Alright, let’s talk Choux Pastry. Also known as Pâte à Choux. If you’re looking for tips to make Perfect Choux Pastry to use in classic profiteroles, eclairs, craquelinand etc., then you’re in the right place!
A foolproof recipe for light, airy, puffy, crisp choux pastry (Pâte à Choux)!
Updated: March 2019
So what do we know about choux pastry (Also known as Pâte à Choux)?
We know that it comes from France. It’s a light, airy, crispy pastry used to make , cream puffs/profiteroles (both sweet and savory), choux au craquelin, croquembouches, gougères, French crullers and more. Flour, eggs, butter and water are all you need to make it. And depending on who you ask, choux pastry is either super easy or insanely difficult to make. What’s up with that? Let’s find out.
I used to eat a lot of eclairs and cream puffs when I was little, so choux pastry has a special place in my heart. And I find it pretty ingenious that choux pastry doesn’t use a chemical raising agent to rise. Instead it uses air and moisture trapped in the dough to rise (water and eggs).
A cross section of a choux pastry case, showing the airy center and a crispy outer shell.
I had maintained for quite some time that I was a choux pastry whiz, because it was one of the first pastries I learnt how to make. But, one day, I just couldn’t get it right! And I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. So I started testing different ways of making it, until I finally understood what made it work for me. If your choux pastry recipe doesn’t always work, then THIS foolproof choux pastry guide is for you. This post will help you understand WHY and HOW choux pastry works, with plenty of troubleshooting tips.
Why is homemade chuox pastry simply better?
Store bought choux pastry cases are almost always dry and tasteless. This is true for store bought cream puff shells as well as eclair shells. Homemade choux pastry however, is the real deal! Crisp on the outside and airy & custard-like on the inside. And when you understand how choux pastry works, and what’s happening in each step, it really is super easy to make.
So let’s find out how to make PERFECT Choux Pastry every single time. This is the ULTIMATE GUIDE for making FOOLPROOF choux pastry (pâte à choux), for perfect profiteroles/cream puffs, eclairs, craquelins and other choux pastry based desserts. It’s a lengthy post, where I cover EVERY aspect of making perfect choux pastry, troubleshooting choux pastry problems, tips for profiteroles and eclairs, as well as variations. So hold on tight!
What is PERFECT choux pastry (Pâte à Choux)?
A pastry with a light and crisp outer shell, and a delicious, soft, creamy, custard-like inside. And it’s airy with large air pockets inside as well, perfect to be filled with a sweet filling. A few cracks will be visible on the outside, but it still retains the shape it was piped in.
It can be round for profiteroles/cream puffs and craquelins, or elongated for eclairs.
Personally, I like my profiteroles to be a little softer, and for my eclairs to have a firmer shell. This is because the elongated shape of eclairs hold up well, and are more stable if they are made to have a firmer shell. Profiteroles are more forgiving and foolproof than eclairs, because of their round shape, and as such I like to keep them a little softer. Choux buns (profiteroles, cream puffs), are less likely to collapse compared to eclairs.
BUT, shit happens. What can go wrong with Choux Pastry?
Profiteroles or eclairs have collapsed.
They are flat, or look deflated. The eclairs look like they have a concave bottom, or there’s a crack on the bottom.
Choux pastry is too soft and soggy.
Usually profiteroles or eclair shells have a crisp shell. The crispness doesn’t last long when it’s exposed to air or filled with pastry cream. However, they should never ever be soggy.
Profiteroles or eclair shells have a lot of cracks on top.
They have risen irregularly, with lots of cracks, and kind of look like an ugly ass flower.
Choux pastry shell is too dry, doughy or crumbly.
Now let’s see why these things happen.
Now here’s what gives me the most consistent results for choux pastry.
Weigh the ingredients. Each one of them.
Michael Ruhlman’s ratio by weight for choux pastry is 2:1:1:2 of water, butter, flour and eggs. While this works well, I find that adding a little extra flour helps make the choux pastry more crisp and stable, so that it keeps its shape as it bakes – a very desirable result.
Whenever you can, ALWAYS measure ingredients by weight, not by volume. This is true for any kind of baking. While I don’t have a problem measuring by volume for some recipes, I always prefer to use weight because that gives more consistent results. Here’s a good kitchen scale that you can use, that is inexpensive.
With eggs, I like to crack them into a jug, and whisk them before adding to the dough.
Cook the dough first
Choux pastry or pâte à choux, is very unique in that it requires the dough to be cooked first! This unique step results in a really sturdy pastry shell that also has a custard-like texture on the inside.
