perfecting

Perfecting Scones – The Conclusion

Scones - Flour variable - 16 of 18It has been an epic journey. I am sick of scones. I am sick of jam. I do not want to eat any more whipped cream.

But it has been enlightening. Here are my conclusions and my final recipe.

Scones
  • 500g bread flour
  • 125g butter (cold)
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 4.5 tsp baking powder
  • 150ml cold milk
  • 2 eggs

Sift the flour and baking powder at least once. Grate the chilled (even frozen) butter into the flour (which can also be chilled beforehand). Rub in the until it is like breadcrumbs. Add the sugar. Whisk milk and eggs together and add to the mixture. Cut through the mixture as you turn the bowl, using a pastry scraper or spatula. Turn the mixture over the get the dry bits from the bottom. When all ingredient are combined and it’s just coming together, turn it out and press it together very gently. Give it one or two folds if necessary to make a dough. Pat it into a round between 2.5 and 3 centimetres high. Cut out rounds using a floured cutter (don’t twist). Place on buttered baking tray quite close together. Brush with milk (don’t let it run down the sides) and bake at 220C/220C fan for between 16 and 20 minutes depending on size. Remove when golden brown. Eat warm.

Some conclusions

Some things are crucial to good scones. A light tough, a hot oven.

Some things are a matter of taste. Cold butter rubbed in quickly will give a more open-textured scone, while warm butter will make the texture closer. Leaving flakes of butter will make it a bit bouncier. Bread flour works for me, but you might like something else, just remember to adjust the liquid accordingly — less liquid if you use lower protein-content flour. I like my scones quite open in texture, but you can use a little less liquid and again make them a little more biscuit-y. it is worth chilling the dough for at least 30 mins (up to 2 hours) before baking.

Some things seem to make no difference. For me, that’s buttermilk. For you it might be something else.

Make the scones you like best. I hope this helps you do just that. And put the jam wherever you like. It’s your scone, after all.

Perfecting Scones – Tips for Scone Perfection!

Scones - Flour variable - 11 of 18The Internet and baking books are awash with tips and tricks about how to make the perfect scone. Some I think are great, some I’ve never bothered with but you might want to try them. Here, I collate all those tips.

