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Éclairs, Choux Buns, Croquembouche - oh my! All of these pastries start with the same base - Pâte à choux. Let’s learn how to make this classic French pastry staple. Enjoy!
Pâte à choux, or choux pastry (pronounced like “shoe”), is what we use to make éclairs, cream puffs, and even croquembouche. It is a pastry that puffs up in the oven while creating a crisp exterior and hollow center that begs to be filled with luscious pastry cream.
With choux pastry, the possibilities are endless. For this lesson, we are learning how to make pâte à choux two ways: éclairs and choux buns.
Filled with salted brown sugar pastry cream, the Butterscotch Éclairs are dreamy and delicious. For the choux buns, I could not decide between coffee or tea, so I made both! Half of the pastries are filled with coffee pastry cream and sweetened condensed milk-flavored whipped cream while the others are filled with an Earl Grey-infused pastry cream and a raspberry jam center. Each bite is creamy, crispy, sweet, and satisfying. Enjoy!
Tips & Tricks
Take care when adding the eggs into the pâte à choux. Since all eggs are different in size (even those all labeled “large”), your choux pastry may require a different number of eggs each time. Remember to whisk the fourth and possible fifth eggs, as you may only need to use a portion of the egg.
Be sure to fully pre-heat the oven before baking the pâte à choux. Turn the oven down to the indicated temperature in the recipe halfway through baking.
The pastry cream will thicken as it cools in the refrigerator. Gently whisk to loosen it up before piping.
Pastries filled with pastry or whipped cream need to be refrigerated, so be sure to assemble them just before serving. They may be refrigerated, but the crisp shells will begin to soften.
If you do not have the correct piping tips, most of the piped pâte à choux and pastry cream may be done without a piping tip. Cut the piping bag to create a small 1/2 inch wide opening to pipe éclairs, choux buns, and the pastry cream filling. To fill the éclairs, you may slice them in half horizontally and fill them using a tipless piping bag.
Brown Sugar Craquelin
1/2 cup unsalted butter, diced and softened (113g)
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons brown sugar (125g)
1 cup all-purpose flour (125g)
Put the butter and brown sugar in a mixing bowl fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until smooth and creamed together. Stop the mixer and add the flour. Mix again on medium-low until combined and a dough is formed.
Stop the mixer and gather the dough into a ball. Place the dough between two sheets of parchment paper then flatten with the palms of your hands. Roll out the dough until thin, about 1/8 inch thick. Chill the craquelin in the refrigerator while you make the pâte à choux, or overnight (still covered in parchment paper).
To make colored craquelin, substitute the brown sugar for white granulated sugar. During the mixing process, add gel food coloring to make alternate colors.
If necessary, chill the craquelin on the cutting board to ensure that it stays flat.
For these designs, I used brown sugar craquelin for the Coffee Choux Buns and pink craquelin for the Raspberry Earl Grey Choux Buns.
Pâte à Choux (choux pastry)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, diced (113g)
1/2 cup whole milk (120ml)
1/2 cup water (120ml)
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour (125g)
4 to 5 large eggs*
Pre-heat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper and set aside.
Place the butter, milk, water, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan and place over medium heat. Cook the mixture until the butter melts and everything begins to simmer.
Remove from the heat and add all of the flour into the saucepan at once. Immediately begin stirring in the flour with a wooden spoon, smoothing out any lumps with the back of the spoon. It will look similar to mashed potatoes.
Return the saucepan to the stove set to medium heat. Continuously stir the dough with the wooden spoon for 3 to 5 minutes. When done, the dough should form a ball in the center of the pot and be thick enough to temporarily hold the spoon upright when placed in the center.
Remove from the heat and transfer the pâte à choux to a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Begin mixing the dough on low speed to cool it down. Continue to mix until the outside of the mixing bowl is just barely warm to the touch and no heat is escaping out of the top of the bowl.
Meanwhile, crack 3 of the eggs into a bowl. When ready, add in the eggs at medium speed, one at a time, allowing each to fully combine into the dough before adding the next.
Crack the 4th egg in a separate bowl and whisk to combine. Add in a half of the egg at a time, allowing each portion of the egg to thoroughly combine. Test the dough between each half-egg. The dough should be smooth and shiny. It needs to be thick enough to pipe and hold its shape while incorporating as many eggs as possible. The dough should fall off the paddle attachment or the edge of a spatula like a big tongue and come to a “V” shape at the end. If needed, add part or all of the 5th egg.
*The goal is to add as many eggs as the dough can support without jeopardizing how it will pipe. More eggs = more “puff power.” The dough still needs to be thick enough to hold its shape, so make sure not to add too many. This likely means adding a fraction of the final egg or skipping it all together.
For Choux Buns:
Fill a piping bag fitted with a round tip, about 1/2 inch in diameter. Pipe mounds of choux pastry on a lined baking sheet, about 2 1/4 inches wide. Hold the piping bag straight down and keep the tip hovered above the baking sheet as you pipe so that the choux pastry pipes as puffy (not flat) as possible. Leave 2 inches between each choux bun. Smooth out the tops using a clean finger dipped in a little bit of water, as needed.
Remove the craquelin from the refrigerator. Select a round cutter that is slightly larger than the choux buns and cut out circles of craquelin. Use a thin spatula to remove the sugar disks from the parchment paper and place them on top of each choux bun.
