Pâte à choux is a foundation recipe found in classical and contemporary French pastry making that is extremely versatile. Many French pastries and desserts have been created from pâte à choux like cream puffs, éclairs, St-Honoré, choquettes, profiteroles, and croquembouche and its versatility extends into savoury applications as well.
As with any recipe, there have been many interpretations on how to make pâte à choux. Extensive discussions and analyses about the topic can be found here with plenty of excellent tips and recipes shared among the forum participants.
As far as recipes goes, I’ve had much success with Pierre Hermé’s recipe from Chocolate Desserts and have used that as my base recipe for all my pâte à choux applications. Another highly acclaimed and very successful recipe I’ve used comes from Pichet Ong and can be found here.
Today’s discussion will not focus on how to make a pâte à choux dough since there is enough information that can be gleaned from the above links to come up with a successful dough. Rather, this discussion will focus on a question that was inspired by a fellow reader to my blog (thanks Mightyroy) who asked me how to make éclair shells that looked like the picture perfect versions typically found in professional French pastry shops. He noted that the éclairs found in these shops tended to have very little cracks in the choux shells and were very uniform in shape.
What is the secret?
Assuming you have just successfully completed making your batch of pâte à choux dough , the secret lies in the use of a star piping tip (16 or 18 teeth with 1 to 1.5 cm tip diameter) to pipe the pâte à choux onto the baking sheet.
(Shown – Star polycarbonate Nozzle)
The use of a star piping tip (or nozzle) to pipe pâte à choux is essential to allowing the dough to expand evenly with minimal cracking during the baking process. The ridges created by piping the pâte à choux with a star tip creates gaps that allows the choux to expand evenly during baking. If you take a look at the picture below, you’ll see that the choux shell has dark lines along the length of the éclair. These dark lines were the ridges that were filled in as the choux dough expanded during the baking process.
If you find that your shells are still cracking significantly, you may want to add a bit more salt to the pâte à choux base recipe to minimize the cracking but be warned that doing so may result in your choux shells being slightly saltier. Finding the right balance in ingredients will be essential to fine tuning your recipe to a taste that’s right for you and your customers.
Sometimes, all it takes is a slight tweak in recipe and technique to bring your pastry creations to the next level and I hope I have been able to provide you with some tips on how to give your éclairs that polished and professional look.