Ingredients
  • Full-fat milk, not skim – scones are about butter and fat and cream. That is when they taste best.
  • The flavour partly comes from the butter, so use a nice one. I like French butter, which is easy to get in the UK, like Lescure, which is delicious. I try to use higher-welfare products if I can (not sure how Lescure rates on that one…). Lescure even comes in ready-formed sheets for making puff pastry! I’m fond of Yeo Valley Unsalted and also Duchy butter (from Prince Charles himself). Sometimes I use salted, sometimes not.
Mixing
  • Sift, sift, sift! I sift the flour three times, partly to make sure the raising agents are well distributed and partly to remove any lumps that would mean I needed more stirring. It also brings air into the mix, and that’s a good thing.
  • Grate the butter into the flour using the coarse side, then rub it in. This makes rubbing in easier. You can even freeze the butter before doing this to ensure it all stays really cold, suggests Epicurean Escapism (amongst many others) but be warned – if it’s a cold day in your kitchen, it you over-do the cold butter it becomes really hard to rub it in. Conversely, on a hot day this tip will save the butter melting into the flour and making close-textured scones.
  • Rub butter rather than process it. I find it coats the flour better, and so gives a nicer texture. However, plenty of people process it in and it’s just fine, so don’t sweat that one.
  • Whisk the eggs and milk together before adding in one go.
  • Mix the dough as little as possible. I cut it with a palette knife or spatula, turning the bowl as I go. It keeps it cool and prevents over-mixing.
  • Handle the dough as little as possible. You don’t want to develop the gluten, so just lightly bring it together, then one or two folds to make it hold and that’s it! Your scones will look scruffier, but they will be lighter.
  • Wet dough is a good thing. Don’t keep adding flour to stop it being sticky; just dust the surface and work with light, gentle touches and flour the cutter to cope. David Herbert suggests the dough should be “stickier than a shortcrust pastry”. You may need to tweak the liquid content to accommodate the type of flour you’re using. If it’s high protein bread flour, this will need more than a low protein cake flour. Experimentation is key as flours differ between brand, type and even where the wheat was grown. For example, if you use Canadian Bread Flour (as it’s labeled in the UK), my guess is it will need even more milk than the recipe I’ve given, so if you produce a dry dough, this might be the reason.
Rolling, Cutting and Getting Ready to Bake
  • Don’t roll the dough, just pat it. So says almost everyone.
  • Dough should be at least 2.5cm thick before cutting. Delia says 3cm is better and suggests it is ‘vital’.
  • Rest the dough for 2 hours in the fridge before cutting (a wise suggestion from Azelia). Cool dough into a hot oven leads to taller, lighter, fluffier scones.
  • Dip the cutter in flour almost every cut to make them drop out easily.
  • Don’t twist the cutter. It seals the sides and they won’t rise as much.
  • After the first cuts, don’t roll the dough up too firmly. I press all the scraps together by pushing the dough from either side into the middle and then as gently as possible try to get them to stick. The aim is always to knead as little as possible.
  • You can brush the tops with milk, egg and milk (for a more golden colour) or even egg wash topped with a dusting of caster sugar to create a sweet crust. To do this, either dust the whole batch once done then place on the tray (to avoid sugar all over the tray, which is no fun to clean once it’s been heated) or dip each egg-washed scone into a saucer of sugar before placing on the tray.
  • Place them close together on the tray as they rise upwards, rather than falling over. You get a crisp top and soft sides, too, which is nice.
Baking
  • Bake at 200C (fan) or 220C and make sure your oven really is at temperature before putting them in. A blast of high heat is crucial to a good rise.
After Baking
  • Wrapping scones in a teatowel when they come out of the oven will keep them warm and moist, suggests Philippa Grogan. If you like them more crisp, leave space for steam to escape or simply cool on a rack.
  • Scones keep for a day or two, but are best eaten warm on the day they were made. You can warm them up in the oven at 180C for a few minutes. You can freeze them.
  • Then the only decision you have is what to put on first – the jam or the cream! There is a debate about this, of course, but for me jam first is best. There is a divide between Devon and Cornwall on the right order. The Devonshire way is to first spread with clotted cream, then top with jam, while the Cornish approach is the reverse. Should you feel inclined to learn more about this vital question, here is some further reading:

The Guardian – How To Eat… Cream Tea

The Guardian – How To Eat… Cream Tea (again)

Cream Tea Society – History of the Cream Tea

Cream Tea Society – Etiquette

And finally, a ‘scientific’ article on the best way to assemble and eat your delicious scones:

Scientific Formula for the Perfect Cream Tea

Perfecting Scones – Buttermilk?

OK then, so one more thing to try. I can’t help myself, though I am quite sick of eating scones now and may be ‘scone-blindness’. Buttermilk. I see it mentioned a bit as a way to make super-fluffy scones. This makes sense given that the buttermilk makes the dough a little more acidic and this increases the raising effect of the bicarbonate of soda in the baking powder.

I did this test when I tested the rubbing-in variable, so I have crumby and flaky doughs made with milk and with buttermilk. Here they are

The buttermilk batch puffed up more after the resting period as you can see here:

Post-bake, here’s the four scone from the crumby/flaky test as well. It goes Milk/Crumby, Buttermilk/Crumby, Milk/Flaky, Buttermilk/Flaky.

L-R: Milk/Crumby, Buttermilk/Crumby, Milk/Flaky, Buttermilk/Flaky

Did it make a difference to flavour or texture? None that I could discern, and I couldn’t pick between them on a blind taste test. The buttermilk ones are a little higher, but not a lot and even though this was the case, they weren’t that different to eat. It might make a difference for some people in some recipes, but not me. I wouldn’t bother with the faff of getting buttermilk again, but if you have it, go for it.

