When my friend Holly told me she was writing a book about Shoe Pastry, I was totally intrigued.
“What kind of shoes would make the best pastry?” I wondered. “And wouldn’t putting shoes in your mouth instead of wearing them on your feet (or in my case, hooves) make you kind of—well, sick?”
Since I am a zebra who is supposed to know at least a little about human food by now, I didn’t want to ask those questions right away. After all, Holly Herrick is a famous cookbook author.
Instead, I had a great idea!I have another friend named Holly, who happens to be a super-smart Golden Retriever—and spends a lot of time in the kitchen.
I asked her about Shoe Pastry. Holly the Golden Retriever said she’d never tried it, but she’d eaten lots of shoes (including some pretty expensive ones) and they were very tasty.
Still, I wasn’t sure—it just didn’t seem like you could (or even should) turn a shoe into a pastry.
So I had an even better idea: I asked Holly the Famous Cookbook Author if I could interview her about shoe pastry. That way, it would make sense to ask lots of questions (even really silly ones)—so that’s what I did!
Fortunately, right before I interviewed Holly, my friend ZoeBot (who’s super-brainy) suggested we try looking up “choux pastry” (which is French and sounds just like “shoe pastry”).
Guess what? She was right! It turns out that choux pastry gets its name from the French word for cabbage (choux), which is what the pastry sort of looks like when it’s baked.
Unlike most pastries, choux pastry is made using its own special technique. You start by mixing flour, butter and boiling water, then beating in eggs until you get a sticky, paste-like dough.
When you bake it, the oven’s heat turns the water into steam that puffs the dough into hollow golden pastries that taste AMAZING!
Want to see how it’s done (with hooves)? Watch this video!
Well, now that I knew a little more about the whole mysterious matter, I was ready to interview Holly Herrick, whose brilliant new book is called “The French Cook: Cream Puffs & Eclairs.”
Here are my questions and Holly’s expert answers:
What first captivated you about choux pastry, Holly?
“I remember first encountering choux when I was very young and watching my grandmother make it. Later, it would be one of the first doughs we worked with at Le Cordon Bleu.
Two aspects of choux absolutely fascinate me. The first is watching the pastry come together almost as soon as the flour joins the warm water and butter.
Also, I am captivated by its utter versatility. It can be fried, baked or simmered – and it can be flavored with both sweet and savory elements. It’s also so much fun to watch the little choux and eclairs puff as they cook.”
Could you please share your expert tips for beginners (especially those of us who may be attempting this with hooves)?
“Ah, the travails of preparing choux with hooves! I’ll try to help.
The first thing is to use equal parts bread and all-purpose flour. You need a higher-gluten wheat to get maximum puff. You also need to have all your ingredients pre-measured and equipment arranged before you start actually cooking the choux. It needs to be piped warm and the process goes pretty fast.
The hooves might present some problems for piping the pastry. But that’s OK! Choux can be “plopped” onto the baking sheet with a spoon dipped in water before each plop.
This only applies to cream puffs, though. Not eclairs. Zebras might need some help there.”
You live in South Carolina — how does choux pastry adapt to Southern culinary culture? Do you have any favorite ways that showcase this?
“Well, in the sense that the pastry is so incredibly versatile, it could absolutely be embellished with traditional southern ingredients – such as pimiento, okra and even grits, I imagine, sifted into the pastry. My book focuses on the French angle, but you can take choux and apply regional flavors and ingredients from all over the world.”
Is it okay if kids and zebras use regional ingredients to make cream puffs or other filled pastries that reflect the flavors of their own hometowns?
“Absolutely! I always encourage kids (and zebras) to cook – the closer to home and fresher the ingredients, the better!”
Is there anything special you learned while you were writing your book? Especially something that perhaps you didn’t expect?
“I learned that making choux, especially repeated batches of it, takes huge muscle grease for the stirring arm. Beating and incorporating the eggs into the pastry is no small task, but it’s actually a really fun one.
I was also reminded of how wonderfully well-baked choux pastry freezes – even for weeks at a time. Just take it out, thaw, give it a quick refresh in a hot oven, and you are good to go with an almost-instant appetizer or dessert.
And I did learn that choux can also be used to form a kind of gnocchi, and that was really fun. I have a recipe for that in my book. The pastry is seasoned with herbs and topped with a lemon saffron butter. Delicious!
