Most of us know the expression “Easy as pie” well enough. We say it when something barely causes us to break a sweat. But I would like to suggest the new expression “Easy as cream puff”, as the title of this post suggests, because unlike what I always thought about them, choux pastry (which I will discuss in a few) is incredibly easy to pull off.
First things first,
Choux pastry is basically a pastry with a hollow center for filling with cream or jellies. It can be in the shape of balls (like in cream puffs), logs (like in eclairs), or in some other form depending on your creativity.
Pate a choux is the dough used to make choux pastry. I will be referring to pate a choux a lot later.
I normally have a tendency to ruin breads and other pastries which require some structure, which is why I was wary of trying out choux pastry, which is basically just air-filled pastry. I was afraid that it wasn’t going to puff up, or that it would puff up but would collapse upon cooling. Although my first batch didn’t puff up as much as I would’ve wanted it to, my second batch was perfect. So for everyone’s guidance, I have put down my notes, as well as my mistakes for my first batch, and included them in the instructions for making the pate a choux.
This pate a choux recipe is adapted from the book The Baking Answer Book by Lauren Chattman, which is my current favorite resource on baking. The ingredients are basic and few, so you’ll probably have them on your baking stocks. This batch is enough to make a dozen choux pastries.
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1 tsp white sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 eggs
Pre-heat the oven to 190°C.
In a sauce pan, combine the milk, butter, sugar and salt. Bring everything to a boil in medium-high heat, stirring with a wooden spoon to prevent scorching.
Take the pan off the heat and add the flour. Stir everything together until all the liquid is absorbed. You will get a very thick dough. Place the pan back in heat, and cook the dough in medium-low heat with continuous stirring with the wooden spoon for 1 minute.*
Take the pan off the heat and transfer the dough into a medium bowl. Allow it to cool for a couple of minutes. Using a mixer at low setting, add two of the eggs one at a time, making sure that the eggs are mixed in completely.**
Using a piping bag (or with a spoon), place 1 1/2 inch sized balls of the pate a choux onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a Silpat.*** Make sure there is a space of 2 inches between each ball.
Beat the remaining egg, and using a brush, put the egg wash on the pate a choux balls to give it a nice sheen as it bakes. At this point you also want to smooth out the balls.****
Bake the pastry for 15 minutes on the higher rack of the oven.***** Without opening the oven, turn the temperature down to 170°C and continue baking for 20 minutes. Turn the heat off, take the pastry out of the oven and using a sharp paring knife, create 3/4 cm slits on the side of the choux to release trapped steam. Return the choux to the oven for 10 minutes to dry further, leaving the oven door slightly open. Transfer the pastry onto a wire rack to cool completely.
From experience, the most difficult part of the recipe is the baking. But the only thing to remember is that choux is always baked first at a high temperature to form a nice crust, then baked at a gentler temperature to puff it up. To finish up the Cream Puff I used a package of Jell-O Vanilla Pudding Mix, making it as specified in the box. One box should be enough to fill 2 dozens of the puff pastry.
* Stirring will help develop the gluten in the dough which will help the pastry hold its shape later on. At this point, expect the dough to be fairly dry with the consistency of loose modeling dough. Do not make the mistake of adding more milk. Adding more liquid at this point will ruin the final puff pastry, as it will not puff up as much as you need it to, and it will not dry as well. Remember that you will still be adding eggs later on.
** Upon adding the eggs, the consistency should allow you to squeeze the pate a choux through a piping bag but without being runny.
*** The Silpat is a brand of non-stick silicon mat. It’s good used in place of parchment paper when baking as it is reusable and washable. It is also good when making caramels which would otherwise stick on surfaces.
**** You don’t want points on the choux from an aesthetic standpoint, and also because they are prone to burning.
***** This evens out the heat when baking, preventing the bottoms from burning even before the rest of the pastry gets a nice golden brown coloring.