Whether it's called pate a choux, choux paste or cream puff pastry, the recipe is the same. This simple mixture of butter, water, salt, flour and eggs, when properly combined, bakes into golden brown cream puff and eclair shells.
The basic recipe uses one-half cup butter, one cup water, one-quarter teaspoon salt, one cup flour and four eggs. Bring the eggs to room temperature before beginning preparation.
Place the butter, water and salt in a three-quart saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat (Step 1). Be certain the liquid boils rapidly so the fat is disbursed, not just floating on top.
Add the flour all at once (Step 2), remove from the heat and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth, pulls away from the sides of the pan and forms a ball. Place the pan back over medium heat and continue to beat for about 30 seconds.
Once again remove the pan from the heat, cool about five minutes, then beat in the eggs one at a time (Step 3). The mixture will separate when each egg is added, but become smooth again as it is incorporated. When finished, the batter should look smooth and satiny and be thick enough to hold its shape (Step 4).
Pate a choux is best used while still warm. Batter held for any length of time will not puff as high.
The soft dough may either be piped through a pastry bag with a three-quarter-inch plain tip (Step 5) or spooned (Step 6) onto parchment lined baking sheets. Use about two tablespoons batter for large puffs, one tablespoon for medium puffs and 1 1/2 teaspoons for miniature puffs.
To form eclairs, pipe the batter into strips (Step 7) three to four inches long, ending with a lifting reverse motion. If a pastry bag is not available, spoon the batter and shape into a mound four inches long and one inch wide with a small metal spatula.
Leave two to three inches of space between the puffs or eclairs to allow for expansion during baking.
Smooth the top of each shape with a finger dipped in water (Step 8). An egg glaze (one egg beaten together with one teaspoon water) may be used instead of water, but care needs to be taken that it doesn't drip onto the baking sheet and prevent the batter from rising properly.
Bake the shaped batter at 425 degrees using the handle of a wooden spoon to prop the oven door open slightly. Miniature puffs will bake in about 25 minutes; larger puffs take five to seven minutes longer.
About 10 minutes before the end of the baking time, cut a slash in the lower side of each puff to allow the steam to escape. Continue baking with the oven door propped open until the puffs are firm, dry to the touch and golden brown.
As the pastry bakes it is leavened by steam and the center of each shell becomes hollow. If removed from the oven too soon or cooled to quickly, the shells may collapse. Cool on wire racks away from any drafts. If puffs are to be stored for later use, cool in the turned off oven with the door ajar.
Baked puffs or eclairs should have hollow, moist interiors and crisp outer shells that are lightly browned. Cut horizontally and remove any moist filaments from the inside before filling. Use within 24 hours or wrap airtight and freeze.