Alright, let’s talk Choux Pastry. Also known as Pâte à Choux. This is admittedly a long post, but if you’re looking for some tips to make Perfect Choux Pastry to use in profiteroles, eclairs and etc., then you’re in the right place!
So what do we know about choux pastry?
We know that it comes from France. It’s a light, airy, crispy pastry used to make eclairs, cream puffs/profiteroles (both sweet and savoury), croquembouches, gougères, French crullers and more. Flour, eggs, butter and water are all you need to make it. And depending on who you ask, choux pastry is either super easy or insanely difficult to make. What’s up with that? Let’s find out.
Yes, I love puff pastry, shortcrust and filo (or phyllo), but choux pastry has always been my absolute favourite to make. And I find it pretty ingenious that choux pastry doesn’t use a chemical raising agent to rise. Instead it uses layers of air and moisture trapped in the dough to rise. I used to eat a lot of eclairs and cream puffs when I was little, so choux pastry has a special place in my heart. But when I also found out that I can make churros, gnocchi and so much other deliciousness using choux pastry, I was hooked for good. 🙂
I had maintained for quite some time that I was a choux pastry whiz, until one time in the not so distant past, I just couldn’t get it right! And I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. So I started testing different ways of making it, until I finally understood what made it work for me. However if you do have a choux pastry recipe that works for you, stick with it. But it helps to understand WHY a recipe works, especially for troubleshooting purposes.
And another thing I will always maintain is that, if you need choux pastry, PLEASE make it yourself. The store-bought ones are dry and horrible. And tasteless. Homemade choux pastry however, is the real deal! Crisp on the outside and airy & custard-like on the inside. And when you know what’s happening, it really is super easy to make.
So let’s find out how to make PERFECT Choux Pastry every single time. I can’t fit everything into one post (it’s long enough as it is), so I will only cover the basics here, and expand on it later.
What is PERFECT choux pastry?
A pastry with a light and crisp outer shell, and a delicious, soft, creamy, custard-like inside. And it’s airy with large air pockets inside as well. A few cracks will be visible on the outside, but it still retains the shape it was piped in.
BUT, shit happens. So what can go wrong?
Choux Pastry shell is flat, too soft and soggy – usually due to a runny dough.
Choux Pastry shell has risen irregularly, with lots of cracks and kind of looks like a flower – due to rapid expansion.
Choux Pastry shell is too dry – baked too long.
Now let’s see why these things happen.
Now here’s what gives me the most consistent results for Choux pastry.
Michael Ruhlman’s ratio by weight for choux pastry is 2:1:1:2 of water, butter, flour and eggs. While this works well, I found that adding a little extra flour (when using AP flour) helps make the choux pastry that much more crisp – a very desirable result.
Whenever you can, ALWAYS measure ingredients by weight, not by volume. This is true for any kind of baking. While I don’t have a problem measuring by volume for some recipes, I always prefer to use weight because that gives more consistent results.
When you add flour to the boiling butter-water mix, you need to mix in the flour well (flour needs to absorb all the moisture of the butter-water mix) and then cook it further on the stove so that enough moisture evaporates so you get a good dough. A lot of recipes will talk about the dough leaving the sides of the pan when you’re mixing it, or looking like mashed potatoes or leaving droplets of oil on the surface, as signs that indicate a good dough.
Apart from all that here’s what I look for. When I mix in the flour, it forms a ball and leaves droplets of oil on the surface of the pan as I mix the dough. Additionally, if I were to stick a spoon in the dough it’ll stick and stay upright in the dough as shown in the picture below. If the spoon doesn’t stay up like that, that means there’s still too much liquid/moisture in the dough. This is what I call the “spoon test”.
The amount of eggs added is variable. Usually it’s 4 eggs for 8 oz of water (because 1 egg is considered 2 oz, but that depends on the size of it).
