I didn’t start making choux pastry until this year because it always seemed like a very daunting baking task. What do you mean I have to cook the batter before I bake it off? How can you tell the batter is ‘cooked’ enough? What if my pastry doesn’t puff up? What if it spreads too much? What if it bakes unevenly? I finally decided to overcome that fear about a month or two ago. Since then I have been making…SO. MANY. CREAM. PUFFS. I have made so many good ones (and sad deflated bad ones). I am sharing all the things I learned through trial and error in this choux 101 to help you achieve the perfect puff.
Choux pastry, also known as pâte à choux, is a light, airy, crispy pastry used to make eclairs, cream puffs, croquembouches, gougères, crullers and more. Choux pastry in its basic form is made from ingredients you probably already have in your pantry — it contains only water, milk, butter, flour, and eggs. One unique feature of choux pastry is the batter is gently cooked on the stove top before the addition of eggs and baking. The initial cooking causes the starch in the flour to gelatinize, which will help the pastry hold onto steam and puff up. The pastry relies heavily on the amount of moisture present to create rise and puff in the pastries. The steam created when the water evaporates in the oven is what creates the hollow puff.
Choux requires the simplest of ingredients but it requires some practice to create the perfect puff. I have found that practice does indeed perfect — after you make choux several times, you will be able to distinguish a proper batter from a batter that might cause a soggy or overly stiff pastry. There are two go-to rules that help with achieving the perfect choux:
1. Stick to the ingredients and their measurements. Making choux is one of those recipes I like to have a scale on hand. I have made choux several times and a 10gram difference of eggs (a major ingredient in choux) made a biiiig difference in the results.
2. Don’t open the oven door while the choux is baking. You don’t want a deflated choux!
Some cream puffs have a crunchy cookie-like top — this is calling craquelin. I think craquelin makes any cream puff extra delicious; it adds more flavour and a different texture to the puff. The craquelin is extremely simple to make and requires only three basic ingredients: butter, brown sugar, and flour. Adding craquelin to your choux pastry also helps the pastry rise more evenly the oven.
After the cream puffs have baked and cooled, the possibilities for the cream puffs are endless. The simplest route would be to fill the puff with sweetened. whipped creamed. When I have more time on my hands, I like to fill my cream puffs with two different types of filling — a richer custard or ganache and a lighter whipped cream.
Pâte à Choux with Craquelin
Yields 12 puffs
25g unsalted butter, softened
25g brown sugar
25g all-purpose flour
In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients and mix with rubber spatula until smooth.
Roll out the craquelin dough to 1/8-inch in thickness. Use a cookie cutter and cut out 12 2-inch circles. Set aside.
Pâte à Choux
57mL whole milk
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
57g unsalted butter
70g all-purpose flour
110g large eggs, lightly beaten
Preheat oven to 350F
In a saucepan, combine the water, milk, sugar, salt, and butter. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, and immediately add in all the flour. Quickly stir in the flour, using a rubber spatula, and return saucepan back over medium-high heat.
Continue to stir the mixture, without stopping, until the paste is smooth and shiny, about 1-2 minutes. It will pull away from the sides of the pan and leave a thin coating of cooked paste on the bottom when ready. The texture should resemble mashed potatoes.
Transfer the paste to a stand mixer bowl fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low for the choux to cool down.
While the mixer is running on medium, gradually stream in the lightly beaten eggs. Mix until well combined.
Transfer the pâte à choux to the prepared piping bag with a round tip. Pipe out 12 choux mounds onto the prepared baking sheet, leaving roughly 2 inches between each puff. If you are making choux with a craquelin top, this is when you want to add the craquelin to the choux mounds.
Place the baking sheet in the oven and immediately bake choux puffs for 35 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet and turn down the oven to 325F, then bake for 10 minutes more until choux are deeply golden. Remove from oven and set on cooling rack to cool.