It’s All In a Name
The first thing my grandma taught me to make on the farm was a cream puff. I never thought of it as a big deal because it was very simple. We made dough over the stove and baked them, and then we would make homemade pudding to fill them. Our cream puffs were never fancy or even all that pretty – they were simple and delicious.
When I went to New York and worked in the French bakery, I learned that cream puffs are called pâte à choux (pronounced pat-a-shoe). They were the same pastries Grandma and I made on the farm but instead of pudding they were filled with pastry cream and whipped cream, quite similar to an éclair. I had taken those unpretentious little cream puffs on the farm as a simple staple but in New York, it was a sophisticated French pastry with a posh name!
Some cute history behind the French name is that it originally started as pâte à chaud, meaning “heated dough,” which is appropriate since it is cooked on the stove top. That name eventually morphed into a name for cabbages because the cream puffs look like little cabbages. Later, the name transformed into a French term of endearment, “Mon petit chou” which actually means “My little cream puff.”
I’ve seen cream puffs filled with sweet creams, puddings, and ice cream as well as more savory fillings such as curried chicken and spinach dip. They’re so versatile you can be really creative with them.
I don’t make cream puffs, or pâte à choux, very often, but when I do, I make my Grandma’s version filled with chocolate pudding. Sometimes you do things for the nostalgia and the guaranteed goodness.