August 27, 2012

Pâte à Choux Swans (Daring Bakers' Challenge)

Vanilla and Mocha Pate a Choux Swans

I'm continuing to have a lot of fun with the Daring Bakers' monthly challenges!  This month, we were challenged to make filled pâte à choux swans (or, more generally pâte à choux shapes).  Prior to this challenge, I had no idea what pâte à choux was - I soon discovered that it is the pastry used for cream puffs.  I love cream puffs (here in Seattle, they're often served at pho places - is that the case anywhere else?) so I was very excited to get started!

Kat of The Bobwhites was our August 2012 Daring Baker hostess who inspired us to have fun in creating pate a choux shapes, filled with crème patisserie or Chantilly cream. We were encouraged to create swans or any shape we wanted and to go crazy with filling flavors allowing our creativity to go wild!

Vanilla Pate a Choux Swans

I decided to try out two different swan flavors: vanilla and mocha.  The vanilla swans had the standard pâte à choux pastry and vanilla crème filling.  For the mocha swans, I added some chocolate to the pastry and used a coffee crème to fill them.

I suspected that the pastry was a little finicky (it has a fancy French name after all), so I was a bit nervous that the chocolate would cause something terrible to happen to my pâte à choux swan bodies.  I wasn't totally wrong.  If you look closely at the pictures, you'll notice that the mocha swans are a little less poofy than the vanilla ones.  Whoops!

Mocha Pate a Choux Swans

Making the swan heads turned out to be easier than it looked.  The shapes really don't have to be perfect to make a nice head, neck and beak.  After fruitlessly searching for my Wilton #7 tip (which is just a plain round tip), I finally decided to use a star tip to pipe the swan heads.  The baking process kind of puffs up the heads and smooths them a bit, so you can't even see that I used a star tip.

These were very yummy!  The vanilla swans tasted a lot like the cream puffs I get with pho, although there was a little bit more egg flavor (but not in a bad way).  Unfortunately, the mocha swans were more like coffee swans.  The chocolate flavor in the pastry did not come through at all.  The lack of chocolate flavor, combined with the slight deflation caused by the chocolate, means that I don't recommend the chocolate pâte à choux variation unless you want the chocolate for the color (which does make for some cool pictures I think).  The coffee crème filling, however, was an awesome success.  The stuff was so tasty I ate all of the leftover filling off of a spoon (and subsequently got a bit happens).

Vanilla and Mocha Pate a Choux Swans's like a swan wedding!

Filled Pâte à Choux Swans
Adapted from Good Housekeeping Illustrated Guide to Cooking.  Makes 24-36 swans depending on how large you pipe them and how much filling each swan gets.

Ingredients for Crème (Vanilla or Coffee)
1 tablespoon (1 envelope) unflavored gelatin
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 large egg yolks, well beaten
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (for the vanilla variation)
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder dissolved into 2 teaspoons water (for the coffee variation)

Ingredients for Pâte à Choux Pastry
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup water
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons coco powder (optional)

  1. To prepare the crème, whisk together the gelatin, sugar, and flour in a medium saucepan.
  2. Add the yolks and milk.  Turn the heat to medium-low and stir constantly.
  3. When the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of your spoon or spatula (approximately 10 minutes), remove it from the heat and filter it through a strainer into a bowl.
  4. Add either vanilla or coffee flavorings (or divide your crème in half, and add 1 teaspoon of each to one half) and mix well.
  5. Cover the surface with plastic wrap (to prevent a skin from forming), and refrigerate for about 45 minutes.
  6. After the 45 minutes has elapsed, beat the whipping cream until stiff peaks form.  Remove the cooked mixture from the refrigerator and fold into the whipping cream (if it doesn't fold in nicely, go ahead and beat it in) until smooth.
  7. The crème can be refrigerated, just make sure to beat it with a whisk when it's removed to return it to a smooth texture.
  8. To prepare the pastry, preheat the oven to 375° F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  9. Combine the butter, water, and salt in saucepan and heat on high until the mixture comes to a simmer.
  10. Reduce the heat to medium and add the flour, stirring constantly.  The dough will pull away from the sides of the pan and form a ball.  Stir over the heat for a minute.
  11. Transfer the dough to a bowl.  Begin to beat.  Add eggs one at a time, waiting until they have fully combined before adding the next.
  12. Add coco powder if desired.
  13. Transfer the dough to a piping bag, fitted with a medium round tip (or a star tip if a round tip is not available).  Pipe the swan heads and necks onto one of the baking sheets.  After piping the heads, switch to a smaller tip and pipe the beaks.
  14. Remove the tip entirely and pipe the swan bodies on the second baking sheet.  The swan bodies should be egg-shaped.
  15. Bake the heads and bodies until fluffy - about 10 minutes for the heads and 14 for the bodies worked for me.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
  16. Repeat with the remainder of the dough.
  17. To assemble the swans, slice off the top half of the swan body with a knife.  Cut the top portion in half to form wings.  Spoon some crème onto the bottom portion of the body.  Arrange the head and wings on top of the crème.


  1. AWWW I love the swan wedding shot! The swans look great! As for the chocolate, I am sure there is a way to make that work, it's just a matter of finding it.

    1. Yes, it would be nice to keep experimenting with this. Thanks!

  2. Black and white swan are in love! So cute!

  3. Love the idea of mocha swans, and they look absolutely adorable pairing with the vanilla ones. Beautiful job on the challenge.

  4. The swans are so cute at their wedding.. Wonder what the wedding cake looked like? Hmmmm


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