Choux

Perfecting Choux Pastry – The Conclusion

It has been an epic journey through choux pastry and to be honest, I’m a bit over eating profiteroles. I need a break and a new project. But before I do, here’s my conclusions for perfect choux including what I think is the perfect recipe.

Choux Pastry recipe
  • 125g cake flour
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 240g eggs
  • 125g water
  • 125g milk
  • 2.5g salt
  • 2.5g sugar

Cut butter into cubes and put in saucepan with the milk, water, salt and sugar. Heat until butter has melted and liquid is boiling. While waiting for that to happen, sift flour and have it ready to dump in. Take pan off the heat, get a whisk ready in one hand and dump in flour with other then whisk like mad. Back on the heat when combined, change to a wooden spoon and stir constantly over the heat for 3-5 minutes. This is the panade A crusty film should form on the bottom of the pan and the mixture will have come together. Dump it into your mixer bowl and let it cool until it’s a little under 60C. Using the paddle attachment, start on medium. Lightly beat all the eggs together in a jug. Add a splash – about half an egg – while beating. Beat until incoporated. Add another splash and repeat. Keep your eye on it – the more you add, the slower you need to go. Once it starts to look smooth and shiny, go very slowly with the eggs. You can add more but once you go over, the mixture will be irredeemably sloppy and won’t work as well. Periodically stop, dip your finger in and pull it out so a little pointed blob forms on the end (like a beak). Hold your finger out parallel to the ground. If the tip of the beak starts to droop it’s ready. The mixture will be really golden and smooth and shiny. Have a look at the pictures at The Flavour Bender, which offer a really good visual guide.

Pipe on a greased tray. Bake at 180C for 20 minutes (although check at 15 mins if they are small so that they don’t brown to quickly. Crack the oven door and jam a wooden spoon in to keep it ajar. Bake for another 10-20 minutes. You can then turn off the oven and leave them to dry out more. You can cut a vent although I don’t bother and it’s fine. Cool completely before filling.

Important tips
  • Dump all the flour in at once and whisk like anything. There may be a few tiny lumps. It’s ok but try to avoid them.
  • Cool the panade to below 60C before adding eggs of they will cook. Leith’s say get it down to about 40C as you’ll be able to incoporate more eggs, giving more rise. I didn’t test this, but I feel like it’s correct from my experience plus it’s Leith’s – I trust them.
  • Cook the panade thoroughly so that it dries out a fair bit. The drier it is, the more egg you can get in, and egg makes for a nice big rise. You can, according to Sadaharu Aoki, check the temperature rather than look for a skin. If you want to do it this way, it needs to get to 75C. The Flavour Bender suggests using the ‘upright spoon’ test – that it’s cooked when it’s stiff enough for a wooden spoon to stand upright in it. It will also have droplets of oil on the surface.
  • If you’re in the UK, make sure your cake flour doesn’t have a raising agent in it. Most of the ‘sponge flour’ at the supermarket does and this will be… bad. I’m not sure what they will look like, but not nice.
  • You can use less butter (as little as 60g) or as much as 125g. It will be fine. Butter just tastes a bit better but it’s not fatal.
  • You can bake at 160C or 200C if you like. 160C is unforgiving if your paste is imperfect and they won’t puff as much, but they might crack less. 200C will make them puff even if your paste is a bit iffy.
  • You can use just water. They will be a bit blander but fine.
  • You can use plain flour (all purpose flour) or bread flour. Bread flour will be a chewier rather than tender and crispier. I’d add more butter if I were using bread flour. Plain flour will be a little chewier too, but fine as well if that’s all you have. Don’t sweat this.
  • You can spritz with water/oil mixture before baking. I couldn’t see much difference.
  • Use the best butter and eggs you can. They give the flavour.
  • Make sure salt and sugar are dissolved in the liquid.
  • You can leave them to fully dry out overnight in the oven (turned off, door closed) once done. They won’t have the custardy centres, but they also won’t get soggy when filled. It’s a judgment call based on what you’re using them for and when.
  • Bread flour makes stronger choux. I’d use that if I were making a croquembouche.
  • Add streusel to make a rounded, more puffed puff. Chef Eddy’s recipe is the best I’ve found.
  • You can deep-fry choux and dredge in icing sugar… just saying…
Fillings

The best filling, hands down in my book, is creme leger – creme patissiere with whipped cream folded through it. You can use the creme patissiere recipe here. Once it has cooled, beat it well with a wooden spoon to loosen it (try not to whisk unless it’s lumpy. If you do whisk, do so as little as possible). Whip double cream with vanilla and sugar and fold through. Pipe in by making a tiny hole first in the base.

