Choux pastry is becoming very popular with home bakers, and it’s no surprise! It is a delicious type of pastry that is perfect for fancy cream cakes. The crispy outer layer gives way to a fluffy middle that is so light and airy, and often filled with delicious cream.
If you walk into any patisserie you will see a big variety of different sweet treats that include an element of choux pastry. Choux pastry has a reputation for being quite difficult to make, but it is not as hard as you might think. Just follow these steps and try out these tips and tricks, you will be able to make the perfect choux pastry.
Choux pastry is unusual as it is technically cooked twice. The basic flour, butter and water dough is heated as it is combined. The eggs are then added, and the whole mixture is piped and baked. Follow these basic instructions to make your own choux pastry.
- Step One – Preheat your oven to 200 degrees celsius or 400 degrees fahrenheit. Measure out the butter, water and salt. Place them into a pan over a medium heat. Heat the ingredients gently until the butter melts. Don’t let the water begin to evaporate.
- Step Two – While the butter is melting, measure out your flour and put it through a sieve to remove any lumps. When the contents of the pan reach boiling point, add the flour and stir vigorously.
- Step Three – Take the pan off the heat and continue to stir the mixture until it turns from a lumpy texture into a smooth, heavy dough. Place the pan back on a low heat and cook the dough for a few minutes to get rid of some of the moisture. You will know when the dough is ready as it will start to come away from the sides of the pan to form a smooth glossy ball.
- Step Four – Remove the dough from the heat and let it cool for a few minutes. Gradually add the eggs into the mixture, beating thoroughly. Add a small amount at a time. Keep going until the dough becomes shiny and forms a paste that falls from the spatula when you shake it lightly. You don’t want it to be wet enough to fall off the spoon without shaking, as this means it will spread too much during baking. You might not need all of the egg- if you don’t use all of the egg then keep a little back for glazing.
- Step Five – Line your baking tray with non-stick paper. Prepare your piping with your chosen nozzle and spoon the mixture into the bag. Twist the top of the bag to stop any mixture from escaping, and push the dough down the bag towards the nozzle. When you are ready to start piping your shapes, make sure they are uniform in size and evenly spaced.
- Step Six – Brush the top of each pastry shape very lightly with a little bit of beaten egg before placing them in the oven.
Exact cooking times and measurements of ingredients will vary depending on the recipe you use and which type of choux pastry treat you are making. But now you have the basic steps to making your own choux pastry and you are well on your way to creating the perfect eclair or cream puff. But there are some common errors that people make, some simple tips and tricks to help you achieve great choux pastry every time.
Keep reading to find out more about getting the best results from your choux pastry.
Use Unsalted Butter
This recipe does require salt, but if you use salted butter then you have less control over how much salt goes into the mixture. By using unsalted butter and adding the salt yourself, you get to decide exactly how much to put in. This means you can avoid having a choux pastry mix that is over salted.
Use The Right Flour
Recipes for choux pastry vary on which flour they recommend. To choose the right flour you need to think about what you want your choux pastry to be like. Choose the right flour that will produce that particular result.
All purpose bread flour has a high protein content which not only gives your pastry a nice crispy shell, but will help it to keep its shape. The downside is that it might not rise as much, so could be a little more dense. Or you could use cake flour, which will let the pastry rise more in the oven. This provides a lighter and airier end product and is a better choice for recipes that require space for a cream filling.
Whichever flour you choose, be sure to sieve it with a fine mesh sieve to remove any lumps before you add it to your mixture.
Stir Your Mixture Thoroughly
When you add the flour to the wet ingredients on the stove, it is very important to stir the mixture vigorously. This will encourage gluten to develop, which will help the choux pastry to hold its shape when it’s baked. Over stirring can make the pastry too chewy, so you have to strike the right balance.
It can take a bit of practice, but a vigorous stir until all of the ingredients are well combined should leave you with the perfect amount of gluten in your pastry dough.
Don’t Overcook The Dough
Once you have combined the flour with the wet ingredients and stirred it well to achieve the right consistency, remove it from the heat straight away. The mixture needs to cool before you add the eggs. If the eggs cook when you add them to the pastry, the final flavour will be too eggy and the texture will be gummy.
