Managing your choux pastry

Managing your choux pastry can be easy for some, disheartening for others. Well, good news, I struggled with it this week and because it was not the first time, I decided to write about it and share my choux pastry secrets.

Why choux pastry this week?

This weekend was Father’s day for us in Australia. My older daughter (8 y.o.) wanted to bake a treat for her father.  To get a change from chocolate cakes (please! – I never though I would say that), I made a few suggestions and she decided to go for eclairs.  Yes, of course she knows what they are! I have gourmet kids!

nd by the way, if you are going to make the choux pastry with your kids, it is a great opportunity to teach them and get them to practice the piping technique since it does not drip all over!

A small note: if you have access to a thermomix, save all the hard work and use it. I have had the opportunity to use one for a month last year and I must say that choux pastry is one thing I would praise it for (although not buy one just for that!).

Things don’t always go to plan

Because when you cook a dessert, prepare bread on the side, manage the younger child on Reading Eggs (an interactive program for early readers) and I can’t remember what else, you tend to be a little distracted.  In the end, round one of eclairs ended up flat, very flat. Check for yourself!  So, not willing to disappoint my daughter I expedited a second round of pastry (it takes 10 minutes really), this time with my full attention.  To be honest, I knew it was not going to work before baking round 1 when I realised the dough was more than coherent and flexible, getting towards Nutella consistency.

example of missed flat choux
Missed flat choux. The dough was too wet , we also placed a double line of dough for each eclair, a bad idea.

How choux pastry works?

Choux pastry is only made of flour, butter and water really (and eggs, sure).  Well, there is no rising agent or yeast.  But there is a fair bit of elbow oil, you would remember that if you have had a go to the recipe! To make the dough rise, there is only one way: trapping the steam made by the water and butter during baking with the gluten matrix of the flour.

Here you need to think more bread making that cake making.  The flour contains gluten.  When you work the dough, we speak of gluten development and this means the development of the structure of the gluten through alignment of the strands.  Professionals speak of short mix, improved mix and intensive mix to define how much structure development is required. It is worth noting that gluten can be overdeveloped and then can lose  its structural properties, but rest assure that cannot happen with manual handling.

In brief, the steam released during baking is trapped inside the choux structure and rises the choux or eclair.  It makes the “skeleton” of the choux.  The next stage is to get it to dry so the structure can hold its own weight.

Critical steps and tips

There are a few factors that make this pastry hard to master but not impossible.  For reference, the recipe can be found on its own page HERE.

Here are the tips for you to consider before starting:

The temperature of your saucepan

Early in the recipe, you will be asked to add the flour suddenly to the water.  Then you have to “dry” the dough over low heat until the dough detaches from the saucepan.  Here the amount of water lost during this stage will strongly depend on the type and temperature of your saucepan.  Keep that in mind, but do remove the saucepan from the heat when the dough detaches well from the sides of the saucepan.

The size of the eggs

The next point of attention is the size of your eggs. The recipe calls for four eggs.  If you use 60 g eggs (700 g box of 12), you will likely need three to three and a half.  If you use small eggs, this is the other way around, you may need an extra half to one egg.

To add half an egg at the time, beat the egg slightly in a small bowl and pour half of it.   What difference does it make? The dough will not be firm enough if you put too much egg.  It will not be liquid either but will not be firm enough to retain its shape and the shape will collapse in the oven.

Mixing hard to develop the gluten structure

The gluten development happens when you energetically mix the egg into the dough.    So make sure you mix heartily, no shortcut here!    When will you know the dough is ready? This is the multi million dollar question! The dough must be firm yet flexible:

  • So the “strands” must not break when you mix it.
  • the “shapes” made by the dough when mixing must remain 3D and not collapse to 2D.
  • expect gaps between sections of your dough as the ball of dough is moved one way and another by your wooden spoon.
  • If you know what the surface tension  of a fluid is, great! Imagine it here, there need plenty to keep the shape.