Always start with cold water (or milk). Add the salt and the sugar to the water. Cut the butter into pats (or smaller), to ensure that it melts BEFORE the water comes to a boil. You don’t want to keep stirring boiling water to melt the butter. Stirring the water frequently while it warms up ensures that the salt, sugar and butter melt before the water comes to a boil.
As soon as the water mix comes to a boil, remove it from the heat (but don’t turn off the stove) and add ALL THE FLOUR IN ONE GO. Mix immediately for about 45 seconds, to make sure there are absolutely no lumps. This is important because you need to mix in the flour well (flour needs to absorb all the moisture of the butter-water mix), and having a smooth dough means that you won’t have cracked shells later.
Then cook the dough further on the stove so that enough moisture evaporates to get a good dough. A lot of recipes will talk of different signs to look for when cooking the dough – from the dough pulling away from the sides of the pan, to the dough looking like mashed potatoes, or leaving a film of dough on the bottom of the pan.
Heating the dough for too long can cause the butter to split from the dough as well. So make sure you don’t do this.
Here’s what I look for
- The dough leaving a film on the bottom of the saucepan (if you’re using a stainless steel pan).
- Oil droplets forming on the bottom of the pan (if you’re using non-stick pans).
- The dough comes together to form a cohesive dough, that pulls away very cleanly from the sides of the saucepan.
- Absolutely no flour clumps in the dough.
- If I stick a tablespoon in the ball of dough, it’ll stay upright without falling (as shown in the picture below). This is called…. the “spoon test”. If the spoon falls over, that’s a clear indication that there’s still too much liquid/moisture in the dough.
Next step is cooling down the dough.
This is important because you don’t want to add the eggs while the dough is too hot. This can cook the eggs, and even give your choux an eggy taste. So you need to wait for the eggs to cool down at least to 160°F.
The way I prefer to cool down my dough is to place the eggs in a bowl, and then flatten the dough along the sides of the bowl. This increases the surface area, so it cools down faster, plus more water evaporates as you do this.
Some recipes call for mixing the dough in a stand mixer for a couple of minutes. This is fine too, but make sure you’re only mixing it on low speed and no longer than 2 – 3 minutes. Agitating the dough too much can cause the butter to split from the dough, and then you’ll get a really oily looking dough.
The amount of eggs added is variable. Usually it’s 4, which is 8 oz in weight for this recipe (because 1 egg is considered 2 oz, but that obviously depends on the size of the eggs).
As mentioned earlier, I like to have all the eggs whisked well in a jug first, before adding it to the dough. This is because I can add a little at a time until I get the consistency I like. Whisking them beforehand ensures that you get an even mix of egg white and yolks being added to the dough at all times.
If you’d like to, you can add one egg at a time too. Just make sure that the last egg (4th), is whisked in a small bowl and it’s added only a little at a time to prevent the dough from being too runny.
Mix in each addition of eggs before you add the next. You can check the consistency of the dough as you go and make sure you don’t add too much egg. At the beginning you can add about 1/4 cup (or 1 egg) of eggs at a time, but then add the last bit in small increments.
What you’re looking for here is a dough that looks glossy, but still thick, can hold its shape and is pipeable. Sometimes I only need to add 3 1/2 eggs before I get the right consistency, and if I added all of the 4th egg, then my dough would lose the stiffness I need. If that happens, the dough won’t hold its shape when piped, leading to flat choux pastry. Not good.
The choux pastry dough after half of the eggs has being added. The dough is still dry, and not smooth or glossy.
Why is there variability in amount of eggs added?
Because when you added water to cook the dough previously, how much water gets evaporated during the cooking process can vary a lot. How you measured the water, what saucepan you used to cook the dough, how long you cooked the dough can all have an impact on how much water is left in the dough.
Less water in the dough – more eggs you will need to add.
More water in the dough – less eggs you will need to add.
The type of flour can also have an impact on how much eggs to add.
Pastry flour needs less eggs than if you used AP flour.
Bread flour needs more eggs than if you used AP flour.
This image shows the subtle difference in choux pastry dough consistencies. On left, the dough has almost enough eggs. On right, the perfect amount of eggs, where the dough is smoother, and has a glossy sheen.
Here are some signs to look for in your choux pastry dough, when checking for the right consistency.
- The finger test – Drag your finger along the surface of the choux pastry dough to create a trough. The sides of this trough should stay upright and not collapse into the dough. If they do, it’s because the dough is too runny. If the sides of the trough stay up, then it’s the right consistency. Make sure the dough has a nice sheen when you do this test too.
- The V test – Place a rubber spatula in the dough, upright, and then stir the dough with it a little, and slowly lift the spatula, straight up. The dough should form a V shape at the end of the spatula (as shown in the picture in the post), if it’s the right consistency.
