Pâte à Choux. Oh la la, sounds so fancy. So French. So complicated. Complicated?
Actually, its as easy as it gets. So easy that I mastered "Cream Puff Shells" when I was about 10 years old.
I loved to cook as a kid (well, duh, I still do.) and I was lucky enough to have a mom that gave me free reign in the kitchen. Cream Puffs and Eclairs always looked so magical at the bakery. Special. A world apart from pies, cakes and cookies. And every once in a great while, my mom would buy one. Just one, and we'd all get a little taste. The crispy shell, the creamy filling, the fudgy top. Heaven! I was determined to figure out this exotic French delight. Then, one boring afternoon, while flipping through a cookbook, if found it. A recipe for cream puff shells. And the ingredients were so so simple: butter, flour, eggs. And even though my mom wasn't much for cooking, at the very least she had those on hand. So, I set to baking and low and behold they turned out on the very first try. All I had to do next was whip up a box of instant vanilla pudding to fill them and slap on some canned chocolate frosting and voila, I was a French chef who made eclairs.
OK, so these days I do a bit better than instant pudding mix, my preference is pastry cream, and I prefer a lighter chocolate glaze to the heavy fudge icing used in grocery stores; the point is they're totally easy to make. Once you master the basics of the shell, fillings (both sweet and savory) are totally up to you. You can fill them with vanilla ice cream and top with hot fudge for a special dessert. Or how about mini puffs filled with herb and salmon cream cheese for an impressive appetizer. Learn how to make the shells and you'll be on your way to infinite pastry creations. I'll also post later about filling and glazing, stay tuned!