Creme patissiere on it’s own is also good, and you can flavour it. Grand Marnier and chocolate (together or apart) are lovely options. I also like a light chocolate ganache, and flavouring it with Monin syrups is gorgeous. Cutting apart eclairs and puffs allows you to add fruit. Take some inspiration from Paris Patisseries.

Toppings

Dipping in caramel is classic, a bit of a faff, but delicious. Chocolate also wonderful. And dipping either in an extra layer of nuts or praline is a superb option. Icing is fine too, if you like that sort of thing. If that’s all too much, just dust with icing sugar!

The End

That’s the end of this epic exploration of choux. The main thing is, don’t be nervous. It’s not that hard, just a bit tricky in places but give it a go. It’s tremendously satisfying if it goes well, and if it doesn’t, just fill them whipped cream and cover with chocolate and they will still taste great.

 

Perfecting Choux Pastry – The Temperature Variable

I have been testing this variable as I went along, comparing 180C and 200C with each batch. Every time, it seemed that 200C made the choux puff up more dramatically, resulting in bigger puffs but also ones that looked a bit messier precisely because they’d expanded to rapidly. Now it was time to just test temperature and to brave an attempt at baking at 160C, which had always ended in disaster. This test would be the ultimate answer … or so I thought.

I made one large batch of what is now my standard recipe – Buttery Cake Flour. I used a star nozzle because, well, it seemed like fun. And I made three trays to bake at 200C, 180C and 160C. The results are surprising. First, 160C was not a disaster. Colour me shocked. It was fine. Not such big puffs, but fine. Second, 180C and 200C this time resulted in nearly the same outcome. As you can see above, 200C led to only a little more puffing up than both, and 180C more puffed than 160C.

When cut, you can see they are all pretty hollow. The main difference is that the walls of the 200C ones are thinner than 180C and then 160C are perhaps a little thicker than both. It’s not completely obvious from the photo, but they were a bit ‘clumsier’.

Conclusion

180C seems fine. 200C is safe and will produce nicely, easily puffed choux. 160C will probably yield less scruffy looking choux, but they probably won’t puff as much and will be thicker (and therefore less fragile). So it depends on what you want to achieve. Also, I think higher temperatures are more forgiving of imperfect paste, so it’s also about how confident you are that your paste is well-made.

Perfecting Choux Pastry – The Butter and Streusel Variables

I like butter. I like it a lot. So the question of how much butter is best in choux is one close to my heart. I also like brown sugar, so if I can get some in via streusel, then I will. So those were the next two variables to try.

I made two batches using my now favoured cake flour but only used water. I felt that would make the impact of the butter more apparent (rather than having the milk fat in the mix, so to speak). The recipe was:

  • 125g cake flour
  • 240g eggs
  • 125g water
  • 125g milk
  • 2.5g salt
  • 2.5g sugar

I used the highest and lowest amounts of butter in my spreadsheet, namely 125g (Aoki) and 60g (Bertinet). I’ll call them ‘Buttery’ and ‘Not Buttery’.

In terms of making the paste, the main difference was at the panade stage. The Buttery batch looked very oily, like scrambled eggs, and didn’t make much of a crust on the bottom of the saucepan. By contrast, the Not Buttery mix wasn’t oily at all, but instead was almost paste-like, quite stretchy and came together very quickly. Made a crust easily and quickly, and was quite hard to stir. They absorbed similar amounts of egg (about 95-100g each). I decided to pipe these in rounds rather than éclair shapes as I thought it would be easier to see the impact of the streusel.

Which brings me to… making the streusel. I followed Chef Eddy’s recipe, which you can find here. I rolled it out very thinly and put little discs on top of some of each batch. I baked both at 190C for simplicity. Here they are post-bake:

Once baked, I enlisted a new tasting companion, my 5 year old son Ollie. He made some very insightful comments as you’ll see. First, though, here’s some comparison images.

