Pate a choux has been a workhorse of the French culinary canon since the 1500s, serving as the foundation for a number of airy pastries, including gougères, profiteroles, éclairs, and beignets. But my favorite use for the eggy dough is as the base of a somewhat lesser‑known puffed delicacy: gnocchi à la Parisienne.
It’s a real game changer for gnocchi lovers. Mixing a light dough for Italian potato gnocchi and individually shaping each dumpling requires practice—an artist’s touch, even—for airy results, but replacing the dough with pate a choux promises tender, ethereal puffs, even if you’re a newbie.
That’s because instead of crafting each of the gnocchi by hand from potato-rich dough, you just pipe pate a choux—which is naturally light—directly into simmering water while cutting off short lengths with a knife. The gnocchi are guaranteed to inflate as they poach and can then be sautéed to create a crisp crust. Before you know it, you’ll be rewarded with piles of soft, airy pillows gently held in golden cases.
A Franco-Italian Merger
The provenance of gnocchi à la Parisienne is not well documented, but Maryann Tebben, professor of French and head of the Center for Food Studies at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, said that’s likely because the dish came about gradually as the French adapted the Italian version to make it their own. One of the earliest published recipes, she said, is a Franco-Italian hybrid from Manuel Pratique de Cuisine Provençale (1920) called “Gnocchis à la Française” that specifies mixing some potato into a classic pate a choux. Later, in a 1924 issue of La Toque Blanche (a weekly professional journal for chefs) another gnocchi recipe was published, this time without any potato at all. –Rebecca Hays
The Choux Fits
Pate a choux dough comes together easily: Bring water and butter to a boil in a saucepan, and then stir in flour and cook the mixture over low heat until it turns into a stiff paste. Off the heat, incorporate whole eggs—either by hand, in a stand mixer, or with a food processor (my favorite method)—for structure and flavor; the dough will tell you it’s ready by flaunting a glossy sheen. For gnocchi, give the dough a savory edge with shredded cheese, salt, and pepper.
I tweaked the test kitchen’s standard pate a choux dough to make it just right for this application, finding that too many eggs caused the dumplings to overinflate when they hit the hot water and too few eggs resulted in insufficient inflation. Also, if the hydration level was too high, the resulting batter-like dough was hard to cut into tidy, uniform gnocchi.
The simple formula that I landed on combines three large eggs with equal amounts (3/4 cup each) of water and all-purpose flour. Two ounces of shredded Gruyère (or Emmentaler) imparts cheesy nuttiness while still keeping the dough light enough to puff when sautéed; any more impedes their rise.
The pate a choux for our Parisian gnocchi is cooked three times, resulting in beautifully inflated puffs that hold their shape. First, the water, butter, flour, and egg dough is cooked in a saucepan, where the starch in the flour hydrates and then gels, creating a sturdy dough reinforced with stretchy gluten and egg proteins. Second, the gnocchi are poached, causing some of the water in the dough to turn to steam, expanding and forming tiny bubbles that are held in place by the dough. Third, the gnocchi are sautéed, causing more steam to form and expanding those tiny bubbles to create a texture that’s as light as air. –Paul Adams
With my dough perfected, I loaded it into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch round tip and let it cool for 30 minutes to help it firm up while I brought a large pot of water to a boil. I worked in batches of 20 to 30 gnocchi: As the water bubbled, I gripped the pastry bag with one hand, angling it to make it easier to manage, and squeezed lightly to extrude the golden dough. As it emerged from the pastry tip, I used a sharp paring knife to quickly cut off 3/4-inch nuggets, which dropped into the water. After 2 minutes, the gnocchi floated, signaling that they were ready to be scooped onto a baking sheet to await the next step.
Using 1 hand, hold pastry bag at 45-degree angle so tip is about 3 inches away from surface of water, then squeeze bag to force dough out of tip. Using paring knife, cut off ¾-inch lengths of dough and let them fall into water.
Recipes take one of two roads at this point. The gnocchi can be bathed in cheese sauce and slipped under a broiler to brown, or they can be crisped in a hot skillet with butter before being finished with a flourish of herbs or a bright sauce. I’ve always favored the latter, since the thin, crisp crust produced via sautéing makes an irresistible contrast to the gnocchi’s airy interior.
For a summery, salad-like feel, I like to toss the sautéed gnocchi with quartered sweet-tart cherry tomatoes and briny kalamata olives, along with peppery arugula, lemon juice, and thyme. Another good option is a pistou—I make mine with loads of fresh basil, lemon, and garlic, plus Parmesan and anchovies. The gleaming emerald sauce is a lovely bed on which to rest the petite, hot-from‑the-skillet pillows.