Don’t Be Afraid Of The Big Bad Choux Pastry

Hazelnut Croque

Why does choux pastry conjure up fear in most bakers and cooks? The basis for profiteroles, eclairs and Paris-Brest… They are well worth mastering if you’re out to impress!

Admittedly, as pastry goes it’s fairly unique in its method. It’s very different from the more common process of rubbing fat into flour and avoiding over-working it. But still, take a bit of care to follow the recipe and it’ll work out just fine.

Where do most people go wrong?

1. Measure out ingredients, then use it and don’t lose it.

Pastry is quite a precise art… this one in particular. Weigh out the butter, water, flour and eggs. Then, when it comes to heating the water to a boil to melt the fat… do so slowly so that all the fat has melted before it starts to boil. If the mixture is boiling for too long then the water than you so accurately weighed/measured out will be evaporating away!

2. Cooking out the flour to give it structure.

Once you add the flour into the liquid which has ‘JUST’ come to a boil make sure you work quickly to combine it and beat it well to keep it smooth. Keep it over the heat and in the pan long enough so that the mixture starts to come away from the sides of the pan and clumps into a single dough. It should also be fairly smooth and shiny. If you remove from the heat too early or the liquid isn’t hot enough then the flour won’t start to cool and you end up with a structure that isn’t firm enough to pipe. 

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3. Pipe and pull, dab if you like.

Once you’ve beaten the eggs into the mixture one at a time and made sure the mixture is really gorgeous and smooth then transfer it into a piping bag and snip off the bottom. Pipe the mixture onto a baking sheet lined baking tray making sure that:

– you do so as smoothly as possible,

– you leave room for them to expand and not merge into one another, and…

– … once you have the shape you want (small blobs for profiteroles or long oblongs for eclairs) then pull quickly and sharply upward and stop squeezing to cleaning break the flow of the pastry.

– you then use a slightly damp finger to press down any pointy bits so that they cook evenly and don’t end up with spiky tips.

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4. Bake and don’t peek… Dry them out!

Once they go into a preheated oven they will puff up. Understanding that there is no raising agent in them aside from water will help you realise why you can’t keep opening the oven to peek! The steam evaporates and puffs the pastry up but it’s then really delicate. It needs the continued heat to set the outside and cook so that it doesn’t collapse the moment you oven the oven. Once it’s set, it still needs a little longer to dry out the hollowed inside… this is what makes them crisp.

If you open the oven before they are ready, they will collapse when the air inside them suddenly cools. Once this happens there probably isn’t enough moisture inside them left to inflate again… so you end up with flat choux!

5. Use fresh, although they do keep.

When you finally do whip them out of the oven let them cool on a wire rack and don’t try to fill them until they are cold. They should remain beautifully crisp for up to a day if stored covered at room temperature.  That is the perfect result… a crisp choux bun with a soft creamy filling.

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Most of us will have experienced a softer choux and that’s because over time, if they aren’t super fresh, they do go soft. I once worked in a hotel where we could easily use up 1000+ profiteroles in a weekend if the wedding parties had them on the dessert platters. We simply couldn’t bake that many on the day… so would freeze them once they had cooled in huge airtight boxes a day or so ahead when it was quieter midweek. This works nicely and they defrost pretty quickly since they are hollow, but they just won’t be as crisp as the freshly baked ones.

Have you ever had any choux pastry triumphs or fails? Got any other amazing tips to help other bakers out there nail them? Share your thoughts on Twitter and remember to upload you recipes to SORTEDfood

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