LS baking academy: choux pastry (pâte à choux)

Well, we’re back to the pastry recipes, here at the le sauce baking academy (my kitchen), so naturally, I started to sweat again. I chose pâte à choux, the puff pastry that is used to make cheese and cream puffs, like profiteroles and éclairs. The ingredient list looks standard: eggs, butter, flour and water. But, being a French pastry recipe, it wasn’t without its tortures. I mean techniques.

Ok, it wasn’t that bad, but there’s this part where you have to add “all the flour at once”, which every recipe for choux specifies clearly. Having watched pastry chefs do this, what the recipe should really say is “turn your bowl of flour immediately upside down over your bowl of boiling water and butter, so it gets added all at once, and expect the potential for mess that may come with that especially if you hesitate or your aim sucks”. Not to mention the mess that comes when you try to whisk the hell out of a glue-like dough and the wet eggs you’re adding to it. It’s another one of those French recipes that come complete with a upper arm workout and a test of your self-esteem.

Working with a piping bag for the first time was humbling and stressful. You can see from my less-than-perfect puffs in the first picture that I could use some practice in this area. Yet I bet if I do a YouTube search there will be a video of a 7-year-old Parisian and her petit chat piping les choux perfect apres l’ecole! Well, some of us just started, Marguarite!

But enough about the stumbles! Finalement, there were perfect, light little puffs! Success, albeit it in varying shapes and sizes! And here’s the science behind choux: the pastry calls for significantly more water than puff pastry recipes do. The water within steams in the oven, causing the pastry to rise, leaving a little hollow centre ready to accept the filling of your choice.

Once the little puffs come out of the oven, it’s a good idea to pierce them so that the steam escapes and doesn’t make things soggy and heavy. Make your cuts at the bottom if you are piping filling into the puffs. I poked them on the sides since I was going to be slicing mine to spread a vanilla, pistachio cream into them.

I looked at many a recipe, but before we get to my favourite, a reminder that this is the third installment of the le sauce baking academy! The deal is, I bring a tried and tested recipe and whatever learning I can so that we can bake a particular treat together. But you need to chime in too. If you have tips to share, please do so in the comments here and please link to recipes or trials on your own blog too so we can all check them out. On the first Tuesday of next month (August 2), I will be back with any new choux tests based on your feedback and also, with a savoury choux recipe. I hope to hear from you before then. Thanks!

Choux Pastry (Pâte à Choux)
(Alton Brown recipe via Food Network)

*YS note: I chose an Alton Brown recipe this time because his science nerd approach to recipes gives me confidence. But I did alter a few things. I found 4 large eggs and 1 white brought me to 1 cup so I stopped there. I consulted what I felt were authentic choux recipes and most called for the mixing to be done with a wooden spoon, not a mixer so I felt safe going ahead without one.  A wooden spoon worked great but you’re going to get a workout! I didn’t have a piping bag and tips so I used a clean, strong, clear plastic bag (a produce bag from the grocery store) and made a 1″ cut out of one corner. Other recipes warn you to push the tiny peaks down so they don’t burn–a good idea. I found roughly 1 1/2 inch puffs ballooned into the perfect bite-sizes for my purposes, so I ended up with about 32 puffs. Larger “golf ball-sized” ones that the recipe suggests will yield 24. 

1 cup water
3/4 stick butter (6 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon sugar plus 1/8 teaspoon salt (for sweet)
1 teaspoon salt (for savory)
5 3/4 ounces flour
1 cup eggs, about 4 large eggs and 2 whites*

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Boil water, butter, and salt or sugar. Add flour and remove from heat. Work mixture together and return to heat. Continue working the mixture until all flour is incorporated and dough forms a ball. Transfer mixture into bowl of a standing mixer and let cool for 3 or 4 minutes. With mixer on stir or lowest speed* add eggs, 1 at a time, making sure the first egg is completely incorporated before continuing. Once all eggs have been added and the mixture is smooth put dough into piping bag fitted with a round tip.* Pipe immediately into golfball-size shapes, 2 inches apart onto parchment lined sheet pans. Cook for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350 degrees F and bake for 10 more minutes or until golden brown. Once they are removed from the oven pierce with a paring knife immediately to release steam.

Makes 24-32 bite-sized puffs.*