Pate A Choux

This all started when Alton Brown made an episode of "Good Eats" about pate a choux, the steam-puffed pastry used in eclairs and cream puffs. Alton can make anything absolutely compelling, and when he said it was easy -- and went on to demonstrate how easy -- of course I was watching avidly. By the end of the show I was determined to try making them, wheat allergy or no.

It was not the most encouraging of experiments; several times I was convinced it was an utter failure of the most spectacular kind. But when I finally, dispiritedly, shoved that tray into the oven and pulled out beautiful round balloons, it was amazing. If I could make cream-puffs gluten-free, anything is possible.

A heavy mixer is absolutely required for this. I mean the heavy-duty Kitchenaid stand-mixer type. This batter is very unfriendly, and you have to have several horsepower to beat it into submission. But the results are worth it.

Sweet or Savory Pate a Choux

(Recipe courtesy Alton Brown)

1 cup water
3/4 stick butter (6 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon sugar plus 1/8 teaspoon salt (for sweet)
1 teaspoon salt (for savory)
1 cup glutinous rice flour (direct 1:1 sub for wheat flour)
1 cup eggs, about 4 large eggs and 2 whites

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Boil water, butter, and salt or sugar. Remove from heat and immediately add flour; stir madly. This is where it starts to look like disaster: it abruptly turns into a big ball of rubber cement. Don't give up.

Transfer mixture into bowl of a standing mixer and let cool for 3 or 4 minutes. With mixer on low speed add eggs, 1 at a time, making sure the first egg is completely incorporated before continuing. It will smooth out again as you add the rest, but you may have to sit back and let the mixer go for five minutes or more before the lumps go away. Have faith; it will come out.

Once all eggs have been added and the mixture is smooth, put it into a pastry bag fitted with a round tip. If you don't have (or don't care to use) a pastry bag, use a quart-size zip-top bag. Snip a ¼" wide hole in it by cutting off one corner, and fit a piping tip into it, screwing the collar on firmly. You can go without the tip but it isn't as easy; they're readily available at markets that have any selection of cake-decoration supplies anyway. Fill the bag half-full and zip it closed.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; in a pinch you could grease it (even with teflon), but parchment paper is best. Place dollops about 1½-2" across, 2" apart, on the pan, pausing to allow the stuff to spread. It will look like thin cupcake batter, but stay with it.

Cook for 10 minutes at 425°, then turn the oven down to 350° and bake for 10 more minutes or until golden brown. Don't open that oven door. Not even for a second. You'll see whether they've come out soon enough.

Once you take them out of the oven, take a small paring knife or toothpick and stick them once to let out the steam. Those holes are what you'll use to fill them, so place the holes accordingly.

After they cool, you can take a clean piping bag and whip up some sweetened whipped cream, crab filling, chocolate pudding, or whatever strikes your fancy. Fill just moments before serving, as they get soggy fast. Freeze unused shells; they can be crisped up by throwing them into a 350° oven for a minute or so.

Makes 4 dozen bite-size cream puffs or eclair shells.

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