- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 13, 2003

I have to admit that baking is not one of my strong points. In restaurant kitchens, and I think home kitchens, as well, we seem to fall into two categories — bakers or cooks — and rarely do the two skills show up in the same person.

If you’ve never been in a restaurant kitchen, let me tell you that there may not be an actual wall separating the cooks from the bakers, but there is certainly a psychic one. If you’re a cook, you don’t enter the baker’s world unless you first ask permission and promise not to touch things.

Cooks typically are spontaneous and constantly adjusting recipes. Bakers are usually highly organized and disciplined, since baking is more of a science. In my experience, we really do speak different languages.

Although I’m a cook, I’m pleased to say that one of the things I can do in baking is to make cream puffs or choux (pronounced “shoe”) pastry. It really is easy and has all kinds of applications beyond sweet cream puffs and eclairs, with which we often associate it.

I’ve included a basic recipe with this column and a few ideas for using the baked pastries.

Savory choux (without the addition of sugar to the pastry mixture):

• Cut off top and fill with a mixture of creamed vegetables or seafood.

• Use instead of muffins as a base for eggs Benedict and similar concoctions.

Sweet choux (with sugar):

• Cut off the top, fill with a sweetened whipped cream, place the top back on and drizzle chocolate over the top.

• Cut off the top, fill with ice cream and sliced, lightly sweetened fresh berries or other fruit. Replace the top and dust with confectioners’ sugar.

The basic pastry dough mixture can be flavored with all kinds of additions, such as grated cheese for savory puffs or vanilla or orange zest for sweet. To give you an idea of the possibilities, I’ve also included recipes for a fried sweet dessert fritter and a classic savory appetizer that use choux pastry as their base.

Basic choux pastry

5 whole eggs, room temperature

1 cup water or milk

1 stick ( cup) unsalted butter

teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon sugar, optional

1 cup flour

If using, make egg wash by beating 1 egg with 1 tablespoon water. Set aside.

Heat together water or milk, butter, salt and sugar (use sugar only if making dessert pastries) in a deep saucepan until it boils. Remove pan from heat and dump in the flour all at once. Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until dough is smooth and comes together nicely, about 1 minute. Return pan to the stove over moderate heat and continue beating for another minute or so, or until bottom of the pan is lightly coated. This dries the dough a bit and makes it stronger.

Turn off the heat and, in a food processor or by hand, beat in remaining 4 eggs, one at a time, until each is fully incorporated and pastry is smooth and shiny.

With a pastry bag or two wet spoons, form pastry into even-sized mounds on a parchment- or silicone-mat-lined baking sheet. Allow space for expansion. Lightly brush tops with a bit of the egg wash, if using.

Bake in 400-degree oven for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 15 to 25 minutes, depending on size, until well-puffed and golden brown. Cut a slit in the side of each pastry and allow to sit in a turned-off oven for another 30 minutes to completely dry out.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a day or two; in the freezer for up to a month. Briefly reheat nonfrozen pastries in 400-degree oven for 3 to 4 minutes to recrisp. Makes 8 large or 24 small puff pastries.

Sweet cream puff or choux fritters

This is a lovely doughnutlike sweet that may rival Krispy Kremes.

Make the basic choux pastry from the recipe that preceded, adding the optional 1 tablespoon sugar, plus 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1 tablespoon finely grated orange or lemon zest. Eliminate egg wash.

Heat 2 inches of canola or other neutral vegetable oil in a deep saucepan to 350 degrees. With a pastry bag or a tablespoon, scoop 2 teaspoon-sized portions of the dough into the hot oil and cook until the fritters are puffed and golden brown, about 5 minutes or so. Don’t crowd the fritters as you cook them. You’ll need to do them in batches. Place fritters on paper towels to drain in a warm (200-degree) oven. When all are cooked, dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve warm. Makes about 36.


This is a classic recipe from the Burgundy region of France. They are delicious right out of the oven or can be served warm or at room temperature. They also freeze well and then can be reheated in a 400-degree oven for 7 to 8 minutes to recrisp.

Make the basic choux pastry from the recipe that preceded, omitting the sugar. Stir nearly all of 1 cups grated, aged, firm cheese such as Gruyere, dry Jack or Parmesan into the pastry dough, reserving a couple of tablespoons to sprinkle on top.

With a pastry bag or a tablespoon, scoop out level tablespoon portions of the pastry dough onto a parchment- or silicon-mat-lined baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Brush with egg wash and top each puff with reserved cheese and a little kosher salt, if desired. Bake as directed in basic choux pastry recipe. Makes about 24.


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