Perfecting Scones – The Milk Variable and Resting the Dough

L-R 50ml 75ml 100ml - FridgeIt’s been some time since my last post because I’ve been away on holidays in Italy, but I’m back now and ready to bake yet more scones! This time, the milk variable – how much? I also tested the option of putting the dough in the refrigerator overnight before baking, the idea for which came from Azelia (as does the basic recipe).

I kept to my standard recipe, which is Azelia’s, but then altered the milk in the batch. One had 50ml (which would proportionately be the same as her recipe), one had 75ml and one had 100ml. I was baking while dealing with children, so no photos of the mixes. The 50ml was quite firm while the 100ml was pretty sticky (and I think using sugar affects this too).

Milk variable results

I initially felt the 50ml we best, but in the end Mark and I both opted for 75ml. 50ml felt a little dry, 100ml was getting a bit away from being a scone and was a smidge ‘bouncy’ rather than buttery.

L-R 50ml No Fridge Fridge

L-R: 50ml No Fridge v 50ml Fridge

L-R 75ml No Fridge Fridge

L-R: 75ml No Fridge  v 75ml Fridge

L-R 100ml No Fridge Fridge

L-R: 100ml No Fridge v 100ml Fridge

You can see from the pictures that the higher liquid ones bulged out rather than puffed upwards, but they were still light and lovely, just not as melt-in-the-mouth as the less milky ones. But I’d prefer 75ml over 50ml as it just a smidge more soft and moist. That said, the difference was surprisingly small despite the big variation in quantity. 100ml was a bit tricky to handle.

I think mine needs more milk than Azelia’s because I used bread flour and she uses all-purpose flour. Bread flour can hold a bit more liquid and not be sticky (and vice versa needs a bit more liquid to make a soft dough).

Fridge variable results
L-R: 50ml 75ml 100ml - No fridge

Without resting in the fridge L-R: 50ml, 75ml, 100ml

With resting in the fridge L-R: 50ml 75ml 100ml

With resting in the fridge L-R: 50ml, 75ml, 100ml

You can see that the ones that were rested rose a bit more and they were a little lighter. It didn’t have a huge impact, but we could just tell the difference and preferred the ones that had been rested. Azelia points out that you don’t need to leave them overnight – she tested it and 2 hours is sufficient. I’d second that, particularly if your ingredients are already cool.

Conclusion

On balance, I’d rest the dough before cutting scones out. 2 hours or so would be good, but a bit more or a bit less would be fine.

I’ve revised the recipe (I’m not calling it mine, because it’s still really Azelia’s with a few tweaks) to:

  • 500g bread flour
  • 4.5 tsp baking powder
  • 95g sugar
  • 125g butter
  • 150ml milk
  • 2 eggs

A few more things to test and then on to the next project. I want to tweak the amount of sugar and see what happens. I also want to compare butter incorporation – whether to rub to complete breadcrumbs, or leave some big flakes. I’ll also end this project with a bunch on other tips I’ve gleaned from my own experience and from other blogs and recipes. I’m getting a bit sick of eating scones so it’s good that the end is in sight.

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Perfecting Scones – Cold or Warm Butter?

Cold v Warm

Warm ingredients versus cold ingredients

One of the interesting differences in scone recipes is whether you should keep all the ingredients, particularly the butter, cold. Those who take the cold approach then advocate rubbing in the butter as quickly as possible, some even opting for pastry cutters or knives. Examples of this approach include Felicity Cloake, Luna Café and Rachel Allen. Others, such as Azelia, suggest soft butter.

I tested this by making two batches with exactly the same ingredients, the only difference was that for the cold batch, I chilled the milk, flour and butter as well as the bowl. I also re-chilled the flour/butter mixture before adding the chilled milk. I wanted to make sure the contrast was as big as possible. You can also cut the butter in with knives to avoid warming it with your hands (or a pastry blade like this one). If you do use your hands, make sure you use your fingertips only as they’re cooler. For the other batch, everything was warm, and I mean really warm, as it was the hottest day of the year so far!

