Perfecting Choux Pastry: The Flour Variable (part 1)

ChouxI 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…

Choux - Getting readyI’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:

180C Spritz cut - cake texture

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.