YOU NEED TO KNOW: How to Make Pâte à Choux (And Coconut Cream Pie Puffs!)
One of my favorite things to do on this site is to dissect baking basics and give a how-to on staple recipes and kitchen techniques. Throughout this so-called “You Need to Know” series, we’ve learned how to make caramel, meringue, browned butter, and more. Today, we’re going to walk through a diverse pastry called pâte à choux and even learn how to use it in the making of coconut cream pie puffs. If you’re up for learning, put on your food science hats (and aprons!) and let’s dive in!
What is Pâte à Choux?
Also known as choux pastry, pâte à choux (pronounced pot-a-shoe) is a common variety of puff pastry. Used to make cream puffs, eclairs, and numerous other treats, pâte à choux makes lightweight pastries with semi-hollow interiors perfect for stuffing and filling. It’s high proportion of liquid to dry ingredients creates a dough that is almost paste-like and bakes into puffed-up treats with airy interiors. Pâte à choux requires liquid (typically water), fat (butter), a binder (eggs), and dry ingredients (flour, salt, and sometimes sugar), and is cooked on the stovetop prior to being baked or fried. Let’s talk about how to make it.
How Do I Make Pâte à Choux?
Water, butter, and salt are combined on the stovetop in a pan over heat. Once the butter melts and the mixture begins to boil, flour (and sometimes sugar!) is added, stirring all the while to keep the butter and flour from forming large clumps. The mixture is cooked over the course of a few minutes to dry out the paste. You’ll know it’s thoroughly cooked when it pulls away from the sides of the pan and forms one large mound of dough. Remove the paste from heat and place it in a bowl to cool slightly before the eggs are added.
Once slightly cooled, we paddle in the eggs using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. As you stir, the dough will become smooth, somewhat shiny, and soft enough that the dough droops off the spoon in soft peaks. If it’s not soft enough, the dough will require extra liquid to make make the pastry puff up adequately in the oven, but be careful- too much liquid and the pastries are at risk of spreading in the oven instead of puffing vertically. There’s a reason baking is called a science, guys! Once your paste is complete, you’re ready to pipe, bake, or fry the dough in whatever manner you’ve decided upon.
What Do I Do with Choux Pastry Once I’ve Made It?
Most commonly, choux pastry is baked. First, the prepared dough is added to a piping bag and piped onto a prepared sheet pan. For profiteroles or cream puffs a large round piping tip is used to pipe small, macaron shell-sized rounds of dough. For eclairs, a large round or French star tip is used to pipe strips of dough. To make Paris-brest, rings of dough are piped, baked, halved, and filled.
Prior to baking, a thin coat of egg wash (One egg whisked with a teaspoon of water) can be applied to make the pastry richly golden and slightly shiny, but this is completely optional. The dough will puff and contort its shape slightly in the oven, so be sure to smooth any tall peaks or bumps in the dough before it’s baked. In this case, a wet fingertip can be used to gently pat down the dough as needed.
While baking, the liquid heats, turns to steam, and causes the pastry to puff, creating a cavernous interior. If you used a fancy star tip to pipe your dough, you’ll notice some small striations in the final baked goods, but typically they’re barely noticed.
If not baked, choux pastry can also be fried. In the case of French crullers, beignet cream puffs, or even churros, the dough is piped or scooped directly into a heated pot of oil. The choux is fried on one side, flipped, and then finished off on the other side. The outcome is crisp, almost crunchy pastries with soft, doughy insides. Can you say YUM?
Coconut Cream Pie Puffs
So here’s the main event: coconut cream pie puffs. We can put our new skills to work and get cracking on these southern pie-inspired treats. Here, a baked pâte à choux shell is filled with a coconut and vanilla bean custard before being topped with melted white chocolate and toasted coconut- so delicious. Since we already know how to make pâte à choux, I’ll explain what happens once we have a dough.
Making the Puffs
First, we use a large round tip to pipe out rounds of dough. Bake the puffs in the oven while you prep your custard. Here, flour, sugar, and milk are combined on the stovetop and cooked until barely thickened. Next, we add some of the hot mixture to a few beaten eggs. The mixture is all combined back on the stove and cooked until it’s viscous to a mayonnaise consistency. Remove the custard from heat, and add a little butter, vanilla, and shredded coconut. If you want to be super extra, you can toast your shredded coconut beforehand; that way, your coconut cream pie puffs have even more flavor.
