Why It Works
- A combination of milk and water in the choux pastry contributes flavor and aids in browning the pommes dauphine.
- Rinsing the potatoes before and after cooking removes excess starch, ensuring fluffy, not gluey, mashed potatoes.
- Using a cookie scoop produces uniform pommes dauphine and makes for easy, mess-free frying.
Pommes dauphine, or fried potato puffs, fly under the radar in the wide world of potato dishes. Perhaps this can be attributed to a name that isn’t particularly revealing (unless you’ve spent time perusing old-school French culinary tomes) or the fact that it requires making pâte à choux (which can be intimidating to even seasoned cooks, although our recipe is near-foolproof). Regardless of the reason, this classic side dish shouldn’t be missed. My process is straightforward and the results speak for themselves: golden-hued nuggets of fried potato boasting crisp, delicate crusts with fluffy, cloudlike insides. If you need even more help imagining it, think mashed potatoes, but inflated like a balloon and deep fried to a crisp golden crunch.
At a glance, making pommes dauphine is easy: fold choux with mashed potatoes, form the dough into balls, and fry. Here, success hinges on sound technique. Relying on our easy recipe for making choux pastry makes this dish less finicky. Choux serves an important purpose in pomme dauphines. Like in other applications (Parisian gnocchi and chouquettes, just to name a couple), choux is twice-cooked: the process begins on the stovetop, bringing liquid and butter to a boil and adding in flour followed by eggs. (Cutting water with milk, which I call for in this recipe, enhances browning and deepens the flavor thanks to milk’s extra proteins and sugar). This results in a doughy paste (the technical term is panade) with a high water content and limited elasticity. When cooked, the water vapor inside the dough generates steam and causes its gluten structure to expand, trapping those gases and inflating the puffs.
With that squared away, I pivoted to the potatoes. My tests showed that russet potatoes’ dry, floury texture was ideal in this preparation where lightness is the goal (Yukon Gold potatoes, with their inherently creamy consistency, were not desirable here). To produce the fluffiest potatoes, I use our method of rinsing the cubed potatoes both before and after boiling to remove as much of the starch as possible—that excess starch is one of the main causes of gluey potatoes, so removing it is key. Using a ricer to quickly break down the cooked potatoes results in a smooth, fluffy mash that’s ready to be combined with choux pastry.
However, figuring out the question of how to bring these two parts—the choux and the potatoes—required a bit more tinkering. First off, traditional recipes for pommes dauphine, including the ones from Auguste Escoffier and Fernand Point, two iconic French chefs, rely on a foundation of pommes duchesse―seasoned potatoes enriched with butter and egg yolks. Modern recipes typically do without, instead using mashed potatoes with salt, pepper, nutmeg, and maybe butter. I ran a side-by-side test, frying pommes dauphine made with duchesse potatoes and another with seasoned mashed potatoes. The ones made with duchesse potatoes were noticeably denser and somewhat squishier in texture, likely due to the addition of egg yolks. I settled on seasoning the mash with salt, pepper, and melted butter and skipping the yolks. (If I had to guess, the use of pommes duchesse as the base for dauphine had more to do with efficiencies in old French kitchens, where the duchesse was likely on-hand at all times for various applications—its most famous use is piped into pretty designs and baked—so it was a no-brainer for chefs back then to grab it and fold in the choux for dauphine when needed. Given that we're not working in kitchens where duchesse potatoes are always on the menu, there's no real benefit in making them a requirement now.)
Next, I had to nail down the ratio of choux to potato. Classic recipes call for weighing the potatoes and adding approximately 30% of its weight in choux pastry. Conversely, newer recipes hover closer to equal parts by weight. I found that adding 70% choux produced golden brown pommes dauphine that were airy, not doughy, with a pronounced potato flavor.
Before I could move on to frying, I ran one last test to see what would happen if I breaded my pommes dauphine with the classic trio of flour, egg, and breadcrumbs, a move which older recipes often call for. After a quick tumble through the breading station, I tossed one into the fryer. When pommes dauphine are fried, they puff, so it wasn’t exactly a surprise to see the coating quickly crack as the dauphine puffs swelled, sloughing off into the hot oil. That's one more classic technique that I'm ditching in my recipe, and frankly, based on my tests, it leaves me wondering how it ever worked for anyone at all.
To make the frying step both easy and mess-free, I use a 1-tablespoon cookie scoop to swiftly scoop, form, and drop uniform balls of the dough into the hot oil (if you don’t have a cookie scoop, use two spoons to scoop and form the dough into rough balls or quenelles before dropping into the hot oil). Frying in batches at 340°F, a slightly lower temperature than one may be used to when frying, gives the choux pastry enough time to cook through as the exterior browns. Once it’s all fried, you can pile the pommes dauphines into a bowl and serve it alongside a roast chicken or pan-seared steaks. And just like mashed potatoes, pommes dauphine are the perfect vehicle for sopping up generous amounts of gravy.