The batter for these French puffs is made on the stovetop, then shaped and baked until the eggy mounds balloon into airy, hollow spheres. The puffs take to all sorts of fillings, from simple whipped cream to scoops of ice cream. No special equipment is required to make them, and they come together with ingredients you probably already have on hand. A few things to keep in mind: Measure the ingredients carefully—too much liquid results in flat puffs. Dump in the flour just when the butter is melted; if you wait too long, too much of the water will cook off. The finished batter should be thick and shiny and should stick to the spatula when you lift it. Finally, be sure to bake the puffs until they’re deep golden brown all the way around. If they’re underbaked, they may collapse cooling; the darker color means the puffs will stay crisper, too.
- Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
- In a medium saucepan, bring the water, butter, sugar, and salt to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring gently to encourage the butter to melt. As soon as the mixture begins to boil, add the flour all at once and stir rapidly with a spatula until the mixture forms a thick paste and pulls away from the sides of the pan.
- Remove from the heat. Wait for 2 minutes, stirring the paste a couple of times to cool it slightly, then vigorously beat in the eggs one at a time, making sure each one is completely incorporated before adding the next. (I do this by hand, but some folks prefer to use a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.)
- Using a pastry bag fitted with a plain 1/2-inch tip, pipe the choux paste into mounds 1 1/2 inches high on the prepared baking sheet, spacing them 3 inches apart. Or use 2 teaspoons to drop the paste into mounds.
- If you want puffs with a shiny glaze, in a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk and milk and brush the tops of the puffs without letting the glaze drip down the sides, which will inhibit rising.
- Bake until the puffs are golden brown on the tops and sides, 25 to 30 minutes. Turn off the oven and let them rest in the oven for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and poke each puff in the side with a paring knife so that it releases its steam. Let cool completely.
- Pâte à choux puffs can be stored at room temperature for several hours. I prefer not to freeze them because there is a noticeable difference in quality between fresh and frozen puffs, but if you have leftovers, you can freeze them for up to 1 month and recrisp them in a low oven before serving.