When it comes to pastry dough’s, pâté a choux sits off in a class by itself. Whereas other dough’s can be formed into various shapes, pâté a choux is so soft that it hardly supports itself before baking. Before baking, pâté a choux must either be spooned or piped into shape. Plus, pâté a choux contains eggs, in addition to flour and fat, which give the dough the ability to rise dramatically when baked. (And often collapse when cooled!) Pâté a choux has been around for quite a while.
According to Claude Juillet in Classic Patisserie: An A-Z Handbook, In 1533, when Catherine de Medici left Florence to marry the Duke of Orleans who was later to become Henry II, King of France from 1547, she brought with her to France her entire court, which included her chefs. Seven years later in 1540, her head chef, Panterelli, invented a hot, dried paste with which he made gateaux. He christened the paste pâté a Panterelli.
The original recipe changed as the years passed, and so did the paste’s name. It became known as pâté a Popelini, which then became pâté a Popelin. Popelins were a form of cake made in the Middle Ages and were made in the shape of a woman’s breasts. A patissier called Avice perfected the paste in the middle of the eighteenth century and created choux buns.
The pâté a Popelin became known as pâte à choux, since only choux buns were made from it. [And choux buns were the same shape as small cabbages]. Choux is the French word for cabbages.
Antoine Carême in the nineteenth century perfected the recipe, and this is the same recipe for choux pastry as is used today. Classic French cuisine from the mid-1950s is resplendent with dishes made from pâte à choux. Today, other than éclairs at one’s local patisserie, gougères served as an amouse-bouche in Burgundy, and croquembouches, stacks of profiteroles glued together with caramel, served for celebrations, many of the classic dishes based on pâté a choux are seldom found.
Whether used in sweet or savoury dishes, the pâté a choux is prepared the same way.