I had helpful guest tasters in the form of my brother, his wife and their two adorable children. Having their perspective proved to be invaluable as we shall see. I don’t have any decent pictures because I was also busy making a Thai curry, but the scones didn’t really look very different.

What was the difference, then? The cold batch did puff up slightly more (it’s the scone on the right in the picture above). The main difference was in the texture. The cold batch scone was much lighter and fluffier, while the warm batch scone was more close-textured. But… and here’s the interesting thing… we didn’t reach any consensus on which was nicer (and we really did do a lot of comparative research). My niece pointed out that both were nice, it just depended on what you felt like eating. A fluffy scone is a lovely thing, but a sweet, buttery, closer-textured one was great too.

Conclusion – make the scones you prefer to eat. Closer-textured? Don’t worry about warm ingredients. Want them super-fluffy? Get everything as cold as cold as cold and work fast!

Perfecting Scones – The Flour Variable

We went through a lot of jam...

We went through a lot of jam…

The recipes use a range from SR flour, Plain flour and Bread flour. Dan Lepard also recommends using Italian Type 00 (pasta flour). I wanted to get a full range to see the differences, so I used Cake flour, but left out SR Flour for now (as that’s essentially Plain flour with raising agent in it, but the protein content is more variable, so Cake flour is more precise).

Protein content of the four flours was:

  • Cake flour: 9%
  • Pasta flour: 14%
  • Plain flour: 11.8%
  • Bread flour: 12%

I used the recipe from Azelia’s Kitchen to start with because, frankly, it makes excellent scones. It is:

  • 500g flour
  • 4.5 tsp baking powder
  • 95g sugar
  • 125g butter
  • 100ml milk
  • 2 eggs

Here are the mixes before mixing

And after mixing.

The Cake flour mix was very wet and soft, hard to handle and sticky. Pasta flour felt wet, but not as wet as Cake. It was a bit grainy. Plain flour and Bread flour were pretty similar. Bread felt driest of the lot and was the most difficult to bring together without kneading. In keeping with my no knead position, I merely gathered the mixes, folded them once and then patted (no rolling with scones) and tried to get them to the same height before cutting.

L-R top: Cake flour, Pasta flour L-R bottom: Plain flour, Bread flour

L-R top: Cake flour, Pasta flour
L-R bottom: Plain flour, Bread flour

I cut four of each with the same cutter, no twisting.

Scones - Flour variable - 8 of 18

L-R: Cake flour, Pasta flour, Plain flour, Bread flour

Then egg wash and baked at 200C fan. And the results…

L-R: Cake flour, Pasta flour, Plain flour, Bread flour

L-R: Cake flour, Pasta flour, Plain flour, Bread flour

Then the tasting began. Mr Dormouse (Mark) and little Ollie Dormouse helped. Ollie’s verdict – Pasta flour was ‘stiffer’ and Plain flour ‘way stiffer’. He liked the Cake flour one best because it was ‘very VERY fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside’.

hmm, should have cleaned those finger nails...

hmm, should have cleaned those finger nails…

Mark and I then embarked on quite an intense tasting session. He takes these things very seriously, especially if it means he gets to eat more scones, jam and cream. We didn’t completely agree, so we had to taste things quite a few times…

Scones - Flour variable - 13 of 18Cake flour

Lovely when it first came out of the oven. Crust was crisp and golden and delightful, inside fluffy. But as it cooled, its star began to fade. We both found it claggy in the mouth. But it was definitely the most crumbly. They virtually disintegrate in your mouth. If you loaded it up with cream, it would be lovely if you like a crumbly scone, but eat it fast.

Scones - Flour variable - 15 of 18Pasta flour

My favourite initially, Mark less convinced. The texture was slightly grainy almost, and very moist feeling when warm. Light, soft and buttery with a lovely flavour. More buttery and less claggy than the Cake flour. It was lovely warm and cold.

