Pate a choux, the double-cooked dough used to create cream puffs and eclairs, can be laborious to make. When you anticipate being short on time the day you need the pastries, make choux pastry the day before. Choose to either make and store the dough or bake and store the shells. While both methods are effective, you may decide that your finished dessert will taste better if you bake the shells before storing the choux.
The Rise and Fall of Choux
Pate a choux relies on the expansion of trapped air to create the large bubble inside of the shell. Mixing the dough -- from cooking over heat to stirring to beating in the eggs -- incorporates air into the batter. When you store the batter overnight, the weight of the batter can collapse some of the air pockets in the dough, resulting in a denser batter. If you bake the dough the next day, you may well find that the shells do not rise as well as if you had baked them immediately after making the dough.
If you prepare the dough the day before and choose not to bake the shells, rub the surface of the dough with butter and cover it tightly with plastic wrap or wax paper to prevent the top from forming a skin. Store the dough in the refrigerator. You may reheat previously refrigerated choux pastry in a saucepan over low heat until it is barely warm, while beating vigorously, before using. This will add back some of the lost air.
Instead of covering and refrigerating the dough, pipe and bake the shells before storing them for a day. This will allow you to reap the full benefits of freshly mixed pate a choux. Prepare your shells as you would were you filling them the same day. Once the shells have cooled, store them in airtight containers or bags in your freezer. The shells may be stored this way for several weeks. When you are ready to use the shells, place them on baking sheets and reheat in a 325-degree Fahrenheit oven for five to 10 minutes, or until crisped and warmed through. Use as desired.
A Matter of Taste
While your time constraints may dictate which method you use to prepare choux the day before, your personal taste should factor in as well. If you have your heart set on the classic choux shell created by the full expansion of air, set aside enough time to pipe and bake the shells before storing them. If the slightly more dense and less airy shells do not bother you, go ahead and refrigerate the dough. Both will turn out well, as long as you properly store the pate a choux overnight. Once you fill or top them, you may not notice a significant difference anyway.
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- Baking and Pastry: Mastering the Art and Craft; The Culinary Institute of America
- On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen; Harold McGee
- Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1; Julia Child et al.
Kathryn Roberts has worked in the culinary industry for nearly a decade in various roles, including pastry chef and bakery manager. After studying at the Culinary Institute of America, she earned her BFA from Goddard College and is pursing an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts.