat and add the flour all at once. This step is called “shooting” in the flour, and it helps to cook the flour quickly and evenly. And as soon as you shoot in the flour, quickly stir the mixture until flour is fully absorbed. Then return the saucepan back to burner and cook for a few minutes, or until dough forms into a ball.
- Sift the flour onto a parchment paper to remove any lumps and aerate it.
- Shoot in the flour off heat to prevent any lumps in the dough.
- Don’t sift the flour directly into the boiling mixture. Sift beforehand and add the sifted flour all at once.
How to know that dough is ready?
You’ll notice a thin crust on the bottom of the stainless steel saucepan, and the dough should be firm enough to hold a spoon upright.
Cool the dough to room temperature before adding the eggs. This is important, because if you add the eggs into a hot dough, you’ll scramble the egg, and that’s a huge no-no for obvious reasons.
To cool the dough, you can just leave it for about 10 minutes, or you can beat it in a stand mixer with paddle attachment on low speed for 2-3 minutes.
- Don’t beat the dough for too long, or on high speed, because it can cause the fat to separate, which can result large cracks in baked pastry shells.
Add the eggs one at a time. Some people beat the eggs first and add a little at a time, but I like to add the eggs one at a time.
When you first start adding eggs, the dough will break and look weird. But keep on beating and adding the next egg one at a time, allowing each egg absorb into the dough completely before adding the next.
- Add the eggs one at a time, beating the dough thoroughly before adding the next one.
- Start checking the consistency of the dough after 3rd and 4th egg.
- Don’t add the eggs all at once, because you may not need all 5 eggs. If you add too much eggs, the dough may become too runny, which will result flat pastry shells.
This may be the hardest part in making choux pastry, because it’s hard to say exactly how many eggs you may need.
There’re a few factors that affect how many eggs your dough may need:
- How much water was evaporated during initial cooking.
- How big or small your eggs are.
- Type of flour you’re using. (For example, more glutenous the flour, more eggs it needs.)
How to know the choux pastry is the correct consistency?
The dough should be smooth, thick, not too sticky and glossy. And when you lift the beater, the dough should slowly fall into a thick ribbon, leaving a V shape at the end. (See picture below.)
TIP: Place the pastry bag in a tall glass, as shown below. It’s much easier to fill this way!
At this point, uncooked choux pastry can be stored in the fridge for 2 days. I like to put the dough in a pastry bag, tightly close the top and refrigerate until ready to use.
HOW TO SHAPE CHOUX PASTRY?
To ensure evenly shaped pastry shells, it’s important to pipe the shells evenly. I like to use this round pastry tip to pipe rounds for cream puffs, and this star tip for long logs for eclairs. If you’d like, you can also find special French pastry star tip that is perfect for piping eclairs.
Round pastry tip also works for eclairs, but long pastry shells bake more evenly when piped with a star tip.
Hold the pastry bag at 45° angle and pipe with a consistent pressure. This may require a little bit of practice. If you don’t get it right away, don’t fret. I promise, those pastry shells will taste just as delicious!
TIP: Flatten the pointy ends with wet fingertip! Simply dip your finger in a bowl of water before flattening the dough to prevent the dough sticking to the finger. If not flattened, those pointy ends will burn and won’t look pretty.
Bake the pastry shells at 375°F for 30-35 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown.
Some recipes instruct to bake the shells at high temperature first, then lowering the temperature for the remaining bake time. I’ve tested it many different ways, and find baking choux pastry at consistent temperature yields the same, if not better results.
- For best results, bake one baking sheet at a time. You can bake 2 sheets a time, rotating them half way into the baking, but you risk collapsing the shells. (See why in the next point.)
- Make a small slit on the side of shells during the last 5 minutes to allow the steam to escape and dry out the inside. This prevents soggy, doughy inside.
- Don’t open oven door until the shells are set and golden brown, for at least first 20-25 minutes! Why? These pastry shells need all the steam to puff up and set into shape during baking. And if you open the oven door before the shells get a chance to set properly, the steam will escape, deflating the shells.
Whew, are you still with me? Kuddos to you for sticking with me!
Again, I wanted this post to be your go-to guide for mastering choux pastry. That’s why I took you step by step through entire process sharing everything I know about this versatile pastry dough. Hope these tips and tricks will help you achieve beautiful, professional looking desserts and appetizers.
TROUBLESHOOTING GUIDE FOR COMMOM ISSUES WITH CHOUX PASTRY:
Why my choux pastry dough is too runny?