Filling the Puffs
Once the custard and puffs have cooled, add the coconut mixture to a piping bag fitted with a round tip. Pipe the custard directly into each pastry. Just squeeze your piping bag until you feel the puffs fill up. Set aside, melt some white chocolate over a double boiler, and decorate your little puffs as pleased. I like to garnish with extra toasted coconut, because it’s SO PRETTY, don’t you think?
I hope you guys learned a smidge and are eager to get cracking on these coconut cream pie puffs. Admittedly, I’m not an expert at pastry, so we’re really learning this together. If you’re reading this and you happen to be, oh, Dominique Ansel or Rose Levy Beranbaum, please give me all your pointers and forgive, what I’m sure is, my many mistakes in the above text. If you’re really into pâte à choux now, take a peek at the tiramisu cream puffs, too! Same technique, different filling! Happy baking to you all!Print
YOU NEED TO KNOW: How to Make Pâte à Choux (And Coconut Cream Pie Puffs!)
These coconut cream pie puffs come with a tutorial for how to make pate a choux cream puffs! Stuffed with a coconut custard and topped with a white chocolate glaze, these cream puffs are delicious and cute desserts for the spring.
- Prep Time: 25
- Cook Time: 35
- Total Time: 120
- Yield: 15
- Category: Dessert
For the pate a choux (Adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum):
- ½ cup (120 gm) water
- 4 tablespoons (55 gm) unsalted butter
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- Pinch of salt
- ½ cup (70 gm) all-purpose flour
- 2 large eggs
For the filling:
- 3/4 cup (150 gm) sugar
- 4–1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups (480 gm) whole milk
- 3 large egg yolks, slightly beaten in a bowl
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup sweetened grated coconut
For the topping:
- 1 cup white chocolate chips
- ½ cup toasted shredded coconut
For the choux:
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with a sheet of parchment paper. Fit a piping bag with a large round tip (I use Ateco 809) or snip the end off of a quart-sized freezer plastic bag.
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the water, butter, sugar and salt until the butter has melted and the mixture is boiling. Remove the saucepan from the heat and add all of the flour, stirring vigorously to combine. After a few moments of stirring, the dough will form a moist ball that pulls away from the sides of the pan. Return the pan back to the heat to cook, paddling the dough with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula for 3 minutes. Dump the dough into a large bowl and add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each addition to combine. The dough should be viscous enough to hold a soft peak when you pull the wooden spoon out of it. If it is too stiff, add a teaspoon or two of water. Scoop the mixture into the piping bag and squeeze out tablespoon-sized round balls (see photo) of dough, about 2 inches apart on the prepared pan. Barely moisten a fingertip to smooth out any peaks on the rounds so that they are rounded disks, similar to the shape of a baked macaron cookie. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, then decrease the oven temp to 350 and bake an additional 15-20 minutes, or until the puffs are golden brown. Allow to cool prior to using.
To prepare the filling:
- In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, flour, and salt, whisking to combine. Slowly add the milk. Turn heat to medium temperature and whisk constantly until the mixture is bubbling and thickened. Continue to cook for an additional 2 minutes.
- Slowly drizzle a small amount of the cooked mixture into the beaten egg yolks, whisking all the while. Once about a cup of the mixture is incorporated, pour the mixture back into the original saucepan and place back on the heat. Cook an additional 1-2 minutes while continuing to stir.
- Add the butter and vanilla, stirring until incorporated. Stir in the coconut. Allow to cool to room temperature. You can do this in the fridge as well. When cool, stir and outfit a piping back with a large round tip. Fill the bag with the custard and insert the tip discreetly into the side of a crack in a puff. Fill with the custard slowly until full and then repeat with the remaining. Set aside while you melt the chocolate for the topping.
For the topping:
- Set up a double boiler over low heat and add the white chocolate to the bowl. Stirring regularly, gently melt the chocolate. Be sure to not let the chocolate get too hot or it will seize! Once my chocolate starts melting a good bit, I usually remove the pan and bowl from heat to stop the cooking and keep it going gently. Once melted, spoon pours of white chocolate on top of each pastry and sprinkle with toasted coconut. Enjoy once the topping has set!