Pâte à choux: The gift that just keeps on giving

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 11: Profiteroles are served during Benoit's 10th anniversary dinner with Alain Ducasse and Laetitia Rouabah as part of the Bank of America dinner series presented by The Wall Street Journal at Benoit New York on October 11, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for NYCWFF)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 11: Profiteroles are served during Benoit's 10th anniversary dinner with Alain Ducasse and Laetitia Rouabah as part of the Bank of America dinner series presented by The Wall Street Journal at Benoit New York on October 11, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for NYCWFF) /

I like to call it the miracle dough, but choux pastry, or to reference it in its French cuisine roots, pâte à choux, is indeed a gift that keeps on giving. So many delectable treats can be made from this one dough, perhaps some of which you weren’t even aware of.

Today we’ll be taking a look at this culinary miracle dough and some of the treats that can indeed come from its wondrous composition.

What delicious Guilty Eats can be made from using pâte à choux? Anything savory?

When it comes to the origins of this pastry dough, French cuisine is most definitely its cuisine of origin…Paris to be exact, as Wikipedia states.

However, it was an Italian chef that invented the miracle dough way back in 1540! His name was either Pantarelli or Pantanelli. His first name and the proper spelling of his last name seems to have been lost in either translation, or over time, as that is going a long way back for sure.

As it turns out, the dough in question even went through a few name changes, and at one point was referred to as: pâte à popelin.

However, despite the dough’s origins, it was later perfected by two French chefs (Jean Avice and Antonin Carême), and interestingly enough, both men worked for the famed historical figure, Marie Antoinette!

“Let them eat cake” indeed. Perhaps it should have been “…let them eat choux pastries” instead…

In the pro kitchen, this helped me many times while working odd jobs, especially at the classier restaurants I was employed at while working on books and early articles. It was taught to me by my father, who I may have mentioned is a classically trained Italian chef.

He told me that it would be useful in a pinch and boy was it ever; especially when the pastry chef didn’t show up, or the restaurant owner “forgot” to pay the bakery and the whole order didn’t arrive. In those times, the miracle dough came to the rescue.

I remember one such time, the order hadn’t come in for a party of a whopping 300 people. A cake had been ordered and well, my boss at the time, having been more interested in paying for other interests was often late with his payments of any kind.

My friend and fellow line cook, Roberto, looked at me and knew immediately what I was thinking when we had been given the unfortunate but rather expected news.

“Miracle dough, bro,” we said in unison and we got to work, making 300 profiteroles multiplied by 3…a whopping 900 of them little buggers. We served them three a piece, stuffed with whipped cream, we also made from scratch, and we drizzled some strawberry coulis atop.

Pretty elegant, and along with the other five courses we had prepared, the client was happy with all six, especially dessert!

My boss came up to me after the shift at like 3 AM, in the locker rooms and said, “Dom…can you make those every time?” Let’s just say I got good at making profiteroles.

The recipe for pâte à choux

For you pro cooks out there and even you recreational cooks, I’ll give you the recipe for pâte à choux and then we’ll get into the epic treats that can be made with this single dough.

Trust me; it’ll help in a pinch, to echo the words of my wise poppa bear. Basic recipe for pâte à choux (recipe yields a nice big batch for a decent crowd):

-4 cups of water

-4 cups of flour

-500 grams of unsalted butter

-16 eggs

Boil water and butter until butter has melted…whisk in the flour…let mixture cool a tad, then add the eggs one at a time as you whisk further until you get a nice thick consistency. Let this cool even more so you can then place the dough into a pastry bag and create whatever treat you had in mind, placing them on a buttered oven pan or baking sheet.

Now, to get into the many types of treats this wondrous miracle dough known as pâte à choux can make…

The sweets…

We already mentioned the profiteroles, but you can also shape said profiteroles into swans. By the way, my pop was a master swan craftsman. I watched him make like a zillion of these; I was never able to shape the dough into swans I must admit.

Of course you can also make éclairs, stuffed with cream and topped with chocolate.

Now here’s what some of you might not have known: You can also make doughnuts! The above treats (profiteroles and éclairs) are baked and harden quite nicely once they are, and you can stuff them as mentioned, but the doughnuts you can fry! It always sounds a tad more interesting when you add that word, doesn’t it? Fry!

And that means that you can also make the Italian treat known as zeppole, which are a fried plain doughnut essentially; they’re sliced at the center and filled with plain vanilla cream, flavored cream or even custard and sweet ricotta cheese!

And if you can make those, you can also make churros. Just pipe the dough directly into the hot frying oil and you’re there. You can them toss the hot fritters in cinnamon and sugar! Just use the right tip for your pastry bag to get that zigzag quality churros distinctly have.

But what about something savory?

Well, to answer that, I ask you a question. Was there any sugar added to the above recipe? Can’t remember? Don’t worry. Go check and I’ll wait, dear readers…

Back so soon? Alright…so no, there isn’t any sugar in the batter, so you can definitely make savory treats. Heck, you can even get creative. How about a savory éclair? Shock and impress your friends.

But the thing that comes to mind most is a vol au vent. You can make a larger profiterole, cut the top off and stuff said profiterole with some chili, or how about a béchamel sauce and fish medley…or even chicken pot pie filling.

See what I mean dear readers? When it comes to pâte à choux, the sky’s the limit. Now isn’t it truly the miracle dough or what?

Next. Cinnamon Buns: Undercooked or over?? The debate rages on…. dark

Have any pâte à choux recipes you’d like to share, dear readers?