Let’s Talk About Choux

Choux au Café … Choux puffs with coffee cream (Photo: viv)

MOST French pastries and cakes are so wonderful to eat, but troublesome to pronounce. Non?

Take choux, for instance. Chooksshooks, what? Just remember: shoe. That’s right, shoe. If that feels like a jarring and odd association, putting a footwear side by side with an airy, light, wonderfully eggy pastry, you could think of shoo.

Want to know what choux means in French? Cabbage, or rather, cabbages, to more precise. Chou is the singular; add an x, and you get the plural.

Here’s where we can all get dizzy together: chou or choux, singular or plural, we’d still say shooOui, SHOO! Though for purposes of our pastry talk, please always think of it as choux, with the x factor, never chou for le cabbage. 

I’ve always made my choux with an ultra-thin cookie top, so all of my choux look like the ones above, and not quite as cabbage-y. Here’s the cookie-top before they hit the oven and get all crisp and crackly:

Frozen cookie top, gotta work quickly, girl! (Photo: viv)

If you were to make one without a cookie-top, though, and piped it using a star tip rather than a plain tip, as I always do, you’d get something like this:

Pàte à Choux (Photo: Martha Stewart Living 2005)

Doesn’t this look like a school of cabbages?

Sometimes, you might see choux rendered like so: pâte à choux. Let’s say this word by word:

put ah shoo  (where “put” rhymes with “cut”) 

Now, when you say things quickly across two words where a consonant meets a vowel, there’s naturally a liaison. Got it, for instance, sounds like Goddit. The “t” in Got does a liaison, gliding into the vowel in the adjacent word, it. Got it? Geddit?

Put ah shoo, therefore sounds like, pa-ta-shoo, when said quickly with a liaison — just like a sneeze.

If all you ever plan to do in life is to dedicate it to eating choux, and not making it, don’t even worry about this troublesome, sneeze-y word. But if you were interested in the fine art of baking, working up a sneeze might not be a bad idea.

Pa-ta-shoooo just refers to the sticky, gooey batter you’re going to get from blending milk, eggs, flour, salt, butter, maybe some sugar.

I’d say, don’t worry about pâte, and all that tiresome liaison and mixing and piping, just say shoo, and after, ooh and ah, especially once the cream goes into your baked choux.

And then, the world is good again! Chooks, or shoo, who cares? Let’s just call it cream puff!

Meet our choux friends . . . 

choux à l’orange . choux au café


Let’s Talk About is a series of reflections offering insights on French pastries, dishes, plus cooking and pastry terms, and how to pronounce them all.

 Our next word: amuse-bouche

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