Only add 1 egg – that’s lightly beaten – at a time, and mix it in well before you add the next. The reason you should lightly beat the egg before you add it is that, if you realize half way through adding that lightly beaten egg that adding more would make the dough too runny, you can easily stop yourself from adding the rest of the egg. Because what you’re looking for is a dough that’s glossy, still thick and pipeable. Sometimes I only need to add 3 eggs and a bit before I get the right consistency and if I added all of that 4th egg, my dough would lose that stiffness I need. If that happens, the dough won’t hold its shape when piped, leading to flat choux pastry. Not good.
If you are piping the dough, make sure the tip is just touching the surface and then move up as you go. This will help create less ripples and folds. Alternatively, you can use a spoon to spoon it on to a baking sheet (like I did for this post), which some bakers prefer to do. Remember to use a damp finger to flatten the apex or any points, otherwise these points will burn when you bake the choux pastry.
And another trick I use to get the choux pastry shells to expand even more is to spray the baking tray with some water! It’s simple, yet it works brilliantly. As the water on the baking tray evaporates from around the dough, it helps “raise” the dough from the outside while the moisture IN the dough, helps raise it from the inside.
So just a light spray of water on the baking sheet gives the dough a little extra boost – especially if you use extra flour. Probably because extra flour = extra gluten = so more rise. I will test this theory out at a later date. 🙂
When the choux pastry comes out of the oven (after it has been baked to a nice golden brown, crisp shell), use a toothpick to pierce each shell. This lets out any moisture trapped inside, without causing the shell to collapse.
And that ladies & gentlemen, is how you make Perfect Choux Pastry, every time! 🙂
Basic Choux Pastry and Troubleshooting guide
- 8 oz / 226 g water
- 4 oz / 113 g unsalted butter cubed and at room temp.
- 4.5 oz / 130 g AP flour sifted
- 8 oz / 226 g eggs weighed without the shell, about 4 large eggs
- generous pinch of salt
- 1 tbsp of white sugar optional
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract optional
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Place salt, water, sugar (if using) and butter in a saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally. When the water is just starting to boil (butter should be melted at this point), add the flour in one go (do this with the saucepan away from the stove/heat) and vigorously mix the flour in so that it absorbs all of the water (use a wooden spoon or spatula to do this). When the flour has absorbed the water and it's forming a dough, return the pan to the stove (medium heat).
- Cook the dough for 2-5 minutes while you move it around in the pan until you get a dough that pulls away from the sides of the pan, forms oil droplets on the surface and when you stick a spoon in the dough, it stays upright.
Transfer the dough to a bowl. With a hand held mixer (or whisk), mix the dough while adding the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Make sure the eggs are lightly beaten so that you can stop adding eggs immediately, when you reach the right consistency - a dough with a glossy sheen with pipeable consistency. (you may not use all the eggs, please see the post for details)
- Prepare a baking tray with parchment paper and mist the surface with water (either using a mister or lightly sprinkle water with your hands - this is an optional step).
- Pipe the desired shape on to the baking sheet - either using a piping bag fitted with a large tip, or spoon it on to the tray, using a teaspoon. Then with a damp finger, flatten the apex and any points.
Bake in preheated oven for 30 - 40 minutes in the center of the oven, or until the choux pastry shells puff up and are golden brown on top. Do not open the oven door at least till you have reached the 25 minute mark. Importantly, baking time depends on the size of your pastry shell. Bake for a couple minutes longer, if you prefer a drier shell.
- Remove from the oven, and prick each shell with a toothpick and let it cool completely.
- Fill with a sweet or savoury filling and serve immediately. Or you can store cooled choux pastry shells in an air tight container for up to a day (preferably in the fridge).
Please note - these are instructions for smaller pastry cases (1 1/2 - 2 inches in diameter when piped)
If you require larger profiteroles, you will need to bake the cases at 420°F for 10 minutes, and then at 325°F for 15-20 minutes until golden brown and puffed up.
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