Scones - Flour variable - 12 of 18Plain flour

Texture was closer than the previous two. I found it gluey, Mark didn’t. Its flavour was, for both of us, a bit bland really. Mark felt it was a good carrier for jam. If you wanted something bland and not too buttery feeling so that you could load it with cream, then this is the one. It was the water cracker of the bunch.

Scones - Flour variable - 11 of 18

Bread flour

This one was a bit glue-y when warm, but was a delight when it cooled a little. Then it came into its own. The most buttery in the mouth (very similar to the Pasta flour) and moist. Less crumbly, but that was fine. You could eat this on its own. Definitely Mark’s favourite although he worried it might be a bit much when loaded with cream et al.

Scones - Flour variable - 16 of 18Verdict

It seems that even when the butter and liquid are the same, the type of flour can make a huge difference. I’d avoid Cake flour – it was fine but did get a bit claggy. Plain flour was … fine… Type 00 and Bread flour were pretty similar and surprisingly, the best in terms of texture and flavour. Type 00 was a smidge more crumbly and grainy, which I liked.

I will ponder why this all turned out as it did in Scone Theory later in the week.

Scones - Flour variable - 17 of 18

Perfecting Scones – Introduction

SconesI can’t resist a project… and despite being quite fatigued post-Choux, it’s time for a new one. This time, scones. Scones are complicated and yet also simple. Simple in terms of how you eat them, how you bake them. Bake fast, eat with jam and cream. Feel free to debate what to call them (‘skon’ or ‘skone’ – I’m beastly careless) or whether to put jam or cream on first (again, beastly careless here… it all goes down the same, although if I had to choose, jam first because it melds better with the scone, but then jam on top of the cream does look prettier… stop!).

They are complicated in the sense that there are so many views on what makes them perfect. Google ‘best scone recipe’ and you’ll see. Felicity Cloake offered a superb exploration of this in The Guardian, and I don’t intend to just rehash what she did. My goal is not to determine some ideal scone – that can’t exist, because it’s a matter of opinion. Rather, I want to offer advice on how to achieve the scone of your dreams (and also mine). To do this, I’m going to set a few criteria for what I consider a good scone, and also some that are more a matter of opinion. I’ll explore how to achieve both. You can choose what you want to create. In doing this, I’ll identify the variables I want to test.

A good scone is light, soft and flavoursome. It should rise in the oven. It should be a supportive base for conveying jam and cream into your mouth. It should not be a biscuit, a cake, a shortcake, an English muffin, a standard muffin, a bun, a danish or a bread roll. That’s it. It’s defined by what it is not as much as by what it is.

What are the variables in achieving this? First, eggs – to include or not to include, that is a real question. Flour – cake, bread or plain? Most recipes opt for plain, but Paul Hollywood goes out on a limb with bread flour and Dan Lepard suggests Italian Type 00 is a winner. We’ll see. How much butter? Sugar? Should you use lard (I just don’t want to. Sorry, Felicity). Should you, as I’ve been told, use lemonade? I confess the thought of that makes me throw up in my mouth a bit, but I’m game to give it a try in the interests of unbiased research. Which raising agent or combination thereof? Baking powder? Bicarb? And what about Cream of Tartar? How much milk? Then there’s the method. Chaffing? Hmm, I’ll try. How much kneading is too much? Rolling pin or no? Plain cutter or scalloped? Rest the dough in the fridge, as Azelia’s Kitchen suggests? Quite a lot to think about.

Let me just make a quick spreadsheet and I’ll get back to you.

Perfecting Choux Pastry – The Conclusion

Choux Infiniment Citron

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.

Choux Swans 2

 

Perfecting Choux Pastry – The Temperature Variable

Choux - Temperature variable - 2 of 3I 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.

Choux - Temperature variable - 1 of 3When 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’.

Choux - Temperature variable - 3 of 3Conclusion

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

Choux - Butter variable 11I 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:

Choux - Butter variable - 1 of 10Once 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…

Choux - Butter variable - 7 of 10

Comparing streusel

Choux - Butter variable - 8 of 10

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.

 

 

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