Bake the choux buns at 400°F for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 350°F. Continue to bake for an additional 20 minutes or until the buns are slightly browned around the edges. Remove from the oven and allow to cool before filling.
Fill a piping bag fitted with a round tip - about 1/2 inch in diameter. Pipe long strips of choux pastry on a lined baking sheet - about 6 inches each in length. Hold the piping bag at a 45° angle as you pipe, and apply only a little bit of pressure to the piping bag so that the éclairs stay thin. Try to pipe them the same width as the piping tip - leaving at least an inch in between each one.
Remove the brown sugar craquelin from the refrigerator. Cut rectangular strips of the sugar paste that are slightly larger than the eclairs and place them on top.
Bake the eclairs at 400°F for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 350°F. Continue to bake for an additional 15 minutes or until crisp on the outside. Remove from the oven.
Once they are cool enough to handle, quickly poke two holes on the bottoms of the éclairs to allow the hot air to escape. Place them upside-down on the baking sheet. If possible, allow the éclair shells to cool in the oven (turned off) with the door cracked open before filling.
1 1/2 cups milk (350ml)
6 tablespoons brown or granulated white sugar* (75g)
3 large eggs yolks
2 tablespoons corn starch
4 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt, or to taste*
Place the milk in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until it comes to a slight simmer.
Meanwhile, whisk together the yolks and sugar until smooth. Add the cornstarch and flour and mix until smooth.
Once the milk is hot, temper it into the egg mixture. While whisking, slowly add a little bit of the hot milk at a time to gradually raise the temperature of the egg mixture. Once everything is combined, transfer the mixture back to the saucepan and set over medium-low heat.
While whisking continuously, cook the pastry cream over medium-low heat until it thickens. Do not overheat, or it may curdle. Once it thickens, large bubbles will come up from the bottom and “pop” at the surface. Once this happens, whisk constantly for 2 to 3 minutes and then remove from the heat.
Strain the pastry cream through a mesh sieve into a clean, heat-safe bowl. Stir in the butter, vanilla, and salt until smooth. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly to the top surface of the pastry cream and refrigerate to thicken, 4 hours or overnight.
For the Butterscotch Pastry Cream, use 6 tablespoons brown sugar and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste.
For the Earl Grey Pastry Cream, infuse 2 tablespoons of loose Earl Grey tea by simmering the tea in 1 1/2 cups milk for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and steep the tea for 5 to 10 minutes. Strain out the tea and use the milk for the pastry cream recipe (remeasure and top off the milk so that you are starting with 1 1/2 cups, as some of the milk will get lost in the infusion process). Continue with the recipe using granulated white sugar.
For the Coffee Pastry Cream, stir 1 1/2 tablespoons of instant coffee into the simmering milk in step 1. Continue with the recipe using granulated white sugar.
2 cups heavy cream (475ml)
1/3 cup sweetened condensed milk (80ml)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Whip the heavy cream on high speed with a whisk attachment until it thickens to soft peaks.
Stop the mixer and add the sweetened condensed milk.
Whip on high speed until medium peaks form. Stop the mixer and add the vanilla. Mix on high, again, for 10 to 15 seconds to combine.
1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam
Powdered sugar for dusting
Whole coffee beans for decoration
Poke a third hole in the bottom of the cooled shells. Use the tip of a small paring knife to make the holes large enough for a small piping tip to fit inside.
Fill a piping bag fitted with a small round tip with the butterscotch pastry cream.
While holding an éclair shell in one hand, fill it by piping the pastry cream in the holes. As you feel the shell start to expand in your hand, taper off the pressure on the piping bag so that the filling does not overflow or crack the shell. Repeat with the remaining shells.
Turn the éclairs right-side up and dust with powdered sugar.
For Raspberry Earl Grey Choux Buns:
Cut off the tops (about the top 1/4) of the buns using a serrated knife.
Fill a piping bag fitted with a round tip (or cut a piping bag to make a 1/2 inch opening) with the Earl Grey pastry cream. Pipe the pastry cream into the bottom of the buns, leaving small holes in the centers.
Fill the centers with raspberry jam.
Fill a piping bag fitted with a large French star tip with whipped cream. Pipe large rings of whipped cream on top then return the tops of the choux buns.
Dust with powdered sugar before serving.
For Coffee Choux Buns:
Cut off the tops of the buns using a serrated knife.
Fill a piping bag fitted with a round tip (or cut a piping bag to make a 1/2 inch opening) with the coffee pastry cream. Pipe the pastry cream into the bottom of the buns, leaving a little bit of room for the whipped cream.
Fill a piping bag fitted with a large French star tip with whipped cream. Pipe large rings of whipped cream on top then return the tops of the choux bun.
Fill a piping bag fitted with a small star tip with any remaining whipped cream and pipe little stars on top of the buns.
Dust with powdered sugar and add coffee beans on top of the stars before serving.
Serving & Storage
All pastries are best served the same day as assembled.
Éclairs and Choux Buns should be eaten within a half hour of assembly or stored in a covered container in the refrigerator. The longer they are stored in the refrigerator, the more the shells will soften. They will still taste great for up to a few days, but the shells will lose their crisp exteriors.
If making the recipe in advance, the components may be stored separately and assembled just before serving. The craquelin may be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week, or in the freezer for up to a few months. The pastry cream may be made and stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days in advance.
Store baked, unfilled choux buns and éclairs at room temperature for up to a couple days.