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A family recipe, my grandma’s choux pastries

Nonna Marcella, my grandma, oh she passed me so many recipes, either chatting lightly at the table, over a perfectly stewed rabbit trying to explain me why it was to tender and flavourful, or standing next to me in the kitchen, checking every movement I was making to verify it was made by the book, respectful of the traditions of many women of our family.

Choux pastries

She passed me her recipes but also recipes that someone else passed her over the years, and every time she adds bits of information about the great woman behind a dish, a relative or a neighbour’s wife. A recipe is not just a recipe in front of my grandmother’s eyes, is a key to access to a past moment, unravelling stories of weddings, country works, family gatherings, short trips that back in that years looked like enormous travels.

Grandma  Grandma

Every time she passes me a recipe with a story, the proper serving dish to be used, the special occasion that could be celebrated with that recipe, a funny anecdote, the way to stir the custard or to fill the pot, when to add the salt and why. Every recipe is a page of her personal book of life, something she is passing me and that won’t be forgotten. If I have to find one single reason to keep blogging, besides the great fun I have in sharing recipes with you, well it would be this enormous archive of family recipes I’m building and preserving for the other members of our family.

When I was younger I used to write her recipes, along with my mum’s recipes, in a big notebook that I still cherish, stained with the first splashes of my culinary experiments. Now everything is more evanescent here on the blog, but it takes just 5 minutes to turn everything into reality again, something real with a shape, a smell, a taste – a good one, believe me, when it involves grandma’s recipes.

Choux pastries

So well, I am particularly proud to share this recipe today. It is again Italian Table Talk, and today we chose a special theme, we will talk about family recipes, something out of space and time, season and month, a recipe that someone in our family passed us, something to preserve, cherish and keep alive. Emiko is sharing the rabbit ragu made by Marco’s grandma, Valeria a hearty minestra e fagioli and Jasmine her grandmother’s roast. I asked grandma to teach me finally to make choux pastries, bigné, something she’s famous for among the family, her signature dish. No surprise is a dessert, grandma has a sweet tooth!

There is no birthday, Christmas, special Sunday or occasion that needs to be celebrated without bigné. To respect the tradition, they must be filled up to the bream with crema, our thick Italian custard. When you bite into them you must pay attention to the lemon custard that will spill everywhere, you are supposed to lick it from your fingers, perfectly admitted into our family. She used to bake trays and trays of them, because everyone was ready for a second and third serving, and there’s nothing better than a bigné bursting of custard the day after for breakfast.

Custard Choux pastries

I also managed to take some shots of her while she was researching for the recipe into her hand written notebook and this made me extremely proud, as she always runs away in front of the camera. She was to eager to share the recipe and bake them again to notice the camera.

Her choux pastries are made with olive oil, instead of butter. Since I’ve grown up with their flavour, I find it just perfect, even more than butter, because it adds that subtle extra fruity aroma that makes you ask for a second serving, and a third one… Paired with a thick lemon custard they are just the perfect afternoon treat.

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4.13 from 8 votes

My grandma's choux pastries

Course Dessert
Cuisine Italian
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes
Serves 8
Author Giulia


Ingredients to make the choux pastries

  • 50 g (3 2/3 tbsp) of extra virgin olive oil
  • 100 g (3 1/3 floz) of water
  • 100 g (3/4 cup) of flour
  • 3 eggs

Ingredients to make the custard

  • 500 ml (2. cups) of whole fresh milk
  • Zest of one organic unwaxed lemon
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 tablespoons of caster sugar
  • 2 heaping tablespoons of corn starch


  • Make the custard in advance, so it will have time to cool down. Heat the milk in a saucepan with the zest of an organic lemon and remove from the heat as soon as it starts simmering.
  • In another saucepan whisk the eggs with the sugar and the corn starch: do it carefully to avoid any lumps. Pour slowly the hot milk in a thin stream over the eggs, stirring constantly with a whisk to prevent scrambled eggs.
  • Bring the saucepan back on a low flame and stir constantly with a whisk until it thickens, you will need about 5 minutes. Transfer into a bowl, cover tightly with cling film and let it cool down completely.
  • Now make the choux pastries. Pour water and olive oil in a small non stick saucepan, bring it to the boil. As soon as it starts bubbling add the flour in one go. Toast the flour for about five minutes, beating constantly and vigorously with a wooden spoon, until you have a golden ball of dough that will leave the sides of the saucepan clean.
  • Remove from the stove, transfer into a bowl and let it cool slightly. After a few minutes add the beaten eggs and whip with an electric beater for about five minutes, until smooth, glossy and thick.
  • Heat the oven to 210°C and line a tray with parchment paper. Shape mandarin sized balls with two tablespoons and lay them onto the lined baking tray. You should obtain about 8 choux pastries.
  • Bake for about 25 minutes, until golden brown and puffed up. Remove from the oven and let them cool down.
  • Spoon the cooled and thick custard into a pastry bag and fill the choux pastries. Dust with icing sugar and serve immediately.
Tried this recipe?We love to see your creations! Snap a pic and tag @julskitchen and hashtag it #myseasonaltable!