What’s your most important advice for kids (and zebras) who are just getting started in the kitchen?
“Have fun – and be curious and open-minded. That applies not just to cooking, but to life!”
Recipe: Holly Herrick’s Choux Pastry
This is Holly’s signature recipe for a basic choux pastry. Since I am a zebra, I didn’t even THINK of using a pastry bag and just plopped the pastries onto a sheet with my hooves. And as you’ll see in my video, I got a little mixed-up and mixed the dough in a saucepan—but you should do it just the way Holly says. Most importantly: if you are a kid (or a zebra), be sure to get an adult’s help with this recipe!
What you need:
1 cup water 3/4 stick (3 ounces) unsalted, cold butter cut into 1/2”-cubes
1/2 cup bread flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
4 room temperature large eggs (about 1 cup), beaten together
Egg wash: 1 egg, a splash of water and a pinch kosher or sea salt, beaten together
What you do:
Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Have everything measured and in place BEFORE to actually prepare the choux.
In a sturdy, medium-sized sauce pan, heat the water and butter together over medium-high heat, stirring once or twice to help the butter melt.
Once the butter has melted, reduce the heat to medium.
Sift together the bread flour, all-purpose flour and salt together over a medium bowl.
Add the sifted dry ingredients all at once to the melted butter and water mixture, keeping the bowl nearby.
Stir the mixture (roux) vigorously with a wooden spoon to bring the dough together.
Continue stirring, less vigorously, until the pastry starts to pull away from the sides of the pan and forms a uniform ball (this should take about 1 minute).
Turn the pastry out into the reserved bowl.
Allow to sit for about 1 minute, or until the pastry is cool enough to touch comfortably with your finger for at least 15 seconds.
Add 1/2 of the beaten eggs (about 1/2 cup) to the pastry. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the pastry looks uniform and glossy, about 1 minute.
Add half of the remaining egg mixture (about 1/4 cup) and continue to stir with a wooden spoon until the pastry is uniform and glossy (about 1 minute).
Repeat with the rest of egg mixture.
While the pastry is still warm, spoon the dough into rounds on cookie sheet that’s lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
Brush the top of each pastry with a light coating of egg wash, being careful not to allow the wash to drip down the sides of the pastry.
Bake the choux pastries for 22 to 25 minutes, or until they’re puffed and golden brown.
Turn off the oven, open the door, and let the pastry stand for 5 minutes.
Pierce the bottom of each choux gently with the tip of a knife. Allow to cool completely before filling.
Not-a-Recipe: ZeBot’s Choux Pastry Fillings
Once you’ve baked your choux pastries, filling them is faster than you can say “stripes”! In fact, you don’t even need a recipe—just use your imagination to conjure up combinations for your favorite sweet or savory fillings. To fill the pastries, carefully cut them in half, then put whatever you like in the hollows.
Here are a few of my favorite kid-and-zebra-friendly fillings to get you started:
Whipped Cream Greek Yogurt & Honey
Ice Cream Fresh Berries & Peaches
Chopped Pineapple & Mango
Chunky Cinnamon Applesauce
Peanut Butter & Jelly
Guacamole & Salsa
Bacon, Tomato & Avocado
Broccoli, Red Peppers & Mozzarella
Chili & Cheese
Chicken, Tuna or Egg Salad
Stir-Fried Veggies & Tofu Scrambled Eggs
Veggies & Cheese
If Holly the Golden Retriever were baking choux pastry with you and Julia, ZeBot, she would want to sample a pastry that didn’t turn out as pretty as the others. She would stay close by, hoping that some crumbs would fall to the floor. Lucky day!
A question for Holly the Famous Cookbook Author: Would Southern ingredients, like pimento, grits or okra be part of the pastry or part of the filling?
I have a feeling that Holly the Golden Retriever would be great at making choux pastry (her paws are a lot more dextrous than my hooves)! As for you question, I imagine that pimento or okra would be part of the filling and that maybe grits could go into the pastry. But what do I know? I’m a zebra!
I’ll ask Holly the Famous Cookbook Author and get back to you ASAP!
I love Zebot, Holly and choux! I just shared this wonderful post on my FB Life’s a Feast page! Choux are a great treat to make with kids and they are always fun to eat! Yay for Zebot for such a great interview!
Oh, I’m so honored, Jamie! — you’ve made this humble zebra very happy! And thanks to you, I also have a much broader linguistic understanding of French pastries!