Not that different. However, streusel really does make a difference…

Comparing streusel

What emerged was:

  • Streusel definitely helped them to expand more (which is in line with what the excellent Chef Eddy says here).
  • Streusel also meant they rose and expanded more evenly. You can see the ‘exploded’ look of the non-streusel ones next to the streusel ones very clearly
  • Buttery and Not Buttery choux expanded pretty much the same amount. Both were very hollow. The Buttery ones were perhaps a touch less hollow, but it did differ across buns so this wasn’t a clear distinction between them.

Then the tasting… To be honest, they weren’t actually hugely different. The Buttery ones were slightly more crisp and biscuity, while the Not Buttery ones were crunchy. Ollie’s conclusion was that the Not Buttery were ‘just below the right flavour level’ while the Buttery ones were ‘at the level of good flavour’. I agree. Buttery ones had better ‘mouthfeel’, as they say. They melted more nicely in the mouth, and the taste was a little better.

The streusel ones had a glorious sweet, brown-sugary crust that I loved, as did Ol. I think if you can make streusel ones, do. You could even put chocolate over the streusel (hmm… that gives me some good ideas) but I’m not sure if you could dip them in caramel successfully. I suspect you could make them using caster sugar instead to reduce the flavour impact if you wanted to.

Verdict

More butter is better but not crucial. Streusel will make your choux puff up a treat and produce lovely, neat little buns but might restrict what else you do, and will give them a distinct flavour.

 

 

Perfecting Choux Pastry – The Liquid Variable (part 2)

Another three batches of choux baked and ready to evaluate. You might wonder where they all go. Well, a great many are eaten while my husband is ‘forced’ to taste them and ask endless questions. Then rest became tonight’s pudding (above), filled with creme leger (creme patissiere and whipped cream folded togther). It was heaven.

I made the three recipes – 1. Cake-Milk/Water, 2. Plain-Milk/Water and 3. Plain/Water – and used this as another chance to test baking temperature (180C v 200C) and spritzing. Here they all are before baking and after. Top tray is 200C. Top row is the spritzed row.

Like last time, spritzing didn’t make a noticeable difference, but baking temperature did. The 200C again blew up rapidly but looked much messier. They are also more golden brown, and hence looked quite a bit more tasty.

Here’s the 200C batch:

As you can see, the spritzing really didn’t make a noticeable difference. I think I might not bother in the future, but I might try some other things. The Cake ones are much more golden, and they did open up pretty well. The Plain-milk/water mix opened up the most, and was the least ‘membraned’. The Plain-water ones did open up pretty well, but did tend to be more membraney (let’s just say that’s a word). And now let’s look at the 180C batch before talking about the taste and texture:

Similar results in term of openess and membrane, but all are less open. I think this is the trade-off – more even surface, but less open inside. Given how streusel helps with this, you could offset it that way. But to get them really open at lower temperatures I think is quite difficult. I’ll keep thinking about it.

Overall conclusions on how they baked, they all expanded well enough. None were a terrible flop, but the Plain flour ones of both kinds opened up the most, and Plain-milk/water the most of all. So if that’s the case, why would anyone ever use Cake flour? Well, when it can to taste and texture, like last time… they taste nicer… and the texture is nicer, more tender but also still crisp. As for milk/water versus water, again the milk added a bit of flavour that was nice, but most importantly they were crisp rather than chewy. The Plain-water ones were quite bland, and almost bready in flavour, and definitely chewier.

Conclusions

Milk adds flavour and improves the texture. Combined with cake flour, you’ll get the most tender choux, but if you’re baking at lower temperatures, it seems more difficult to get a really hollow pastry with that combination. If you’re baking at 200C, I think Cake-milk/water will produce the best balance between hollowness, flavour and texture, but it might look a bit scruffier. The Plain-milk/water is a good compromise on all fronts. If I wanted to make an industrial-sized croquembouche, I’d go for the Plain-water… but I’d put a lot of lovely filling in to counteract the drawbacks.

 

 

 

Perfecting Choux Pastry – The Liquid Variable (part 1)

Milk or water, water or milk, perhaps a bit of both. Does it even make a difference? Let’s find out. However, before I start testing, I want to see whether there are any patterns in the recipes that might be illuminating. Below is the recipe table again but with only the relevant columns included and I’ve grouped the milk and no-milk ones together.

