Choux pastry, or pate a choux is a light pastry dough used to make profiteroles, croquembouches, eclairs, French crullers, beignets, St. Honor cake, and gougres. It contains only butter, water, flour, and eggs. Like Yorkshire Pudding or David Eyre's pancake, instead of a raising agent it employs high moisture content to create steam during cooking to puff the pastry.
Choux pastry is usually baked but for beignets it is fried. In Spain and Latin America, churros are made of fried choux pastry, sugared and dipped in a thin chocolate blancmange for breakfast. In Austrian cuisine, it is also boiled to make Marillenkn?del, a sweet apricot dumpling; in that case it does not puff, but remains relatively dense. They are sometimes filled with cream and used to make cream puffs or ?clairs.
According to some cookbooks, a chef by the name of Pantarelli or Pantanelli invented the dough in 1540, seven years after he left Florence with Catherine de' Medici and her court. He used the dough to make a gateau and named it pate a Pantanelli. Over time, the recipe of the dough evolved, and the name changed to pate a popelin, which was used to make popelins, small cakes made in the shape of a woman's breasts. Then, Avice, a patissier in the eighteenth century, created what were then called choux buns. The name of the dough changed to pate a choux, as Avice's buns resembled cabbages choux in French.
From there, Antoine Carame made modifications to the recipe, resulting in the recipe most commonly used now for profiteroles.
Choux pastry is what is used to make cream puffs, profiteroles, and eclairs. It is also used to make such delights such as the Paris-Brest, a giant cream puff ring filled with flavored cream.
Choux pastry isn?t just for sweet things though: add cheese to it to make gougeres, which are cheesy puffs; poach it to make Parisian gnocci; and, it also makes great snacks or appetizers. Fill big choux buns with tuna or chicken salad, or make tiny little puffs and fill with some sort of intensely flavored filling. Spr?gli, a famous and impeccable Z?rich patisserie, makes these tiny puffs filled with a mixture of Gorgonzola cheese and butter, as part of their ?apero? (appetizer) selection which one can buy by weight.
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