Confessions of a Pate a Choux Aficionada

I’ve been baking since I was a little girl and in many times during school I would go back in my memories, almost like I could tell the story of my life through pastry and baked goods. I had a chocolate-making phase, a bread-making phase, a cake-making phase (still on it), and many others but one constant was patê à choux and that was my chosen topic for the Capstone project.

Because of the amount of research involved knew I had to choose a topic I was passionate about. And despite many saying that it was a boring topic, my research showed me that patê à choux is one of the most versatile pastry items out there. I found references of choux pastry in Italian, French, Indonesian, Greek, Turkish, German, Brazilian, American, and Spanish cuisines. And I’m sure if I was not restricted to researching in English, Portuguese and French (using Google translator) I would have found even more. So it was not a boring topic and going in deep research of a beloved pastry item was interesting. I only wish I had more time to experiment with all the new recipes I collected during this project.

After much research about the origin of patê à choux I can conclude that reaching a consensus is inversely proportional to how easy is to make it. Starting with the name, choux in French means cabbage, resulting in a common explanation that the name patê à choux derives from the little puffs resembling little cabbages after baked. But also, patê à choux could derive from patê à chaud, which is a hot paste also called panade (cooked flour and liquid) prior to the addition of eggs.

However I found two main explanations as follows:

Patê à Choux origin according to Larousse Gastronomique

“Choux pastry is said to have been invented in 1540 by Popelini, Catherine de’ Medici’s chef, but the pastry cook’s art only truly began to develop in the 17th century and greatest innovator at the beginning of the 19th century was indubitably [Antonin] Careme…”

Patê à Choux origin according to Classic Patisserie: An A-Z Handbook

“In 1533, when Catherine de Medici left Florence to marry the Duke of Orleans who was later to become Henry II, King of France from 1547, she brought with her to France her entire court, which included her chefs. Seven years later in 1540, her head chef, Panterelli, invented a hot, dried paste with which he made gateaux. He christened the paste pâte à Panterelli.

The original recipe changed as the years passed, and so did the paste’s name. It became known as pâte à Popelini, which then became pâte à Popelin. Popelins were a form of cake made in the Middle Ages and were made in the shape of a woman’s breasts. A patissier called Avice perfected the paste in the middle of the eighteenth century and created choux buns. The pâte à Popelin became known as pâte à choux, since only choux buns were made from it. [And choux buns were the same shape as small cabbages. Choux is the French word for cabbages.] Antoine Carême in the nineteenth century perfected the recipe, and this is the same recipe for choux pastry as is used today”

Patê à choux recipe from 1873

~ Patê à Choux recipe from 1873 ~
Gouffé, J. (1873). CHAPITRE IV. CRÈMES D’AMANDES PATISSIÈRES ET AUTRES RECETTES.. Le Livre de Pâtisserie … Ouvrage contenant 10 planches chromolithographiques et 137 gravures sur bois, etc (p. 89). Paris: Librarie Hachette.

 

The first recipe I ever baked

My history with patê à choux, from now only referred as choux, started in 1984. I was nine years old and wanted to make dessert. Going through my mother’s recipe books, I found a recipe for swan-shaped choux puffs and I probably thought they were cute enough and told my mom that was my chosen dessert to make.

According to my mother when I came with the recipe in hand, she was faced with a dilemma. Tell me that choux was too difficult for me to make because my nine-year-old arms would lack the proper stamina to incorporate the eggs by hand as we didn’t a mixer or let me go through with my experimentations and comfort my nine-year-old self upon failing. Luckily for me she decide to let me do it, and to everyone’s surprise I was successful. The only minor detail was that my swans were too big, resembling more of geese than delicate swans. A side note is that when I first told this story to Canadians, I was told that geese here are smaller than swans, but in Portuguese the comparison made sense, but I digress.

My mother kept the original recipe for all of these years, and it was finally passed on to me on my last visit.

cisnes recheados1

~ Step by Step Cream filled Swans ~ Revista Criativa, editora Riográfica, Brazil, circa 1984

~ Step by Step Cream filled Swans ~ Revista Criativa, editora Riográfica, Brazil, circa 1984

 

Fast forward many years, I moved to Canada with this crazy idea of changing careers and make cakes. My approach was to get a job at a local bakery and learn how to make cake to suit Canadians taste. The only problem was my resume was filled with marketing and customer service references of my past career and nothing about baking, but even so I got an interview at a charming bakery, famous for not hiring staff without training. I don’t know what I said or did, but I surprisingly got to come back for a trial day. I was then told to make choux pastry, but at that time I had almost no vocabulary in English related to baking. Afraid of losing the opportunity I didn’t say or asked anything, hoping for the best, when I was given a list of ingredients consisting of butter, water, flour, salt, sugar and eggs, and almost immediately I recognized a familiar recipe. I was able to make it without assistance and got the job.

So how to make patê à choux?