I use a combination of both tests to check the consistency of the dough. I prefer the finger test over the V test. However, I would recommend using both at the beginning.
Piping the dough
Tips for profiteroles
Make sure the piping tip is just touching the surface of the piped dough, and move up as you go. This will help create less ripples and folds. This way you will have less cracks in your shell. Alternatively, you can use a spoon or a mini cookie scoop to spoon the dough on to a baking sheet as well. I do recommend piping though. Also remember to hold the pastry bag (and tip) upright when you’re piping profiteroles, and you’re not doing it at an angle. This way your choux pastry will rise upwards, and not be lopsided.
Remember to use a damp finger to flatten the apex or any points, otherwise these points will burn when you bake the profiterole shells. However, if you’re topping the choux pastry with craquelin, then you don’t have to do this.
I use either the Wilton 1A Round Tip or Wilton 2A Round Tip for my profiterole pastries and I LOVE my 16 inch disposable pastry bags because they are sturdy, and hold more of the dough. Any 1/2 inch round tip (or similar sized tip) is good for regular profiteroles or cream puffs.
Spraying the baking tray with water or dusting them with sugar
Another trick I use to get the choux pastry shells to expand even more is to spray the baking tray with some water.It’s simple, yet works brilliantly. As the water on the baking tray evaporates from around the dough, it helps “raise” the dough from the outside while the moisture IN the dough, helps raise it from the inside.
However, if you want crispness over volume, then sift some confectioner’s sugar on top before baking.
Tips for piping eclairs
For more in-depth details and pictures, check out my Classic Chocolate Eclairs post.
Eclairs are a bit trickier than profiteroles when it comes to maintaining their shape. But I’ve discussed all the tips and tricks in my eclairs post, so that you too can make perfect chocolate eclairs, every single time!
When piping for eclairs, pipe the dough at an 45° angle and be consistent with the pressure. To maintain the right shape, pipe a tad extra dough at the two ends, so that your eclairs don’t end up oval shaped.
With eclairs, I also prefer to use a French star tip over a round tip. This really helps with maintaining the eclair shell shape. I use a 1/2 inch French star tip from this Ateco French star tip set. I also prefer to use bread flour, so that the dough will be more sturdy (than with AP flour).
Silpat vs parchment paper
Eclairs bake better on silpat than on parchment paper! Who would’ve thought? It’s to do with the heat conduction from bottom, and this ensures smooth, evenly baked eclair shells without cracks or collapsing.
Since I also don’t want my eclairs to puff up too much, I like to dust the eclairs with confectioner’s sugar instead of water. Confectioner’s sugar slightly caramelizes on the shells, giving them a little extra sweetness and a delightful crunch.
For more details, check out this post for tips on how to pipe eclairs and make classic chocolate eclairs.
Baking the choux pastry
Some recipes call for choux pastry to be baked at two different temperatures. If this works for you, go ahead. As I mentioned earlier, I find that the high temperature makes the shells expand too much, causing cracks. Plus, after I bake one tray of choux pastry, I don’t want to wait for the temperature to rise back up before baking the next tray. So I bake choux pastry at one constant temperature – 375°F, for 35 – 45 minutes, for perfect choux pastries, every single time.
Don’t open the oven door until your choux pastry shells have set properly
Since choux pastry relies on steam to expand while baking, it’s VERY important to not open the oven door until the choux pastry shells have set properly. This means you should never open the door during the first 25-30 minutes of baking (for standard-sized choux pastry; the time goes down for smaller shells and up for larger ones). I wait till the shells are golden colored before opening the door. This prevents steam from escaping too early, which will cause the shells to collapse.
Pricking choux pastry shells
I used to prick each choux pastry shell with a toothpick as soon as they came out of the oven and were cooling down, in order to dry out the shells. But now I’ve found that pricking the shells during the last 5-10 minutes of baking helps dry out the shells more, and keep them crisp and sturdy. So now I open the oven door at the 25-30 minute mark, prick each shell with a toothpick or skewer during that last 5-10 mins of baking, and allow the steam inside the shells to escape. Use a sharp toothpick to pierce the casings.
For larger pate a choux pastries (more than 2.5 inches in diameter) and eclair shells, I prick them one more time when the choux pastry comes out of the oven (after being baked to a nice, slightly darker golden brown color and crisp shell). Allow them to cool down in a warm, draft-free place (I usually do this near or on top of the oven), so that a sudden temperature change won’t cause them to collapse either.
Filling pate a choux shells (choux pastry)
There are many different types of filling that you can use to fill profiteroles or eclairs! The most popular filling is vanilla pastry cream, which is also known as creme patissiere. You can get the recipe for creme patissiere right here.