Initial observations
  • All recipes, barring the outliers of Delia and Raymond Blanc, use between 200 and 250g liquid total (recalling that egg is constant)
  • When milk IS used, it’s half and half with water
  • Milk recipes seem to include less butter

At this point, I’m starting to guess at some patterns, but I need to be scientific, so it’s time for a spreadsheet. However, having now made that spreadsheet, two outlier recipes are messing things up – Raymond Blanc and Delia. I’m going to ditch them. Delia is the only one using all bread flour, while Raymond’s liquid and butter quantities are really odd. Delia is also using huge amounts of water, which I doubt is a good thing.

The spreadsheet proved to be pretty helpful. Here’s a picture of what it looked like in the end.

I’ve grouped by flour type as well as milk, and bold numbers are averages for the group. Of course, these are averages for very small sets of numbers so they don’t mean a great deal, but even in this small group there are some patterns that I think can be supported.

Post-Spreadsheet Observations

  • Liquid to butter ratios are fairly standard – a little over 2:1 – for milk/water mix but they get rather scattered for water only recipes (and remember poor Delia who got the boot? A ratio of 3:1!).
  • Liquid to flour ratios fairly standard – about a bit under 2:1.
  • Water-only mixes used less butter in relation to flour. These were all plain/AP flour mixes, but comparing to both the cake and the plain groups in milk/water, the butter relative to flour was still lower.
  • No one used cake flour and just water.

What does this all mean? Those using water/milk tended to also use more butter. Those who used cake flour over plain flour used more butter still but only marginally more (apart from the surprisingly stingy La Duree). From one perspective, this is the opposite of what I would have expected. Milk adds fat as, of course, does butter. So I thought possibly those mixes with milk would offset this with a drop in butter. But they did the opposite. My guess is that the test will reveal that milk/water produces a more tender crumb, and I suspect butter does the same, so if you want that kind of crumb, you boost your chances of achieving it by adding fat via milk, too.

So the next step is to test and then think about it once the results are in. As everyone left in the mix is actually using plain or cake flour, that simplifies things – 2 types of flour, 2 types of liquid. No one uses cake/water so I’m not going to bother with that. I’ll keep butter levels constant at around the average (which I’ll call 110g) but not flour because I think if I mess about too much I’ll just bake a pile of rubbish. So with that scientific (I should just stop using that word) approach decided, the recipes will be….

And now I need a little lie down after all that.

Perfecting Choux Pastry – The Flour Variable (part 2)

So with that theory covered, now back to the question of flour. And it is a question, because there’s no clear consensus on what to use. La Duree and Aoki use cake flour, Chef Eddy uses a mix, Herme uses plain flour… They do bake at different temperatures and use different milk/water and butter amounts, so it’s not as simple as just the type of flour producing a particular result. The combination is complex, but once I’ve worked through everything I’ll put it together and see what I can discern from all the variables taken together. For now, it’s all about the flour insofar as I can isolate it.

Last post it emerged that egg played a big role in the expansion of the choux, both by adding moisture but more particularly the impact of the uncoiling proteins on the ‘puffing up’ process. So one would think that the more egg you could get into the mix, without it becoming too soft, the better. Indeed, this seems a fairly universally acceped view. How could you achieve that? By using a flour that can hold a lot of moisture. This is largely (but I think not entirely) determined by protein content. For example, Chef Eddy says:

Using flour with fairly high protein content allows for extra eggs in the batter, which in turn permits lower oven temperatures but with good expansion of the products.

Chef Eddy is keen to bake at lower temperatures to avoid cracking, so he regards including a lot of eggs as really important, and reiterates elsewhere the role of a higher protein flour in enabling him to get more eggs into the paste:

I have used bread flour, with lower gluten (protein) content with good results, but mixing part bread flour and part pastry flour is very good. Certainly many chefs use all purpose flour. The reasoning for using flour with slightly higher gluten content is to permit more eggs into the paste. More eggs allow good expansion in the oven at lower oven temperatures. Lower oven temperatures help in the reduction of cracking.

Some bakers are exceedingly keen on high protein flour. Over at Iron Whisk, he runs a test that shows bread flour producing a much better expansion than AP (plain), and of cake flour he assumes it must actually be a mistake when he sees that Aoki uses it!

