Until recently Choux pastry shells (or Pâte à choux) were on my “to do” list, and more precisely under the section “when I have lot’s spare time and I feel I can handle a disappointment”. I thought the preparation of these light and crispy shells is an exercise so complex that I never bothered searching for a recipe. So when I stumbled upon a recipe for Choux pastry last week, I was surprised to find out that this “complicated” dough contains only 6 basic ingredients!
However, as simple as it may sound from the list of ingredients, this is the only dough (as far as my knowledge goes) that is cooked before being baked. To those of you who have the guts to put a baking sheet with these cuties into the oven and walk away for 15-20 minutes, doing your stuff, my small worries may look hilarious. Anyway, after few series (each lasting 15-20 minutes) watching them like a hawk through the glass window in the oven door I now find it funny, too. It turned out that these little creatures are fairly simple to make, actually.
The first variation of savory éclairs I prepared with the crème cheese and fresh herbs turned out to be amazingly appetizing and pairs well with a glass of white wine. While savoring my éclairs I thought of many other fillings that will be great too: taramosalata, creamed blue cheese with pears or salmon mousse. No need to say that I’m trying one (or more) of those filling the next time I’m baking Choux pastry shells.
Mind you, don’t let my talking about savory fillings mislead you that choux pastry shells for sweet éclairs, profiteroles or croquembouches, is different – it’s the same, only the filling changes.
Below follows the recipe for basic choux pastry and the savory filling that I liked so much:
Makes 50-54 small shells for éclairs
Prep and baking time: 60 – 80 minutes
For the dough:
250ml milk* 60g butter 120g all purpose flour (sifted) ¼ tsp salt ½ tsp sugar
3 middle sized eggs
For the filling:
300-350g cream cheese** 100ml sour cream A bunch of fresh dill, finely chopped A bunch of fresh parsley, finely chopped
Few sprigs of green onions, finely chopped
* You may use water instead of milk, but with the milk your cream pastry puffs will get crispier crusts.
**I had a cream cheese similar to ricotta, already salted, but you can choose your favorite type of cream cheese or other soft one. Just make sure your filling is thick enough.
Preheat the oven to 200С/390F.
Have your baking sheets ready lined with baking parchment. For this quantity of dough I needed two big sheets.
Heat the milk with the butter in a suitable saucepan on medium heat. When it is hot enough (before boiling), add the flour, salt and sugar but don’t remove from the heat yet. Stir vigorously with wooden spoon until dough is consistent and starts separating from the sides of the saucepan. Continuously flatten and turn the ball of dough against the sides of the pan – the goal is to dry it as much as possible. At this point the dough is quite heavy and stirring is not easy, but the whole process should take you about 4 to 5 minutes.
Remove from heat and allow cooling for about 5 minutes.
When dough is no longer hot, add the eggs one by one. Beat (by hand or using mixer) until the egg is completely absorbed and only then add the next one. This step can take about 5-10 minutes and you will have smooth dough, stiff enough to hold a peak when a spoon is lifted out of it.
I was told it’s worthwhile to lay out puff pastry and bake them as soon as possible, after the dough is ready because: “the hotter the dough when you put it in the oven, the more you puffs will rise”. If I need to be honest, my short experience showed no such link – I put one of the pans in the oven about 40 minutes after the dough was ready, and the results were quite the same.
Spoon the dough in small puffs (about ½ to 1 inch in diameter) or pipe strips for éclairs shells (mine are about 1½ – 2 inches long). Leave around 2 inches distance between the puffs to permit spreading. Whatever form you choose, don’t worry too much about the shape – they will rise and puff nicely.
Make sure to smooth any sharp-tipped ends of the dough with a wet finger, because they will burn easily.
Bake in heated at 200C/390F oven for 15 minutes or until puff pastry acquires a nice golden color. Although I didn’t try it, I suppose it is possible to bake two pans at the same time, in fan-assisted mode. If you bake them so, do not forget to tell me in the comments below how it worked for you. Remember – do not open the oven until the puffs are not completely baked.
Once the puff pastry becomes golden in color, turn the oven off and open the door slightly. Many recipes say that you need to turn the heath down and let them bake for 5-10 more minutes so remaining moisture inside evaporates, so they can become crispy throughout. The truth is I had problems baking my first dose of puff pastry, while following these instructions. So I followed another advice – the one with opening the door, I described above.
Let them cool slowly (about 10-15 minutes) and then arrange them on a wire rack to cool completely. Meanwhile, in a bowl, mix the cream cheese, cream and chopped very fine herbs and green onions. Season with some salt and few drops of lemon juice.
When completely cooled, cut puff pastry with a sharp knife and fill with cream cheese.
Once filled, regardless of the filling, puff pastry will gradually begin to soften. However, you can bake the puff pastries and fill them at a later stage. Without the filling the cooled pastries can be stored up to two days in tightly closed containers in the freezer.