To cool the dough quickly and evaporate some extra liquid for a crispier final texture, press the dough against the sides of the pan.
Add The Eggs Gradually
Don’t add the eggs into the mixture all in one go. Add them in a splash at a time and stir well in between. Don’t add more egg until the previous splash has been fully incorporated into the dough.
Use The String Test
You might have heard of the ‘windowpane test’ for bread dough. This is where you stretch the dough between your fingers to check the gluten development.
The string test will check if your choux pastry dough has reached the right consistency. Pinch a bit of dough between your thumb and index finger. When you pull your fingers apart, a string of dough should form between them. If this happens then your pastry is the right consistency and should have a lovely texture when it is baked.
Alternatively, you can perform the V test. Stir your dough with a rubber spatula, then lift the spatula out of the mixture. If the dough is ready, then a V shape of sough will form at the end of the spatula.
Choose The Right Piping Tip
Choux pastry is designed to be piped rather than hand shaped like bread dough or other types of pastry. The piping tip you need will depend on the type of pastry you are making- traditional eclairs require a star piping tip whereas cream puffs can be made with a round piping tip.
Whichever piping tip you use, and whatever sweet treat you are making, you should try your best to make the shapes you pipe even. They should all be uniform in size and spread evenly across the tray so they have room to rise. Your choux pastry could triple in size as it’s cooking, so bare this mind when spacing out your piped shapes.
Do Not Open The Oven Door During Baking
Like many other baked goods, choux pastry cooks best when there is enough steam to help it puff. To create steam, you need your oven on a nice high temperature.
Once the pastry is in the oven, avoid opening the oven door until it is time to take them out. If you open the oven door then the steam will escape and it could stop the pastry from rising or cause it to collapse.
Release The Steam After Baking
As the steam helps the pastry to rise, each pastry will have steam inside it when you take them out of the oven. If you leave the steam inside the pastry it will become soggy and could cause them to lose their shape and collapse.
Peirce the underside of each pastry with a small knife or skewer to release the steam and ensure a crispy outer layer.
Cool The Pastry In The Oven
Once you have released the steam from the pastries, place them back on the tray and into the oven which should now be turned off. This will help the pastry to cool down gradually and prevent them from collapsing from a sudden change of temperature.
The residual heat from the oven will also help to dry out the pastry and ensure it is crispy.
Use The Right Equipment
Having the right tools to help you do the job is essential to baking the perfect choux pastry.
You will need non-stick paper to pipe the pastry on to. If you pipe the mixture directly onto a tray it will stick and as it cooks.
Use a strong but flexible spatula to stir the mixture and fold in the eggs. Make sure it is heatproof so you can use it while the pan is on the stove. Some people prefer to transfer the mixture into a bowl and add the eggs with a whisk. This is also a good option.
Get yourself a good sieve so you can make sure your flour has no lumps in it.
If your oven thermometer is not very accurate, then get yourself a separate one. It is worth it if you are baking recipes like this that require specific temperatures.
Make sure you have a good wire rack to cool your pastry on once you take it out of the oven. It will have already cooled down significantly as the oven temperature goes down, but there must not be any warmth left in the pastry when you add your cream.
Cooling the pastry on a wire rack rather than a plate or tray stops them from going soggy, as air can circulate underneath the pastry as well as above it.
Tips On Using A Piping Bag
One of the trickiest parts of the choux pastry recipe is piping the dough. I have put together a few tips on how to use a piping bag to make this easier for you.
You need to decide what kind of piping bag you want to use. Reusable piping bags are better for the environment, but are difficult to clean. Disposable piping bags are easy and quick. A zip lock with a hole snipped in will do the trick if you are really stuck, but it’s best to use a proper piping bag.
If you snip a hole in the piping bag that is too big or small, then you will find it very hard to pipe evenly. Instead, push the nozzle into the corner of the bag and use a sharp knife to slice around the nozzle for the perfect fit.
Use your non-dominant hand to hold the nozzle, and your dominant hand to squeeze the bag and control the speed that the mixture comes out. Never squeeze the bag with both hands.