 

Doing the right thing during baking

Finally the baking.  All recipes will tell you to use a very hot oven for the first 10 minutes.  Some recipes will then ask to reduce the heat while leaving the door of the oven slightly open with a wooden spoon, others will only ask to reduce the heat.  The process during that stage is the drying of the skeleton of the choux (this is assuming the choux have reached their full size which often takes more than 10 minutes I find).  What happens if you do not dry your choux sufficiently? Well, the choux will look great for 2 minutes when pulled out of the oven and will then collapse. What a pity!

choux pastry
Flat choux (missed pate a choux) on the left, successful choux on the right

Father’s day eclairs

Curious to what the colours of our artisan eclairs hide?  You would have guessed the dark ones are chocolate eclairs.  The pink one is inside a vanilla, nutmeg and grilled pistachio custard.  The icing is a raspberry (using the juice of 1/2 cup of frozen raspberries) icing: raspberry juice, hot water, drops of lemon juice and icing sugar.

choux pastry

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It ended up with chocolate

It ended up with chocolate

I can’t remember how it all started.  I think I was browsing through some cookbooks .  As it happens (a lot) I got interrupted after a few minutes and left the books on the coffee table.  Fast forward a few hours, I can’t remember, my 8 y.o ., like a curious little possum, goes through the books and starts selecting pages. I am not even aware of that at the time.  In the end, we got these chocolate crackle tops for lunch boxes and a beautiful chocolate cake for dessert. Yes, you guessed right, those cookbooks I was browsing were all chocolates books, this is how it ended up with chocolate!

Chocolate crackle tops

These chocolate crackle tops are quite interesting.  By the way, the recipe is HERE.   It is best not to use a strong chocolate (50% or so is fine) and to add, as per the recipe, a good cocoa. And yes, please make me a favour, use a good cocoa and even preferably a dutch cocoa! But if like me you only have 70% cocoa chocolate handy and couverture chocolate on top of that (that was for the first batch- we did two batches over the week), you need to adapt a little the recipe.  I would recommend sticking to compound chocolate (i.e. your supermarket cooking chocolate) for this one.

chocolatebiscuits

We had a good time doing those, I think Ambrine has now mastered the centrifugal icing sugar coating force! Instead of pushing the ball in the icing sugar, we used a light plastic bowl with a handle which she could spin rapidly. It is a lot of fun to have several balls racing on the edges of the bowl (and not flying everywhere!).

Coating in icing sugar , ready, steady, roll!

And the chocolate cake?

mmmmm.  I need to do it again! Just for the photo, of course! It is a recipe from Valli Little called the Yin Yang Chocolate cake. Coming soon…

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About me

My name is Fabienne d’Hautefeuille.   I am the person behind Bread’N Butter Kids.  I do not remember not cooking.  Mum let us bake anything we wanted.  You can guess I do bake a lot.  As a young kid with my siblings, we used to make a lot of cakes for our afternoon teas or make desserts alongside Mum.  We learned savory dishes “on the job”, starting by making the vinaigrette under instructions from Mum for the quantities.

Fabienne Bread'N Butter Kids

I grew up in France and now live in Sydney, Australia.  Not having access to as many ready made good products than in France (great bread at every street corner for example)  and being exposed here to so many amazing cuisines and ingredients, I keep cooking and having fun.  When I cook, my focus is on food to share for a group, nice meals and little pleasures to share.  I have been known to make creme caramel under a tent by 45°C in the middle of the Sahara desert while on a field assignment (I am a hydrogeologist) or chocolate cake in a microwave after furiously beating egg-whites with a fork in a mine camp  where a few colleagues and I stayed a few weeks at the time.

My food philosophy

I love healthy food, that is, fresh products and cooking “from scratch”. Most people look at a tart and put it in the too hard basket, you would be surprised how simple it is to make those! I love markets and people doing great food.  I do not follow any diet trend, I believe that a balance good quality cooking is the best for our bodies.  Oh, and by the way, desserts are part of a meal, not a treat, except if you start adding ice cream and whipped cream every time.  That said, rest assure dessert in my home vary from a piece of fruit to a yummy “sometimes food” dessert.

I have two young children and there is no way I am going to cook pasta and sausages every night because this is what they would ask for again and again.  So, I hope this blog will help families with ideas for children and the whole family.

This blog is not only about children food, but also giving idea of seasonal menus to households, families or not, cooking tips, and recipes that I cannot help but sharing, hoping you will raise to the challenge!

Contact me

If you want to get in touch, use my contact page.

 

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