~ Patê à choux technique realisation noir et blanc ~
By F.Cecconi / Vorzinek (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Choux is prepared by boiling water, butter and salt/sugar in a pan. The flour is added to the hot liquid and stirred vigorously until the dough, called panade, forms a ball and pulls off the walls of the pan. The panade is then cooled and add eggs added a little at a time being well  incorporated.

Choux does not use a leavening agent. When baked at a high temperature, usually 200°, the high water content in the paste creates steam before the protein of the eggs coagulate. Steam will them act as a leavening agent to puff up the dough.

Since those first geese-shaped puffs I collected several tips on making choux. And the most important in my opinion are:

  • The butter should be cut small pieces so that they will melt faster and more evenly than whole piece. Melting a large pierce of butter will take longer so the liquid (water, milk or a combination) in the pot will evaporate changing the outcome of the recipe.
  • The liquid (water, milk or a combination) needs to be boiling before the addition of the flour, to promote proper gelatinization of the starch in the flour.
  • Use a strong flour for best results, as it is able to incorporate more liquid (generating more steam) also have a better gluten structure to hold the steam when products expand in the oven.
  • Only incorporate the eggs once the panade has cooled otherwise you will cooked the eggs before they are incorporated.
  • You may not need to use all the eggs listed in the recipe. It will all depend on how long you cooked the panade.

Making patê à choux with French chef Julien Picamil

I had planned to upload step-by-steb photos of making choux or even making a video, however chef Julien Picamil from Saveur has a fun way of explaining it (he sounds almost as passionate about choux as I am). An a much more adorable accent.

Curiosities

It’s a wide spread idea that to prepare choux properly, eggs need to be added one at a time and the mixture should be vigorously beaten either by hand or with a mixer and the paddle attachment.

But through my research I found that Herve This, the internationally renowned French chemist, author of Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor, demystifies that idea in an article called Préceptes magiques, cuisine empirique (Magical precepts, empirical kitchen).
He explains (to me with the assistance of goggle translator) that in a controlled experiment with choux made by incorporating eggs one at a time and working the dough in equal intervals between the egg additions, and with choux made with the eggs added all at once, yield same results, given that the dough is worked to incorporate the same amount of air bubbles. He concludes saying that apparently, novices and beginners work their dough too little. So in cookbooks the instruction of adding eggs one at a time ensures that they spend time on their dough and that they will introduce enough air bubbles. For a veteran, who know his choux one egg at a time or all at once don’t matter. This, H. (1994, January 1). Préceptes magiques, cuisine empirique. Mangeur Magique, 149, 136-139. Retrieved February 24, 2014, from http://www.lemangeur-ocha.com/fileadmin/contenusocha/09_preceptes_magiques.pdf

Another interesting fact is that in her book The Pie and Pastry Bible, Rose Levy Beranbaum describes that the fastest and easiest method she has used to make choux is adding all of the eggs at once and mix the dough, thus incorporating air, in a food processor! She states that this method increased the volume of her choux by a third.

Rose Levy Beranbaum also mentions substituting some of the whole eggs for egg whites, something I’ve seen also in Alton Brown’s Good Eats episode Choux Shine (Episode: EA1F09), helps to increase the overall structure and crispness of the baked choux. Beranbaum, R. L. (1998). Cream Puff Pastry. The pie and pastry bible (pp. 530-548). New York, NY: Scribner.

Choux is a very versatile dough,  used in both sweet and savory applications, such as: éclairs – so trendy right now that is being called the ‘French cupcake’, profiterole, saint-honoré – named for the French patron saint of bakers and pastry chefs, Paris-Brest – a wheel-shaped choux created in 1891 to commemorate the Paris–Brest bicycle race, Pont-Neuf – named after the Parisian bridge, religieuse – in French meaning nun, is supposed to represent a nun in a habit, gland – also know as salambo – choux shaped to mimic an acorn, choux florentines  (here in a gluten-free choux version), chouquettes – small sugar-covered puffs, the French cheese puffs called gougère, , pomme dauphine – puffed potatoes, gnocchis à la parisienne.

In class I had the opportunity to experiment with choux, and to my classmates disbelief I would have done it many more times to try all the recipes and new tips I found while researching about this topic. Funny enough, in my first week at the work experience part of the program I also made choux!

The most detailed experiment was when I tried replicating a recipe by chef Frederic Monti published at the Pastry and Baking magazine volume 6 issue 1 2012. While my results were far from flawless as his, I learned that:

  • choux can be baked straight from the freezer
  • choux can be molded into silicon molds , not only pipped or spooned
  • to my taste, choux is much better when covered in the sugary crust called croustillant
  • croustillant-covered choux bakes more uniformly than uncovered ones under the same circumstances (same recipe, size, and baked at the same time). My assumption is that the croustillant acts as an extra support along the gluten structure to hold in the steam during the baking process.