OR if you prefer chocolate creme patissiere (chocolate pastry cream) instead, get the recipe for that right here.
You can get the recipe for Salted Caramel diplomat cream in the recipe for Choux au craqueline with salted caramel cream.
What variations can I try with choux pastry dough?
Milk vs Water – You can use 1/2 milk and 1/2 water instead of using all water (4 fl oz each of water and milk). This will give you a softer shell, but it will have more flavor because of the milk.
AP Flour vs Bread Flour – You can also use bread flour instead of AP flour. I prefer bread flour to make eclairs, and AP flour for profiteroles. But you can try out both and see which you like better.
Toppings – You can also make little cookie discs (craquelin) to place on top of the profiteroles, for a crunchy version of choux pastry buns. This version of choux pastries are a called CHOUX AU CRAQUELIN.
I’ve never made choux pastry before. What advice do you have for a beginner?
Just go for it! 🙂 Even if you get it wrong, they are still going to taste delicious! It’s really quite easy to get PERFECT results even on your first try! Just read the 100s of comments I’ve received below from my readers who tried it for the first time and nailed it! 🙂
The issue with most recipes out there is that they don’t tell you what signs to look for, to help you get the choux pastry dough right. But I’ve taken care of that!
If you are a beginner, start with profiteroles or cream puffs. They are easier and more forgiving to make. Then you can graduate to eclairs, and then even try your hand at these addictively delicious craquelins!
And that ladies & gentlemen, is how you make Perfect Choux Pastry, every single time! : )
Have you checked out my new cookbook?
EQUIPMENT & TOOLS I USED FOR THIS RECIPE
Basic Choux Pastry and Troubleshooting guide
- 8 fl oz water
- 4 oz unsalted butter cubed and at room temp.
- 4.7 oz AP flour, sifted use 5 oz / 145 g for a firmer shell (like for eclairs)
- 8 oz eggs weighed with the shell, about 4 large eggs
- 1/2 tsp sea salt use less if using table salt, or fine salt
- 1 tbsp white sugar optional
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract optional
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Place salt, water, sugar (if using) and butter in a saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally. When the water is starting to boil (butter should be melted at this point), add the flour in one go (do this with the saucepan away from the stove/heat) and vigorously mix the flour in, so that it absorbs all of the water (use a wooden spoon or spatula to do this). When the flour has absorbed the water and it's forming a dough, return the pan to the stove (medium heat).
- Cook the dough for 2 - 5 minutes while you mix and move it around in the pan until you get a dough that pulls away from the sides of the pan, forms oil droplets on the bottom of the pan, and when you stick a spoon in the dough, it stays upright.
- Transfer the dough to a bowl, and let it cool down slightly for a few minutes. Add the vanilla extract (if using), and then with a hand-held mixer (or whisk), mix the dough while adding the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Make sure the eggs are lightly beaten so that you can stop adding eggs immediately, when you reach the right consistency (i.e. a dough with a glossy sheen with pipeable consistency. You may or may not use up all the eggs, please see the post for details).
- Prepare a baking tray with parchment paper and mist the surface with water (either using a mister or lightly sprinkle water with your hands - this is an optional step).
- Pipe the desired shape on to the baking sheet - either using a piping bag fitted with a large tip (I use Wilton 1A or 2A tip, or you can cut the pastry bag opening instead), or spoon it on to the tray, using a teaspoon. Then with a damp finger, flatten the apex and any points.
- Bake in preheated oven for 30 - 40 minutes in the center of the oven, or until the choux pastry shells puff up and are golden brown on top. Do not open the oven door, at least until you have reached the 25 minute mark. Importantly, baking time depends on the size of your pastry shell. If you prefer a drier shell, bake for a couple of minutes longer.
- During the last 5 - 10 minutes of baking, prick each shell with a skewer or toothpick and let them dry out in the oven while baking.
- Remove from the oven, and let the choux pastry cases cool completely in a draft-free area. Preferably in a place that is not cold. (Letting them cool in an open but turned off oven is even better, but not necessary).
- Fill with a sweet or savory filling and serve immediately. Or you can store cooled choux pastry shells in an air-tight container for up to one day. To store them for longer, keep them in the freezer in an air-tight container.
Tips & Tricks
If you require larger profiteroles, you can bake the cases at 420°F for 10 minutes, and then at 350° F for 20-30 minutes until golden brown and puffed up. It may take longer, so keep an eye on the pastry. Bake until they are a dark golden color to ensure that they don't collapse when cooling down. Or you can bake them at 375°F for a longer time as well.
- You can substitute bread flour for AP flour, if you'd like thicker choux pastry that holds its shape better.
- Substitute half of the water with milk for softer choux pastry cases that have a better taste.