Nonna - Grandma

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This Post Has 42 Comments

  1. They look great! Such a classic, one that seems so French, but with a bit of Italian twist in it. And the pictures of your grandma are great! I hope she is still around. I love meeting all of Val’s friends grandparents. So many stories, so much good food.

    1. oh yes! she’s still around, cooking, teaching me how to make things better and running away from my camera! I managed to take this pictures a few days ago, she actually enjoyed it! 🙂

  2. My hearth is swollen with endearment, your Grandma is so, so sweet. Pass her a hugh for me please. And take one for you too, these are the stories I like reading the most.

  3. 5 stars
    Le migliori tradizioni italiane arrivano dalle nostre nonne e bisnonne… Grazie Giulia per questo omaggio!
    PS: ricetta da provare !

  4. It’s true that the most incredible thing that we have at our fingertips are these blogs where we are preserving the recipes that otherwise might still be a whisper on someone’s lips. It’s certainly an archive to cherish and an heirloom in itself in digital form! Your nonna is wonderful and how special to have her standing by you, sharing her knowledge and recipes. I wish I could turn back the clocks to when I was little and do the same thing with my grandmothers.

    1. I can appreciate this treasure now, when I was younger it was such a given thing… but now, when I look back at that life, I realize how happy and blessed I was, and still am!

  5. An absolute gem of a blog post, I adore the pictures of your nonna. Beautiful… beautiful. I wish I had a grandmother to teach me, I wish I had a mother to teach me, you have a great gift in the knowledge they pass on to you x

  6. 5 stars
    What a lovely post. Your nonna looks amazing and those bignés look delicious! Thank you for sharing a part of your family’s kitchen!

  7. I’d love to lick this lemony custard goodness off my fingers and would definitely go for seconds or even thirds! These pastries must taste divine, prepared in the traditional way by your nonna. I love the photos you took of her, so precious!

  8. Glad to see a recipe without butter. Do you think I would get the same results if I’d use another vegetable fat? (coconut or cocoa butter)

  9. 5 stars
    How wonderful that you’re still able to cook with your grandmother and document and share the recipes. I wish my grandmother were still here to remind me of her special tricks to her famous lemon chiffon cake, cobbler dough and more. It would seem linguistically that your bigne’ are related somehow to Louisiana’s beignets, which resemble Mexican sopapillas. While your grandmother’s pastries are more substantial inside and served with lemon custard and powdered sugar, beignets are served hollow with powdered sugar or cinnamon with granulated sugar, and sopapillas with cinnamon sugar and honey. The commonalities and differences of world cultures are so fascinating.

  10. Your grandma looks like the wittiest and most sassy lady, and yet also the sweetest! I bet that recipe notebook is worth more than money can buy – it must contain so many secrets and bits of life…As, like your grandma say, food is always liked to a moment in time.

    I also love how your grandma’s recipe of choice here were bigné, not the first thing someone would link to Tuscany – a good lesson about how our cooking is influenced by many other factors besides the Region we live in.

  11. Hi! I’m very excited to find your blog as my husband is Italian so I’m hoping to find some recipes that remind him of his childhood :).
    So I made these for Sunday dinner and did something very wrong. I think maybe I did an incorrect European->American conversion. My puffs were more like “flats”. They didn’t rise or get puffy at all. Any idea what might have made this happen?
    Best from NYC,

  12. 5 stars
    Best filling ever, such a delicate taste. I am on a gluten free diet and used your grandmother’s recipe. I have swapped the flour with a gluten free cake flour mix, added 3 tablespoons of corn
    flour and 1 teaspoon of gum and it is so smooth and crispy, just perfect. I have tried many recipes with my flour and today decided to use oil i.s.o. butter. Luckily I found your recipe and now it will be what I’ll use in future. Thank you so much for sharing. Best of luck. Susan

    1. Hello Susan, thank you so much for your feedback, it is very useful to know that they can me also made gluten free!
      All my best! Giulia

  13. Thank you for the recipe i made it today and its so good ? i wish i can share some pics ??

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