IMG_7858

IMG_7863

IMG_7865

 

I hoped you enjoyed this journey through patê à choux with me. There are several recipes linked here, plus many other ones available on the web. Please don’t let nitty-gritty scientific details deter you from trying. Making choux is easy, all you need to do is to simply remember the three B’s:

  • Boil well – i.e. the water, fat, and salt/sugar, but do not evaporate the water as this is alter the recipe.
  • Beat well – beat the panade well and cook for one minute on top of the stove, stirring well.
  • Bake well – the choux goods should be crisp baked, do not open the oven for at least 20-25 minutes for most goods such as éclairs or choux buns. Small piped items such as swans’ heads or petit profiteroles only take 15 minutes to cook. Opening the oven too soon causes the product to collapse and under-baking will result in soft products that will not keep well. Food preparation and cooking. 2nd ed. (p.202-203) Cheltenham: Stanley Thornes, 1996. Print.

 

Bibliography
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Montagné, P., & Lang, J. H. (1988). Larousse gastronomique: the new American edition of the world’s greatest culinary encyclopedia. (p.777-778) New York: Crown Publishers.

Juillet, C. (1998). Classic patisserie: an A-Z handbook. Oxford: Butterworth Heinemann.

Marks, G. (2010). Encyclopedia of Jewish food. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley.

Gouffé, J. (1873). CHAPITRE IV. CRÈMES D’AMANDES PATISSIÈRES ET AUTRES RECETTES.. Le Livre de Pâtisserie … Ouvrage contenant 10 planches chromolithographiques et 137 gravures sur bois, etc (p. 89). Paris: Librarie Hachette.

“Food Timeline: history notes-pie & pastry.” Food Timeline: history notes-pie & pastry. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2014. <http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodpies.html>.

This, H. (1994, January 1). Préceptes magiques, cuisine empirique. Mangeur Magique, 149, 136-139. Retrieved February 24, 2014, from http://www.lemangeur-ocha.com/fileadmin/contenusocha/09_preceptes_magiques.pdf

Beranbaum, R. L. (1998). Cream Puff Pastry. The pie and pastry bible (pp. 530-548). New York, NY: Scribner.

“Choux Shine Food Network.” Good Eats. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2014. <http://www.foodnetwork.com/shows/good-eats/6-series/choux-shine.html>.

Gisslen, W. (1985). Professional baking. New York: Wiley.

Labensky, S. R., Martel, P., & Dame, E. V. (2005). On baking: a textbook of baking and pastry fundamentals. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson-Prentice Hall.

Rinsky, Glenn, and Laura Halpin Rinsky. The pastry chef’s companion: a comprehensive resource guide for the baking and pastry professional. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, 2009. Print.

Jaworski, Stephanie. “Chocolate Eclairs Recipe & Video.” Joy of Baking. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Mar. 2014. <http://www.joyofbaking.com/cakes/ ChocolateEclairsRecipe.html>.

Jaworski, Stephanie. “Profiteroles Tested Recipe.” Joy of Baking. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2014. <http://www.joyofbaking.com/Profiteroles.html>.

Van Damme, Eddy. “Saint Honore.” Eddy Van Damme. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2014. <http://www.chefeddy.com/2010/06/saint-honore>.

Jaworski, Stephanie. “Paris-Brest Tested Recipe.” Joy of Baking. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2014. <http://www.joyofbaking.com/ParisBrest.html>.

“Sugar Puffs.” Smitten Kitchen. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Mar. 2014. <http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2009/01/sugar-puffs/>.

(last name not available), Michèle. “Pont-neuf.” Croquant Fondant Gourmand. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2014. <http://croquantfondantgourmand.com/pont-neuf/>.

Setyadi, Talita. “Delicious Religieuse.” Talita’s Kitchen. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2014. <http://www.talitaskitchen.com/2012/07/delicious-religieuse.html>.

(last name not available), Elodie. ” Gland pâtissier autrement appelé Salambo” : Juste par gourmandise N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2014. <http://justepargourmandise.blogspot.ca/2011/03/gand-patisser-autrement-appele-salambo.html>.

Bronski, Peter. “Gluten-Free Ratio Rally: Almond Choux Florentines.” No Gluten, No Problem. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Mar. 2014. <http://noglutennoproblem.blogspot.ca/2010/06/gluten-free-ratio-rally-almond-choux.html>.

Lebovitz, David. “Gougères: A Recipe for French Cheese Puffs.” David Lebovitz. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2014. <http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2009/01/gougeres-french-cheese-puffs/>.

Simon, Bertrand. “Pommes Dauphine.” Chef Simon Le plasir de cuisiner. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Mar. 2014. <http://chefsimon.lemonde.fr/pommes-dauphine.html>.

Chef Philippe. “Gnocchis à la parisienne.” Meilleur Du Chef. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2014. <http://www.meilleurduchef.com/cgi/mdc/l/fr/recette/gnocchis-parisienne.html”>gnocchis à la parisienne>.