- Added too much eggs. FIX #1: Next time add the eggs one at a time and check the consistency of the dough after the 3rd egg and additional egg as needed. FIX #2: Don’t just add raw flour into the runny dough to thicken it, you won’t get the proper pastry shells that way. Instead, make a half batch of dough on stovetop (without eggs) and mix it in with the runny choux pastry.
My choux pastry has too many irregular cracks.
- Dry ingredients haven’t been dissolved/incorporated completely. FIX: Make sure sugar and salt are fully dissolved before water mixture comes to a boil. And make sure to sift the flour to remove any lumps, and vigorously mix the dough once you add the flour all at once.
- Dough may have been beaten for too long, or at high speed before adding the eggs, causing the fat to separate from dough. FIX: Next time don’t beat the dough for too long, or make sure to beat at low speed for no longer than 3 minutes.
- Pastry shells may have been baked at too high temperature, making the dough rise at a rapid speed. FIX: Try baking the pastry shells at a constant temperature.
- Pastry shells weren’t piped smoothly. Any wavy ripples will crack during baking. FIX: Pipe smooth shells with even consistent pressure without ripples. Also star tip for piping long eclairs helps the pastry bake with even shape.
Why my baked pastry shells are flat/collapsed/deflated?
- The choux pastry was too runny. FIX: See runny pastry dough section above.
- You opened the oven door too soon. FIX: Don’t open the oven door for at least first 25 minutes. Open the oven door only when the pastry shells are nice and golden.
- The pastry shells weren’t baked long enough. FIX: Put the baking sheet with pastry shells right back into the oven and bake longer.
Why my pastry shells are soggy and doughy inside?
- You didn’t make slit on the side of shells to allow steam to escape in the last 5 minutes of baking. FIX: Make sure to make a small slit (0.5-inch slit) and bake for 5 minutes before removing the baking sheet out of the oven.
CHOUX PASTRY FAQ:
- Why some recipes call for combination of water and milk?
- Choux pastry made with milk comes out richer and more tender. I like to use combination of milk when I’m making cream puffs, or profiteroles.
- Can make choux pastry in advance?
- Yes, absolutely. Uncooked choux pastry dough can be stored in an airtight container (or pastry bag) in the fridge for up to 2 days.
- Can I freeze baked pastry shells?
- Yes, you can! Baked pastry shells without filling freeze beautifully. Put them in a ziplock bag and freeze for up to 3 months. To fill, thaw the shells in the fridge and then bake them at 300°F for 8-10 minutes.
Classic Choux Pastry (Pate a Choux)
- 1 cup 240ml water
- ½ cup 115gr unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup 125gr all-purpose flour, sifted
- 4-5 large eggs at room temperature
- Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper, or silicone mat.
- In a medium saucepan, combine water, butter, sugar and salt. Slowly heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring frequently to dissolve sugar and melt the butter. Once sugar is dissolved and butter is melted, increase the heat to medium high heat and bring the mixture to a boil.
- When the mixture is boiling, remove the saucepan from heat and add flour all at once. Quickly mix the mixture until all the flour is absorbed. (We just made panade!)
- Replace the saucepan back to burner and reduce the heat to medium. Cook the dough, continuously mixing with a wooden spoon. The dough will start to form into a ball. Keep mixing for another 3-4 minutes until light crust forms on the bottom of the pan. (Note: It's important to cook for at least 3-4 minutes to dry out the panade.)
- Transfer the dough into a mixing bowl with paddle attachment and mix it for a few minutes on low speed until the mixture is at room temperature, about 2 minutes. (No mixer? No problem. You can mix it with a wooden spoon!)
- Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. This will help to get egg absorbed into the dough quicker. Don’t add more than 2 eggs at a time! This is important, as you might not need to add all the eggs. The dough should be smooth and shiny, thin enough to slowly fall into a ribbon, but too runny. (Read more details in the post above!)
- At this point choux pastry is done and ready to be piped into whatever size you want. Uncooked dough can also be refrigerated for up to 3 days in an airtight container.
- To cook pastry shells, transfer the batter into a large pastry bag and pipe into 4-inch strips or 2-inch rounds 3 inches apart. Level peaked tops with a wet fingertip.
- Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the shells are puffed up and golden brown, one baking sheet at a time. (Note: Don't open the oven door the first 25 minutes.)
- After initial 30 minutes, quickly open the oven door and make a small slit on the side of shells, using a small sharp pairing knife. This allows the steam to escape and helps to dry out the inside of pastry shells. Bake for another 5 minutes, or until shells are crisp and golden brown.
- Transfer the shells onto a wire rack and cool completely before filling. Unfilled pastry shells can be stored at room temperature for 1 day, or freeze for up to 3 months.