Now, in my test the Cake mixture absorbed the most egg, but I think that’s an aberration and I’ll test it again. However for now I think the best explanation is that the protein level alone isn’t the sole determinant of how much water flour can absorb. The type of protein and how it has been milled are also factors. Part of this is the fact that flour contains both gluten and gliadin, which are both proteins and I suppose combine to make the protein level listed on the bag. But it’s the gluten that’s important in baking, so the protein level as the sole determinant of water absorption and general performance in choux is going to be misleading. I started to research this and realized I may have gone a bit far… but if it’s your thing, start here and then go here. I would write more, but I have to restrain myself… This is why all my research papers become 20,000 word epics that take two years to get published. Enough!

What my test did show is that egg content was correlated with expansion – the Cake ones expanded much, much more than the others. So the flour that absorbs the most egg should be the one to choose every time, shouldn’t it. Why, then, if higher protein flour absorbs more egg, would anyone use cake flour? I’d say it’s the texture. The Cake choux had a much more pleasant texture, not soft but crispy like the crust of a cake and much more melt-in-the-mouth, rather than crisp and chewy like bread crust. So I imagine it’s about walking the line between absorbing egg and texture. In fact, this is exactly the conclusion others have come to. Joey Prat writes:

Most American chefs use bread flour in their choux pastry recipes. This is because bread flour, with its higher protein content produces an end product that expands better, with superior structure and a more hollow interior. It also produces a crisper shell. However, I find choux pastry items made with bread flour a bit tough and also chewier (more bread-like rather than pastry-like), and lacks the melt-in-the-mouth quality distinctive of its French counterpart. Most European chefs, on the other hand, prefer to use all-purpose flour (called plain flour in most parts of Europe; T55 flour in France), with great success. To bridge the gap between superior structure and melt-in-the-mouth tenderness.

We are of one mind!

Conclusion

Given all this, and given my success (this time…) with cake flour, that would be my preference. But it seems you can succeed with all three types of flour, hence this variable is one where it depends on what you’re aiming for and also your needs. Were I building a huge croquembouche, I’d make my choux with bread flour. If I wanted a delicate éclair, that didn’t need to travel much or stand up to a bit of delay before being devoured, I’d use cake flour.

I remain a little curious about the Shipton Mill Cake Flour and the mention of T55 has peaked my interest. I can feel a T55 / ‘00’ / T45 / Cake comparison coming on…. though I’m not sure the world really needs that.

A word of warning to UK bakers

‘Sponge flour’ here is low-protein, weak, fine flour BUT it almost always has raising agents in it and is therefore a big no-no in choux. I have no idea what that baking powder would do to the puffs (although it might be fun to find out. They might explode!), but I would stay away. I get my cake flour at Shipton Mill’s online shop and they also sell T55 as well as an array of interesting and unusual flours.

Perfecting Choux Pastry – Choux Theory

I was thinking of barreling straight into learning about and writing about flour types, and then I realised that there is a lot of background knowledge I need to make sure I understand this properly, so that’s what this post is about. That’s the academic in me… has to research everything to the nth degree.

So the big question is how and why does choux expand as it does? Understanding that is the key to understanding the role of each of the ingredients. With a question like this, the first place to look is of course McGee:

Cooking the flour with water and fat tenderizes the gluten proteins, preventing them from developing elasticity, and it swells and gelates the starch to turn what would normally be a batter into a dough. The subsequent addition of raw eggs contributes the richness of the yolks and the cohesive, structure building proteins of the whites, and thins the dough into a near-batter so taht air pockets in the interior will be able to move and coalesce during cooking. During the baking, the fat helps crips adn flavor the outer surface. And both eggs and fat contribute to a structure that resists moisture and stays crisp while holding the cream filling.

Paula Figoni is also illuminating, explaining that the leavening and hollowing happens due to steam. Choux paste contains a lot of liquid which, when heated, turns to steam and expands:

This powerful leavening potential is captured by the high amount of eggs and the gelatinized starch granules in the choux paste.

But how is the cavity formed? She explains:

raw egg proteins are twisted and coiled. As the steam expands, egg proteins uncoil and stretch and the paste puffs. Steam continues to expand, putting pressure on the stretched egg proteins. Eventually, most of the egg protein structure breaks from the pressure, creating a characteristic cavity in the baked choux paste. However, the outside shell wall—dry from the high heat—resists breakage. Gelatinized starch and coagulated egg proteins in these walls harden and set, defining the shell’s final volume and shape.

