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Gluten-Free Tuesday: Cream Puffs

Cream puffs and I have a complicated history. One of the main tasks of my first bakery job was filling the case with cream puffs and éclairs. As you might imagine, I got more than a little tired of them. There was a time when I didn't want to look at a cream puff, much less eat one. The good news? I know cream puffs.

When I set out to make a gluten-free pâte à choux (that's the dough for cream puffs, éclairs, and other desserts like profiteroles and French crullers), I knew what I wanted: a dough that puffed up in the oven and was light. Who wants a heavy cream puff? Since wheat-based pâte à choux dough relies on gluten-rich bread flour, with 12-13% protein, I wondered how gluten-free pâte à choux would work. Pretty well, it turns out. By replacing bread flour with a blend of rice flour and potato starch, I was able to create a dough that behaves, looks, and tastes exactly like the dough I worked with in the bakery.

Pâte à choux is a cooked dough. You boil the milk with butter on the stovetop, and as soon as the mixture reaches a boil, you stir in the flour mixture. In just seconds, a dough forms in the pot. This thick, sticky dough is transferred to the bowl of a stand mixer, where you mix in the eggs one at a time. The finished dough is then piped into shapes.

To fully mimic wheat-based pâte à choux, I needed to change more than just the flour. Traditional pâte à choux is made with either water or milk—I found that for gluten-free pâte à choux, the flavor of whole milk was essential. I also added a little baking powder to the dough, an ingredient you'd never find in a traditional pâte à choux. It helps my gluten-free version to reach the same light, airy heights as its gluten-filled cousins.

Getting Ready to Bake

The key to making pâte à choux is setting up your kitchen fully before you begin. Since you are working with a hot dough, you'll want to move quickly from the stovetop to your stand mixer. Before starting, get out all of your equipment:

Cream puffs can be filled with any sweet cream, but I like to use homemade vanilla pudding. I simply slice off the top third of the cream puff, spoon my filling into the center, and then replace the top. A light dusting of powdered sugar is a nice way to finish them.

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