What is choux pastry? How to bake, use, and store pâte à choux

Three cream puffs covered in powder.
Choux pastry is a versatile baked good that can be used for eclairs, cream puffs, and gougères. Matt Anderson Photography/Getty Images

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Though it may seem intimidating, making cream puffs, éclairs, or an impressive croquembouche is possible at home. But it’s important to get the building blocks of these desserts down first. Each of these treats starts off with choux pastry as its base, and whipping up this bake is easier than you think.

Because choux pastry is a cross between a batter and a dough, it’s pipeable to form virtually any shape, from round puffs to elongated éclairs. It’s baked in three steps, allowing time to rise, fully bake, and then dry out. Once baked, the result is a delicious pastry with a slightly crisp outer shell and a delightfully airy interior pocket that serves as the ideal vessel for creams, jams, and mousses.

A quick history

Stacked up choux pastries on a red and white checkered table cloth.
Choux, which translates to ‘cabbage,’ has French roots going back to 1540. Nataliia Chubakova/Getty Images

Also known as pâte à choux, choux pastry has French roots dating back to 1540 and was perfected and popularized in the 1800s.

The word choux translates to “cabbage,” as it was named for its textured shape when piped into a round. But even with its rich history and elegant nuances, choux pastry can be achieved in any home kitchen.

“Just like anything, practice makes perfect,” says Tiffany MacIsaac, baker and owner of Buttercream Bakeshop. “I can’t think of a better reward than getting to eat the delicious cream puffs, crullers, or profiteroles made while perfecting technique!”

With patience, practice, and the tips and tricks below, you’ll be well on your way to biting into a homemade cream puff or éclair in no time.

What can you do with choux?

Two éclairs on a wooden cutting board.
A choux pastry can be used to make cream puffs, éclairs, French crullers, churros, croquembouche, and even Parisienne style gnocchi annick vanderschelden photography/Getty Images

Choux pastry is incredibly versatile as it serves as the base for a variety of sweet treats. Most well-known is the classic cream puff filled with a luscious, airy Chantilly cream. Choux pastry can also be filled with ice cream and dunked in chocolate sauce to make profiteroles, or it can be turned into an elongated éclair filled with custard or cream and topped with chocolate. French crullers, churros, and croquembouche are all delicious applications as well.

But the versatility doesn’t stop there. Because choux pastry isn’t made with much sugar, the options for savory appetizers and other treats are plentiful, including making Parisienne style gnocchi or gougères, a savory cream puff.

Troubleshooting choux pastry

A pile of chouquettes on a table.
Perfecting a choux pastry takes practice and patience. frederique wacquier/Getty Images

The choux collapsed. Your pastry may collapse if your oven isn’t hot enough. Start off with a very hot oven to create the steam that causes the choux to puff up. Once puffed, turn down the oven after 10 minutes to keep the choux from getting too dark. Be sure to also keep the oven door closed throughout the entire baking process. “All that beautiful steam in the oven is an important part of the baking process,” adds MacIsaac. “Don’t let it out.”

The choux isn’t rising properly. If the eggs aren’t incorporated correctly, it can hinder the rise of your pastry while baking. If the paste is too hot when you add in the eggs, they’ll start to cook, which can inhibit their rising power.

Too soggy or eggy? If the inside of your choux looks moist or shiny when you crack it open, it may need fewer eggs or a longer bake time. Be sure you’re giving the choux time to bake at a lower temperature and dry to create that slightly crispy texture.

How long do choux pastries last?

A pile of profiteroles on a white plate.
Baked choux can be kept in an airtight container for two to three days. MarkGillow/Getty Images

If you’re planning to make choux pastry ahead of time, or you’re making extra, it does have a shelf life. Keep raw choux dough in the fridge in an airtight bag for up to three days if you’re not baking it right away. Once baked, store choux pastries in an airtight container for two to three days, or in airtight bags or containers in the freezer for two to three weeks.

Insider’s takeaway

The applications for choux pastry are plentiful and you can certainly accomplish making it at home. It only requires water, milk, salt, flour, eggs, and sugar. The real trick to pulling off the perfect choux is a bit of finesse and attention. Be patient while the pastry is baking, and remember to have patience if you don’t achieve the perfect choux on the first try. Practicing your technique will only allow you to try more tasty treats.

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