Joe Pastry, as always, has some excellent information to add to the mix:

Choux is a batter which by design contains a lot of activated gluten, and that’s unusual. Normally batters, regardless of how thick they are, are low-gluten affairs. Recall how one is time and again admonished not to stir a pancake batter for fear of toughening the cakes. The same goes for muffin batters, where agitation leads to big bubbles or “tunnels”, crowning and a gummy texture. That logic is reversed with choux, which is beaten vigorously in an attempt to activated the gluten and turn the entire thing into one giant bubble.

But then what does the double cooking accomplish? For one it causes the flour to gelatinize, which creates a starch mesh that helps reinforce the gluten. When baked, these dual networks help the bubble of expanding batter to stretch (they also help prevent steam from escaping). But the cooking also does something else. It partially denatures (i.e. damages) the gluten molecules so that they lose some of their elasticity, helping to ensure that when the single bubble is fully expanded it doesn’t snap back before the pastry hardens.

OK, so what we want is gelatinized gluten — we’ll get to that when we get to the making the paste posts — and as much egg as we can get into the paste. My test supports this view about egg. So now the question is why does a particular type of flour affect the amount of egg?

The answer (hopefully) next post.

Perfecting Choux Pastry – The Flour Variable (part 1)

I have my test recipe, and it’s time to work on each variable. The variable and testing approach is going to be:

Mix variables (ones that affect the making of the paste):

  1. Flour: Bread flour v AP/plain flour v cake flour
  2. Liquid: Water v milk/water
  3. Egg addition temperature: 40C v 50C v 60C (but I may change this based on some more reading I’ve done)

Post-mix variables (ones that affect how the paste is baked):

  1. Baking temperature: 180C v 200C
  2. Spritz: yes v no (I’ll also explore egg washing and sprinkling with icing sugar)
  3. Freeze: yes v no
  4. Piping: round v star

The focus of the first round is on the flour variable, so I need to keep the other two mix variables constant. I’m also going to take a few things as accepted as the way to make the mix. Specifically, aim for cooking the panade enough. Sadaharu Aoki recommends getting the panade to 75C, others focus on getting the coating on the bottom of the pan. I’ll aim for both. I’ll cool the panade to 60C before adding eggs. I’ll just use water the first time around.

I can at this stage easily test the baking temperature and spritzing variables, so I’ll do that too, but I’ll keep doing that across batches and come back to thinking about it. I’ll leave freezing, icing sugar and piping until later. There’s only so much mess I can tolerate in my kitchen (which is under constant attack by two children already). So that makes three batches, baked two ways and within each two spritz options:

  1. Bread-180-spritz
  2. Bread-180-no spritz
  3. Bread-200-spritz
  4. Bread-200-no spritz
  5. Plain-180-spritz
  6. Plain-180-no spritz
  7. Plain-200-spritz
  8. Plain-200-no spritz
  9. Cake-180-spritz
  10. Cake-180-no spritz
  11. Cake-200-spritz
  12. Cake-200-no spritz

I’ll compare three batches at each stage. All comparisons will be ordered Bread-Plain-Cake left to right. I’ll describe what happened first, then next post I’ll work through what I think was going on and why.

Getting organized and ready to bake…

I’m using Leckford Estate Bread Flour (13.6g protein), Leckford Estate Plain Flour (11.8g protein), and Shipton Mill Cake and Pastry Flour (8.5g protein). I reduced the salt to 2.5g as in an early test it was too salty.

Here’s the panades.

The Bread and Plain were very similar, not surprisingly, but the Cake one was quite different. I cooked each for 2 minutes, looking for the skin on the bottom of the pan. The skin took a while to come for Bread and Plain, but came more easily for Cake. Not sure why that is. Something to research. By the two minute mark, each panade was at least 75C – a factor I’ll also come back to. In terms of texture, the Bread and Plain held together well, but the Cake panade was quite loose and oily, almost falling to pieces and much less the classic ‘coming together in a ball’ effect that you’re told to look for. I think if you were expecting that with Cake, you might stand there for a very long time and it might never happen (though I didn’t test that!)

Next, I cooled each panade to 60C, transferring it to a bowl and beating by hand. I tried to get in as much of the egg could (which meant the batches were perhaps slightly looser than I’d prefer). They absorbed the following amounts:

  • Bread: 210g
  • Plain: 198g
  • Cake: 264g

The Cake result was a complete surprise! I would have expected the opposite and in the past with other Cake flour, it has been the opposite. I’m going to think about this next post but also keep an eye on this in future tests.

