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Choux Pastry

Pâte à Choux

1 cup water (8oz; 250ml)
1 stick (¼lb; 125g) butter
1 cup (5oz; 160g) plain (preferably strong) flour
4 medium eggs
Flavourings (see note)

Flavourings The paste can be flavoured to complement the filling. For sweet eclairs, you can add a teaspoon of sugar and a few drops of vanilla essence, or orange zest; for savory puffs you can season it with salt and pepper. For either, you can substitute milk for half the water. For classic gougères just add gruyère. Savory choux paste can be made with chicken stock in place of water, and flavoured with grated gruyere, parmesan, or herbs. Try parmesan and dill-weed choux, stuffed with creamcheese and lox.

Bring the water and butter to a rolling boil, in a large, thick-bottomed, saucepan. Add the flour, all at once, reduce the heat; stir with a wooden spoon, cooking the mixture until it separates cleanly from both pan and spoon. Remove from heat; incorporate the eggs, one-by-one, beating well. The dough should be glossy and soft, but hold its shape. You can use it immediately.

Prepared choux paste can also be left to rest in a cool place for a few hours, or overnight if necessary, until you are ready to use it. Smooth the surface of the dough and wipe with a knob of butter, or cover closely with cling-film, so it doesn't form a crust.

You can pipe fingers of dough, about 1½'' 2cm wide, for éclairs, make larger balls to form the bases of réligieuses, pipe letters or designs for special creations, or make the classic, circular Paris-Brest. You can glaze the pastries with beaten egg-yolk (or any left-over egg), before baking, to get a richer golden crust. You can also sprinkle them with slivered almonds, sesame or poppy seeds, or grated cheese, for special effects. For the larger pastries, remove any soft uncooked dough from the interior when you stick their sides. Once they are cool and crisp they will keep, if well-protected from moisture.

Profiteroles Preheat the oven to 390°F 200°C. Use a piping bag, or a pair of teaspoons, to form small balls of choux paste, well separated—they will double in size as they bake---on a buttered baking dish, or on silicon cloth. Bake for ten minutes, then increase the heat to 425°F 220°C Bake 15-20 minutes more, until golden. Remove from the oven, pierce the side of each puff with the point of a sharp knife or skewer, to let the steam escape, and cool on a baking rack.

Fill with crème patissière or crème St Honoré; glaze with icing or dip in hot caramelised sugar.

Pets de nonne— ''nun's farts''—are light and sweet.

Pets de Nonne Prepare a choux paste, as above, but perfumed with a teaspoon of orange-flower water, and slightly sweetened. Beat one egg white to stiff peaks, mix half with the choux paste, then fold in the remainder. Let this dough rest for a couple of hours.

Heat vegetable oil to 320°F 160°C Using a piping bag and scissors, pipe and cut blobs of dough, about half the size of a wine cork, straight into the hot fat—or just use a pair of spoons. (Be careful not to splash yourself!) The little farts should turn themselves over half way through cooking, but may need some gentle encouragement. In any case, cook until golden all over, remove with a mesh ladle. Drain briefly on kitchen paper. Serve hot, dusted with vanilla caster sugar.

Gougères are savoury cheese puffs.

Prepare a choux paste, as above, but incoporate one cup (4oz 125g) of grated gryère, two good pinches of pepper, and a couple of tablespoons of Dijon mustard, into the mixture, along with the eggs.

Fill the gougères with your favourite savoury treat: thinly-sliced rare beef with horseradish, lobster or crab salad, crisp smokey bacon and avocado, a smoked oyster ...

The classic Gougère is cooked as a single circular "cake". However, you can make individual bite-sized cheese puffs, or éclair-shaped fingers if you prefer. In any case, for a crisp cheesey crust, sprinkle your pastries with a little grated cheese before baking.

Waffles Choux paste can be used the base for a waffle batter—you don't need to wait for it to cool—just add milk. For each cup of prepared choux paste, work in about ½ cup whole milk, to form a thick smooth batter, which runs off the spoon in a ribbon. Heat the waffle iron, brush with oil or butter; use a portion of batter small enough to allow room for expansion. Cook until golden. For caramelised Liège Waffles mix ½ cup of pearl sugar into the batter just before cooking.

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