If I have to choose one dough that I think you should learn how to make, it's pâte à choux. Don't be intimidated by the Frenchy name. It's basically just the dough that you make cream puffs from. It's very easy to make and the dough is very forgiving, so if you mess up a little bit, you'll still end up with pretty decent dough. Also, you only need one pan to make the dough! So, no messy kitchen sink afterward ^^
I used to use Martha Stewart's recipe to make pâte à choux, but I found a better version from a Japanese cookbook (一流シェフのとっておきシュークリーム―). Unfortunately, the recipe uses metric system. My advise to you who don't own a scale: get one. I promise you it is a great investment, especially if you want to be serious about baking ;) Anw, I tried my best to convert the metric measurement to cups and tablespoons, but I don't guarantee that the volume measurement will produce the same quality. Nevertheless, here's the recipe:
Pâte à choux
Yield: 14 mini eclairs or 10 small cream puffs or 5 large cream puffs
100 g (scant 1/2 cup) water
100 g (scant 1/2 cup) whole milk
90 g (6 1/2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
2 g (1/2 teaspoon) salt
4 g (1 tsp) granulated sugar
110 g (1 cup) all-purpose flour
200 g (4) eggs
1 egg for egg wash
1. Preheat the oven to 375 F.
2. Boil the water, milk, butter, salt, and sugar in a pan.
3. Once the mixture boils, turn of the heat and add the flour all at once. Mix vigorously until they form a homogeneous lump. Turn on the heat to medium and keep stirring until a white film forms at the bottom of your pan.
4. Let the mixture cool down to room temperature (you can wait or if you're in a hurry you can transfer the dough to another bowl and beat it with your hand mixer).
5. Add the 4 eggs one at a time. Beat until the mixture is uniform after each addition.
6. Transfer the dough to a piping bag with Wilton 1A/large round tip (if you don't have a pastry bag and tip, just transfer the dough into a resealable plastic bag and snip off one of the corners)
7. Pipe out cream puffs or eclairs on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and brush with egg wash from 1 egg.
8. Bake the piped dough for 20 minutes at 375 F. Then, lower the temperature to 250 F and bake for 20 more minutes.
9. Let cool and fill with your favorite filling.
*If you take the puffs out of the oven and they start deflating, put them back in the oven for a few more minutes.
*If they're getting too dark too fast, cover them with aluminum foil and continue baking.
*You can double or triple the recipe as you wish.
Here's how the dough looks after being piped and before baking
I froze the dough until they are firm (~15 minutes) and then topped it with a pastry crust to give it a crunchier texture. You don't have to do this, but if you like Beard Papa's cookie crunch cream puffs, you should. After I bake and fill the mini puffs, they look like this
Yummm... They're flaky, creamy, sweet morsels of perfection ^_^ Too simple, you say? You can pipe the dough into eclairs, fill them with filling, and top them with chunks of your favorite fruit, like this
Still too simple? You can make them into croquembouche (tower of mini cream puffs decorated with spun sugar) or St. Honoré (hard to describe, you'll see the picture), like these
One messy croquembouche..
and St. Honoré.. See how exciting pâte à choux is? There are many other variations that you can make, but I have yet to try them out. Alrighty then, enjoy making your own pâte à choux :)
Oops, almost forgot about the filling. Here's a filling recipe from Martha Stewart that I always use with a little bit modification
Creme Chiboust (pastry cream with whipped cream)
Yield 2 1/2 cups
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup heavy cream
1. Mix egg yolks with corn starch and 1/4 cup sugar.
2. In a pan, add the milk, remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, and salt. Heat the mixture at medium heat and boil it for 1 minute.
3. Slowly add the milk mixture to the yolk mixture while whisking to prevent the yolk from curdling. Continue adding until all the milk mixture is added to the yolk mixture.
4. Return the milk-yolk mixture to the pan and cook at medium heat until it boils for 1 minute.
5. Remove from heat, add butter and vanilla extract. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and store in refrigerator until cool.
6. Meanwhile, whip the heavy cream to stiff peak and fold into the cooled pastry cream.
7. Now, you're ready to fill your puffs!
If you don't want to make your own filling, you can buy instant pudding mix and prepare it according to manufacturer's direction and just fold in the whipped cream.