Here are the pastes:

Next up, my cack-handed attempts at piping evenly. I can only say that I’ve had a nasty cold all week… I’m not sure that’s much excuse but I’m sticking with it.

From Top to Bottom, each row is ordered Bread, Plain, Cake – 2 of each. Top tray will be baked at 200C, bottom at 180C. Top row of each was spritzed with an oil/water mix, bottom row left dry.

Before… and after….

Initial observations:

  • Cake ones blew up like balloons! This could be due to the large amount of egg but I’ll investigate next time
  • Spritzed ones are a bit more even in shape
  • 200C tray expanded to a much greater extent, but also much more unevenly – they’re big, but they’re messy.

Now for a comparison across types. 200C group first:

Nice and open, but unexpectedly the bread flour one is the lest open, and cake is the most open. I’d have expected the other way round, and in fact others have had the opposite result, such as here at Iron Whisk. And Chef Eddy writes

I have used bread flour, with lower gluten (protein) content with good results, but mixing part bread flour and part pastry flour is very good. Certainly many chefs use all purpose flour. The reasoning for using flour with slightly higher gluten content is to permit more eggs into the paste. More eggs allow good expansion in the oven at lower oven temperatures.

I think he knows what’s he’s talking about, and the Cake ones had a lot more egg in them. I’m not how they managed to absorb so much, so I’ll reserve judgment here. But across the flour types, there isn’t a very big difference — they all opened up pretty well. I can’t see a bit difference made by the spritzing here.

Now the 180C group

Across the flour types, there is a more marked difference now. The Cake ones are quite filled in, and the casings are certainly distinct. The casing is much thicker, but it’s actually full of bubbles – so instead of just the inside expanding, the paste itself has expanded more:

This was true of all the Cake ones, the casings were much more full of little holes. Again, no idea why but that’s something to find out. They are all neater on the outside, having not expanded so fast and so aggressively. This reflects what people like Chef Eddy say about why they bake at lower temperatures. He has a long, informative post here that’s worth reading in its entirety.

There’s an obvious thing jumping out here about temperature, then, which can be seen in the following comparison:

The ones that went into a hotter oven came out more puffed up and much more open inside. Crucial for choux, of course. Chef Eddy says it’s about the egg content, so next post I’ll explore that and the relationship with the egg. I think, as he suggests, that there’s a balance to be struck between flour type, egg content and temperature.

In terms of taste and texture, the Bread ones were more dry and chewy in texture, with the Cake ones tending to be more crisp or ‘biscuit-like’, in that they would slightly crumble in my mouth rather than have any chewy bite to them. You can, I think, see this in the texture. Here’s a close-up of one of the cake ones.

Right, that’s the description. Next time, the analysis and some science.

 

Perfecting Choux Pastry – The Starting Recipe

So the time has come to start baking choux, choux and more choux. I’m reading everything I can get my hands on, and collating recipes. As promised, there’s a spreadsheet covering all the recipes I felt were likely to be good…

I kept the quantity of egg constant (calling ‘4 eggs’ 240 grams which I know means quite large eggs but it’s better to have too much than too little) and then worked out the relative quantities of everything else. The recipes cover variants in flour type, milk v water and the amount of butter, as well as temperature. Now, I would imagine that in tweaking one variable, you would tweak other variables in response. For example, bread flour being higher in protein could absorb more liquid, so it might be the case that you increased liquid if using it.

Now for an attempt at some analysis and theorising before I go into some proper research. I’ve arranged the recipes by flour type, from least to most strong:

Cake flour: 8%

Plain flour (British): 9.5% – 11%

AP flour (USA): 10-12%

Bread flour: 14-16%

I’m rating Chef Eddy’s mix as half way between bread and cake, ie around about AP level. I arranged the recipes by quantity of flour within groups. Ordered this way, with the ratios of flour/liquid/butter, a popular ratio emerges even despite the flour types of roughly 100g flour (whatever type, somewhat surprisingly), 180g liquid and a more varied amount of butter, ranging from 48g to 100g. The last choice is – how much butter? I’m going to start with lots of butter because, frankly, I like butter and I have no other better basis on which to decide. My recipe has a 100:180:80 ratio.

So that’s the starting recipe for all testing, to which tweaks will be made. Working with 240g egg:

  • 125g flour
  • 240g egg
  • 225ml liquid
  • 100g butter
  • 2.5g salt*
  • 5g sugar

*5g salt reduced to 2.5g now as it was too salty in tests.

Looks like a buttery version of Bertinet’s, and that can only be a good thing.

 

Perfecting Choux Pastry – Another Project Begins…

Last post I put my failures on display. Embarrassing, but it’s done now. The question is what went wrong? How did I go from someone who can make choux to someone who can’t? I have a few ideas, and these are leading me to some of the aspects of choux I’ll explore. The main problems were trying too hard (over-cooking the panade), not concentrating (adding the eggs to a hot panade), and using flour I hadn’t worked with before (Shipton Mill’s lovely Cake and Pastry Flour. Not so lovely in my choux).

Choux has five main ingredients flour, butter, liquid (water and/or milk), salt, and sugar. The technique for making the paste has three main steps: bring liquid and fat to the boil together; add flour and cook over heat (ie make the ‘panade); adding eggs. Within this, there are decisions about how long to cook the panade, what temperature it should be when the eggs are added and how long it should be beaten for. Then there’s piping, whether to spritz (and with what), and the baking, which itself can comprise three parts: the initial phase, the ‘letting out the steam phase’ and the drying phase.

With my last piece of research on Victoria Sponge, I explored three key variables and needed to make eight batches to test them to my satisfaction. It’s not so simple this time. Here’s a breakdown of the variables given all the elements of making choux:

  • Flour: Bread flour versus cake flour versus a mix of cake and bread flour (3 options)
  • Liquid: Milk versus water versus milk/water mix (3 options)
  • Panade: Cook until skin forms versus cook longer than skin formation point (2 options)
  • Egg addition temperature: 60C v 50C v 40C (3 options)
  • Piping: thickness let’s say 1cm versus 2cm wide eclairs (2 options)
  • Piping: round tube v star tube (2 options)
  • Spritzing: water versus oil versus icing sugar sprinkling (3 options)
  • Baking temperature: 160C versus 180C versus 200C (3 options)

There is also the addition of pate sablee on top, but I’m going to leave that out because I think one doesn’t always want to have that on choux, so it’s not integral. Also, Chef Eddy has done a pretty definitive comparison that shows the pate sablee leading to much greater expansion. I’ll take that one as proven. He knows his choux.

Even just with that many options, if I made a batch for each combination that would be a lot. If I made a mixture for each that would 1,944 to be precise. And that’s not even starting on the different recipes with their different proportions of ingredients, of which there are a very great many. It was starting to look like as I planned it out:

I needed to narrow it down a bit and focus on what seems to get a lot of attention (and what might have caused my fails). Based on this, I concluded the most important variables are:

  • Flour type
  • Liquid type
  • Egg addition temperature
  • Baking temperature

Then the fairly important variables are:

  • Panade
  • Cooking time
  • Spritzing

And finally the less important variables are:

  • Piping
  • Freezing before baking (the F Migoya step)

I think these are less important because its clear that people pipe choux in both ways with success, and most people don’t seem to worry about freezing and still produce great choux.

Not helping that much. So I wondered if there were any variables that were uncontentious, either across recipes and/or where the issue could be solved with science. There was one: egg addition temperature. There’s a lot of agreement on that, which I’ll discuss in a later post. The panade cooking time might also be solvable with science — I’m going to explore that one. So that narrows it down. Three flour options, three liquid options, three baking temperature options. That’s 9 batches cooked three ways. I can mess about with spritzing and piping within batches. That’s still a whole lot of eggs and butter to potentially waste, so I’m going to knock out an option — I’m not even going to try baking at 160C. I’ve always failed at it, and only a few recipes recommend it, notably Sadaharu Aoki and Pierre Herme recommend low baking temperatures and I have a feeling it can be done but only with skill and a precise oven. I doubt I have enough of the former and don’t think my aging Neff oven matches their equipment. So that takes it down to 9 batches cooked 2 ways. Still a bit much, and the difference between the liquid variables might not be sufficient, so let’s simplify to milk/water versus just water (because most recommend a mix, but very few suggest all milk). That makes 2 x 3 = 6 batches. Spritz some, freeze some. Doable.

But which recipe? There’s a myriad of them, and that’s a whole other headache for my next post. I’ll return… with a spreadsheet.

 

 

 

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